Ducks can’t avoid Jaws, Sharks advance to round 2

The San Jose Sharks defeated the Anaheim Ducks 2-1 in game four of the series to complete the sweep. They will take on the Golden Knights in round two. The Sharks advance on the back of a great all-around team series where they got production from all of their core players.

San Jose had complete control of the series from the opening drop of the puck in game one. Anaheim was held to only one lead throughout the entire series. That lead only lasted nine minutes before the Sharks answered with points of their own. The defense of San Jose kept the Ducks offense in check, and goaltender Martin Jones played a significant factor into that.

Martin Jones

Sharks advance

Photo By: Daily Herald

Every year in the postseason there is a goalie that gets hot and shuts a team down. This postseason that goalie was Martin Jones. In four games Jones’ goals against average was an even one goal allowed per game and had a save percentage of .970.

Jones only allowed more than one goal one time throughout the entire series and even was able to post a shutout; something he did only four times throughout the whole regular season. Martin’s play stopped the Anaheim Ducks from grabbing any momentum throughout the entire series and allowed the Sharks offense to play loose and free.

Playing The Knights

Going into round two Jones will be going up against a goaltender that is even hotter than he is in Marc-Andre Fleury. This matchup will be arguably the most entertaining one to watch in round two.

Expect the same story from this series. Low scoring games and lots of physical play. The only difference is, both teams are most likely looking at a series going longer than just four games.

Both teams match up fairly evenly with each other. The Sharks are more star-powered, but the Golden Knights are very fundamentally sound.

In four games against Vegas, this season the Sharks are 1-2-1, but only one game was decided by more than one goal, and two of the games went to overtime. The deciding factor in those four games was the Golden Knights special teams. In the Knights three wins against San Jose, they recorded three powerplay goals and one shorthanded goal. Look for the Sharks to try and fix these issues for their upcoming series.

Game Breaker: Evander Kane

At the trade deadline, the San Jose Sharks acquired Evander Kane from the Buffalo Sabres, and he made a tremendous impact in the Sharks first series versus Anaheim.

In game one Kane opened the series scoring with two goals within six minutes of each other. Those two goals helped propel the Sharks to a 3-0 win allowing them to flip the home-ice advantage in their favor.

In game three Kane was able to get one goal, and an assist that helped San Jose take down the Ducks 8-1 in what was most likely the end of the Ducks hopes at a series win.

Evander’s strong series is precisely why the Sharks acquired him for their playoff push. The Kings struggled mightily against the Golden Knights defense. San Jose is hoping that Evander Kane can help crack the code of their defense.

If the Sharks can take-down the Golden Knights in round two, Kane is most likely going to need to put out a solid series.

How Far Can They Go?

The Sharks look like a very strong contender to be the Western Conference representative in the Stanley Cup. They play defense first, then offense and that is a proven winning formula in the playoffs. San Jose is also getting very elite goaltending. Something only one other team in the Western Conference is getting.

If the Sharks can get through the Golden Knights and the other conference teams keep beating up on each other. There is no reason why they can’t make another run at the cup. The experience is there, but they have to make it happen.

 

Featured image by: World News Insider

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Golden Knights sweep the Los Angeles Kings

Yep, you heard that right. The Vegas Golden Knights are the first team moving on to the second round after sweeping the Los Angeles Kings in their first-round matchup. Each game was very hard-fought and tight until the end, as every game was decided by only one goal; including a double-overtime game in game two.

Star Of The Series: Marc-Andre Fleury

golden knights sweep

(Photo By: Sharon Herald)

The star of the series very easily could have been the opposing goaltender Jonathan Quick, but Fleury had to make his fair share of game-saving saves as well.

In round one Fleury put up awe-inspiring numbers. Fleury sported an incredible .65 goals against average along with a .970 save percentage. Both numbers are good for first in the NHL postseason so far.

Fleury’s best performance came in game four when he was able to stop all 31 of the Los Angeles Kings shots to help the Golden Knights secure a one to nothing victory on the way to the teams first ever playoff series win.

Who Is Next?

