We are now into the ‘real’ playoffs, so it was time to hear what Rig writers thought about the play-ins.
1. Now that the dust has settled and we have playoff matchups decided, what were you least surprised by?
Avry Lewis-McDougall: I wasn’t surprised at all that the Golden Knights found a way to go 3-0-0 in this tournament.This is still in my opinion the most dangerous team in the Western Conference and scoring all year long has come from a variety of sources with six 40 point players and four 20 goal scorers.
Vegas found a way to battle back from two-goal holes vs both the Stars and Blues and closed this out vs Colorado in OT, give VGK an opening and this team will take advantage every single time.
Dave Gordon: Honestly, I think I’m least surprised by the Oilers once again letting me down. I knew it, well, I mean I didn’t but I should have.
On Friday night, game 4, I donned my RNH jersey and headed to watch the game with a group of friends, socially distancing of course. On my way out the door I grabbed my favourite hat I wear while I golf. I hid that hat from friends and when the final horn sounded I immediately took the jersey off and donned my blue Titleist hat (Number 1 ball in golf I’ve heard)
My friends laughed, I laughed, and Jonathan Toews laughed all the way to the playoffs.
I’m thinking of putting on a master class of how to be a dissatisfied hockey fan.
Rex Libris: The officiating. I was worried there might be some rust but the referees did a good job of enforcing the double-standard and capricious rule of law that we’ve all come to expect from the NHL’s post-season.
Steven (AllHustleNoHands): Hurricanes, baby. Great forwards, great D, can score, can defend, have depth, have grit, have a coach… not sure about the goaltending but you know what goaltending doesn’t matter so who cares don’t worry about yeahhhhhhhhhh!!!!!1
Alex Thomas: The Predators bowing out early. They actually played better than I thought, but their stars on offense just can’t seem to figure it out. That’s a team getting older and worse each and every year. How they proceed will be very interesting to me.
Megan Fowler: Honestly? The Oilers losing because of goaltending and a lack of secondary scoring.
And the Leafs blowing it.
2. What was the biggest surprise of the play-in/round robin?
Avry Lewis-McDougall: The biggest surprise for me was Montreal dispatching Pittsburgh in four games. In two of the four games Montreal kept the Pens to one goal or less and held Crosby and Malkin to only three points combined in this series.
Montreal defensively was up to the task and showed many that they’re not going down without a fight vs Philadelphia.
Dave Gordon: See above.
Rex Libris: The success of the NHL’s bubble.
Players haven’t always been the best at observing curfews and sometimes the NHL looks like it would struggle to successfully organize a two-car parade.
But they’ve done it, thus far, and when one sees the clownshow that is happening in Major League Baseball by comparison, it deserves recognition.
Steven (AllHustleNoHands): Why aren’t the Preds good? I’m more confused than surprised. Great roster on paper. Enough “balance” to launch a thousand secret Lowetide pictures. And yet, somehow, they’re bland as babyfood.
Alex Thomas: Chicago defeating Edmonton. Maybe I’m an idiot but I saw no way that the Blackhawks could win that series unless Crawford stole it. He didn’t, and they still lost. This was a shock, and honestly is going to sting for a long, long time. Honestly, I haven’t watched a second of hockey since they were knocked out and I have no desire too.
Megan Fowler: Arizona winning in 4. I had a feeling they’d win the series but I thought it would go to 5.
We have to talk about the Oilers. What went wrong?
Avry Lewis-McDougall: Oooh boy. We look at this series and there’s so many things to really get into. This team looked at 97, 23 and 93 to do most of the heavy lifting, if you want to win and have a deep run you can’t be looking at these guys to put the franchise on your back again.
Defensively, how many times did we see a Chicago player in front of the net with not an Oiler in sight or totally out of position? Toews, Kane, Dominik Kubalík and others in red thrived on that all series long.
The goaltending which we’ve talked about so much on this site just wasn’t good enough, the call to go with Mike Smith in Game 1 instead of Mikko Koskinen who before the shutdown had played much better was absolutely the wrong call on Dave Tippett’s part. In a Best of Five series you can’t just spot someone a win like the Oilers did well before the end of the second period.
There’s much work to do when it comes to remastering this roster to avoid another failure of this level in 20-21.
Dave Gordon: The defence was terrible! When Kris Russell is your teams best defended you know you’re in trouble.
And, my neighbour said to me sometime this weekend “Koskinen is the smallest 6’7” goalie in the league”
Oh and one more thing, why the hell weren’t Drai, Nuge and Yamo together the entire series. Oops coach, oops.
Rex Libris: You mean before or after they hired Peter Chiarelli?
Okay, fine. The goaltending was atrocious, or at least more atrocious than their opponents. Defense was iffy. The ice was poor by the time they played making passes and puckhandling a worry. And 23 of the team’s 36 points came from 3 players.
Anyone who says they needed more grit is probably saying so because they’ve got an abundance of it between their ears.
Steven (AllHustleNoHands): Anyone who preaches a single-variable world is selling something. It was many things together, none of them surprises. But sure, a few big saves would have helped if that’s what you wanna focus on. That is the truth, if not the whole. Of course, a best of five after five months of lawn bowling is a friend only to chaos, so I don’t know how much we can learn either way. I will say this: I know the stats say we dominated after game 1, but that was some of the dullest high-scoring hockey I’ve seen.
