San Jose Sharks

Playoff Primer: San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights

As I continue my deep dive into the potential first round matchups for team that have already punched their tickets to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, I would like to focus on an inevitable bout between the San Jose Sharks and Vegas Golden Knights.

As was the case before, we will look at all three positional groups and see which team is favored in each.

Forwards:

San Jose boasts a really good balance of wiley veterans and talented youth. They are led by Tomas Hertl, who is in the midst of a career year, and Logan Coture, who continues to impress. Hertl leads all Sharks forwards with 33 goals and 32 assists. Joe Pavelski remains dangerous with the puck on his stick, netting 37 goals. If anyone was wondering whether Jumbo Joe Thornton would have any value, after his injury troubles last season, you need not worry, as he has potted 16 goals and 30 assists in a diminished role. His steadying influence and hockey sense from a 3rd line Center is immeasurable. Centering a line with Kevin Lebanc and Marcus Sorensen has produced one of the most lethal third lines in hockey. In his first full season with the team, Evander Kane is on pace to break his career high in points, set in 2011-12 with the Winnipeg Jets. The San Jose Sharks are one of the few teams in the league that is willing to roll all four lines, regardless of the situation.

Embed from Getty Images

The Vegas Golden Knights’ clocks must be broken, because it has not yet struck midnight on this Cinderella story. Despite the departures of key veterans, James Neal and David Perron, they are still finding ways to win games and raise the bar for all future expansion teams. Led again by their three superstars, Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, and Jon Marchessault, Vegas remains credible as a Cup contender. Factor in the new additions Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny, and Mark Stone, and depth will not be called into question. The Knights also have the grit and toughness to play close and meaningful games in the playoffs, with guys like William Carrier and Ryan Reaves on the fourth line.

Embed from Getty Images

Advantage: San Jose, slightly

Defense:

What do you do if you have one of the most gifted offensive defenseman in the league? Obviously, you add the single most offensively gifted defenseman of his generation (objective opinion). Having Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson manning your top 4 is probably cheating on an EA game, but it has been quite successful for the San Jose Sharks this season. Add in some Vlasic Dill Pickles (Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Brenden Dillon), and you got a defensive sandwich with the crust still on (what adult takes the crust off anyway). Beyond their defensive abilities, San Jose gets a lot of offensive production from their blue liners, as they are led by Brent Burns with 13 goals and 64 assists. The aggression of the defense has not come without drawbacks, as the Sharks have given up 237 goals, the 12th most in the league.

Vegas relies a bit less on the offensive prowess of their defensemen. They are not immune to scoring, with Shea Theodore and Nate Schmidt both eclipsing the 30 point total. Their defensemen, in conjunction with their goaltending, have only allowed 211 goals. The disciplined structure that Gerard Gallant has instilled in his club only allows 29.1 shots against per game. That is good for fourth best in the league. If the Knights can keep the daunting San Jose powered play off the ice, it would go a long way toward taking the series.

Advantage: Push

Goaltending:

If you look up inconsistent goaltending in the dictionary, you will find Martin Jones‘ smiling face staring back at you. In 58 appearances, Jones has just a .431 Quality Start % (QS%). And things get much worse with Aaron Dell manning the cage, as he has just .278 QS%. The two have combined for 18 Really Bad Starts. If Jones cannot find his 2016 form, this could be a very short series.

Embed from Getty Images

Standing in the opposite crease, you will find Marc-Andre Fleury. While his stats may not match up to his career year of a year ago, his workload has increased significantly. In 59 appearances, Fleury has a .914 SV% and 2.46 GAA with 8 shutouts. As was evident throughout the playoffs last season, Fleury can carry this team to the promised land.

Embed from Getty Images

Advantage: Vegas

Prediction:

Both teams have had bouts of inconsistency throughout the season, but in a seven game series between two evenly matched teams, I am always betting on the Goalie that I can trust.

Vegas in 6

stats provided by hockey-reference.com and nhl.com

featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals

Puck77 is looking for Pacific Division contributors. If you are interested in joining, click here.