The Golden Knights will be facing the winner of the Anaheim Ducks versus San Jose Sharks series. Currently, the Sharks hold a three game to none lead over the Ducks and have dominated in each of those games.

San Jose is carrying a goaltender that is playing just as good as Fleury, but the Sharks also have the offense to match.

If these two teams are to meet in the second round, it is undoubtedly going to be an exciting series. The Golden Knights were underdogs versus the Kings as many of the experts across the nation picked them to lose to Los Angeles in the first round.

Resiliency

Vegas has shown that they are not going to back down from a fight. Beating the Kings was no easy task, let alone sweeping them. Riding the back of Marc-Andre Fleury this team has all the tools to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

The Knights proved in this series that they are for real and it is time the hockey world takes note. Their regular season run was not a fluke; it is what they are. It is going to take a lot to stop Vegas, and I am not sure that any team has the tools to take them down in a seven-game series.

 

Featured image by USA Today

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breakout season

Series outlook: Lightning look to continue their breakout season

The Tampa Bay Lightning have won their first division title since the 2003-04 season when they won the Stanley Cup. Tampa will be looking to have that same success this season, but first, they will have to defeat a New Jersey team that is on the rise.

New Jersey finished last season with 70 points and the number one pick in the NHL draft, but this season the team has looked like a top tier team all season long, and now they find themselves in the postseason for the first time since the 2011-12 season. The Devils are going to have to play some of their best hockey if they want to beat a very deep Tampa Bay Lightning squad.

Nikita Kucherov Taking Over

breakout season

(Photo by: NHL.com

Nikita Kucherov had a spectacular season for the Lightning, and he will be looking to keep it going for them in the postseason. 100 points this season was a career high for Kucherov, and now he will have his first chance at the playoffs since 2016.

Kucherov has appeared in 45 different playoff games in his career. In those games, he has found some success and has a career total of 42 points off of 22 goals and 20 assists. When he has been on the ice, the Lightning have been very productive, and it shows in his career playoff plus/minus of +20.

Nikita appeared in 12 games against the Devils in his entire career, and he has had some success against them. Kucherov has 14 career points against New Jersey including a two-point performance earlier this season.

The Lightning have a solid scoring presence, but Nikita Kucherov will have to play at a high level if the Lightning are going to make a run this postseason. The Eastern Conference is loaded with talent, and Tampa Bay has shown signs of weakness this last month.

From Zero To Hero Taylor Hall

For the New Jersey Devils, the play of Taylor Hall has had a massive impact on their push to the playoffs. Hall went on an incredible point streak in the middle of the season that ultimately ended at a remarkable 26 games.

Hall’s play since the new year began has been extraordinary. Taylor finished the season with 57 points in just 40 games; ranking him third behind only Connor McDavid and Evgeni Malkin. Hall had a great run to end the season, but his play this postseason will be the ultimate deciding factor in how successful this season is.

Head To Head

 

breakout season

(Photo By: CBS New York)

New Jersey has the season series on their side. In three meetings against the Lightning, this season the Devils have won all three of them. Two of the three games were played in New Jersey, and one of the games did end in a shutout.

The Lightning had the highest scoring offense in the 2017-18 season, and their defense plays very well as a team. The Devils do not have the stats to back them, but they have played up to their competition a lot of the time this season. New Jersey is sure to bring their best effort against a very good Tampa squad.

The playoffs are obviously a different beast than the regular season, but the Devils do have favorable matchups with the Lightning, and it could lead to this series being one of the most interesting of the first round.

Series Prediction:

This series, like many others, is going to be a very entertaining one to watch. I do like the matchups the Devils have over the Lightning. New Jersey has the strength and has proven they can hang with the Lightning on three different occasions this season.

I believe this series will need all seven games to be decided with game seven being determined by a coin flip, but I think that the Devils will come through in the end and upset the number one seeded Tampa Bay Lightning.

Devils win the series 4-3

lucky this postseason

Series outlook: Vegas looks to get lucky this postseason

The Golden Knights have broken all expansion barriers and winning a playoff series is the next obstacle in their way. The Kings will be a very tough opponent for Vegas, and this series is sure to be one of the best ones of the first round. Like all playoff series’ in the NHL, the Knights will have to be a bit lucky this postseason to win.

