Great question. And since the opening of training camps, which is phase 3 of the NHL’s return to play plan, is scheduled for Monday, I take this opportunity to give my predictions on the best eight qualifying series in the Stanley Cup, which begins August 1, the start of phase 4. The two pivotal cities for qualifying will be announced at a later date.
I’ll start with your question. I like the Panthers, who are seeded No. 10 in the Eastern Conference qualifiers with a percentage of 0.565 points (35-26-8). I keep thinking about how the Islanders, seeded No. 7 with a percentage of 0.588 points (35-23-10), played before the season ended on March 12 due to concerns over the coronavirus. They were inconsistent and lacked depth of scoring, and I don’t see how they are going to be even better off the break. They had their 17 game hitting streak (15-0-2) from October 12 to November 15. 23, and they lived on it for the rest of the season. They were 19-20-8 in 47 games after the streak ended. During that 47 game period, they ranked 24th in the NHL (2.62 goals per game) and 28th in power play (16.1 percent). These are not numbers for a Stanley Cup playoff team, and they are not recovering from an injury that will have a significant impact on their scoring depth. Their defense will remain solid and their goalkeeper should be strong too, but I don’t think they’ll score enough to defeat the Panthers, who finished sixth in scoring (3.30 goals per game) and who I think , will get elite goalkeepers from Sergei Bobrovsky. He’s struggled this season, 23-19-6 with a 3.23 goals-against average and .900 save percentage in 50 games, a big reason the Panthers allowed 3 , 25 goals per game. But Bobrovsky is one of those players who I think will benefit from the break and what is almost a restart of the season.
Now let’s move on to my predictions for the other best-of-5 series.
In the Eastern Conference:
Pittsburgh Penguins # 5 (40-23-6, .623) on Montreal Canadiens # 12 (31-31-9, .500). It is a nightmare for Canadians. The Penguins are better in the middle and in defense. Back from the front Jake Guentzel will be huge for Pittsburgh. Montreal goalkeeper Prix Carey can be a great equalizer, but not if the skaters ahead have a hard time with their matches.
Carolina Hurricanes # 6 (38-25-5, 0.596) on New York Rangers # 11 (37-28-5, 0.564). This one will be close, but I like the defense of the Hurricanes, in particular their depth with the defender Dougie Hamilton returning from a broken left fibula sustained on January 16, and the additions of Brady Skjei and Sami Vatanen. This depth should be the difference against the Rangers before Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, who could be good enough to win this series for New York.
Blue Jackets # 9 Columbus (33-22-15, 0.579) on Toronto Maple Leafs # 8 (36-25-9, 0.579). Columbus will find a way to stifle Toronto’s mighty offensive. Blue Jackets defender returns Seth Jones an ankle injury will make a huge difference in this choking. Coaching experience is also important, and Columbus has it on his side with John Tortorella.
Video: WPG @ CBJ: Jones loads and shoots the puck in front of Brossoit
In the Western Conference:
Edmonton Oilers # 5 (37-25.9, 0.585) on Chicago Blackhawks # 12 (32-30-8, 0.514). Oilers forward Connor McDavid and Leon draisaitl will just be too much for the Blackhawks, and the Edmonton special teams are too good. The Oilers were the first in power play (29.5%) and the second in a penalty spot (84.4%) in the regular season. The Blackhawks finished 28th in power play (15.2 percent) and ninth on the penalty spot (82.1 percent).
Arizona Coyotes # 11 (33-29-8, 0.529) on Nashville Predators # 6 (35-26-8, 0.565). Each team hasn’t been successful this season, but I think the difference here could be a resuscitated Arizona right wing game Phil Kessel, who scored 14 goals this season, the second smallest of his career in 14 NHL seasons. He will benefit from the break and his attack will be an important factor in the Coyotes’ victory in the series.
Vancouver Canucks # 7 (36-27-6, .565) on Minnesota Wild # 10 (35-27-7, .558). Canucks Keeper Jacob Markstrom makes a big difference, and I don’t know if it will be Devan Dubnyk or Alex Stalock in net for the Wild. Either way, the Canucks have the advantage at the most important position. Vancouver also has more elite offensive talent with attackers Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, JT Miller and Bo Horvat, as well as defender Quinn Hughes. It will be too much for the Wild.
No. 9 Winnipeg Jets (37-28-6, .563) over No. 8 Calgary Flames (36-27-7, .564). Why? Connor Hellebuyck. The Jets goaltender was arguably the best in the NHL, or at least the Western Conference, with 31 wins, a GAA of 2.57, a save percentage of, 922 and six shutouts. Calgary already at a disadvantage against Hellebuyck and the Jets’ attacking firepower Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik laine and Nikolaj Ehlers, it will be too much for the Flames, no matter who they start with the goal, David Rittich or Cam Talbot.
