Round 2 Playoff Roundtable
The second round of the NHL post-season is upon us.
We had a lower turnout for this round with the schedule not being so kind to us as far as turnaround time is concerned.
Let’s meet our panel. I’ve jumped in with the boys for this one to provide an FF perspective on things.
And obviously, yours truly. @jmarshfof
Let’s get started:
1. Prior to round one, we spent a good bit of time talking about Marc-Andre Fleury. How are you feeling about his game now that the Penguins have advanced?
Wilson: I feel the same way that I have the past few years. Fleury is an average goalie who is capable of extraordinary saves as well as the equally debilitating mistake(s). When you even out the two extremes his numbers are usually right around the league average.
To his credit he has a sparkling EVSV% of .948% so far this postseason, only Rask and Lundqvist have been better. That said, I still can’t shake the feeling that another big gaffe is around the corner.
Majeski: I was cautiously optimistic about Fleury going in and am more so now. Coming into this year, many seemed to think the new goalie coach and sports psychologist were about eliminating mistakes. That’s just part off it though. The bigger purpose to me was making him better equipped to deal with those mistakes after they happened. A bad bounce in game 4 tied things up and a stinker in OT was certainly less than ideal, but it did provide an opportunity for Fleury to put all that extra work to the test. I’d say it paid off, as he was a big part of them winning the next two to close out Columbus.
Altenbaugh: The Penguins still have no choice but to lean on him as their go-to goaltender, good or bad. That works to his advantage in the sense he knows he wonâ€™t be pulled at the first sign of catastrophe. Iâ€™ll still be nervous every time he steps out to play a puck. I also donâ€™t fault him for game six against Columbus either. That Columbus team was playing their heart out, trying not to be eliminated. Meanwhile, many of the Penguins players had the disoriented look of a person who recently woke from a hundred year cryogenic nap.
Mad Chad: I thought Marc-Andre Fleury was one of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ five best players in the series, and certainly played better than his .908 save percentage would suggest. I think everyone should feel good about Fleury, especially considering how well he rebounded after his late-game gaffe in game four. Fleury’s game five performance should be a good indicator about where he is mentally, because I do not think anyone would have been shocked if he had had another meltdown after that. Fleury was also fantastic in five-on-five situations, posting the third best save percentage in the playoffs during even strength play. I look for Fleury to use his first series win since 2010 as a big confidence boost going forward, and expect him to put up even better statistics against the New York Rangers.
Metzer: I have long been accused of being a Marc-Andre Fleury apologist, but truly, how can you not root for this guy. First, letâ€™s just get this out of the way, Canada hates MAF and have done so since his attempt to play a puck pushed towards his goal deflected off of Braydon Coburn and into his net during the 2004 World Junior Championships. That moment is why even when he turns in a performance like he did against the Blue Jackets you will wake up to newly penned blogs, articles and news stories claiming that the Penguins are just â€œone Fleury meltdown away from elimination.â€ The guy might not have sparkling goals against average or save percentage through his first six playoff games, but make no mistake; he was one of the best players on the ice in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. He made big saves when he had too and was a huge reason why the team advanced. Yes, he made a pretty egregious gaffe at the end of Game 4 that cost his team a chance to finish that series in five games, but his hard work in the offseason with a sports psychologist and new goaltending coach Mike Bales is clearly paying off. I look for more big things from Fleury as these playoffs roll on. All you need to look at is the fact that he maintained composure and came up big in both Games 5 and 6 following said gaffe. I am very comfortable with what I have seen from him and feel that he is capable of backing this team to a long run if other variables fall into place for them.
PSAMP: Playoff series are funny things. During the Jackets series, it was a given that a large portion of Pens fans were gonna wigg out at any losses or setbacks. And on an individual level, the same was going to happen to MAF as well. But now that we have a chance to look back on everything, we can better visualize. MAF had a few shaky moments, but altogether played about as well as you could want against a hungry young team. And with as crazy as this postseason has been, MAF stacks up with some of the top goaltenders in this year’s playoffs. Look, goals are gonna happen, bounces are gonna happen. MAF was one of the main reasons the Pens advanced without the goal support of Sid or even Geno until the final game. If he stays at this level, MAF will be able to help the team beat anyone when the goals finally come.