Vegas Playing As A Team

What has made Vegas work, is their ability to work as one unit. Vegas does not have star power on the offensive or defensive end, but they all work very well together as a unit. The Knights had seven players score more than 40 points during the 2017-18 season which was among the top numbers in the league. For the Golden Knights to win in the postseason, it will be critical for them to stick to this formula.

Team Defense

Vegas plays excellent team defense. Their defensemen have done a great job all season of swarming the puck and forcing bad decisions. The Knights finished the season with the second highest takeaway total in the entire NHL. They also had a great takeaway to giveaway ratio at 1.1.

The Golden Knights were able to keep the goaltender relatively clean this season, and when you have a goalie the caliber of Fleury, it makes it very easy to win games. Because of this Andre-Fleury was able to have one of the best even-strength save percentages in the entire NHL with a ..931. He has this save percentage on the 10th least shot attempts in the whole NHL.

William Karlsson

lucky this postseason

(Photo By: Stephen R. Sylvanie – USA TODAY Sports)

Even though the Knights don’t have a superstar the one player you would pick to be the leader is William Karlsson. Karlsson’s career-high 78 points led the Golden Knights, and his 43 goals had him ranked third in the entire NHL.

Karlsson did have success against the Kings this season in the four games he appeared. Karlsson tallied three goals and one assist, along with a plus/minus rating of +3. The Knights are 2-1-1 in those games. If William Karlsson can continue to play well, the Golden Knights will have a very good chance at beating the Kings this series.

Kings Lockdown Defense

Like many of the Pacific division teams, the Kings play physical defense that results in low scoring battles. Los Angeles finished the season with a 2.43 goals against average which was good for the lowest total in the NHL.
Penalty Kill

The Kings had an incredibly good penalty kill in the 2017-18 season. They finished first in the NHL with an 85 percent success rate. The Kings are a team that doesn’t take too many penalties, but when they do they kill them very efficiently.

Vegas’ power play ranks ninth in the NHL so the Kings penalty kill will be put to the test, The Kings will have their hands full with Vegas’ power play, but holding them to five on five play will be their best shot.

Anze Kopitar

lucky this postseason

(Photo By: NHL.com)

Kopitar dominated the offensive side of the ice for the Kings this season. Anze finished the season with 92 points and the next closest player on the Kings had 61. Kopitar was consistently the best player on the ice and he proved it by being a force on the offensive end. In four games against the Knights this season Anze tallied two goals and three assists. If he can play at a high level against the Knights, this series could shift in LA’s favor.

Series Prediction

The Golden Knights have a good chance at winning this series, and it is because they match up very well. The Kings have a very good penalty kill, but when they play five on five, they tend to struggle. Vegas has had a balanced attack all season, and it is what will separate them from the Kings in this one.

If the Kings are going to take this one they are going to have to have to steal a win in the first game. I believe the momentum will be too strong to overcome if the Kings allow Vegas to win game one. The Kings have a very strong at home, but the Knights are a good road team that has good chance to neutralize Los Angeles’ strengths.

I like the Knights to win this series, but it will not come easy. This series will take a lot of both teams and will most likely go to seven games.

Vegas wins the series: 4-3

Featured image by USA Today

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Battle for Pennsylvania

Series outlook: A battle for Pennsylvania

Pittsburgh and Philadelphia square off in what will be a battle for Pennsylvania. This will be the first hump for the Penguins to overcome on their way to a potential three-peat. For the Flyers This is the Flyers first postseason appearance since the 2015-16 season, and they will be looking to get out of the first round for the first time since the 2011-12 season when they lost in the Conference Semifinals.

Pittsburgh Production From Everywhere

Battle for Pennsylvania

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

There is no denying that the Penguins have a star-powered lineup that is unmatched by any other team. Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, and Phil Kessel lead the way for a Penguins offense that has played very well in 2018.

