If Tuesday night was any indication, teams may live or die by special teams.
That might seem like common sense, yet recent numbers indicate that PPG’s have been tougher to come by than they were about a decade ago. Now, a day or even half of a round doesn’t provide enough evidence that things are really changing, but it has been interesting to see a few hot power-play units really swing games.
The Lightning grabbed at least one win already because they nailed their chances. I think great goaltending and insane efficiency bought the Blues at least a couple of wins. Nashville, meanwhile, needs to take a long look at what they are doing. (Are the Predators telegraphing things to Shea Weber a little too much? Is this where their offense-by-committee approach crumbles?)
Much like offside goal reviews, power plays clicking at a high rate in big situations might only be the story of a day or two rather than the entire playoffs. Still, the PPG’s have been sticking out like a sore thumb to me lately.
Editor's Note: This is your chance to try FanDuel risk free! Sign up today and if you lose your first contest, you’ll be refunded the entry fee up to $10. Play now.
PENGUINS 3, RANGERS 1 (Pittsburgh leads series 2-1)
-- Pretty lousy effort by the Rangers here. They only managed 17 SOG against Matt Murray while the Penguins fired 31 at Hank.
Murray looks promising to the degree that Penguins fans are wondering about Marc-Andre Fleury’s future AND THAT’S ACTUALLY REASONABLE (in my opinion), but even so … this was his playoff debut. Why not see if he’s a little jittery by trying to score rather than playing the buttoned up game this Rangers team has employed all too often?
Game 2 made a decent enough argument that the Rangers can trade haymakers with the Penguins, but maybe I’m wrong.
-- Evgeni Malkin has an assist in each of his two games back from injury.
Despite playing far less (13:30 TOI in Game 3 after 19:29 in Game 2), Geno fired three SOG and generated two PIM after not managing to get a SOG or penalty in the previous contest.
I didn't get any impression that Malkin got hurt. Instead, the Penguins might just be using No. 71 conservatively (or maybe they think that he's struggling a bit to get up to speed?).
-- Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel are both looking spry with two goals and two assists apiece. That's quite a relief for those of us who were getting ready to roll our eyes at pundits who were likely itching to churn out unimaginative columns about one or both of them "choking."
Give the hacks time, though.
-- Rick Nash finally was rewarded with a goal after generating some dangerous chances in the previous two games (while certainly being respectable by grabbing an assist in each of Game 1 and 2).
He's connected on 20 percent of his shots (1 for 5), which by Nash's bizarre playoff standards is a small miracle. (His career shooting percentage is a miserable 5.2.)
-- I'd guess Kris Letang would get more love if he could stay healthy.
Look how he filled the stat sheet on Tuesday: goal, two PIM, three SOG, two hits, four blocked shots, more than two minutes shorthanded and on the power play and 26:32 TOI overall.
(The Penguins have to be pleased any time they can win and keep his ice time at least reasonable.)
-- In his first game back from injury, Ryan McDonagh logged 22:48 TOI with a -1 rating. He didn't really make any statistical impact beyond that minus rating.
LIGHTNING 3, RED WINGS 2 (Tampa Bay is up 3-1 in the series)
-- Two of the Lightning players who could stand to gain a LOT of money with a strong playoffs are doing everything in their power to make that happen.
Nikita Kucherov deserves the first mention, even if he's not the ringleader in the drama category.
After an excellent regular season (30 goals, 66 points), Kucherov is off to a blistering start in the playoffs, especially if you give him a mulligan for a bad Game 3.
He scored two goals and one assist in Game 4, giving him eight points in four playoff games so far. His luck will fade to some extent (five goals on just 14 SOG for a sky-high 35.7 shooting percentage), yet he may really see an even nicer raise if his confidence continues to climb.
-- The other Bolt with a ton to gain is Jonathan Drouin.
You could say that Game 4 was an excellent argument of the pros and cons of the young forward. He had a -2 rating and a defensive miscue here and there, making some wonder about his even-strength viability.
On the other hand, he generated three assists, including two primary helpers.
All three came on the power play, as the Lightning were reliant on the PP for all three of their goals (3-for-5). The Red Wings went 0-for-4, so special teams let them down in this one.
-- The Lightning are up 3-1, but I haven't really gotten the impression that they're outright dominating the Red Wings. Dispatching Detroit in Game 5 would be a pretty nice bonus for a Tampa Bay team that's riddled with injuries.
(They kind of deserve the luck in the grand scheme of things. Right?)
-- Pavel Datsyuk didn't score a point in what may have been his final home game with the Red Wings. He also struggled with a 29 percent faceoff winning percentage. He did manage three SOG in 16:21 SOG, so not all bad ... but the Red Wings' big two might be waning.
Then again, they usually bounce back when I start to wonder about them most loudly, so we'll see.
BLUES 4, BLACKHAWKS 3 (St. Louis leads series 3-1)
-- This has been an odd series.
On one hand, the Blues have received awful luck with some very high-profile calls (and subtler ones) going against them. The narrative seems to point to pro-Blackhawks conspiracy theories, even if the calls really might come down to mistakes by officials.
(It's a waste of life to go TOO deep into this, though I understand for those who are more fans of specific teams than the league as a whole.)
On the other hand, the Blackhawks have generated significant SOG advantages in all three of the Blues' wins, yet the combination of Vladimir Tarasenko and Brian Elliott keeps dragging the Blues to the finish line.
Power play has also been big for St. Louis the last two games: 2-for-3 in Game 3 and 2-for-4 in Game 4.
-- Elliott stopped 39 out of 42 shots and, amusingly, his save percentage for this series "lowered" to .954. He was absolutely electric in the regular season and is the top reason why St. Louis has a chance to exorcise one of its demons if the Blues can win once more against the Blackhawks.
That would be more of a sure thing if the Blues weren't so dependent upon Elliott. Can he keep pulling rabbits out of his hat?
-- Vladimir Tarasenko has been money in the playoffs since day one, but wow, this series really might be his mainstream unveiling. He scored two huge goals and assisted on the game-winner. He has 17 SOG and plenty of other attempts in this series and just seems like a riddle the Blackhawks cannot solve.
-- This one got awfully nasty at the end with PIM flying around. Chicago ended the game with 78 PIM while the Blues finished with 62.
DUCKS 3, PREDATORS 0 (Nashville leads series 2-1)
-- Anaheim replaced John Gibson with Frederik Andersen, who stopped 27 SOG to grab a shutout. Maybe there will come a point where this isn't true in the future, but right now, I can't say that one of the Ducks' two goalies clearly stands taller, so why not go with the hot hand?
-- The Predators went 0-for-5 on the power play in this game, with some of their runs looking especially uninspired. They're now 1-for-13 in the series and while the Ducks only have one PP goal themselves, Anaheim's man advantage might get going with more chances (the Ducks are 1-for-10, so discipline is likely to even out).
Honestly, this series has been a little weird so far. Can a "feeling out process" last more than three playoff games?
-- Tough game for Filip Forsberg, who went without a point and suffered a -3 rating. That said, he did generate some chances (four SOG in Game 3) and he remains a point-per-game playoff performer both in 2016 and in his career so far.
-- Despite receiving just 7:13 TOI, Chris Stewart scored a goal and an assist for the Ducks. He's become a disappointment considering his faded potential as a guy who can score a decent number of goals and spam the penalties, but as a guy who can drift in and out of relevance, he's a respectable depth piece for the Ducks.
-- Nashville has to hope that Pekka Rinne shakes this one off. They can't afford for Rinne to regress back to his early-season form (although some would merely argue that his lower moments represent "The real Rinne").