1 Red Flag for 8 NHL Playoff Contenders

Abbey MastraccoApril 21, 2022

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Zach Bogosian (24) looks away as the Detroit Red Wings celebrate left wing Lucas Raymond's goal (23) during the third period an NHL hockey game Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
AP Photo/Jason Behnken

The Florida Panthers came back to force overtime against the New York Islanders on Tuesday night at UBS Arena and needed only 20 seconds to win the game in the bonus period to record their 11th straight victory.

Captain Aleksander Barkov recorded a hat trick in the 3-2 win, and Jonathan Huberdeau moved one step closer to winning the Art Ross Trophy by taking over as the league’s points leader with 111.

The team talked about building up their overall game to what they want it to look like during the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"There have been some comebacks, some three- or four-goal comebacks, and that’s not the way we want to play," Barkov said. "But we’ve talked a lot about keeping games tight and not letting [opponents] score a lot. The last few games have been like that. The most we’ve given up is like three goals in the last few games, so I think we’re heading in the right direction.

"We just have to keep building, and there are still a few things we need to clean up. But we will."

There isn’t much for a team with a plus-100 goal differential to clean up. The Panthers and the Colorado Avalanche each have 116 points and are competing for the Presidents' Trophy.

Plus, Florida may be getting back defenseman Aaron Ekblad soon, as he skated with the team earlier in the day on Long Island. Meanwhile, Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog (knee) started skating with the team during its current road trip, as The Athletic's Peter Baugh showed.

The Avs and the Panthers are the favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup because they don’t have any glaring weaknesses. But what about the teams that do?

We’re nearing the finish line of the 2021-22 regular season. We have seen enough of the teams to be able to figure out their strengths and point out the red flags.

Let’s explore some of those red flags before the regular season concludes April 29.

Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Jon Cooper instructs his team during the third period an NHL hockey game against the Detroit Red Wings Tuesday, April 19, 2022, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Jason Behnken)
AP Photo/Jason Behnken

Tampa Bay Lightning: Failing to Play the Full 60 Minutes

Are the two-time defending champs slumping at the wrong time?

The lottery-bound Detroit Red Wings scored three goals against the Bolts in a span of 3:57 in the second period of their tilt Tuesday. This came after a dominant first period. Coach Jon Cooper later told reporters that he sees this as a recurring theme of sorts and wants it to end before the playoffs get underway.

"It's one of those games that we clearly beat ourselves, and it's becoming probably a little bit too much of our story in a game that I thought, after the first period, we had full control of, and we weren't satisfied and sticking with it," Cooper said. "Then you saw what happened."

In case you didn't see what happened, Cooper elaborated: "It was just odd-mans, breakaways, turnovers, and it's perplexing why some of these players that have been with us for a while—especially in Game 76—are continuing to do this. It's too bad."

It’s easy to take your foot off the gas when a playoff spot has already been locked up. This is also a team that can make up a big deficit quickly, but it will get tougher to do that in the postseason.

No one knows better than the Lightning the type of mental toughness it takes to win four seven-game series, but they haven’t shown a lot of that in a month wherein they have gone 4-4-2. Maybe some adversity is good for a team like this, but it’s far too late in the season to be trying to establish good habits and consistency.

ST. LOUIS, MO - APRIL 19: St. Louis Blues right wing Pavel Buchnevich (89) reaches in to get the puck from Boston Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy (73) during a NHL game between the Boston Bruins and the St. Louis Blues on April 19, 2022, at Enterprise Center, St. Louis, MO.  (Photo by Keith Gillett/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images),
Icon Sportswire

Boston Bruins: A Powerless Power Play

The Boston Bruins clinched a playoff spot Saturday with a win over the Pittsburgh Penguins. But this is a team that's had its lapses as well.

There was a particularly bad loss to the Ottawa Senators earlier in April that exposed the dismal state of the Bruins' power play. Boston went 0-for-5 with the man advantage in that game and haven’t fared much better since, failing to score a power-play goal in their past two games. They're 0-for-27 on power play in their past eight games. 

The B's are ranked 15th in overall power-play conversion (21.4 percent), so you could say it's mostly been so-so throughout the season. And missing David Pastrnak doesn't help, either. He leads the team with 38 goals, 14 of which have come on the power play. Pastrnak’s signature one-timer from the left faceoff circle is a tough shot to save for a goalie who is trying to go from post-to-post.

However, the underlying metrics aren’t great: According to Natural Stat Trick Boston isn’t creating a ton of scoring chances on the power play.

A good power play isn’t crucial in the playoffs, but it's often the difference in close games. Facing a team like Florida, which averages more than four goals per game, will require all of the offense the Bruins can get. They need more from special teams.

