NHL Playoffs 2012: 1 Big Issue Each Team Needs to Fix
It's that time of year again: the Stanley Cup Playoffs are here. The NHL begins its four-round, 16-team, two-month marathon to win the oldest trophy in North American professional sports.
All 16 teams are gunning for the ultimate symbol of hockey supremacy, and all of them have legitimate reasons why they think they can win it.
But each team also has issues they need to address if they are to emerge victorious in mid-June. Here is a look at the biggest issue facing each of the 16 NHL playoff teams as the postseason gets underway.
Is the Rangers' Power Play Good Enough?
The New York Rangers finished with the best record in the Eastern Conference for the first time since they last captured the Stanley Cup back in 1994.
The Rangers' blueprint for success is a simple one: they play strong team defense, block a lot of shots and get just enough scoring to win games.They also rely heavily on star goalie Henrik Lundqvist.
In the playoffs, when the play is more physical and goals are harder to come by, power plays become a key opportunity for most teams to get on the scoreboard.
The Rangers have struggled with the man advantage for most of the season. In fact, they ranked 23rd overall in the NHL this season on the power play with just a 15.7 percent success rate. Only one team that qualified for the playoffs finished lower.
Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik will be big keys to the Rangers' power play success. Richards plays point on the power play and acts as the quarterback of the unit. Gaborik is the big finisher and led the Rangers with 41 goals on the season. Ryan Callahan led the Rangers with 13 power-play tallies.
If the Rangers struggle with the man advantage, they may not score enough to win the Stanley Cup.
Can the Bruins Repeat?
It's been a long time since anybody repeated as Stanley Cup champions. The last team to win back-to-back Stanley Cups is the 1997 and 1998 Detroit Red Wings.
The Boston Bruins now face the challenge of repeating, something that 13 consecutive champions have failed to accomplish.
One issue facing the Bruins is goaltending. Tim Thomas will turn 38 during the opening round series against the Washington Capitals.
The Bruins' original plan was to make sure Thomas wasn't overworked during the regular season, but when backup Tuukka Rask was injured for the final month of the season, Thomas saw a lot more action than anticipated and is not as rested as the Bruins would have liked entering the playoffs.
Thomas had a career season last year. This season, his goals-against-average went up from 2.00 to 2.36, and his save percentage dipped from .938 to .920. Thomas was also less consistent this season than he was a year ago.
The Bruins will need to avoid the jinx of being defending champions and get top-notch goaltending from Tim Thomas if they hope to repeat.
Can the Panthers Score Enough at Even Strength?
The Florida Panthers were a surprise team this season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2000, ending the longest dry spell in the league.
The Panthers were seventh in the league with 53 power-play goals scored but were 27th in overall goals scored. That shows that Florida struggled to score at even strength during the course of the season.
Scoring during five-on-five situations will only get tougher in the playoffs when games are more physical and players are more willing to sacrifice their bodies and block shots to keep opponents off the board.
The Panthers will also need more goals from their secondary scorers as the top line of Stephen Weiss, Tomas Fleischmann and Kris Versteeg scored a high percentage of the Panthers goals.
Florida will need more scoring at even strength if they have any chance of making a long playoff run this season.
Do the Penguins Have Enough Grit in Their Lineup?
They have experience, scoring depth and a goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury who has won one Stanley Cup and reached the finals on another occasion.
The biggest question facing Pittsburgh this year may be whether or not they have enough grit to win the Stanley Cup this year.
Players like Matt Cooke and Aron Asham can play the body and dig in the corners, but do the Penguins have enough players like that to win a physical, seven-game series against top competition?
They will find out in a hurry this year as they face the Philadelphia Flyers in the opening round of the playoffs.
Can the Flyers Finally Get Top-Notch Goaltending?
The Flyers have tried to get by without spending a lot of money on goaltending ever since Ron Hextall left town (the first time).
This year, the Flyers finally attempted to resolve the goaltending issue as GM Paul Holmgren signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a big-money, long-term contract.
Bryzgalov has been inconsistent over the course of the regular season. Although he finished strong, he was benched at times and did not start the Winter Classic for the Flyers on New Year's Day.
