Wednesday, August 5, 2020

A fan’s guide to how worried you should be after four days

It’s the postseason. Time to worry.

After all, that’s half the fun during this time of year. And by “fun” I mean that you spend days or weeks or months curled up in a little ball with your eyes shut tight while you make little squeaky whimpering noises. So, not fun at all, I guess.

But postseason misery comes in different forms, and not all worry is created equal. There’s the general sense of low-level trepidation when things are going reasonably well and you’re trying to figure out what the hockey gods are setting you up for. There are zones in the middle, where the glass is half full right before you throw it through your TV screen. And then there’s the full-on existential dread, where things are awful and you’re just trying to figure out how they’ll get worse, and you question why you ever decided to like this team and this sport in the first place.

We’ve all been there. But it’s important to pace yourself and make sure you’re in the right spot. I don’t get to tell you where that is, but I’ve been doing this long enough that I can at least offer up some advice.

Here’s where I’d suggest everyone should be, four whole days into a postseason that’s going to last two more months for some of you, and maybe just a few more hours for others.

Worry level: Low

Fans of all the teams who aren’t here

How are you all enjoying this? Has it been enjoyable? I bet it’s been kind of enjoyable.

The dirty secret of hockey fandom is that having your team miss the playoffs sucks, but watching the playoffs when your team isn’t in them is kind of awesome. You can hate-watch a few teams, bandwagon a couple more if you’re up for it or just work the remote and cheer for overtime. It kind of rules.

Am I speaking from experience? Way too much of it, thanks for asking.

Lightning, Flyers, Avalanche and Golden Knights

That would be the four teams in the round robin who’ve opened with a win. Wins are good. You want to start strong and get a little momentum, and with just three games to play in this mini-tournament, an early win is pretty much mandatory if you want to finish first in the conference and grab the top seed.

Will that top seed matter? Probably not, since you could still end up facing a tougher matchup, but every little bit helps and securing home ice and last change is a little bit. And at least it’s fun to say that it’s the postseason and you’re riding a winning streak that’s lasted almost five months.

New York Islanders

They are who we thought they were, at least so far. In other words, they’re a very well-coached team that won’t blow you away with skill or clog up a highlight reel, but know how to shut down an opponent and turn a game into the kind they want to play. They embarrassed the Penguins with a sweep last year, and now find themselves two-thirds of the way to giving the Panthers the same treatment.

As long as Mathew Barzal can avoid doing any more headers into the boards that briefly gave everyone a heart attack, there hasn’t been much for Islander fans to worry about yet. Take advantage of it while it lasts.

New York Rangers

Good job, good effort. Enjoy a few weeks of Alexis Lafreniere highlights.

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Monday, August 3, 2020

Weekend power rankings: Yes, a playoff edition. Yes, based on one game.

I wouldn’t normally do this.

A weekend power ranking in the playoffs, I mean. It never really made sense. The whole idea behind the weekly rankings is to try to crack the puzzle of separating the contenders from the also-rans and then, the hopeless bottom-feeders. By the time the regular season ends, we pretty much have our answers. The bottom of the standings are set, and while we don’t know who’ll win the Cup, we’ve at least narrowed the field down the 16 playoff-worthy teams. And once the first round starts, a lot of what we think we know gets exposed, so you may as well just enjoy the ride.

So yeah, normally this would make no sense. But as you may have noticed, normal went out the window a long time ago. I don’t usually spend a long weekend in August nailed to my couch watching postseason hockey, but I just did that, and you probably did too. And I’m pretty pumped about it, so screw normal, let’s welcome the NHL back with a weekend power ranking.

If you’re new to this feature, it typically runs every week during the regular season and has an impeccable track record of accuracy. It also usually comes with a disclaimer about how we’re trying to predict the future, not necessarily react to the past, and one or two games shouldn’t be enough to cause wild swings in the rankings. But in the playoffs, or whatever we’re calling this week, well … swing away, right? If there was ever a time to overreact to one game, it turns out that it’s August.

The NHL just served up a weekend featuring upsets, highlights, multiple penalty shots, a few scraps, big injuries, several questionable hits and one suspension. We have one game to work with, it feels good to be back, let’s do this.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they’re headed towards a summer November of keg stands and (socially distanced) fountain pool parties.

Let’s start with a spoiler that probably won’t spoil much: My top five are all teams that are in the round robin. That only makes sense – they’ve all got a guaranteed ticket to the next round, while the play-in teams have to fight it out for their opportunity. Also, they’re the best teams, at least in theory, although that may not end up mattering much.

By the way, we all agree that the round robin is a screwed-up way to determine seeding, right? I get that you want the games to matter so that everyone isn’t just going through the motions in glorified exhibitions, but we kind of just rendered the whole regular season meaningless. The right way to do it would have been to have the three round-robin games count towards the points the teams already had, so the Flyers could pass the Capitals without it being possible for the Stars to make up 12 points on the Blues in a week. Sorry Bruins, enjoy being the first Presidents’ Trophy winners in NHL history to be a four-seed.

5. Philadelphia Flyers – Beating a good Bruins team in a semi-meaningful game isn’t enough to move them past Boston on my list of contenders, but it does earn them a top-five spot, at least until teams like Caps and Stars get to play. I was leaning towards putting the Knights in this spot, but I’ll wait until I see more of them. Well, more of them in a game, I mean, since I think I’ve seen that iPhone ad roughly 400 times already.

4. St. Louis Blues – They didn’t look great last night, but let’s look on the bright side: They played a bad game against an excellent opponent and were still 0.1 seconds away from earning at least a point. That’s the sign of a good team. Well, that and the whole “defending champions” thing.

