Random Hockey Thoughts

Shane Prince

Shane Prince scores one of two goals in the first period against the Lightning, highlighting an Islanders’ 5-3 win in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinal. AP Photo/Chris O’Meara/Getty Images

Rather than just recap the latest happenings in the NHL Playoffs with the first round closing with another upset and the second round beginning with an Islander win over the Lightning, I am just gonna give some quick insight on things.

-Once again, the Ducks fell short in a home Game 7 situation, losing for a seemingly impossible fourth straight time at Honda Center in a gut wrenching 2-1 loss to the Predators. They just don’t have what it takes. For some reason, the puck doesn’t go in for Corey Perry or Ryan Getzlaf. Is changing the coach really the answer? Bruce Boudreau has a miserable Game 7 record. But he can’t skate or score for these guys. Something’s off in the Pond.

-Credit Nashville for playing a determined, gritty defensive style that frustrated the Ducks. Ryan Kesler scored the lone goal on a nice set up in front from Jakob Silfverberg on a power play. He was their best forward scoring four times in the first round series. Ultimately, Pekka Rinne still has something left, making 36 saves including 14 in a hectic third period. His defense was fully committed with captain Shea Weber and partner Roman Josi (seven blocks) doing their part. It included the play of the forwards who all came back and made the Ducks’ life a living hell. If only that Perry deflection hadn’t gone off Rinne and the goalpost. He had so many chances, it’s sad.

-The Preds move on thanks to Colin Wilson emerging with a big goal and helping set up vet Paul Gaustad’s redirect of a Weber point shot for a 2-0 lead late in the second period. Nashville gave Anaheim plenty of opportunities on the power play. It took a perfect play down low for Kesler to finally beat Rinne cutting it to 2-1 at 1:45 of the third. Despite plenty of looks including a second consecutive power play with Mike Fisher off for high-sticking Getzlaf, the Ducks just couldn’t get the tying goal. Perry had their best chance when he had a step on Rinne but a hustling Wilson made a great back check. There was also a two shot Perry sequence with Rinne stopping the first and then sliding over to deny a point blank rebound that was ticketed for the back of the net.

-How does one explain the Ducks? They won their one Cup nine years ago with a much younger Getzlaf and Perry teaming up with Hall of Fame defensemen Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger to finally win with Jean-Sebastien Giguere, dismantling the Senators in five. Finnish legend Teemu Selanne won his Cup along with underrated pivot Andy McDonald and Chris Kunitz was part of it. So too was Dustin Penner pre-Oilers offer sheet and pancakes. That roster was so deep featuring the checking line of Sami Pahlsson, Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen. They were a team in every sense.

-Maybe the current batch just aren’t on the same level. Well, we know they aren’t. If your best scorer doesn’t score a goal (Perry), you don’t have a chance. Getzlaf at least had two with three helpers, tying Silfverberg for the team lead with five points. Most mystifying is that Perry (4 assists) was a minus-seven in the series. That’s hard to explain. Ditto for Getzlaf’s lazy tripping minor with five and a half minutes left. In probably the most exasperating sequence during the delayed call, the Preds went four corners keeping the puck away from attacking Ducks, killing precious time as fans booed. It was bizarre. Anaheim let them do it. Eventually, it gave Nashville a nearly full two-minute power play to kill more valuable time off.

-While one team does some soul searching in what should be a long summer, the Preds are back in the second round where they’ll meet the Sharks. Yes. One of these teams will make the Western Conference Final. And yes. Either the Blues or Stars will oppose them. Indeed, it’s a new day out West. Finally, some fresh blood. Whoever comes out on top will represent the West for the Cup.

-If you know me, you know I’m pulling for the Sharks. With favorite stars Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture and Brent Burns chasing Lord Stanley. Of all the players, Thornton deserves to win it the most. He is still one of the game’s best even in his mid-30’s finishing in the top five in scoring. Coached by Pete DeBoer, they’re deeper this time thanks to key additions Paul Martin strengthening the back end and Joel Ward solidifying the forwards. Plus Martin Jones was outstanding in their first round upset of the Kings, outplaying ex-teammate Jonathan Quick.

-The feeling going into the second round series between the Islanders and Lightning was Isles in six. I’m sticking with it. It has nothing to do with them getting a big 5-3 win in Game 1 on the road. But rather the idea that John Tavares is the best player in the series and ready to carry his team. With a goal and assist in the win, he continues to dominate. Even if the game-winner was one Ben Bishop should’ve had. It went short side making it 4-1 Isles, ending Bishop’s night. Bishop is one of three goalies up for the Vezina after posting a league best 2.00 GAA. The other two are favorite Braden Holtby (48 wins) and Quick, who was selected over Corey Crawford. I don’t think many realize how important Crawford is for the Blackhawks, who were a mess defensively due to a thin D corps after the big three of Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarssson. Crawford only led the league in shutouts with seven. He just doesn’t get any respect.