FF: Fleury was one of my three stars for the first series. I thought his rebound control increased as the series wore on and, speaking of rebounds, his bounce-back game five made a bit of a believer out of the work that Mike Bales has done with him. All season long we’ve been saying the word “control” in regards to Marc-Andre Fleury. He’s won 7 of his last 11 decisions in Madison Square Garden, continuing that kind of run is going to be key heading into this series.
2. A lot was made of Crosby not scoring a goal against Columbus. What’s your assessment of his first series? Is he due to break out in the goals column?
Wilson: I thought Sid played well, he was a possession monster who was driving play against a guy (Dubinsky) that was on top of his game. Sid was still a point per game player and I don’t see a guy that is cut from the same cloth as Dubinsky on the Rangers roster. I think Crosby will start to see tangible results in the goal column. Sidney Crosby showed the most jump he has had in the playoffs Game 6 vs Columbus. Look for jump to continue, the goals will follow.
Majeski: Crosby’s lack of goals was overblown. He did have 19 shots, good for 4th on the team behind Neal, Kunitz, and Malkin, and was a point-per-game player. That said, and of more concern to me, is that he just looked off. For the most part, we didn’t see that explosive burst we’re used to seeing as he flies by a defender, and he was uncharacteristically forcing passes, resulting in turnovers. Here’s hoping the extra days off help him right whatever’s wrong, whether it’s physical or mental.
Altenbaugh: First of all, Jonathan Toews scored three goals and managed 14 points through 23 post-season games en route to the Blackhawks 2013 Stanley Cup. So when I hear people comment on how Jonathan Toews is a great leader, but fault Sid for not averaging a goal every-other game, I cringe. As long as Sid is playing 20+ minutes, setting up goals for his linemates, and playing good defense, it doesnâ€™t really matter if he scores a ton or not. One of the Penguins biggest issue in the first round was consistency at both ends of the ice, not scoring goals. He could break out, but I think Crosby is more concerned with winning a Stanley Cup.
Mad Chad: Sidney Crosby is playing good hockey, but he is not playing the caliber of hockey we are all used to seeing him play. I thought Crosby played really good two-way hockey against Columbus, similar to the way he played during the Olympics in Sochi. Crosby is focusing on playing a 200-feet game and the way he dominated the puck was impressive. However, I am concerned about the fact that Crosby only had two points during even strength play in six games. Especially considering that he will be facing a much better goaltender and defensive core against the Rangers. Everyone is speculating that he’s injured, even though he keeps saying he is not. To be honest, he is probably more fatigued than anything, considering that he played 80 games for the first time since 2009-2010, including the Olympics. With that being said, I think Crosby breaks out offensively this series, considering that he was 21 goals and 65 points in 47 games in his career against the Rangers.
Metzer: You have to imagine that Sidney Crosby is due to break out against the New York Rangers. He has rolled up some spectacular numbers against them over his career, notching 65 points (21G) over 47 games played. Now, it is a bit odd that he didnâ€™t find the back of the net against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that he has also had some offensive successes against, but as many have speculated, something just doesnâ€™t look right with the Penguins captain. Maybe he is dealing with an injury of some sort that is hampering his ability to handle the puck the way he would like or skate with the same ferocity we are used to seeing, but even if less than 100 percent Crosby is better than anyone else the team could cast in his role. His minutes fluctuated a bit in the opening series, but with the time off that he has gotten between finishing off the Jackets and kicking off round two Friday night, he should be better. He will also not have to deal with anyone cut from the same swatch of fabric as Brandon Dubinsky either, which will help the cause. While he may be less than whole, I think Crosby is shouldering his share of the load and will do even more moving forward.
PSAMP: It’s only a matter of time. The Jackets had no real offensive or defensive answer for Sid, but were still able to bottle him up offensively. Sure, Sid got his assists, but they held him off the scoresheet and bottled up a lot of his pass attempts. Only that left a lot of role players open to do damage. The Rangers and any future playoff opponents this year will have to make that same attempt…do you go all-in against Sid or try to stop the masses instead. All it takes is one look towards the other players by the Rangers defense and Sid will exploit them.