3. Boston Bruins – At this point, we don’t know what’s going on with Tuukka Rask, but the indications are that it’s not serious. That’s good; seeing him get into a game would be better. The Bruins still have a week before worrying about Round 1, and while they’d probably like a higher seed than a lower one, I’m not sure it matters all that much to them. It sure didn’t look like it did yesterday.

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Friday, July 31, 2020

Ready for the weirdest playoffs ever? Take the quiz and find out.

The NHL postseason starts for real tomorrow, and nobody knows what to expect. Will the quality of play be high, thanks to healthy, well-rested stars, or a disaster due to rust, bad ice and barren arenas? Will it be chaos, or will the favorites have the advantage? Will the eventual winner feel like a real Stanley Cup champion? Will they even make it that far?

We don’t know. But we know one thing: It’s going to be weird.

Like, super weird. This will almost certainly be remembered as the strangest postseason in NHL history. And that’s saying something, because man, the NHL has a habit of serving up bizarre moments when the games matter most.

Today, let’s get ready for tomorrow’s madness by revisiting some of NHL history’s weirdest playoff moments. I’ve created a 19-question quiz to see how many postseason oddities you remember. Why 19? It seemed fitting since it’s going to take 19 wins to capture this year’s Cup. Well, for some teams it will. Other teams will only need 16. Although come to think of it, there’s also a round-robin for them so they’ll probably end up winning more, but 16 is the minimum so I guess we should say 19. See, as I said, it’s weird.

Enough with the preamble, let’s remember some goofy stuff.

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Thursday, July 30, 2020

Puck Soup: The playoff prediction episode

In this week's episode of the Puck Soup podcast:
- We make our predictions for all eight play-in series plus the round robin
- Our reactions to the first exhibitions games
- On week in the bubble, and it's so far so good
- The John Chayka mess
- Debating the best and worst bakery products
- And more...

>> Stream it now:

>> Or, listen on The Athletic or subscribe on iTunes.

>> Get weekly mailbags and special bonus episodes by supporting Puck Soup on Patreon for $5.




Who to cheer for (or against) if your team wasn't invited to the postseason

Hockey fans have finally had their first taste of NHL action in four months, sort of, thanks to this week’s exhibition action. But the main event doesn’t start until the weekend when the most bizarre postseason in history kicks off. And every fan will be on the edge of their seat watching it all play out.

Well, unless you’re a fan of one of the seven teams that didn’t get invited. It’s been a rough year for you folks. First, you had to watch your teams suffer through miserable seasons. Then came the unprecedented pause, which was awful for everyone. But now, while the rest of us are getting amped up for a wild postseason, those seven fan bases are trudging towards month five of what could end up being a nine-month offseason. Also, you somehow all lost the draft lottery. As I said, rough.

Today, we’re going to make an extra effort to include those teams, with a playoff rooting guide that’s designed especially for them. For each team, we’re going to do three things. We’ll suggest a team they could definitely root for. We’ll offer up a backup team, one that might be a little tougher case to make but should still work. And then we’ll close out with one team that the fan base can actively root against, because let’s face it, spite-watching the playoffs is usually the best way to enjoy them.

We’ll use a different team for each of the three slots with no repeats, which (spoiler warning) is going to ramp up the difficultly more than a little for certain teams. Let’s see where this goes.

San Jose Sharks

You could cheer for: The Penguins. It’s the Patrick Marleau factor. Sharks fans got to watch him try to win a Cup for 20 years, plus one brief comeback that seemed like a good idea at the time. The relationship had its ups and downs, but surely any Sharks fan would love to see him get his first Cup. (You could say the same for Joe Pavelski and the Stars, by the way. The Sharks are the league’s leading exporters of OGWAC stories.)

Or you could try: The Capitals. First, they’re all sorts of fun to watch. Second, they employ Ilya Kovalchuk, and if he had a great run and won his first Cup, it would probably annoy Kings fans. And third, there was a time when the Caps were the Sharks – the team with a ton of talent that never quite broke through, then fell apart and missed the playoffs to signal that their window was closed. That was back in 2014, and they bounced back so quickly that everyone just kind of forgot about writing them off. If you’re still holding out hope that this version of the Sharks can win a Cup without a total teardown, the Caps aren’t bad inspiration.

While rooting against: The Bruins. Look, not to beat a dead horse, but the Sharks should have traded Joe Thornton to Boston at the deadline. They didn’t, and both sides had their reasons, but Thornton was bummed out, and if Boston just goes and wins without him, it just makes it even worse.

Also, Brad Marchand.

Detroit Red Wings

You could cheer for: The Lightning. Yes, there’s a recent playoff history here, with the Lightning beating the Red Wings in each of Detroit’s last two trips to the playoffs. But when you just finished one of the worst seasons in modern NHL history, anything that reminds you of what it feels like to be in the playoffs is a good thing. Both teams know the pain of racking up a monster regular season and then crashing and burning in the first round. And maybe most importantly, the Lightning are just a really good, exciting team to watch and they should go deep into the playoffs, and Detroit fans deserve that after what they just went through. Red Wings fans can have a little winning, as a treat.

Or you could try: The Canadiens. I’m no math wizard, but if a team wins the Stanley Cup and you beat that team four straight times during the season, I’m pretty sure that means you’re the champion.

While rooting against: The Avalanche. I know time heals all wounds and they’re not even in the same conference anymore, but if there’s a world where the Red Wings and Avalanche can be friends, then I don’t want to live in it.

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