-The Isles won due to Thomas Greiss, who again saved his team’s bacon when the Lightning made a strong push in the final period. Once Nikita Kucherov scored to cut it to 4-2, the whole game changed. Tampa spent long stretches in the Islander zone, creating dangerous chances and looks. The 30-year old Greiss was there to bail his teammates out turning aside 15 of 17 shots en route to 33 saves in a 5-3 win. He denied a Kucherov backhand stuff attempt after Valtteri Filppula made things interesting with his first cutting it to 4-3 with 2:32 left in regulation. Despite some close calls, the Isles escaped trouble with Cal Clutterbuck scoring an empty netter at 19:05 from Casey Cizikas and Calvin de Haan.

-The Isles’ fourth line had a great night with Clutterbuck drawing two penalties while Cizikas threw the weight around along with Matt Martin, causing havoc for Tampa. Against the Panthers, they were ineffective. But tonight, the cohesive trio were in the Bolts’ faces and very effective.

-It was also a game where another line contributed offensively. Coach Jack Capuano moved Shane Prince onto the second line with Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, who dressed in injured forward Josh Bailey’s place. It was the Strome to Prince combo that doomed the Lightning late in the first that changed the game. Twice, they hooked up for huge goals which gave them three straight goals to conclude the period. First, Strome found Prince alone due to Tampa defenseman Matt Carle in no-man’s land with 2:32 left for the lead. It was with less than three seconds remaining in the period that Prince finished off another perfect Strome feed stunning the Tampa crowd. Along with Travis Hamonic beating Bishop thru the wickets, it undid a quick Bolts’ start that saw Ondrej Palat open the scoring at 3:05 from Jonathan Drouin.

-Despite the Lightning playing a better second by out-shooting the Isles 11-5, they found themselves in a three-goal hole when Tavares took a Kyle Okposo feed in transition and snapped a wrist shot that eluded Bishop for a power play goal at 8:59. That ended Bishop’s night. He allowed four goals on 13 shots, giving way to Andrei Vasilevskiy, who turned aside all eight Islander shots.

-The Isles sat back too much in the third. After a near miss by Martin, they fell into the trap of thinking the game was won. But some great fore-checking from a relentless Bolts led to Hedman and Carle setting up Kucherov at 7:41 to make it a two-goal contest. Afterwards, the reunited Triplets buzzed with one extended shift keeping a tired Isles pinned deep. Tyler Johnson, Kucherov and Palat were dangerous along with Hedman. Had they scored there, it’s doubtful the Isles hold on. They can thank Greiss for the win.

-In another scary moment, Capuano was hit by a puck at the Islanders bench. Visibly shaken up, he went back to the locker room and was attended to by the trainers. For a while, top assistant Doug Weight ran the bench along with Bob Corkum, who came out of the room to help out. Capuano didn’t return until it was a one-goal game late. Maybe he was the good luck charm. The Isles got it done with some clutch saves from Greiss and strong defense to protect the lead.

-Game 2 isn’t until Saturday. You gotta love that NBC schedule. At least the rest of the second round can start. It’s Game 1 of the Penguins and Capitals later tonight. It should be fun to see two superb teams do battle. This isn’t about Sidney Crosby vs Alex Ovechkin. But rather two well balanced teams who could be in for a long series. Originally, I took the Pens. So, I’ll stick with it. But the Caps remain the deepest team left. It should be an intriguing match-up. So, who wins the goalie match-up between Holtby and Pens’ rookie Matthew Murray? Do we see Marc-Andre Fleury at some point? Can the Caps slow down Crosby, Evgeni Malkin along with the cohesive second line of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin? What about neutralizing Kris Letang? On the flip side, the Pens have to deal with not only the Ovechkin line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie but the ever dangerous second line of Evgeny Kuznetsov, Andre Burakovsky and Justin Williams. The Caps’ annoying third line of Mike Richards, Marcus Johansson and pest Tom Wilson. Jason Chimera and Jay Beagle are equally annoying. The Caps’ D is deeper featuring John Carlson, Dmitry Orlov, Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen.

-The two Western series get going on Friday. With the Stars home for the Blues, that’ll be on first. The Sharks are the late game with home ice against the Preds. The question is do they want home ice? San Jose has been a much better road team all season, sweeping all three games at Staples Center in Round 1. Nashville also seems to prefer the road winning three of four in Anaheim. What will give?