 

 

 

Calgary Flames

Playoff Primer: Calgary Flames vs. Dallas Stars

The Calgary Flames are playoff bound, but who will they play in the first round?

Yesterday, we previewed what a potential bout with the Colorado Avalanche would look like against the Calgary Flames. Now, let’s see how they stack up against the Dallas Stars.

Again, we will look at all three positional groups and see who has the decided advantage in each category.

Forwards:

I shined a spotlight on the top 6 for the Flames yesterday, so lets take a look at the depth and role players. One of the biggest moves that Calgary made in the offseason was the signing of James Neal, a perennial 30 goal scorer. Due to injury and inconsistent play, he has not been able to bring his usual production to the Saddledome. He has 5 goals and 10 assists in 57 games. The 3rd line, as a whole, has not produced at a level that makes Flames fans comfortable in the playoffs, where depth scoring is usually the difference between contenders and pretenders. However, their 4th line has made up the difference. Part of the reason for that is their ability to swing momentum on the Penalty Kill. Calgary leads the league with 18 shorthanded goals. That has not necessarily equated to overall success on the PK, as they rank 19th in the league.

Embed from Getty Images

Dallas has an equally impressive top 6 forward group as the Flames. With Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov leading the way, and Roope Hintz quickly becoming one of the best faceoff men in the league. So let’s take a deep dive into their third and fourth liners, and see how they measure up. In a move to bolster their depth, the Stars traded Devan Shore to the Anaheim Ducks for the always reliable Andrew Cogliano. That trade has helped drive the possession metrics, even though it has not added much to the score sheets. Dallas will get a huge boost to their depth when Mats Zuccarello returns from a broken arm, which he suffered in his first game after being traded from the New York Rangers. His addition should move Jason Dickinson back to the third line, which will add some scoring to the bottom six. Depending on how first year head coach, Jim Montgomery, decides to deploy his lines, these bottom trios will have a hard time matching up with the Flames.

Embed from Getty Images

Advantage: Calgary

Defenseman:

As the NHL finishes etching Mark Giordano‘s name on the Norris Trophy, we can look at the rest of the defenseman for the Calgary Flames. Another major change for the Flames was the draft day trade that brought Noah Hanifin into the fold. While he has not produced at the rate of Dougie Hamilton, he has played okay for the most part, notching 5 goals and 25 assists. He and Travis Hamonic have been very steady, as a pair, contributing 6.4 and 6.0 Defensive Point Shares, respectively. In his first full season with the Flames, Rasmus Andersson has been very impressive. He has 2 goals and 12 assists, and has seen time on the 2nd Power Play unit.

Embed from Getty Images

For the Stars, Miro Heiskanen has taken the league by storm. He should likely get some consideration for the Calder Trophy. The teenager has 10 goals and 21 assists while averaging over 23 minutes of ice time. Pair him with Esa Lindell and John Klingberg, and you have one of the best top 4 in the league. Newly acquired Ben Lovejoy helps steady the Stars penalty kill and provides great shot blocking ability. While you might not get the offensive production from the Stars blue line that you do from the Flames, but the steadying defense could make up the difference.

Embed from Getty Images

Advantage: Dallas

Goaltending:

I outlined most of the major stats for Calgary’s net minders yesterday. So let’s get right into the Dallas Stars net minders.

Ben Bishop has been nothing short of amazing this season. He will likely get the dubious honor of watching his former protege win the Vezina Trophy. He has netted a .932 SV% and 2.05 GAA with 6 shutouts. Even more impressive is that the dropoff has not been that sharp when the Stars have to go to their backup, Anton Khudobin. Khudobin has a .924 SV% and 2.53 GAA. I don’t think it will spark much debate as to who will have the decided advantage going into the series.

Embed from Getty Images

Advantage: Dallas

This is one of those matchups that looks one sided, when you break it down like this. However, the story of Dallas’ season this year has been inconsistency and inability to generate scoring outside of their big 3. Would those demons rear their ugly heads in the playoffs or can Montgomery finally get the team to gel?