Alex Thomas: I mean, there are a few things. Goaltending was atrocious, and honestly that is being polite. Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen never made the big save that was needed in this series. The defense was WAY too soft, and allowed the Hawks to set up shop right in front of the net the entire time. Too many passengers and a real lack of intensity. They thought it was going to be easy. When you don’t win board battles and are running around with no sense of defensive coverage, this happens.
Megan Fowler: Goaltending, secondary scoring, poor defensive play from the Connor & Leon…. you name it, it happened.
The Oilers should be so much better than they are, but it seems there’s always something preventing them from being their best.
With actual teams decided, what’s the likeliest SCF matchup?
Avry Lewis-McDougall: I’m going to go with this being a year of Vegas taking on the Philadelphia Flyers. Vegas hasn’t slowed down even with time off going 3-0-0 in the round robin and getting scoring from everywhere. I could see Vegas being not only a tough match-up for Chicago but putting the rest of the West on notice.
I originally thought Tampa would be in this spot, but with injuries to Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman now I’m really doubting the odds of the Lightning. Philadelphia has not only been riding a wave of strong offensive production but has also been riding the wave of some incredibly strong goaltending so far of young Carter Hart. The Sherwood Park native in his two round robin games put up a save percentage of .966 to go along with a 1.00 GAA.
In the regular season, Hart went 24-13-3, and planting himself as the #1 netminder choice in Philly’s net as one of the key cogs in leading the Flyers to an 89 point and 2nd place finish in the Atlantic Division. The Flyers still have a ton of playoff experience on their side with the likes of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier leading the way and all being 50+ point players in this shortened season.
Dave Gordon: Colorado and it doesn’t matter. The Avs are winning the cup this season.
Rex Libris: What I’d like most to see is Carolina vs either Vegas or Colorado – offensive-minded teams that would be entertaining to watch. That said, I expect to see the Bruins or Islanders emerge from the East and the Avs or Stars come out of the West.
Steven (AllHustleNoHands): Vegas and Tampa are the two best teams, obviously. Does that actually mean anything? Will the titans collide? Will they both get swept in round 1? Will any of it make me happy?
Sure, maybe. God only knows and He ain’t tellin’.
Alex Thomas: Give me Colorado and Tampa Bay. I think the Avalanche could slice through the west with ease until their matchup with the Golden Knights. Tampa Bay, for my money, will figure things out. Their victory over Columbus in Game 1 means so, so much.
Megan Fowler: Tampa and Vegas. There are too many good Western teams standing in the way of my dream.
What SCF matchup would be the most controversial?
Avry Lewis-McDougall: For controversy, it has to be Montreal vs Chicago. The two #12 seeds who in any other year would be battling for a draft pick playing for a Cup? I can’t imagine the outrage if they found a way to go on deep runs and end up battling against each other. The outrage would make for so much fun content on Hockey Twitter though!
Dave Gordon: I’ll stick with my answer from the previous mail bag. Chicago and Montreal. I mean if they get great goaltending it could happen. But two teams who had no business being there, it is 2020 after all.
I would like to see Fort Sask boy Kirby Dach win a cup.
Rex Libris: Canadiens vs Coyotes. I think a portion of the NHL feels as though the Coyotes are the league’s charity case (rightly or wrongly) and the Canadiens were one of those teams added to the play-in round at the last moment.
Plus everytime the Canadiens win a Cup Lowetide’s eyes get all twitchy.
Steven (AllHustleNoHands): Chicago vs Columbus. Chicago shouldnae been there anyway and I think we’re all pretty sick of the league’s golden-child franchise in general, and if a team like Columbus gets through to the finals people are going to stop wondering what’s wrong with the league that allows that to happen. Like, what’s even the point of skill?
Alex Thomas: Montreal and Chicago. I mean come on, these teams were #ActuallyBad during the regular season and have no business being in the bubble. But the NHL, well, NHL’d this and they deserve a joke of a Cup.
Megan Fowler: Arizona and anyone. Get it in my veins.
Will there be hockey again in December?
Avry Lewis-McDougall: I think it really depends on if we have an open US/Canada border by December. I can’t see the NHL or the NHLPA wanting to do more of an isolated bubble situation to get the 2020-21 season going.
I’ll say it’s more likely we get a season in January or February 2021 if things down south change in a few aspects. I could see fans being allowed back in Canadian markets if we see even more improvement but only at about 20% to 25% capacity.
Dave Gordon: I can’t see why not. One thing the NHL has done well with all of this is keep the cases down. Players are taking this seriously and as time goes on so are people everywhere. There might not be fans in the buildings but I’m willing to bet there will be hockey.
Rex Libris: My guess is yes, though I expect they will look to re-create and expand on the bubble model. Politics is going to play a big part because there will be pressure to add American cities to the hosts but how do you include cities in a country overrun with the virus? If it goes ahead I’d guess they’ll have to have it broken down into small groups of teams who play a season series, like in baseball, over a course of time, then they break up and re-shuffled around for the next season series.
It will mean not every team plays everyone else, but the logistics likely wouldn’t work any other way.
I don’t like the idea of a shortened schedule, so we can cross our fingers that they’ll have the good sense to run an abbreviated season of fewer than 80 games.
Cross our fingers, I said, but don’t hold your breath.
Steven (AllHustleNoHands): Yep.
Alex Thomas: I pray yes for my sanity and financial well being. I don’t think it will happen, however.
Megan Fowler: I think so, yes. No fans, but hockey.
Well, there you have it. We’ll be back after Round 1 with more!