FF: I can understand someone who doesn’t buy into advanced metrics dinging Crosby’s performance against the Jackets. The bottom line is, he was a behemoth at even-strength, and averaged upwards of 80% possession on most nights. I can’t complain about a guy being a point-per-game player in the first round. The numbers say he’s going to bust it open soon, and he’s scored in 9 out of his 10 games in MSG (2G – 13A). The Rangers lack a true third line, shut-down center, and I think the injury to Ryan McDonough is gonna make life hard on the Rangers.
3. Who poses the biggest threat to the Penguins advancing to the conference semi-finals?
Wilson: Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is one of the best goalies in the world and he has a long track record to prove it. Unlike Bobrovsky Lundqvist has been in the pressure cooker numerous times. King Henrik has a Gold Medal as well as a Silver Medal on his resume and I believe the Olympic tournament has just as much pressure, if not more than the Stanley Cup Playoffs. If he gets hot he can neutralize the Penguins best advantage, their top end offensive talent.
Majeski: I’ll go with Brad Richards. He’s had a bounceback year, and has a knack for being a playoff performer. He had 6 points in the first round, though only 2 were on the power play. If he can get their power play going (NYR only clicked at 10.3% in the first round) against a Pens’ penalty kill that had its own struggles, look out.
Altenbaugh: There are three literal big threats to the Penguins in this series. Brian Boyle is a mismatch for any defenseman not named Zdeno Chara. Heâ€™s averaging over three hits a game, is a good two-way presence, and kills lots of penalties. Benoit Pouliot is another big, physical net front-presence who likes to play the body. Then there is Rick Nash, who should scare some Penguins fans. He managed 30 shots on net in seven games without a goal. Even if Nash isnâ€™t scoring, he can at least be a wide load in front of the net.
Mad Chad: Henrik Lundqvist. With all of the talk that he has never won anything in the playoffs, he is playing really well right now. Factor in arguably the best defensive core he has had in front of him in his career and he could easily steal this series. Especially if Crosby continues to struggle offensively.
Metzer: The list is a short one and features the names Rick Nash, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh and Henrik Lundqvist. While the first three will have to have a hand in beating the Penguins if they fall in terms of great defensive play and some goal scoring, the main man here is Lundqvist. King Henrik will have to play some outstanding hockey if the Rangers are to eliminate the Penguins and the bad news for he and his team is that it hasnâ€™t always been the case. His career numbers show him posting a career regular season goals against average and save percentage of 2.26 and .920 respectively, but when he plays the Penguins those number slide to 2.45 and .913. In the playoffs, while we only have five games back in 2008 to look at, it gets worse, as he posted a 2.78 goals against average and a .902 save percentage. This series probably hinges on three things, the play of the centers on each side, special teams and the goaltending matchup. I will talk a bit about all three in the next question, but I think that Fleury is capable of doing what he has over the course of his career against the Rangers and that is giving his team a chance and ensuring that Lundqvist doesnâ€™t hold the cards when deciding who wins and who loses when the teams meet.
LUNDQVIST V PENS ALL-TIME:
SAVE % 0.913
Regular Season: .920
FLEURY V RAGS ALL-TIME:
SAVE %: 0.911
Regular Season: .910
PSAMP: Henrik. I’m a goalie-head. I love MAF, I had Bobrovsky in this spot last round…it’s Henrik. He’s so good, but the Pens know they can beat him. Last round, Bobrovsky had the ability to steal a game for a mostly-crappy Jackets team. Henrik has a chance to steal 2-3 games for the Rangers. The Pens need to get on him early. If he’s allowed to get comfortable with a lead, goals could be very hard to come by.
FF: Rick Nash. I dog on the guy quite a bit for some of his gaffe’s and work ethic in general, but he was a beast against the Flyers despite not scoring. I’m interested to see how Dan Bylsma handles the matchup there. If Crosby sees time against the Nash/Stepan line, it could get ugly, but this guy seems to be skating better than he ever has.