Since January 1st the Penguins offense ranks first in goals per game with a 3.83 goals per game average. Evgeni Malkin leads the scoring charge for the Penguins while on this scoring tear in the new year. Malkin is second in the NHL in points in that time frame with 62 and has been in serious Hart Trophy considerations as of late.

Along with the immense production from Malkin, Crosby and Kessel have tallied in their share of points as well; each scored more than 50 since January 1st.

Penguins Power Play

The Penguins power play during the 2017-18 season was the best in the league at 26.2 percent. The Flyers are a team that does not commit a lot of penalties, but when they do they have trouble defending them. Pittsburgh will be looking to exploit this aspect of the Flyers game by using their size and speed to draw more penalties. The Penguins power play against the Flyers penalty kill unit will play a significant role in how this series plays out.

Flyers Defense To Offense

Philadelphia has a unique situation where their defense is as capable of scoring as their offense. The defensive scoring attack is led by Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Provorov led all defensemen in the NHL this season with 17 goals, and Gostisbehere tallied an impressive 65 points this season.

The defense of the Flyers could play a very deciding role in this series. Pittsburgh is a team that has shown weakness on the defensive side of the ice. The Pens were one of two teams in the NHL to score three or more goals per game while at the same time allowing three goals per game.

The Flyers defense will demand respect from the Penguins defensemen and in turn that will create space for scorers like Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. This is a winnable series for Philly as long as they play it from the defense out. Once they start forcing things on offense the star power from the Penguins offense will eat them alive.

Claude Giroux For Hart?

battle for Pennsylvania

(Photo By: Kate Frese)

Claude Giroux was one of the many surprise candidates for the Hart that emerged this season. Giroux posted his career high for points with 102 and was a driving factor as to why the Flyers are in the postseason.

Claude has seen success against the Penguins this season and had four points in his four games against Pittsburgh this season. He has been especially good at home this season, and the Flyers will need that same dominance in the playoffs if they want to make a run at the Stanley Cup.

Giroux’s splits between home and away are very telling. At home, this season Giroux has 57 points in 41 games and a plus/minus rating of +30. When compared to his 45 points in 41 games and a plus/minus of -2 on the road it is clear that the production is not there on the road.

Philly does not have the luxury of dropping home games against Pittsburgh in this series. They also are going to have to find a way to steal at least one game on the road. Claude Giroux will be a deciding factor in how far this team goes.

Series Prediction

In what will be a battle for Pennsylvania I expect the Penguins to walk out on top. Pittsburgh has been the hotter team as of late, and they are especially good on home ice. The Pens are 30-9-2 when playing at home this season.

If the Flyers are going to win this series, they are going to have to steal one game on the road and then exploit the Pens terrible road record. The Flyers have been about even in both so it could happen, but I believe the Penguins will win this series.

 

Penguins win the series 4-2.

Featured image by Kate Free

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Jets look to fly past

Series outlook: Jets look to fly past Minnesota

This series is looking like it will be one of the most lopsided matchups of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Wild lost defensemen Ryan Suter before the end of the regular season, thinning an already thin defensive unit in Minnesota. The Winnipeg Jets are a team that plays fast and physical, but they do not have experience on their side.

Connor Hellebuyck Dominating In Net

Connor Hellebuyck was one of the best goalies in the entire NHL for the 2017-18 season. Since the new year began, Hellebuyck has been one of, if not the best goalie in the whole NHL. Since January 1st Hellebuyck had a 23-7-4 record with a .924 save percentage and a 2.35 goals against average.

Hellebuyck has made it incredibly hard for opponents to score and in turn, it has put the Winnipeg Jets on a different level. The Jets finished the season with the fifth lowest goals against average in the entire NHL, and a lot of it is due to the play of Connor Hellebuyck.

Jets Milestone Season

The 2017-18 season for the Winnipeg Jets is the best in their history to date, and it is not close. Their 114 points are the highest total they have ever had, and now the team looks forward to trying to get out of the west. Winnipeg has never made it passed the Conference Quarterfinals, and they have not been in the postseason since the 2014-15 season.

