Who's Hot, Who's Not in the 2014 NHL Playoffs?
As the second round of the NHL postseason continues, it's far too early to say which team will be left standing when the playoffs end. It isn't too early to pick out some trends.
The following hot/not list is not intended as a rigorous or scientific look at the playoffs to date (thanks, "Captain Obvious"). It's just a quick look at some of the highlights of what has been an excellent postseason so far.
Read on to see who's hot and who's not in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Hot: Anze Kopitar
Los Angeles Kings centre Anze Kopitar is already widely reckoned among the league's elite players, but he's taken his performance to a whole other level in the postseason to date.
Not only does Kopitar lead all NHL scorers with 14 points, but Slovenia's best-ever hockey player has also been a picture of consistency, recording at least one point in every game the Kings have played in these playoffs.
Not: Rick Nash's Shooting Percentage
It's hard not to pity poor Rick Nash, at least a little bit.
The winger, long one of the NHL's best goal scorers, has had no shortage of success in getting the puck on net; his 45 shots lead the NHL playoffs. But while he's first in shots on goal, he's dead last in postseason goals, with a grand total of zero.
Over his career, Nash has averaged a shooting percentage of 12.4. If he were averaging that here, he'd be tied for the NHL lead with six playoff goals. Instead, he's ice-cold, and the Rangers are on the brink of being eliminated in the second round.
Hot: NHL Scoring
Remember the story about how teams tighten up defensively in the playoffs, whistles go away, and the only way for a team to win is to block every shot that comes at its net and hope that one of its own blasts bounces off two guys and past the opposing goalie?
Not in this year's playoffs.
In the regular season, only three teams averaged 3.00 goals or more per game. That number has ballooned to eight in this postseason, with five of those clubs still alive in the second round.
Not: Jack Adams Candidates
On Tuesday, the NHL unveiled its three finalists for the Jack Adams Award as the league's coach of the year. It was unsurprising that all three managed to get their teams into the postseason, but it was, at least, a little curious that none were still active after the first round.
Mike Babcock's Detroit Red Wings fell in five games to a first-rate team from Boston, Jon Cooper's Tampa Bay Lightning were swept in four games by Montreal, and Patrick Roy's Colorado Avalanche lost a seven-game series to underdog Minnesota Wild.
Hot: P.K. Subban
P.K. Subban had an exceptional first round as the Montreal Canadiens swept Tampa Bay, but as the stakes and level of competition increased in Round 2 so too has his performance.
It isn't just the scoring numbers—six points in three games against the Bruins, 11 in seven contests over the whole playoffs—though of course those have been excellent.
It's Subban's physical play, his ability to get under the skin of Boston (ducking a hit from Shawn Thornton, knocking the net off its moorings at a critical moment) and the way he's become the most important player in a series with no shortage of candidates.
To top it off, he showed us he's a first-rate person off the ice with this magnificent response to the racist commentary directed his way on social media.
Not: New York Rangers' Schedule
New York Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault took some heat for his criticism of the schedule his team has been forced to endure.
“We tried real hard," he said after his team's loss to Pittsburgh on Monday. "We were forced to play a stupid schedule—five games in seven nights. I am real proud of how our guys handled it.”
As theScore's Justin Bourne points out, Vigneault had every right to complain. Scheduling does have an impact on a team, and the NHL would have been well-advised to avoid giving the team sets of back-to-back games so close together.
Of course, Vigneault's point wasn't helped on Wednesday when New York lost 4-2 after getting a day off to recover.
Hot: Dave Lozo
Bleacher Report NHL national lead writer Dave Lozo laid out his entire set of postseason predictions, and he was mostly blasted for his picks in the comments section.
So far, Lozo is proving his detractors wrong.
Lozo went 8-of-8 in the first round, and three of his four second-round choices currently lead their series.
Not: Ignoring Concussion Protocols
After the Blue Jackets' first-round elimination, Columbus defenceman James Wisniewski admitted to something that other players have doubtlessly done: concealing a head injury to avoid the NHL's concussion protocols.
From Aaron Portzline on the Puck-Rakers Blog:
My head didn’t feel great in Game 6. (Wisniewski went head-first into the corner after a collision with Pittsburgh’s Tanner Glass in the first period, but returned to the game in the second.)
I said my back hurt so I didn’t have to do the 20-minute (concussion) protocol and go through that whole concussion process. I didn’t feel like going in and talking to the doctors for 20 minutes.
As Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski argues, in 2014 we know that there's a massive difference between playing through a shoulder injury (for example) and playing through a concussion. For the long-term health of these players, I hope the majority don't follow Wisniewski's example.
Hot: Arguments About Marc-Andre Fleury
Guess who has a 0.922 save percentage, two shutouts and is the closest goalie in the league to advancing to the third round? It's none other than Marc-Andre Fleury, otherwise known as the principle reason the Pittsburgh Penguins haven't gone anywhere in the playoffs since 2009.
But as nice as it would be to stop things there, Fleury has to do more to shut down doubters.
Fleury has allowed three or more goals in six of his 10 playoff games, posted a save percentage below his season average in seven of the 10, and even as his agent trumpeted Fleury's leadership in Pittsburgh's first-round win, it was hard to miss Fleury allowing three third-period goals in that final game, nearly blowing the Pens' 4-0 lead.
This is a debate that will go on for a while.
Not: Matt Cooke's Reputation
The "Matt Cooke is a changed man" storyline came to an abrupt halt in this postseason, as the controversial winger for the Minnesota Wild found himself embroiled in controversy after another unfortunate incident.
Cooke earned a seven-game suspension for kneeing Colorado Avalanche defenceman Tyson Barrie in the first round. Barrie suffered an MCL sprain on the hit, which ended his season.
Also lost was the good work that Cooke had done to rehabilitate his image around the league. CBC's Mike Brophy expressed the views of many in a blog post after the incident:
But five games are not enough. Ten games are not enough. Cooke must be dealt with severely. His choir-boy behavior the past few seasons goes right out the window. It means nothing. He intentionally tries to injure opponents and he must be punished harshly.