Carolina Hurricanes goaltender Frederik Andersen (31) is helped off the ice by Jesperi Kotkaniemi (82) and a trainer during the third period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Colorado Avalanche on Saturday, April 16, 2022, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)
AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

Carolina Hurricanes: Injuries

Much like the Avs, Panthers and maybe even the Calgary Flames, the Carolina Hurricanes don’t have any big weaknesses. They are known for their high-flying and high-volume offense, but they also limit chances on the other end effectively and have a potential Vezina Trophy candidate in net to bail them out.

However, the contender for that award, Frederik Andersen, has got hurt at the worst time. He went down with a lower-body injury against Colorado on Saturday in a game that was billed as a potential Stanley Cup Final preview.

It sounds like Andersen could be ready to return for the playoffs, with TSN and The Athletic insider Pierre LeBrun reporting that the goalie's MRI came back negative. But if Andersen is ruled out, then the team will have to go with backup Antti Raanta. No disrespect to Raanta, but there is a drop-off in quality between him and his teammate.

Captain Jordan Staal was also knocked out of that same game, and Jesperi Kotkaniemi is also out as well. It’s not uncommon for injuries to be aggravated at this time of year, but starting the postseason without a captain and a goalie would be a big blow for a favored contender.

Minnesota Wild's Kirill Kaprizov (97) brings the puck down the ice as St. Louis Blues' Nathan Walker (26) defends during the first period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, April 16, 2022, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson

Minnesota Wild: 2-7-5 in Last 14 Games Against the St. Louis Blues

Looking at the standings, the likelihood that the Minnesota Wild face the St. Louis Blues in the first round of the playoffs is high. This isn’t a good matchup for Minnesota, which hasn’t shown that it can beat the Blues when it counts.

The best example of this might be the Winter Classic, when Jordan Kyrou spoiled a celebration of all things Minnesota with his four-point night. But the Wild were coming off of an extended COVID-19 pause, and an outdoor game is an easy one to look at as an outlier given the unusual elements teams have to deal with.

But this record of 12 losses in 14 tries dates back a few seasons. And the stakes are higher for Minnesota this year. This team has made it known that it is going for it. The Wild acquired reigning Vezina winner Marc-Andre Fleury at the trade deadline when they already had an All-Star goalie in Cam Talbot, partially because of Fleury’s postseason prowess. They also made moves to get tougher up and down the lineup, and they want to capitalize on high-scoring wing Kirill Kaprizov's prime.

Minnesota’s group is a little banged up as well, so health will be important, but the one thing it does have going for it is a favorable home schedule through the rest of the season.

The Wild play five of their last six regular-season games at home, and they have played well at Xcel Energy Center this season, going 27-7-2 in St. Paul.

If they continue their winning ways over the next week, they could secure home-ice advantage, which would be even more advantageous against a team they haven’t fared well against in recent years, especially when you look at Minnesota's record in St. Louis: 0-4-3 in the past seven trips to Missouri.

DENVER, COLORADO - APRIL 18: Ilya Samsonov #30 of the Washington Capitals skates to net during a pause in play against the Colorado Avalanche at Ball Arena on April 18, 2022 in Denver, Colorado. The Capitals defeated the Avalanche 3-2.  (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

Edmonton Oilers, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins: Goaltending 

Each of these teams has a different situation in net, but they are grouped together since they all have red flags at the position.

Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Tristan Jarry is "week-to-week" with a lower-body injury, but he was spotted wearing a boot in the team photo and riding a scooter around PPG Paints Arena by TribLIVE.com's Chris Adamski. If he's out for an extended period, Louis Domingue and Casey DeSmith will have a large net to fill considering how well Jarry has played this season (34-18-6, .919 save percentage).

Jarry’s playoff struggles have been well-documented, but he's considerably better than either DeSmith or Domingue.

Inconsistent goaltending has plagued the Washington Capitals all season, and their .903 save percentage is the worst among all teams that occupy a playoff spot. However, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Los Angeles Kings are barely above the .900 mark as well.

Jack Campbell has returned from his rib injury in Toronto, which is promising for the Leafs if he can recapture the form he showed during the first half of the season. In Edmonton, recently appointed head coach Jay Woodcroft hasn’t exactly fixed goalies Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen, but he does have the team playing much better in front of them.

All of these teams have had goaltending issues at some point throughout the season. The goaltending in Edmonton was one of the factors that led to the club dismissing coach Dave Tippett in February. It’s been the biggest problem in Washington, and it’s held back Toronto at times throughout the season.