Prediction: Calgary in 7. 

We will have one more Playoff Primer for the Calgary Flames. Outlining other potential, but less likely, matchups that the Flames could face in the first round. 

Editor’s Note: We are looking for contributors to join our team for the Calgary Flames. Click Here to submit your application to join. 

stats provided by hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Calgary Flames

Playoff Primer: Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche

After missing the postseason last year, the Calgary Flames are poised to make a deep run for Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Currently, the Calgary Flames hold a 6 point lead over the San Jose Sharks for first place in the Pacific Division and the Western Conference. Let’s take a look at some of the potential hurdles that they could face in the first round.

Colorado Avalanche

As the standings lie right now, Calgary would face off against the squad from the Rockies. The Avalanche started off the season very hot before going through a rather rough stretch in December and January. Over the past few weeks, Philipp Grubauer has firmly cemented himself as their starting goaltender. If he can carry that play into the postseason, Colorado will not be an easy matchup for the Flames.

Let’s take a look at all three facets of the matchup and see who comes out on top.

Forwards:

The Calgary Flames have been powered, all season, by their Hart Trophy contender, Johnny Gaudreau. He leads the club in most statistical categories, and has been a nightmare for opposing coaches. He is not alone, though. The Flames have 4 forwards, including Gaudreau, that have eclipsed the 70 point plateau. Matthew Tkachuk, Elias Lindholm, and Sean Monahan have all produced at career best paces.

Embed from Getty Images

Obviously, when you talk about the Avs, a lot can be said about their top line. Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon, and Gabriel Landeskog has formed one of the most dangerous lines in hockey over the past two seasons. Each player has averaged about a point per game, and has been the catalysts for the teams drive toward the post season. What Colorado has been lacking is depth. Their next highest scoring forward, outside of the top line, is Carl Solderberg, with just 45 points in 76 games.

Embed from Getty Images

Advantage: Calgary

Defwenseman:

Ponce de Leon clearly took a wrong turn at Albuquerque when searching for the Fountain of Youth. Clearly, Mark Giordano has found it in Alberta, Canada. The 35 year old blue-liner is having a career year, with 72 points in 76 games. Both Giordano and defense partner, T.J. Brodie have dominated the plus minus category, as well. They each rank in the top 5 in the league.

Embed from Getty Images

Colorado has gotten some reasonable production, offensively, from their defenseman. Three separate blue liners have surpassed the 20 point mark, with Tyson Barrie leading them with 53 points. He is joined by Erik Johnson and Samuel Girard. Possession metrics have not been favorable to the Avalanche defense. Only 2 of their regular defenseman have a positive relative Corsi For %. As Calgary is a team that generates a lot of shots on goal, this does not bode well for the Pepsi Center residents.

Advantage: Calgary

Goaltending:

This is where the matchup could get a little bit tricky. Calgary has used a pretty balanced approach to their goaltending this season. With David Rittich getting 42 appearances and Mike Smith getting 38 appearances. Rittich has a .911 SV% and a 2.63 GAA, while Smith has a .899 SV% and a 2.77 GAA. While Rittich has had quality starts in 24 of his 39 starts, he has also had 8 really bad starts (games with a save percentage below 85%). Smith has only had quality starts in half of his starts, 18 out of 36, and also has 8 really bad starts.

While Semyon Varlamov has had the lion’s share of the workload for the Colorado Avalanche this season, it has been Philipp Grubauer that has brought the team back into the playoff picture over the past couple weeks. In his last 5 games, he is 4-0-1 with a shutout. For the season, Varlamov has a .910 SV% and 2.86 GAA, while Grubs boasts a .914 SV% and 2.71 GAA. Varlamov has 9 RBS, while Grubauer has only 5.

Embed from Getty Images

Advantage: Colorado, if they stick with Grubauer. 

Prediction:

Calgary could be such an interesting top seed in the playoffs. The lack of confidence that I have in their goaltenders could make an upset very possible. In this matchup, however, I think the lack of scoring depth will be Colorado’s undoing.