Patrik Laine’s Goal Scoring

jets look to fly past

(Photo By: (AOP))

Patrik Laine’s goal scoring in the 2017-18 season was an incredible thing to watch. At just 19-years old Laine finished second in the NHL with 44 goals. Laine is the first European born player to score more than 40 goals before he turned 20.

Patrik has established himself as one of the best goal scorers in the entire NHL, and he is only getting better. Laine now will have the opportunity to develop his playoff abilities. No playoff series is easy, but the matchup against the Minnesota Wild will make the transition a bit easier. Laine has played well against the Wild, but not his best. In four games against Minnesota, this season Laine has two goals and zero assists, but he has a plus/minus of +2.

If Laine gets hot in the postseason, the Winnipeg Jets will be an incredibly scary team to watch. They have the goaltending that can carry on its own, but they also have an offense that can score at will. This series will be a fun test to see just how good this team is.

The Wild Underdogs

It is clear that the Wild are significant underdogs against the Winnipeg Jets in this series. If Minnesota wants to win this series, they are most likely going to have to play some of the best hockey they have played all year. Winnipeg has had the Wild’s number so far this season as they hold a 3-1-0 record against them this season.

It Starts With Dubnyk

Even though the Wild are underdogs, the Predators were in the same situation as Minnesota was last year. If the Wild want to shock the hockey world and upset the Winnipeg Jets, it is going to start with goaltender Devan Dubnyk.

Strong goaltending wins in the playoffs and Dubnyk has shown he can be that, but he is going to have to outplay one of the best goalies in the NHL. Dubnyk’s numbers in the 2017-18 season were about average for all goalies. He finished the season 35-16-7 with a .918 save percentage and a 2.52 goals against average. Of course, if the Wild are going to make a run, these numbers are going to have to be better, but he has shown he can play like that.

The Fountain Of Youth: Featuring Eric Staal

Jets look to fly past

(Photo By: NHL.com)

Eric Staal returned to his old ways this season and the Minnesota Wild are reaping the rewards. Staal’s 76 points this season are his highest total since 2010-2011. Staal was in the hunt for the Maurice Richard Trophy late in the year, and his surprise goal scoring has caught the entire NHL off guard.

Staal has shown he can carry this Minnesota team and going into a massive series against the Jets he may be called upon to do just that. Eric scored multiple points in 17 different games this season, but none of them came against the Jets, in fact, Staal has only scored one point in his four games against Winnipeg this season.

The Wild are going to need production from Staal if they are going to steal this series from the hopeful Jets. The Wild are going to need a lot of things to go their way, but they definitely should not be counted out of this series.

Series Prediction

This series is going to be a lot closer than people think. The Wild are a beaten up team, but they do play with a lot of heart. I expect Devan Dubnyk to rise to the occasion and play some of the best hockey he has ever played.

Ultimately I do not think it will be enough. The Jets are a speedy and physical team, and even if Dubnyk plays well, they will wear down the Minnesota skaters. This series will be done in six, maybe seven games, but the Jets will take down the Wild in the end.

 

Jets win the series: 4-2

Featured image by CBS Sports

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Colorado Avalanche Nashville Predators

Series outlook: Can the Colorado Avalanche upset the Nashville Predators

The Nashville Predators cruised through the 2018 NHL season finishing first in points with 117 points and the franchise’s first ever Presidents’ Trophy. But their opponents, the Colorado Avalanche had a much harder time getting in. The Avalanche snuck into the postseason with a 5-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues in what was a “win, and you are in” scenario. But can the Avalanche upset the Nashville Predators?

This series should be very heated as both teams come out of the Central Division and know a lot about each other’s play style. Each team’s regular season accomplishments are out the door, and it is now a matter of who can win four games before the other.

Nashville Predators dominance

The Predators are a year removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With their play in the 2017-18 season, they look like they are prepping for a return to the finals.

Nashville dominated on both sides of the ice this season, which led them to the highest goal differential in the entire NHL. The Predators’ ability to turn defense into offense is what makes them so unique. It helps keep the defense calm when they know they have a goalie playing at the level Pekka Rinne is.

