2020 NHL Qualifying Spherical Playoff Preview: Western Convention Spherical-Robin
1. VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS – By Brian Costello
The Golden Knights had been one of many league’s finest groups below new coach Peter DeBoer. Who knew Gerard Gallant was such a giant drawback this season? We jest, in fact, about Gallant being the albatross, however clearly the message DeBoer began delivering actually hit house.
The Golden Knights had been Corsi darlings, cruising alongside at a league-leading 54.Eight % when the league shut down. Vegas was far and away the NHL chief in shot differential – averaging 34.5 per recreation (ranked first) and permitting 29.Three per recreation (tied for second-best). That’s a differential of 5.2 pictures per recreation. Carolina was the runner-up, however manner again at 4.0.
The Knights did it at each ends of the ice. They’re near a half purpose higher offensively below DeBoer and near a half purpose stingier below the brand new coach’s defensive scheme. The result’s virtually a purpose distinction per recreation, and it confirmed within the standings. Below Gallant, the Golden Knights had been operating fifth and out of the playoff image within the Pacific Division with a .551 factors proportion (24-19-6). In 22 video games below DeBoer, Vegas rose to first within the division with a .727 factors proportion (15-5-2). Solely three different groups had a greater file for the reason that Jan. 15 teaching change.
A balanced scoring assault resulted in 4 forwards on Vegas’ high two traces potting 20-plus objectives, with William Karlsson and Paul Stastny near that tempo. The depth might be essential with star left winger Max Pacioretty nonetheless on the “unfit to take part” listing to begin the post-season. The addition of Alec Martinez on the again finish properly rounds out a blueline that’s seven-plus deep with expertise.
Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury struggled for a great chunk of the season and posted his worst save proportion in a decade. A part of that has to do with Fleury’s sluggish begins to video games, and that had the Golden Knights chasing the vast majority of instances. Vegas led the league in objectives allowed within the first interval, a doubtful distinction. The arrival of Robin Lehner from Chicago stems that tide.
X-factor: We’re nonetheless undecided on the deep which means behind the acquisition of Lehner on the deadline. Was it merely depth as a result of the backup choices weren’t reducing it? Or is it to shorten the leash on Fleury, who has been mediocre? Lehner gained all three of his begins after arriving – with a .940 SP and 1.67 GAA – whereas Fleury gained one and misplaced two. It’s onerous to see Fleury on the bench when the playoffs start, however it isn’t onerous to think about Lehner within the crease when the season ends, a method or one other. When he coached San Jose, Pete DeBoer had no qualms about turning to backup Aaron Dell when Martin Jones’ recreation went south. The Golden Knights aren’t anticipated to call their starter till after the round-robin.
2. ST. LOUIS BLUES – By Jared Clinton
There was ample cause to imagine the Stanley Cup hangover was going to scuttle St. Louis’ shot at repeating as champions. The roster noticed little turnover, and a few believed the stagnation made the Blues ripe for a fall within the Central Division.
However this season has been the alternative of a decline for the group. The membership residing within the Present Me State made it clear it’s to be taken severely as a contender as soon as once more.
Most spectacular concerning the Blues is that they’re a multi-faceted workforce, relying not on one side of their recreation however taking part in successfully in all three zones. Offensively, St. Louis is a middle-of-the-pack group and hasn’t precisely gained by scoring in quantity recreation in and recreation out.
A number of gamers paced the Blues assault. They completed with six 40-point gamers, and 5 extra had been on tempo to achieve 30 factors. That offensive depth helped give St. Louis one of many high energy performs within the league, an asset that aids any professional contender within the playoffs.
That mentioned, a lot of the Blues’ success is based on defending, led by No. 1 blueliner Alex Pietrangelo and a loaded protection corps that features Colton Parayko, Justin Faulk and deadline pickup Marco Scandella. Collectively, alongside goaltender Jordan Binnington, the defensive group helped St. Louis to a top-five goals-against common.
And you may by no means rule out the significance of expertise. Having simply gained the Cup, this group is aware of how you can survive the playoff grind.
One phrase of warning, although: Binnington wasn’t fairly himself down the stretch. From Jan. 1 till the season was stopped, he had a sub-.900 save proportion and ranked 42nd among the many 53 goaltenders with at the least 10 video games performed over that span. He grew to become part of Blues lore together with his play en path to the 2018-19 championship, but when Binnington stumbles, St. Louis may very well be in for a short post-season stint this time round.
X-factor: After sustaining a shoulder damage in October that wanted surgical procedure, it was attainable Vladimir Tarasenko would have missed at the least the primary spherical of the playoffs had they began after they had been scheduled. However now the Blues may have the sharpshooting winger from the beginning, and that provides a deadly 40-goal scorer to an assault that’s already among the many league’s deepest. It additionally offers the league’s third-best energy play yet one more weapon. Already a stingy defensive outfit, the Blues may have the power to overwhelm any opposition at each ends of the ice with Tarasenko, who scored 11 playoff objectives final season, within the lineup.