4. What’s the biggest mismatch that works in the Penguins favor this series?
Wilson: It’s not so much a mismatch that you’ll find in this series, but a mismatch the Penguins avoided. The Rangers power play is no where close to being as deadly as the Flyers power play. The Rangers are struggling mightily so far in these playoffs (10.3%). The Rangers power play breakout is below average right now and they can’t get set up. Considering the Penguins #1 weakness has been their penalty kill, this bodes well for Pittsburgh.
Majeski: Special teams, specifically the Pens’ power play. It was at 20.7% in the first round, which is good, but can be better once they minimize the turnovers and just take what’s available. In the regular season, the Pens dominated the NYR PK, converting 5 of 14 chances for a whopping 35.7%. If the Pens get anywhere near that, the Rangers will be in trouble.
Altenbaugh: The Penguins special teams. There was a pretty rough stretch in the middle, but they finished the first series with a 20.7 percent powerplay, and while the Pittsburgh PK stunk for stretches, finishing with 74.1%, it was nothing compared to the Rangers, who are clicking at 71% on the penalty kill. Alain Vigneault likes to play his top-six on the penalty kill, so Rick Nash and Derek Stepan are frequently on the 2nd unit PK. Stepan is a good two-way player, but Nash on the PK is a nice mismatch if the Penguins play it right.
Mad Chad: The schedule. It is a cop-out answer, but the Rangers truly did get screwed with the schedule for this series. The Rangers just played a grueling seven-game series against one of their biggest rivals, which ended in playing games six and seven on back-to-back nights. Now the Rangers have to play three more playoff games in four days, including another back-to-back. I think the Penguins will be able to wear them down and take advantage.
Metzer: The biggest mismatch is going to come down to the center play in this series. The Penguins have a distinct advantage when you match Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Brandon Sutter and Marcel Goc, along with at least three other players capable pf playing the position up against the likes of Derek Stepan, Derick Brassard, Brad Richards and Dominic Moore. They have a size and skill advantage there and it will play it a big roll. Special teams will also be huge as the Penguins have been very effective on both ends of it against the Rangers since 2011, clicking at 22.4 percent on the power play (11-for-49) and 83 percent of the penalty kill (44-for-53) over that span. They have been better than that this season clicking on 35.7 percent of power plays and killing off 81.2 percent against over the four game set. I shared the goaltending stats above and I know it will earn and eye roll from some, but Fleury has the ability to help the Penguins win this series.
PSAMP: This is another round where the Rangers have stars, but not necessarily on the Pens’ level. My mismatch will be that the Rangers don’t have someone of Sid’s caliber who went as goal-less as Sid did last round. They don’t have a guy on the verge of just breaking out in a big way. We saw Geno do so in Game 6 with his hat trick. Sid’s moment is coming, and if it happens early in Round 2, the Rangers may be toast.
FF: Stylistic approach to play. The Rangers beat the Flyers using, get this, stretch passes and speed. These aren’t your granddaddies New York Rangers. Vigneault has them playing a skill game that predicates itself on skating, pretty play, and puck possession. I don’t think the Rangers can beat the Penguins at their own game. Vigneault hasn’t had a ton of time between series to instill a different way to play. I think the Penguins are walking into a series against a team that is going to try and play them at their own game. I’ll take the Penguins there.
5. Finally, official predictions!
Wilson: Penguins in seven. I believe Crosby and Malkin will do to the Rangers what everybody was expecting them to do all series vs Columbus
Majeski: Pens in 6. Lundqvist will fare a little better than he did in 2008, but it won’t be enough.
Altenbaugh: Penguins in six.
Mad Chad: Pens in six. The Pens matchup very well against the Rangers and got a big break with the schedule. Crosby breaks out, King Henrik steals a game or two
Metzer: Penguins in 6 games —— the teams have met four prior times in the playoffs and the Penguins have posted a 16-4 record over that span. Thinking that their take two this time, but history says that isnâ€™t a guarantee.
PSAMP: 6 games. I feel we’ll see a lot more 6-7 game predictions as we get deeper into the playoffs. The Rangers will hang around, but I’m all Pens, baby.
FF: Penguins in 5. I don’t think this is a good match-up for the Rangers and I think Crosby puts the team on his back this round.
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