But all will be forgiven if Bryzgalov has a strong playoff. The Flyers will be without defenseman Chris Pronger, so they will rely on their goaltending more than ever to carry them deep into the playoffs.
If Bryzgalov is equal to the task, he will be considered the best goalie in the City of Brotherly Love since Hall of Famer Bernie Parent. If not, he will join a long list of playoff failures and call his nine-year contract into question.
Does Martin Brodeur Still Have What It Takes to Win a Cup?
Let there be no doubt: Martin Brodeur is one of the all-time greatest goalies ever to play in the NHL. He's won three Stanley Cups and holds many significant goaltending records. Even if his career ended today, his spot in the Hockey Hall of Fame is guaranteed.
But Brodeur will turn 40 before the Stanley Cup is awarded this year and hasn't won a championship in nearly a decade. He also doesn't have the great defensemen he had during the Devils' cup years, like Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Ken Danyko.
This year's defense is not bad, but they are young and not in the class of the greats of the past.
The Devils are a solid team and they finished strong, but they will still need a very strong performance from Brodeur if they have any hope of winning the franchise's fourth Stanley Cup.
Who Are the Washington Capitals?
The Washington Capitals are an enigma. They have plenty of offensive talent in Alex Ovechkin, Brooks Laich, Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom, yet they are just the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference.
Two years ago, the high scoring Caps changed their style and tried to play a more defense-first brand of hockey because that would win them a Stanley Cup.
Well, here we are, two years later and the Caps have yet to successfully adapt to the new style of play.
They got off to a terrible start this season, which cost Coach Bruce Boudreau his job.
A late hot streak helped Washington squeak into the playoffs, but they hardly have looked like the team most experts picked to dominate the Southeast Division and contend for the Stanley Cup.
New coach Dale Hunter hasn't really solidified the team's style of play and gotten them all on the same page. If the Caps can't pick a style and be effective with it, they don't stand a chance despite all the talent they have on their roster.
Do the Senators Have Enough Defense to Win the Cup?
The Ottawa Senators were a pleasant surprise this season. Picked to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference by The Hockey News, the Sens instead came out of the gate strong and managed to lock down the eighth and final spot in the Eastern Conference with a blend of good young players and experienced veterans.
Erik Karlsson is a Norris Trophy finalist for certain, but do the Sens have enough defensive defensemen to play a strong, gritty playoff style of hockey?
Players like Karlsson, Matt Gilroy and Sergei Gonchar have offensive prowess, but there is a lack of size and grit on the blue line.
The Senators finished 24th in the NHL in goals allowed and cannot afford to keep giving up that many goals if they hope to contend.
Is Roberto Luongo Consistent Enough to Get the Canucks Back to the Finals?
Roberto Luongo played some great games last year to lead the Vancouver Canucks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals. When he was good, he was very good. But when Luongo was bad, he was very bad and he cost his team a few key games as well.
Many fans and experts just don't trust Luongo in big games.
This year, Luongo's play has been uneven, and many think the Canucks might actually be better off going with backup Cory Schneider.
There is no question Luongo will start the playoffs in net, but how long will the Canucks stick with him if he has a bad game or two?
The fans and media will certainly be calling for Schneider. Coach Alain Vigneault will have to walk a fine line and make some tough decisions if Luongo falters.
Do the Blues Have Enough Playoff Experience to Win?
The St. Louis Blues were one of the the league's biggest surprise with a second-place Western Conference finish.
After a slow start and a coaching change, the Blues started winning consistently under Ken Hitchcock. They have also been playing playoff-style hockey since Hitchcock took over behind the bench in November.
The Blues' biggest obstacle is playoff inexperience. Only Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner have extensive postseason experience for the Blues. Goalie Jaroslav Halak has had one big playoff run.
The Blues' top defensive pair has nearly no playoff experience with Carlo Colaiacovo having played just four Stanley Cup playoff games and Alex Pietrangelo entering his first-ever NHL postseason.
The fact that Hitchcock has been there before may help, but the Blues will need to learn what the playoffs are all about in a hurry if they are to make a long playoff run this season.