Calgary in 6. 

 stats provided by hockey-reference.com

featured image photo credit – Josh Tessler

Minnesota Wild: Zach Parise’s Comeback Season

It’s no secret. In the world of sports, players are going to have hot streaks and cold streaks. Often enough, they offset in a season, so the final product averages out against the other years.

Of course, there’s the exception of the new players who continue to improve before finding a sustainable number that they hit each year.

Ebbs and flows are simply a reality in sports.

Another fact of sports are the “comeback” seasons that some athletes experience. These seasons either spark them back into multiple seasons of increased productivity, or they lead the fan-base to increasing frustration wanting more production from a player that was proven possible, but isn’t being produced.

Minnesota Wild right winger #11 Zach Parise is in the middle of one of those seasons.

Embed from Getty Images

Zach Parise‘s Wild Career: 

Parise, who signed on with the Wild in 2012, has boasted seasons with 56, 62, 53, 42, and currently 48 points, in seasons where 50 or more games were played. His 22 goals and 26 assists to date put him on pace for  72 points this season. This would be his best season since the 2009-10 season when he played for the New Jersey Devils (and notched a whopping 82). For context, if we were to pro-rate each of these previous season point totals to an 82-game season, here’s what we would come up with: 68, 69, 62, and 48. Perhaps not the worst numbers around the league, but you’d hope for better from one of your top players.

Additionally, last season, of course, in which Parise only played 42 games, he scored 24 points. At an 82-game pace, that would have totaled 46 points (yikes!). He currently stands at 46 points with 29 games left to play in the regular season.

The Adjustment: 

The question all of this begs is why now? Perhaps the answer is simple: he’s shooting more accurately. Last season, Parise played only 42 games due to injury, and shot 12.6% on 173 total shots attempted. In the 2016-2017 season, Parise played 69 games, attempted 300 total shots (194 of them considered on goal) and had an excruciating shot percentage of 9.8. As this season currently stands, Parise, with the Wild having played 56 games, has a 12.4 shot percentage, but that is on a cumulative total of 263 shots (177 considered on goal)—a decrease of .2%, but on the 90 more shots he’s taken this season. Not only is he shooting, but his efficiency in that mix is changing the tune to which he’s playing.

Also worth noting is that, between last season and this, his average time on ice has increased by more than 70 seconds, a rather substantial jump in the world of hockey. That equates to roughly two extra shifts per game.

Is it sustainable? 

Moving forward, the two biggest factors facing the Wild are Parise’s health, and the ability of the winger to maintain shooting with the accuracy he’s had. If Parise stays healthy, he plays more. If he plays more, he doesn’t get rusty in off time. Giving him more opportunities to tally up more of those high caliber points.

While I do not anticipate a 70+ point season is realistic, seeing Parise rack up another 20 points in 26 games should be attainable. He averages roughly .87 points per game. The Wild, who are currently sitting in the second Wild Card slot of the Western Conference, are needing him to keep assisting and finding the net in this final stretch if they are hoping to solidify a chance at the cup.

The good news for Wild fans is that in his three playoff games last year Parise attained a point in each with a goal. Post season production is going to be vital if this team is hoping to make a big push. For now, though, the team needs to solidify a playoff berth. In order for Parise to keep his comeback season flame going, he needs to stay healthy.

Surely, Parise’s production is making his fans go Wild (and maybe easing the contract burden they’ve been feeling), but it remains to be seen if he can sustain this production through the final 26 games of the season, and into the post season. if they land a berth. Of course, this fan-base is also hoping this upgraded version of Parise hangs around for a while. This could prove troublesome for the winger, who’s signed through 2025.

Information from Capfriendly.comnhl.comhockey-reference.com, and foxsports.com

Featured Image Photo Credit – Nikos Michals

 

31 in 31: Top Ten Prospects Vol. 17 – Nashville Predators

Welcome back to my 31 in 31 Top Ten Prospect Series.

