2010 NHL Postseason Trends by Brett Lockwood
The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs are turning out to be one of the most intriguing and gut-wrenching post-seasons in recent memory. Through two full series there is no clear-cut favorite. From the darling Washington Capitals to the aging Detroit Red Wings, we have been privileged to witness some extremely diverse and wide-open hockey. Some interesting trends have emerged that are worth taking note of:
Shaky goaltending – Before the drop of the puck in the opening round, it was clear to all that strong goaltending was going to be a necessity to advance in these playoffs. Shaky goaltending has almost always led to the destruction of a team in the past, no matter how decorated a regular season they enjoyed (see 2010 Washington Capitals). Bad goaltending was apparent everywhere in the first and second rounds, whether it was all-stars going down without much of a fight (Martin Brodeur
, Ryan Miller
, Marc-Andre Fluery) or unproven 'tenders showing their inexperience (Brian Elliot, Pekka Rinne
, Tuukka Rask
). Shaky goaltending will always come to the forefront in the playoffs, especially because the caliber of play always picks up.
In the West, we keep waiting for a goaltender to catch a hot streak. Roberto Luongo
was extremely tense and not fluid in his motions. Evgeni Nabokov
was bailed out by his teammate's solid play to beat out the Red Wings but looks very vulnerable against a strong Hawks' squad. Antti Niemi
is on top of his game, and has given the Hawks an early edge.
Over in the East, Brian Boucher
was inconsistent partially due to a sprained left MCL. Michael Leighton
has provided a spark for the Philly team. Young Tuukka Rask
provided Boston with a hot goalie at the perfect time but crumbled in the series against the Flyers. Marc-Andre Fleury
gave Pittsburgh some reliability with some much needed experience. But alas, he faltered; proving shaky goaltending can lead to a team's demise. With all the uncertainty surrounding goaltending, one must rely on a guy like Jaroslav Halak
to get hot and carry one's team to a championship. Who said miracles cannot occur?
Moving Forward: When the stakes get high, the pretenders are separated from the contenders. Look for the Conference Finals to feature high-end goaltenders. The shaky goaltending will disappear and low-scoring games will emerge.
Veteran Leadership – Two vital keys to surviving the grind of the post-season is getting solid play from your goaltender and getting your team leaders to play by example. Throughout the playoffs we have seen big time veterans step up and carry their teams on their shoulders. For the San Jose Sharks, players like Joe Thornton
and Rob Blake
are providing the spark needed to beat quicker teams such as Colorado and Detroit. While Thornton has struggled defensively, he has been a positive influence for the team overall. In particular, he had a strong second round that helped the Sharks beat the feisty Red Wings. Even the Canucks got solid play from their big line, which included veteran twins Daniel and Henrik Sedin
Over in the East, the Boston Bruins received all star performances from two unlikely candidates, Mark Recchi
and Miroslav Satan
. When watching their last series against the Flyers, one could actually see the other Bruins feeding off the veterans' passion. For the Pittsburgh Penguins, Sergei Gonchar
led the way, not Sidney Crosby
. Gonchar scored big goals while also shutting down the Montreal Canadiens' forwards time and time again. Veteran leadership in the playoffs has always been vital, and this year is no exception. When push comes to shove, it is the veterans who will win the battles in the corner or spark the team with a big hit. They make the plays needed late in a game and can be relied upon. This is why veterans make the big money.
Moving Forward: Veterans are the leaders come playoff time. This will not change.
Scoring through the point/man in front – Take a minute and review the goals scored in the playoffs. While there are some of those incredible Pavel Datsyuk
dekes or Patrick Kane
snipes from the side of the net, the majority of goals are generated from the point. Working the puck around through the defense has become a staple of the post-season. Five defensemen are in the top 30 in playoff scoring. This trend is nothing new for post-season play. Even Braydon Coburn
, a known defensive player, stepped up his scoring.
There are several reasons why back end production is employed and powerfully effective. The traffic in front of the net has increased and goalies are becoming overtly frustrated. Teams are starting to play a much more puck-controlled game, even setting up plays off face-offs in the offensive zone in order to get the big shot from the point. Players like Dustin Byfuglien
are making a living standing in front of opposing goalies and causing traffic. The trend of generating offense through the point has become so crucial that teams are beginning to strategize against the opposing point men during the game. Pucks seem to be getting through a lot more while goalies are becoming increasingly peeved because they are getting backed into their own nets.
Moving Forward: Look for the trend of sticking a big man in front and firing from the blue line to continue, mainly because it has been so effective thus far.
Too-many-men penalties – There have been well over 30 too-many-men calls in the postseason. This number is startling and absurd to all hockey loyalists. In fact, this call is occurring at almost double the rate than in the regular season. The main question is why? The simple answer is eagerness. Guys are eager to get into the play. They speculate that a teammate is coming off the ice too early and wind up jumping into the play at the wrong time. Another possible reason for this trend is line-matching. Come playoffs, it is an important coaching tactic to match shut-down lines against the opposing team's top line. This can often lead to mass confusion on the bench, which makes players unsure of when to go on or come off the ice. A third possible reason for the trend is over-officiating. Perhaps the officials are out to make every call, fearing a backlash for making a glaring mistake. No matter the reason, this is definitely an important trend because it is leading to an inordinate number of power plays. The Bruins' collapse was directly attributable to Simon Gagne
's game-winning goal that came on the power play as a result of a too-many-men on the ice call.
Moving Forward: Coaches and players must be mindful of line changes on the fly so as to avoid the dreaded too-many-men on the ice penalty.