Welcome to Hockey After Dark, a nightly recap of the NHL playoffs made possible by insomnia, playoff anxiety, and my BFF caffeine. Come for the topical social commentary, and stay for the sporadic in-depth analysis littered with obscure literary references. If you enjoy the snark, feel free to follow me at @DXTraeger.
(if you don’t care about any other team other than the Penguins- and really, why should you?- then skip to the bottom for my Game 3 preview)
David Pastrnak Tallies 6 Points, Might Be Good at this Hockey Thing
In a development certain to send Toronto Media Fanbois like Steve Simmons and Stephen Burtch into “existential crisis mode,” their beloved Toronto Maple Leafs are folding like Dan Harrington (without any of his success) and the Leafs are now not only down 0-2 in their series with the Boston Bruins, but everything about Toronto’s play to this point has been as suspect as Simmons’ made-up stories (see: Kessel, Phil).
The B’s David Pastrnak and his first-line teammates were a wrecking crew, with each forward picking up a minimum of four points (both Bergeron and Brad “The Rat” Marchand racked up 4 apples apiece) while Pastrnak scored a hat-trick and added three assists for a slick 6-point effort.
Toronto’s goalie, Frederik Andersen went and had himself a not-very-good-horribad day in net, stopping only two shots before being yanked a mere 12:13 into the first period. His replacement, Curtis McElhinney, was a revelation in relief…
…as in, the Book of Revelation; or, the end of the world, as his save percentage of .826 (he allowed 4 goals on 23 shots) would dictate.
I’m sure that Burtch and Simmons, after rocking themselves to sleep while surrounded by soothing essential oils, will conjure up a myriad of excuses and false narratives to explain how their Maple Leafs, a team they crowned the 2018 Stanley Cup Champions in October of 2017, is suddenly two games away from relinquishing the title they never won.
Let’s just say that my current mood regarding Burtch/Simmons/the Maple Leafs is “Threat Level Schadenfreude.”
Joe Thornton’s Beard Fails to Take Ice; Sharks Win Anyway
After teasing fans and Pacific Northwest loggers everywhere, Joe Thornton was once again a scratch for the San Jose Sharks in Game 2 of their series against the Anaheim (Mighty) Ducks.
Alas, no beard, no problem, as the Sharks held the Ducks scoreless over the final half of the game to win 3-2, and staked a 2-0 series lead over the likes of Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf (a combined one shot on goal).
Former Penguin Paul Martin– once relegated to playing low minutes for the Sharks’ 3rd defensive pairing– played a healthy 16:35.
Lightning Strikes 5 Times in the Same Place, Defeat the Devils in a Related Story
Alex Killorn scored twice as part of a four-goal Tampa Bay second period explosion, and the Lightning soundly defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-3 to take a (sound familiar yet?) 2-0 series lead.
Nikita Kucherov contributed a goal and two helpers to TBL’s cause, while Steven Stamkos chipped in with an assist.
Chris Kunitz, who signed with the Lightning as a Free Agent during the off-season to contribute leadership and fourth line minutes, only saw the ice for 9 minutes and change.
For the Devils and their presumptive Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall, their ahead-of-schedule rebuild is fast coming undone as New Jersey has found themselves behind and unable to play the full brand of fast-yet-structured hockey that gave the Penguins fits during the regular season.
The Devils tilted the ice in the 3rd period, peppering Andrei Vasilevskiy with 18 shots. Only one of those shots would find the back of the net though (a marker by Blake Coleman).
Nashville Predators Bury the Avalanche in an Ironic Avalanche of Shots on Goal (not really)
Last year’s Stanley Cup runner-up continued its quest to once again finish with the second-to-last pick in the 1st Round as the Nashville Predators staved off a surprisingly resilient Colorado Avalanche team, 5-4.
The third period featured four goals, including one from teach squad in the game’s final 1:09.
The Preds’ Filip Forsberg– the former Washington Capitals player traded for magic beans in a story that keeps getting funnier– had a quiet game (just one SOG) following a highlight-laden Game 1, but Nashville found scoring from five different players.
Ryan Hartman would provide the eventual game-winner, a Bane-worthy goal in the waning minutes of regulation to increase the Avalanche’s deficit to two.
Colorado’s Alexander Kerfoot (god bless you) would respond in kind just 33 seconds later, but his team couldn’t pull off a miracle fifth goal in the remaining 36 seconds.
The win gave Nashville a (say it with me now) “2-0 series lead” as the games shift over to Colorado.
Penguins vs. Flyers Game 3 Preview
The two games in the Battle of Pennsylvania have been a contrast in styles, adjustment, and buena fortuna.
The Penguins won Game 1 via a cascade of pretty goals, deflections, and puck possession…with a pretty big assist from Philadelphia’s abjectly awful goaltenders.
The Flyers won Game 2 by mucking things up all over the ice, but in particular in front of both nets. The Flyers’ first two goals were of the garbage variety (really, everything involving Philadelphia involves refuse of some type, but I’m digressing), but Philly or not, those are precisely the type of goals that EVERY team should be trying to score come April, May and beyond.
The Flyers also went into a Torts-inspired defensive shell in front of their beleaguered netminder, Brian Elliott, and the insulated bubble eliminated Penguin shots from the high-danger areas of the ice (slot and circles).
Every team should be okay with allowing their opponent to have gap-controlled possession along the boards, as executing a back-door pass from that spot would require the puck slipping through a minimum of two defenders and their sticks, a tall-request at the NHL level.
By simply ceding the perimeter and collapsing in front of Elliott, the Flyers are taking away Pittsburgh’s skill. The only way to successfully negate this (annoyingly efficient) tactic is rapid pass movement (which hopes to catch defenders out of position and thus out of shooting lanes) or, as I propose, to cycle the puck behind the net.
Setting up in “Gretzky’s Office” (behind the net) accomplishes several things against a team that’s decided to go full-turtle in its own defensive end. First and foremost, it forces at least one defender to vacate his preferred spot of in front of the net in order to pursue the puck-carrier. This, in turn, allows a quick puck rotation by the offense to find the now-available shooting lane for a quality shot on net.
This effect is further enhanced by the fact that the goalie must retreat into his net to prevent any wrap-around attempt. Forced to play back in the net + the aforementioned quick puck rotation thus = harder to maintain a proper line and harder to cut down the angle = better opportunity for the puck to go in.
Using Crosby or Malkin behind the net to force Philly to vacate its preferred low point collapse also means that Pittsburgh would have to abandon its preferred umbrella-style offensive setup, but making adjustments in spring is what separates the great teams from the golfing teams.
I’d expect a much greater team emphasis on puck support and discipline, with a lot more shots and shot-passes (similar to what Voracek tried in Game 2) in an attempt to just get a puck behind Elliott early and force the Flyers to try and create offense instead of simply defending, defending, defending.