Do the Coyotes Have Enough Firepower?
The Phoenix Coyotes surprised everybody by winning their first-ever division title and reaching the playoffs despite still being owned by the NHL and facing uncertainty about their future in the desert.
The Coyotes' biggest issue is scoring depth. After Radim Vrbata, Shane Doan and Ray Whitney, where is the scoring going to come from?
When Phoenix allowed the first goal of the game, they ranked 27th in the NHL by winning just over 23 percent of the time.
The Coyotes also have to overcome a dismal franchise playoff history. Since entering the league as the Winnipeg Jets back in 1979, the Coyotes have won exactly one playoff series, that coming back in 1987 when the team was still playing in Manitoba.
Do the Predators Have a Go-to Goal Scorer?
The Nashville Predators are going for it this year. After years of losing players to free agency and trading away a few of them at the trade deadline, this year, the Preds were buyers at the deadline, adding players for the stretch drive. They even re-acquired Alexander Radulov from the KHL in the season's final weeks.
Nashville has one of the more balanced offenses in the playoffs and can easily roll four lines to wear down opponents. But do the Predators have a go-to goal scorer on their roster? In the playoffs, star players raise their level of play, but the Preds lack a Mike Bossy, Alex Ovechkin or Guy Lafleur on their roster.
Patric Hornqvist and Mike Fisher are the only two 20-goal scorers in Nashville's this year. Radulov has the potential to be a go-to guy, but he hasn't proven himself at the NHL level just yet.
Will a balanced offense without superstars be enough for Nashville? Only time will tell.
Are the Red Wings Too Old?
The question gets asked every year: are the Detroit Red Wings too old to make a run at another Stanley Cup championship?
The Wings have 11 players over the age of 30 on their roster, including key players like Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen, Todd Bertuzzi and Nicklas Lidstrom. These players all have experience and have won championships, but can they still get it done at this point in their careers?
The playoffs are a marathon that requires a lot of stamina and involves a lot of physical hockey. Detroit also lacks size up front, which may also cost them against a larger, more physical opponent.
Every year people question whether or not the Red Wings are too old. Every year they top the 100-point mark and return to the playoffs.
Detroit hasn't won a Stanley Cup since 2008 and advanced to the Conference Finals since 2009. We'll see this year if they still have enough gas left in the tank to get back to the promised land.
Do the Blackhawks Have Cup-Caliber Goaltending?
The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup for the first time in nearly 40 years in 2010, but had Antti Niemi in net. Niemi went to San Jose after winning the Cup when the Hawks had to purge salary to stay under the salary cap.
Last year, they brought in Corey Crawford, who played well in the opening-round loss to Vancouver. Still, the Blackhawks lost the series, and Crawford has no other significant NHL playoff experience.
This year, Crawford's regular-season play was inconsistent. Unless Crawford plays well, the Hawks will have little chance of making a run at another Stanley Cup.
Do the Sharks Have Enough Scoring Depth?
The Sharks have reached the conference finals the past two seasons but have yet to go to the Stanley Cup Final despite being a perennial favorite since the lockout.
Part of the problem this season has been a lack of scoring depth. The Sharks made a trade at the deadline with Colorado in an attempt to solve this problem, but neither Daniel Winnick (three goals in 21 games with San Jose) nor T.J. Galiardi (one goal in 14 games) provided much offense.
The Sharks usually get scoring from their top scorers like Patrick Marleau, Logan Couture, Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton, but unless some other players step up, the Sharks' stay in the playoffs will be a short one.
Can the Kings Score Enough Goals to Contend?
The Kings were second in the NHL this season in goals allowed and got a Vezina Trophy caliber season from goalie Jonathan Quick.
But the Kings struggled all year to score goals, finishing 29th in a 30-team league in goal scoring.
For whatever reason, the Kings lacked offensive chemistry this year. Too often, their passes just didn't click, and they had no flow with the puck for long stretches of time.
The numbers improved slightly late in the season after Jeff Carter was acquired from Columbus, but will it be enough to sustain a long playoff run for Los Angeles?
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