Pekka Rinne’s incredible season

Colorado Avalanche Nashville Predators

(Photo by Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports)

There is no doubt that Rinne is the backbone of the Nashville Predators, and he proved that this season. In 59 games, he had a save percentage of .927 and goals against average of 2.31 goals per game. Rinne also had the third highest win total of the 2017-18 season, finishing the season 42-13-4.

Rinne has seen success against Colorado in this season. In his three games against them, he is a perfect 3-0-0 with a 2.00 goals against average and a .922 save percentage. Heading into the playoffs, Rinne will be looking to continue that success with a big series against the Colorado Avalanche.

Defending leads

Nashville has done a terrific job of holding onto leads when they get them, and it is a significant reason as to why they were so successful this season. When the Predators score first, they are a very tough team to beat, and it shows in their 41-4-6 record this season when they score first. The Preds outscored opponents 72 to 49 this season in the first period. Their fast, energetic starts are a driving force behind their success this season.

Colorado Avalanche: How did they get here?

The start of the 2017-18 season for the Colorado Avalanche was incredibly tough. Before Dec. 28, they were 17-15-3 and were dead last in the Central Division with 37 points, but then they went on a run.

From Dec. 29 to Jan. 22, the Avalanche went on a 10-game win streak that propelled them to fifth in the Central Division, just three games out of the last Wild Card spot. Colorado did not look back after their winning streak and continued to play well. Going into the final game of the season, a win and you are in scenario was in place against the St. Louis Blues. The Avalanche dominated the game and defeated the Blues 5-2 en route to a postseason appearance.

Nathan MacKinnon breakout year

Colorado Avalanche Nashville Predators

(Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward)

Since the 10-game winning streak earlier this season, MacKinnon has been exceptionally dominant. MacKinnon has the fifth highest point total in that span, including the highest points per game total in the league at 1.31 points per game.

The 22-year-old Avs forward has vaulted himself into Hart Trophy considerations. He led the way for the Avs’ playoff push and proved to be among the NHL’s elite. Going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, continued elevated play from MacKinnon will be necessary to win, especially if they are going to upset a team as good as the Nashville Predators.

Series prediction

Can the Avalanche upset the Nashville Predators? Based off of the way the two teams played against each other this season, the easy answer would be no. Colorado was not able to get a single victory in against the Predators this season, but anything can happen in the playoffs.

Nashville has the home-ice advantage, and it is tough for opposing teams to get victories in Bridgestone Arena. Expect the Avalanche to get one or two games in on their home ice, but the Predators should handle business in the first round. They have the better defense and the better goalie, and that has been a proven win-now formula in the NHL playoffs.

Predators win the series 4-2.

Featured image by NHL.com

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Does the NBC and NHL agreement work for both sides?

The 2017 Stanley Cup Final is smashing last year’s viewing records on NBC. However, is the game growing enough on the network?

Last season, viewers did not tune in at a high rate to watch the Pittsburgh Penguins dispatch the San Jose Sharks. The six-game average had a meager four million viewers and 2.3 household rating, meaning 2.3 percent of American households tuned in to watch. It was the third-fewest totals since 2006 and dropped almost 1.5 million viewers from the previous final.

Fortunately, this series has captivated the national audience once again. The Nashville Predators have essentially brought it back. The team has unexpectedly run through the titans of the Western Conference and rallied an entire city together.

PPG Paints Arena was rocking in Game 5, and it was audible on NBC.

PPG Paints Arena, home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Photo courtesy of Scout.com

After dropping the first two games of the series, the fans turned out to Bridgestone Arena and in their homes. Game Four’s 4-1 Predators win had 28 percent of Nashville watch on their television sets. Nationally, on NBC, an estimated 5.5 million viewers tuned in, though that number doesn’t account for time-zone adjustments. Nonetheless, it was more than the viewers from last season. Even in Game Five’s 6-0 Penguins blowout, 4.3 million watched the spectacle.

With the ratings success for the Stanley Cup, the NHL faces obstacles as it seeks to increase its television presence. The question is if they can do that under their current operation.

