Each Stanley Cup Contender's Most Glaring Flaw
The season has two weeks to go and teams are sprinting toward the finish.
It's all about clinching playoff spots and improving playoff positioning. Teams like the Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins have shared the limelight as the dominant teams during the regular season.
However, perfection is not an option and every team that will have a chance to compete in the playoffs has weaknesses.
In this piece, we look at the flaws of each of the legitimate Stanley Cup contenders.
Chicago Blackhawks: Physical Play
The Chicago Blackhawks play the game with speed, skill and confidence.
They have the ability to hold on to the puck for long periods of time and wear down a defense with precise passing and unique playmaking. They rolled to a record start this season and there has been no significant slippage during the second half of the season.
However, the Blackhawks can be beaten. They showed a vulnerability in goal in last year's postseason when goalie Corey Crawford showed a tendency to let in soft goals at the wrong time in their first-round series against the Phoenix Coyotes.
Even if this is no longer an issue based on regular-season play, Crawford (or Ray Emery) will have to prove it in the postseason.
The other issue for the Blackhawks is physical play. The Blackhawks don't try to outhit their opponents and regularly take more punishment than they dish out. That could become a problem over a seven-game series.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Crosby Health
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the highest-scoring team in the league. They have scored 138 goals and have the ability to fill the net against any opponent.
They have rolled to the top spot in the Eastern Conference.
Yet if Sidney Crosby is not at his best, they will have issues in the postseason. There is plenty of talent with Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, but Crosby is resurgent this year and he needs to be fully recovered from his broken jaw for the Penguins to have full confidence in the playoffs.
The Penguins have played much better defensive hockey this year, but does anyone really trust goalie Marc-Andre Fleury? He got destroyed in last year's playoffs by the Flyers and it's very unlikely that he has forgotten that miserable showing.
It will be in the back of his mind until he comes through with a consistent series.
Anaheim Ducks: Defensive Consistency
Bruce Boudreau has had a positive influence on the Anaheim Ducks. Boudreau had a chance to observe the Ducks on an up-close-and-personal basis last season and he could see that the team had offensive issues.
There was little balance and the team could not put the puck in the net. Boudreau, who came to the Ducks with a reputation for understanding offensive hockey during his time with the Washington Capitals, has repaired the offense. The Ducks are averaging 2.92 goals per game this year, an improvement over their 2.45 mark last year.
However, the defense may be at issue. They have given up 103 goals (an average of 2.51 goals per game) and they tend to give up more good chances to their opponents than they should. The Ducks need to maintain their offensive productivity while tightening up their defense.
Montreal Canadiens: Defensive Depth
While P.K. Subban has been dominant, the Canadiens defense is depleted with injuries.
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The turnaround by the Montreal Canadiens has been remarkable this season. They were the last-place team in the Eastern Conference last year and they have an excellent chance to be the No. 2 team behind the Pittsburgh Penguins this year.
Even if they surrender first place in the Northeast Division to the Boston Bruins, they have already clinched a playoff spot.
The Canadiens are a slick passing team that is skilled and creative offensively. Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Brendan Gallagher, Michael Ryder and P.K. Subban give this team the flair to score big goals at key moments.
However, the Canadiens have problems with defensive depth. Alexei Emelin is out for the rest of the year with torn knee ligaments and they may not have enough strength or talent on the blue line.
Additionally, while Carey Price can have shutdown games in goal, he is not the most consistent goaltender. He will have some games when he appears to lose his concentration and give up easy goals.
That's not good for a team with the potential to go a long way in the postseason.
Vancouver Canucks: Mental Approach
The Vancouver Canucks appeared to be in a dogfight for the Northwest Division title earlier this year with the Minnesota Wild, but they have appeared to have gotten the best of that battle with the season in the home stretch.
The Canucks seem to be a similar team to the one that has failed to bring home the Stanley Cup in the last three seasons.
They are talented—especially on the offensive end—but are they strong enough mentally to get through the playoffs after so many failures?
In order to overcome past heartbreaks, you need a strong head coach and strong leadership among the players. Alain Vigneault may not be the right man for the job. He has gotten an even performance from his team, but they don't seem to rise to the occasion.
Henrik and Daniel Sedin are two very talented offensive players, but how much leadership do they provide when the team needs them most?
Boston Bruins: Offensive Consistency
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The Boston Bruins have one of the best and most well-rounded teams in the league...on paper.
Head coach Claude Julien has an excellent goaltending duo in Tuukka Rask and Anton Khudobin, a big and powerful defensive crew led by Zdeno Chara and three or four solid forward lines.
However, that's where the strength on paper differs from reality. The forward lines have not been consistent. The Bruins have only had one dependable scoring line this season and Julien has had to hunt for goals.
The biggest villain has been left wing Milan Lucic, who has lost his his scoring touch. Going into the Bruins' April 13 game vs. the Carolina Hurricanes, Lucic has scored five goals this season.
The Bruins are weaker without stellar center Patrice Bergeron (concussion) in the lineup. He may return shortly, but if he's not back at full speed, the Bruins are not a threat to lift the Stanley Cup.
Los Angeles Kings: Overall Defense
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The Los Angeles Kings should be in a good position to defend the Stanley Cup. They are a powerful team that no longer has the offensive difficulties that dogged them during the 2011-12 regular season.
They found the answer to their offensive problems during last year's playoffs and they have continued to find the back of the net in 2013 thanks to Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar and Mike Richards.
Jonathan Quick backstopped the Kings to the title last year with his stellar play in goal. He has not been as good this year, and that could be an issue in the playoffs. The Kings have issues with defensive depth as well.
Washington Capitals: Overall Consistency
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Remember all the talk about how vital a hot start was in this shortened 48-game season?
The Washington Capitals did not get that memo.
The Capitals got off to an awful start and so did superstar Alex Ovechkin. The Caps were in last place in the Eastern Conference and it seemed like the playoffs were a pipe dream for them.
However, first-year coach Adam Oates found a way to get Ovechkin back on track and the Caps have moved into first place in the Southeast Division. They are red hot, with an 8-1-1 record in their last 10 games.
The Caps are peaking at the right time, but do they really have enough depth to make a long run in the playoffs? If Ovechkin slows his scoring pace just a bit (he's tied for the league lead in goal scoring with 26), the Caps don't have enough offense to survive and advance.
They appear to be a hot-and-cold team that could lose its way at any time.
San Jose Sharks: Lack of Clutch Scoring
The San Jose Sharks have had a roller coaster season in 2013.
They started off by winning their first seven games and it appeared they would give the Chicago Blackhawks a run for their money in the Western Conference.
Then the Sharks went in a long slump and it appeared that head coach Todd McLellan's team was unable to score clutch goals.
But in the last month, they have turned it around again and they have solidified their playoff position. Remarkably, the Sharks have only lost one game in regulation at home this season.
The Sharks are too inconsistent at this point. They can dominate and play well defensively for long stretches, but their lack of clutch scoring can trigger a slump at any time.