-I took the Stars originally. So, I’ll stay with Dallas over St. Louis but it might go the distance. As for Nashville and San Jose, I really like the Sharks’ overall depth. This is their chance to get it done. I’m going Sharks in 6 over the Predators.

-As for the whole Dan Boyle vs Larry Brooks escapade, I understood Boyle’s frustration. Brooks likes to target players. He did it a lot with Boyle. The way he goes about it can antagonize anyone. It’s no wonder he had such a balmy relationship with John Tortorella. Brooks can be ornery. He doesn’t back down. Boyle made it uncomfortable for the other media members by demanding Brooks leave and using the choice, “Get the bleep out of here!”

-The real issue the media had wasn’t with the players including Dan Girardi and Marc Staal as well as how Dylan McIlrath and Oscar Lindberg were used. This was about the organization. They replaced Anton Stralman with Boyle, who according to the Daily News’ Pat Leonard, did things his own way. He was a bad fit. But that one is on Glen Sather. The same man who overpaid severely for Martin St. Louis in picks along with Ryan Callahan. It never made sense. Especially with St. Louis holding Steve Yzerman hostage. Slats also made the call on Keith Yandle. Sacrificing Anthony Duclair and more picks for a two-year rental, who will probably bolt due to the Rangers’ complete cap situation. Yandle has hinted he wants to stay. But will he give Jeff Gorton a home discount? Doubtful. Yandle is a splendid offensive defenseman who makes a great first pass. He had over 40 assists- the most from a Ranger blue liner since Brian Leetch. I would love to keep him. But at what cost? There’s no guarantee Girardi or Staal are going anywhere.

-When Girardi revealed that he had a concussion and even had concussion symptoms during Game 1, it was mind boggling. How could the coaching staff have played him when he still had a serious head injury? It’s no wonder he struggled mightily, getting beat out on an icing that led to a Pens goal. He also was victimized by Crosby on a breakaway. Is Alain Vigneault that stubborn or just plain dumb that he would rather risk Girardi’s livelihood than play McIlrath? Unbelievable.

-What I do take away from the post mortem is that there will be changes. To what extent we don’t know. Even Vigneault was uncertain if his assistants will be back. Considering the lousy job Scott Arniel and Ulf Samuelsson did, who knows. Henrik Lundqvist was as pointed as ever indicating how badly he wants to win a Stanley Cup. It’s been a decade since he took the job from Kevin  Weekes. The 34-year old now owns franchise marks in wins and shutouts as well as games played and total saves all-time as a Blueshirt. Will he ever win one here? It doesn’t look very promising.

-Eric Staal was a disaster going without a point and a minus-seven in the five-game series loss. He wasn’t utilized right by AV either. Why else would he have Staal play on the wing and not at his natural center slot? And of course Staal never saw ideal power play time either on the point or at the half wall where he’s most effective. Logic need not apply. He won’t be back.

-Ryan McDonagh had broken index finger from that blocked shot. He won’t need surgery. Marc Staal indicated that he was actually healthy. So, that’s good. Lundqvist also admitted that his eye didn’t bother him. He just got beat. If there is any consolation, it’s that the vets are mostly healthy and will have more time to recover. Of course, that wasn’t the case for Girardi, who admitted he would’ve taken more time off for his knee which he missed six games for. I really wonder what will be with him. He’s an old 31.

-Dominic Moore is likely done. He was a solid citizen here playing a key role in the 2014 run to the Stanley Cup Final. Dom got underneath Crosby’s skin in the second round comeback from 3-1 down and of course was the recipient of a Brian Boyle pass from behind the net for the only finish in a 1-0 shutout in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference Final over the Canadiens. A moment I will never forget. The loudest I’ve ever heard MSG. Moore isn’t the same player. He won’t be re-signed. I wouldn’t mind keeping Viktor Stalberg, who would like to return. But wonder if they’ll have the money for him. So much attention will be focused on Group II’s Chris Kreider, J.T. Miller and Hayes. Plus Yandle, who is unrestricted July 1.

-In a way, I’m glad there’s no more season. I didn’t enjoy watching this team. They weren’t a tough minded group and didn’t play the kind of hockey needed to seriously compete. They must get back to a consistent fore-check instead of relying on their skating and skill. There needs to be a better work ethic. Too much attention was focused on offense at the expense of defense. The lack of adjustments with an ineffective man-to-man in which forwards didn’t rotate down resulted in many goals against and danger chances hanging out Lundqvist to dry. Defense must be prioritized. The 2015-16 New York Rangers lost their identity. They must regain it back.

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of New York administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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