Monday, May 18, 2015

10 Conference Finals Thoughts

The NHL conference finals kicked off over the weekend with a pair of afternoon games. Both home teams came out with wins, with the Rangers edging the Lightning 2-1 on Saturday and the Ducks beating the Blackhawks 4-1 yesterday.

Here are 10 thoughts on what you missed while you were outside in the sunshine doing something other than watching hockey:

1. It’s time to start talking about Frederik Andersen. Ducks fans will no doubt argue that we’re a few weeks late on this, but you could be forgiven for not quite trusting Andersen heading into the playoffs. He didn’t play well in last year’s postseason, and his numbers this season were decent but not especially impressive. With John Gibson waiting in the wings, there was a decent chance that Andersen would eventually cough up the starter’s job altogether.

Ten games later, Andersen is looking rock solid. Yesterday he made 32 saves, including an early beauty on Patrick Kane that helped the Ducks weather a shaky first period. He’s not standing on his head and stealing games — he doesn’t need to, for reasons we’ll get to in the next section. But with the Ducks firing on all cylinders, they could probably get by with goaltending that was merely adequate. Andersen has been far better than that, and he’s a big reason why the Ducks are now 9-1 since the playoffs began.

2. The Ducks keep finding the net. They beat Corey Crawford three times on just 26 shots, and are now shooting 9.8 percent as a team at even strength in the playoffs. That’s a full 2 percent better than the St. Louis Blues, who rank second, and it’s well above the 9.03 percent with which the Lightning led the league during the regular season (when scoring rates were higher).

This is the place in any discussion of percentages where the word “unsustainable” makes its inevitable appearance, and that’s appropriate here even though the Ducks are certainly talented enough up front that you’d expect above-average shooting. Does that mean they can sustain 9.5 percent? Not over a full season, no, but right now they’re just seven wins away from a Cup, so regression to the mean better hurry up if it intends to put in an appearance for anything beyond a parade.

Another good sign: On Sunday, it wasn’t even the big names who were scoring, with Ryan Getzlaf limited to one assist and Corey Perry held pointless for just the third time in the playoffs. Secondary scoring is crucial at this time of year, and the Ducks are getting it.

3. The Blackhawks really miss Michal Rozsival. The veteran defenseman, who suffered a fractured ankle in the Hawks’ series-clinching win over the Wild nearly two weeks ago, isn’t exactly the first player you’d think of as an irreplaceable piece of Chicago’s roster. But his absence was felt yesterday, as an already thin Hawks blueline now seems stretched dangerously close to the breaking point.

Rozsival’s absence leaves Chicago with two defense pairings that it seems to trust. Veteran Kimmo Timonen barely played, clocking in at just over five minutes. And David Rundblad saw a little over 10 while managing to play a key role in each of the first two Ducks goals. It was a rough night for the 24-year-old, and the Blackhawks will need him to find his game quickly. Their top four defensemen are a very solid group, but it’s asking a lot to expect them to shoulder such a heavy load for up to 13 more games.

>> Read the full post on Grantland

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