Now that Phil Kessel is in good health, could he help the Arizona Coyotes make a deep descent into the Stanley Cup Playoffs? – @theashcity
I have already mentioned above that I believe that a healthy and productive Kessel gives Coyotes a better chance. He must be a major difference maker.
Kessel hasn’t delivered as expected this season, which was a big reason why Arizona was 23rd in the NHL scoring (2.71 goals per game) and 18th in power play (19.2%). His 38 points (14 goals, 24 assists) in 70 games were his lowest since 2007-08 (37 points), his second season in the NHL. He scored five equal power goals, the least of his 14 NHL seasons; he scored 15 evenly last season and 22 in 2017-18 with the Penguins. He led the Coyotes with nine power-play goals, but had scored 12 points in each of the previous two seasons. Throbbing injuries were a problem, but not enough for Kessel to miss a game. he is third among active NHL players in consecutive games with 844, behind the Panthers defender Keith Yandle (866) and Penguins forward Patrick Marleau (854).
The decrease in Kessel’s offensive production was one of the main reasons the Coyotes failed. With Kessel, left wing Taylor Hall, their depth at the front, Oliver Ekman-Larsson leading a strong group of defenders, goalkeepers Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta, and their penalty kick (82.7 percent; fifth in the NHL), Arizona should have at least been a joker in the Western Conference when the season was interrupted. Instead, there were four points with 12 games left.
A healthy and motivated Kessel should give the Coyotes the advantage they hoped to have when they acquired it in a trade with the Penguins last summer.
Video: WSH @ ARI: Kessel redirects Chychrun’s shot for lead
Aside from the talent of the players, what group of coaches is best suited to make their team the most successful in this unique style of play? – @GoldenSaucerGuy
I have to watch the experience. This may be the only deciding factor between coaches. Each coach has their own style and way of getting the most out of their team. None of this is wrong. But experience, especially in a series context, can be crucial.
To this end, I must say that it is one of the Panthers, Penguins or Flyers.
It is difficult to dispute the experience of Panthers staff. Joel Quenneville is three-time Stanley Cup champion with the Blackhawks (2010, 2013, 2015) and second on NHL all-time winning list with 925, behind 1 244 by Scotty Bowman. His best assistant, Mike Kitchen, started coaching in the NHL in 1989 and was with Quenneville in Chicago for Stanley Cup victories in 2013 and 2015. Quenneville has coached 215 NHL playoff games, second of all time behind Bowman’s 353and is the active leader with 118 playoff victories, third in League history behind Bowman (223) and Al Arbor (123). The kitchen has been on the bench for many of them.
The Penguins have a lot of experience with coach Mike Sullivan and assistant Jacques Martin. Sullivan has coached the NHL since 2002-03 and has coached 72 playoff games (41-31), including winning the Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017. Martin has been in the NHL since 1986 and has 613 season games regular. wins as a coach and 50 others in the playoffs. He has been an assistant to the Penguins since 2013.
The Flyers have experience with coach Alain Vigneault and assistants Michel Therrien and Mike Yeo. Vigneault coached the Canucks (2011) and Rangers (2014) to the Stanley Cup final. Therrien was coaching the Penguins when they made it to the 2008 Stanley Cup final. Yeo coached the Wilds and the St. Louis Blues. Between them, they have 1,341 NHL coaching victories in the regular season.
Should Jack Eichel apply for a trade? – @ jimothytimothy3
Only if the Buffalo Sabers striker is unhappy and wants to get out. I can’t say for sure because I haven’t had this conversation with Eichel, but I think he’s not there yet. Once you apply for a trade, especially as a captain, it is difficult to go back and continue to lead. Eichel expressed his frustration at losing, saying he’s fed up. But who wouldn’t be if you lost the way he and the Sabers lost to Eichel’s five seasons in the NHL? But Eichel loves coach Ralph Krueger, and that’s important. If he didn’t like the coach and was frustrated, I could see him more inclined to ask management to exchange him. He is also 23 and has scored 78 points (36 goals, 42 assists) in 68 games this season, averaging 1.15 points per game which was his best in the NHL. He must know that there could be a bright future in Buffalo if the parts were assembled correctly.
Consider the motivation to be the captain who helps turn the tide for Buffalo and, dare I say, is ultimately the first Saber player to hoist the Stanley Cup. And why can’t it happen? It may sound like an impossibility now, but the Sabers have solid pieces in place, including Eichel and the defender Rasmus Dahlin. Eichel is on two seasons in a contract of $ 80 million over eight years (average annual value of $ 10 million). There is a new general manager, Kevyn Adams, who needs time to implement his plan. I’ve said it before, and I know it’s hard to hear if you’re a fan of Eichel or the Sabers, but patience is required in Buffalo. It was worn thin, but you need more with a new GM.