NHL Playoffs 2011 (Second Round): Which Players Have to Step It Up Right Now?
In this roundup for Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs, I will examine which players have to step it up for their respective teams.
Factors such as grit, consistency, experience, playoff production and season production play an in-depth role in figuring out who has to step up their game. This can be the difference between a berth into the conference finals and perhaps further on.
For every team, I will mention one player (sometimes maybe more) that can play a defining role in their teams' success.
Cheers and enjoy!
8. Detroit Red Wings: Jimmy Howard (Goaltender)
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The main reason Jimmy Howard has been chosen is due to his lack of experience on a team like Detroit that has been there on a consistent basis. That is one of the only factors that worries Detroit fans (realistically).
Another stat that one can look at is his play against the San Jose Sharks this season (their upcoming opponents). In three games this season, Howard went 1-2 with a 4.03 goals-against average along with a 0.887 save percentage.
From what we've seen thus far, though, Detroit is safe.
7. Washington Capitals: Nicklas Bäckström (Center)
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So far, in five playoff games Nicklas Bäckström seems to have flown under the radar, posting only one point.
It is still too early to tell how he will play the rest of the way, but one thing is for sure: His defensive play has not taken a hit throughout those five games.
Many so-called "experts" dubbed him somewhat of a bust this season considering the drop in his points production. However, the Washington Capitals adopted a different style of play this season (not too different, of course) in which they are not as flashy and as offensive as before.
This is a positive, though, because there is far less pressure on them than in previous years, even though they finished first in the conference (Vancouver took that reign from them as the team that has to win it). Luckily for Nicklas Bäckström, the pressure is not on and he can get back on his feet offensively in no time.
6. Tampa Bay Lightning: Victor Hedman (Defense)
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Victor Hedman is still young, no doubt about that. However, he posted minuses in Games 1, 3, 4 and 5 to finish at a minus-4 while producing one point in seven games for the Lightning.
It is not imperative that Hedman step it up offensively, but the young defenseman has a tough test ahead in a series against the Washington Capitals. Not to take anything away from the Penguins, but the Caps are a far greater test for a guy who plays over 20 minutes per game on the back end.
Notable mention: Ryan Malone. He has to step it up as well. He was invisible throughout the series, aside from a few moments. He plays in key situations with superstar Steven Stamkos, and if he can do well by feeding him the puck and opening up the centre of the ice, Tampa Bay becomes a far more serious threat.
5. Boston Bruins: Tomas Kaberle (Defense)
Yes, I know the hockey media has beat this horse to death, but they have a point.
He is not the same player as he was on the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was brought in mainly as a power-play specialist. Unfortunately for the B's, in the seven-game series against Montreal, they have zero points off the power play.
This is not to say Kaberle is the sole reason for these numbers, but if he can dictate special teams the way he did in Toronto, the Bruins are insanely dangerous.
4. San Jose Sharks: Antti Niemi (Goaltender)
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Antti Niemi was beyond impressive in last year's Stanley Cup run with the Chicago Blackhawks. This year, though, has so far been a different story. In the playoffs his numbers stand at an .863 save percentage and a 4.00 goals-against average. If San Jose wants to surpass the Red Wings in the next round, they need their goaltender to stand on his head. Detroit's play may not be flashy, but they are still an offensive juggernaut (do not let the trap game fool you).
Antero Niittymaki has played 91 minutes (49, 42) in two games when coming in to replace Niemi and has posted impressive numbers, allowing only one goal. So if worse comes to worse and San Jose has to switch their goaltending, they may not be in trouble.
3. Nashville Predators: Pekka Rinne (Goaltender)
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Pekka Rinne has very little playoff experience and has yet to play over six games professionally in one playoff season, aside from the 14 he played for the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL in 2005-06.
In Game 4 against the Anaheim Ducks, he allowed six goals on only 29 shots and aside from Games 1 and 6, he has not posted a better save percentage than .885 (.852, .853, .793, .885).
The Predators have an uphill battle by facing a deep Vancouver Canucks team, so Rinne needs to be stellar. Luckily enough for them, Rinne posted a 1.26 goals-against average, a .962 save percentage and one shutout in four games this season against the Canucks.
2. Philadelphia Flyers: Crop of Goaltenders
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Once again the story is the same for the Philadelphia Flyers: "Where is the goaltending?"
Jokingly, Johan Backlund is pictured because who knows how desperate the Flyers can get considering they have used their entire crop of goaltenders in the first round alone.
Perhaps Roman Cechmanek will make an appearance? Has anyone heard from Robert Esche?
They will likely stick with Brian Boucher when facing the Boston Bruins (alliteration much?).
Bobrovsky disappeared in the first two games, but perhaps head coach Peter Laviolette acted to hastily. Too late now, though.
The Bruins vs. Flyers series can go either way. In the end the defining factor will likely be Philly's goaltending, but who knows what Laviolette will do if Boucher does not work out early.
1. Vancouver Canucks: Roberto Luongo (Goaltender)
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You have heard it in the media and now you are hearing it from me; Roberto Luongo has to step his game up. He has not often been touted as a playoff performer, never actually, considering his inconsistency. In Games 4 and 5, he allowed 10 goals on 40 shots (.750 percent).
He went under heavy scrutiny from the media already, but that is probably a good thing. Being able to get through a tough playoff series and surviving the media, can help him in the long run. As long as he does not repeat his play from the games he lost in the series, the Canucks should be fine.
But the question still remains if Luongo can play up to par.
We will have to wait and see...