2011 NHL Playoffs: Top 10 Players Who Need to Step Up Their Game

Bobby BrooksAnalyst IIIApril 17, 2011

2011 NHL Playoffs: Top 10 Players Who Need to Step Up Their Game

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    Two games have been branded into the historical playoff books so far and players like Carey Price, Alexander Ovechkin, and Pavel Datsyuk are earning their pay.  Meanwhile, other teams are already in a full blown battle for playoff survival. 

    At this time of year fans like to blame the refs, unlucky bounces, and coaches for every wrong turn down the thorny path to elimination, but at the end of the day the best players need to play like the best players.  Unfortunately, no one really knows how a player will respond once the bright lights of prime time are cast down on the slick cold ice until the puck drops.

    Scouts can check off all the boxes in their checklists, general managers can do their background checks, and coaches can prepare them all season long, but once we get to the playoffs it is sink or swim for the x-factors on every team.

    Let's take a look at the top 10 players that need to raise their game before it's too late....

10: Tomas Kaberle

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    Is there anyone out there who can come to Tomas Kaberle's defense?  I'm sure even the most loyal Leafs fans are hiding under a rock this morning after what they've seen in the first two games of this series.  Kaberle, like most people on this list, has been a complete nightmare on the ice.

    He has no points and a minus-one rating.  Having no points is the most egregious stat of all because I'm not sure he is capable of much more than that.  In fact, why is he even on the blue line?  Coach Julien might as well line him up on the fourth line because at least that way they will be able to hide him.

    He has no blocked shots, no hits, and only one takeaway. 

    Maybe it was difficult for Brian Burke to move him because he is a waste of oxygen?  Forget about the no-trade clause because 28 other teams knew they didn't want an overpriced and overrated defenseman on their team.

    Kaberle needs to prove his worth in this series or this could be one of the worst trades Boston has done in quite some time.

9: James Neal

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    Speaking of traded players, James Neal makes the list at the nine spot for a few reasons.  First of all, the Penguins gave up a pretty good defensemen in Alex Goligoski to get him and the team is still waiting to see the dominating power forward that they were hoping for.

    One of Neal's biggest problems in Dallas was his debate with reporters regarding his consistency.  It was a label that never sat well with him, but when you disappear for a dozen games at a time it's hard to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    With Crosby and Malkin out, Neal has the spotlight on him as one of the few bona fide goal scorers that the Penguins are relying on.  One assist isn't going to cut it if he hopes to shed his label.

    He has at least three more games to pot some goals, but if the well remains dry he's going to have a long offseason.

8: Brandon Dubinsky

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    When Ryan Callahan went down, all the pressure shifted to Brandon Dubinsky.  Both players are amazing complements to each other.  They both score goals, hit, block shots, kill penalties, and lead in the locker room.  However, now that Dubinsky is on his own he needs to take the onus on himself and step up his game.

    Zero points and a minus-three rating isn't good enough if the Rangers hope to get back in this series.  Granted the Capitals are a different team this spring and Neuvirth is playing exceptional, but top players rise above these challenges and produce in the clutch.

    Adding insult to injury, Dubinsky is only 36 percent in the faceoff circle. 

    Perhaps a change of scenery will do him good as the team opens up Madison Square Garden on Sunday afternoon.

7: Marian Hossa

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    I could have easily put Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews in this spot, but both players have been competing hard in this series.  They've hit a couple posts and been on the unfortunate end of Roberto Luongo so far, but one player that hasn't had much of an impact at all is Marian Hossa.

    Regarded as one of the best two-way players in the game, Hossa has nothing on the score sheet and a minus-three rating.  It's not like he hasn't been shooting the puck because he has eight shots in two games, but he's been a liability on both ends of the ice.

    Going to the finals in three straight years might have taken a toll on him, but if he wants to make it four he'll need to become more of a factor in Chi-town.

6: Marian Gaborik

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    Another Marian not pulling his weight so far is the one in New York—Marian Gaborik.  It's not like his appearance on the list is a huge surprise because he's faced criticism all season long.  Granted he had some injuries, but 22 goals is never going to be OK when he's collecting the kind of paychecks he does.

    Like Hossa, Gaborik has eight shots in two games, but nothing to show for it.  With Callahan out and Dubinsky struggling, the time is now for Gaborik. 

    If not, he's going to become just another name on the long list of overpriced washouts in recent Rangers history.