3. COLORADO AVALANCHE – By Jared Clinton
How shortly issues can change. Three seasons in the past, the Avalanche had been seen as a moribund franchise. Now, below the steerage of coach Jared Bednar, Colorado is taken into account among the many NHL’s deepest and most harmful offensive outfits. And every part funnels by way of Nathan MacKinnon.
With every passing season, MacKinnon develops right into a extra dominating expertise, one able to altering a recreation with a single possession. He’s unquestionably the straw that stirs the offensive drink in Colorado.
Nonetheless, the changes GM Joe Sakic made within the low season to strengthen and deepen the Avalanche assault have paid unbelievable dividends. From big-name additions equivalent to second-line heart Nazem Kadri to low-risk, high-reward inkings equivalent to Valeri Nichushkin, the Avalanche have acquired greater than 75 objectives and 160 factors from a quintet of notable summer season acquisitions. The end result? Almost unrivalled offensive firepower. Colorado ranks among the many 5 finest groups in per-game purpose scoring, and if MacKinnon doesn’t get you, Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog or Andre Burakovsky will. Plus, no workforce might have benefitted extra from the NHL’s suspension of play, because the Avs would have had loads of damage considerations had the playoffs began as scheduled.
One worries concerning the Avalanche’s skill to win video games that don’t develop into end-to-end affairs, nevertheless. Regardless of some defensive weapons, Cale Makar chief amongst them, what Colorado lacks is a real shutdown pairing that may match up in opposition to the opposition’s finest. And the way will the Avalanche maintain up in grind-style video games? The hope is Colorado can take advantage of its alternatives after they develop into accessible in low-scoring contests, maybe on the facility play. Surprisingly, although, particular groups play hasn’t been a powerful swimsuit. The very last thing Colorado will need is a sequence that turns right into a slog.
X-factor: Goaltending could be the place of most significance within the post-season, however it might be the place at which the Avalanche are least assured. Philipp Grubauer, who was sidelined down the stretch, has solely 16 video games expertise within the post-season and an entirely unflattering profession .909 save proportion. In the meantime, Pavel Francouz, he of an unpleasant .895 SP and three.31 GAA in 4 AHL playoff video games final season, has by no means seen post-season motion within the NHL. Towards a defense-minded opponent, goaltending will swing the sequence, and if both Grubauer or Francouz exhibits cracks, it’ll spell catastrophe for the Avalanche.
4. DALLAS STARS – By Jared Clinton
The Stars need to smother and suffocate each opponent who crosses their path. That’s the purpose.
Whereas coach Rick Bowness’ group wasn’t tops within the league in suppressing pictures or stopping makes an attempt on web, the place Dallas thrives is in limiting prime alternatives in opposition to. Led on the blueline by the woefully underrated trio of Miro Heiskanen, John Klingberg and Esa Lindell, there are few groups throughout the league that give as little to the opposition because the Stars. Dallas was so good at insulating its crease that Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have among the many finest particular person statistics of any goaltenders within the league. It’s no surprise their mixed save proportion is best than that of every other duo.
We’ve seen how efficient the Stars’ defensive model of play could be within the post-season, too. It was simply final 12 months that Dallas practically toppled the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues within the second spherical. The 2 groups had been so evenly matched that it took double time beyond regulation in Sport 7 to determine the sequence. Had it not been for that OT purpose, who is aware of the place the Stars’ playoff run would have ended?
The problem, nevertheless, is that that Dallas at instances turns into so transfixed with its own-zone play that it virtually totally foregoes offense. Solely 5 groups scored fewer objectives per recreation than the Stars, and solely a kind of golf equipment – the Columbus Blue Jackets – made the playoffs.
It’s no surprise, then, that rookie Denis Gurianov was Dallas’ solely 20-goal scorer, and Tyler Seguin was the one Star to exceed the 40-point plateau. In taking part in such staunch defensive hockey, Dallas places itself in peril of offensive lulls which are tough to shake. It may be a chore for the Stars to flip the swap offensively in instances of want after they’ve spent the vast majority of an outing offering a shell for his or her netminders. All of which is to say: leaping out to an early lead is essential.
X-factor: Few gamers put on their coronary heart on their sleeve fairly like Joe Pavelski, the previous Sharks captain who was a cap casualty in San Jose. After signing in the summertime, he grew to become a key middle-six cog in Dallas. Although the veteran heart has had a modest offensive output, he stays a premier net-front participant – and maybe nobody within the league is as adept at high-slot ideas because the 36-year-old. His play in all three zones has been a boon to the Dallas lineup. He got here oh-so-close to profitable a Stanley Cup in San Jose, and he’s within the twilight of his profession. He could be a participant the Stars rally round, and his play is bound to encourage.
Sunday, Aug. 2, 6:30 p.m.: Blues vs. AvalancheMonday, Aug. 3, 6:30 p.m: Stars vs. Golden KnightsWednesday, Aug. 5, 6:30 p.m.: Avalanche vs. StarsThursday, Aug. 6, TBD: Golden Knights vs. BluesSaturday, Aug. 8, TBD: Golden Knights vs. AvalancheSunday, Aug. 9, TBD: Stars vs. Blues
(all video games listed in japanese time)
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