Yesterday, we went to Quebec and checked out the Montreal Canadiens’ prospect system. This group was highlighted by a group that are led by Nick Suzuki, Ryan Poehling, and Josh Brook. Today, we’re going to travel down to the Music City and check out who the Nashville Predators have waiting for their chance in the pipelines. Without further ado, let’s have a look.

1. Eeli Tolvanen (LW, 1st Round, 30th Overall in 2017)

Tolvanen was initially projected to be a top-15 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, but he ended up slipping all the way down to 30th overall. The Nashville Predators were more than happy to scoop up the KHL standout. He had an incredible season with Jokerit last year with 36 points in 49 games. Following this, the Predators brought him over to North America for his rookie season. He has 12 points in 23 games with the Milwaukee Admirals and two points in four games with the Predators.

2. Dante Fabbro (D, 1st Round, 17th Overall in 2016)

Unlike most prospects, Fabbro opted to play in the BCHL in his draft year over the CHL, but he performed well enough there to have the Predators select him at 17th Overall. The 20-year-old BC native is currently in his third season with Boston University where he’s team captain and has 13 points in 16 games so far this season.

3. Frederic Allard (D, 3rd Round, 78th Overall in 2016)

Approaching his 21st birthday, Frederic Allard has already been doing great things at the AHL level despite his age. The Quebec native currently has 17 points in 31 games with the Milwaukee Admirals and has made a positive impact at both ends of the ice. While still early, it looks like the Preds have a good one in Allard.

4. Alexandre Carrier (D, 4th Round, 115th Overall in 2015)

Another Quebec-born defenseman, Carrier was drafted one year earlier than Allard and doesn’t have as much of a size advantage as his fellow French d-man. However, he still has a chance to be a pretty solid defenseman as he has a lot untapped talent. He’s currently in his third full season with the Milwaukee Admirals and has 11 points in 30 games to his name.

5. Emil Pettersson (C, 6th Round, 155th Overall in 2013)

Getting closer to his 25th birthday, Pettersson unfortunately doesn’t have time on his side in his quest to make a name for himself with the Nashville Predators. However, if he keeps working hard and improving his game he could eventually secure himself an NHL job. The Sundsvall, Sweden native currently has 17 points in 30 games in the AHL so far.

6. Grant Mismash (C, 2nd Round, 61st Overall in 2017)

Mismash is a gritty forward who maximizes his physical game to the fullest, all while having great offensive instincts. He’s currently in his second NCAA season and has nine points in his first 17 games. If all goes according to plan, the Nashville Predators are hoping that Mismash can become a middle-six power forward at the NHL level.

7. Yakov Trenin (C, 2nd Round, 55th Overall in 2015)

Trenin has always been a solid two-way forward with a knack for goal scoring and popping his name up on the scoresheet. He’s had a bit of a rough go in his first two seasons in the AHL, struggling offensively. Currently he only has nine points in 30 games, but at 21 years old, he has lots of time to turn his game around.

8. Anthony Richard (4th Round, 100th Overall in 2015)

Richard is no stranger to the AHL at this point, currently in his third season with the Milwaukee Admirals. The Trois-Rivieres native currently has 19 points in 27 games and has steadily gotten better every season since being drafted.

9. David Farrance (D, 3rd Round, 92nd Overall in 2017)

Farrance is currently playing for Boston University of the NCAA, making him the third Nashville Predators prospect along with Fabbro and Harper to represent the team. He’s currently off to a solid start, putting up nine points in 16 games thus far.

10. Patrick Harper (C, 5th Round, 138th Overall in 2016)

Harper has lots of skill to his name but faces a disadvantage that most players don’t, which is size. Standing at a minuscule 5’7 and 160lbs, he will need to emphasize skill to be successful. He’s coming off of two successful seasons with Boston University but is off to a rough start this season, putting up only seven points in his first 16 games.

Thanks for reading! Tune in next time where we’ll go over the talent the New Jersey Devils have in their system.