5: Sergei Bobrovsky or Brian Boucher

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    OK I cheated.  The five spot has two players, but really only one needs to step up.  Which will it be?  There is little question who will start Game 3 as Bobrovsky was yanked in Game 2 after giving up three goals in the first period, but is Brian Boucher really the answer?

    Boucher only let in one goal in relief on Saturday and he does have a lot more playoff experience, but let's get real—he is nothing more than a journeyman goaltender at this point of his career.  The Flyers are heavy favorites to compete for the Eastern Conference crown, but now their historical problems in goal have reared their ugly heads once again.

    Who knows what will happen from this point on, but the scariest group of forwards in the league won't matter much if the fans start chanting Michael Leighton's name.

4: Duncan Keith

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    It wasn't easy to add Duncan Keith's name to this list given the fact that he competes with the best of them, but it's hard to ignore just how bad he has been in this series.  His point totals were dramatically down this season and that trend continued over into the playoffs as he has a big donut on the stat sheet. 

    Minus-three isn't exactly stellar either.  Yet the traditional stat-lines only tell half the story.  The true picture comes into focus when you look at the fine print.  In two games, he has one hit, three giveaways, and zero takeaways.  

    Just what is going on with Chicago's best blueliner?  His positioning has been off, he isn't as engaged as he normally is, and unless he has an injury it's hard to fathom why he's been a no-show.

    There is more than enough time to right the ship, but it better be quick because a do-or-die game is on the horizon. 

3: Milan Lucic

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    Full disclosure.  I traded Milan Lucic in a fantasy keeper league before this season.  I based it on two primary reasons. 

    1: Lucic has a history of injuries in a very short career.  The talent has always been there, but he couldn't seem to stay healthy and put it all together for an entire season.

    2: His rough and tumble game is perfectly suited for the playoffs rather than the regular season.

    Therefore, you can understand how surprised I was when he broke out for not only a 30-plus goal season, but a healthy one at that. 

    However, what is even more puzzling is that he has been a total bust on the ice in both playoff games versus the Canadiens.  It's bad enough that he has no points and a minus-two rating, but away from the puck he's been just as dreadful.  His four giveaways is tied for the team lead and one of them led directly to the knockout punch goal in game one.  

    The only good thing I can say about his play so far is that he was clearly robbed in Game 2 by Carey Price.  Who knows what that goal could have done to the complexion of the game and subsequently, the series if it went in, but time is ticking on the Bruins season.

2: Patrick Marleau

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    Having Patrick Marleau second on the list has nothing to do with the fact that San Jose lost me money on Saturday night, but it certainly doesn't do him any favors either. 

    Personal gripes aside, can we put our heads together and figure out what is wrong with this guy?  In the offseason he decided to remain in San Jose rather than testing the market and continues to be the all-time Sharks leader in most of the relevant categories, but the locals want to know just what have you done for me lately?

    No points, a minus-one, and get this—a whopping seven giveaways in two games!   If you are on the East Coast and decided to watch your plants grow instead of watching this game you would have spent your time more productively.  No one showed up for San Jose in Game 2 and Patrick Marleau has become the overnight poster boy for the choke performance.

    Luckily for him he has two days off so he can spend long hours in front of the mirror searching for his soul, but come Tuesday night the Sharks will need him in a big way if they hope to avoid the dreadful fate looming around the corner. 

1: Steven Stamkos

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    I'm not sure how many Tampa Bay Lightning fans there really are out there, but if you are one of them please comment on this article and tell me the answer to the Steven Stamkos riddle.

    Is he injured?  Is he slumping?  Why was he on the third line in Game 2?  Was the coaching staff trying to play a chess game and get him away from a particular matchup?  Was it a demotion due to his poor play? 

    Whatever is going on most hockey fans would like to know because he is one of the new faces of the NHL.  His introduction to playoff hockey didn't exactly go as planned when he got rocked into the boards in game one, but surely he isn't playing timid is he? 

    The most glaring aspect of his game when looking at the stats isn't his goose-egg in the points department or lack of ice time—it is the lack of shots on net!  Two shots in two games from one of the most feared snipers on the planet is not acceptable.

    Tampa Bay got great performances from a variety of players to tie up the series, but if the Bolts want to advance in the playoffs and recover some of their season-ticket losses, Stamkos will need to play a vital role.

    What say you?