The NBC Sports and NHL Dynamic

The current media agreement between NBC and the NHL began in 2011. The two sides agreed on a 10-year deal worth $2 billion. This deal included “Game of the Week” time-slots and 100 regular-season telecasts. When Versus, which NBC owned at the time, switched to NBC Sports Network, the coverage stayed the same.

This deal kept hockey on a relevant network as it transitioned from ESPN. At present time, however, critics argue that the agreement with both networks harms hockey’s growth. Because NBC has the ability to air games on NBCSN, they receive criticism for not broadcasting games on their main channel.

NBC Sports Network is not on as many U.S. televisions as NBC. This is accurate, but NBCSN’s presence in homes is rapidly growing. In June of 2016, about 77 percent of American homes received NBC Sports Network. Fast forward to this past March, and the channel has 83,790,000 subscribers, which slightly trails Fox Sports 1. This is up from 70 percent back in early 2015. The channel is gaining ground in subscribers, and NBC wants to aid its station with Stanley Cup Final games.

Despite the growth in the channel, however, its ratings pale in comparison to NBC. Game Two and Game Three had 3.2 and three million viewers, compared to over four million in the other games. This has brought the average down to 4.2 million through the first five games of this current series. Historically, NBCSN averages fewer ratings since they began airing games under that identity in 2012. Surely, the ratings would improve if NBCSN was not in the equation, but NBC does not want to take the exposure away.

NHL on NBC

Last season, the NHL simulcasted playoff coverage on NBC and other networks. Photo courtesy of Awful Announcing

Improving the Relationship

While the NBC deal harms the overall outlook of the NHL’s ratings, the NHL needs to work out its relationship with NBC to improve the deal for its own side. Other sports such as the NBA exclusively have their Finals game on one network, ABC. Their ratings float around the 16 million mark, almost four times as much as the NHL. Basketball historically achieves more ratings than hockey because of its popularity, but that’s an argument for a different article.

For the NHL, they have to fight NBC itself to have those same rights, and it depends on the rise of NBCSN. The NHL helps NBCSN grow while the NHL has issues catching up to other sports. In a way, they have to fight NBC’s regular lineup as well. At 8 p.m. on May 31st, while Game Two aired on NBCSN, Little Big Shots grabbed 7.56 million viewers in the 18-49 demographic. Stanley Cup Final games have only surpassed that on the main channel five times, all of which were series clinchers. If NBC decides that a hockey game can’t attract more viewers, then it shifts to NBCSN.

Based on the past numbers and the way this current series is unfolding, hockey can grow on NBC. The sport has to increase its popularity in North America, which the NHL has to facilitate itself. Perhaps Nashville has laid out the blueprint for mid-market teams to galvanize their fanbase. Teams like that will help the game improve too. Hopefully, this will mean NBC is more willing to show off such teams and matchups like Pittsburgh and Nashville.

Conclusion

The 2017 Stanley Cup Final has been full of entertaining hockey. NBC has done well to promote it. However, both sides can benefit from increasing the NHL’s exposure to grow the game and jump on this year’s ratings spike. Both sides need to see how that is possible for it to fully happen.

Feature image courtesy of Awful Announcing

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Stanley Cup Final: Defending champs meet the newcomers

Two hundred twenty-seven days ago, history started its run through the NHL season. Since the opening day of the 2016-17 season, there were stellar rookie campaigns from Auston Matthews and Patrik Laine as well as record-setting milestones from Jaromir Jagr.

The Columbus Blue Jackets enjoyed their best season ever, while the Colorado Avalanche submitted their worst season in franchise history. All the eventful storylines lead to the 2017 Stanley Cup Final between the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the title newcomers, the Nashville Predators.

For the Predators, it’s their first-ever trip to the Final in the franchise’s 18-year history. They shocked the hockey world when they swept the Western Conference juggernaut Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

They followed that up with a five-game series win over the Saint Louis Blues. In their debut in the conference finals, they dispatched the Anaheim Ducks in six games and won in front of their home fans.

The Penguins are used to this spotlight, though their path to this destination was paved different to what they expected. After losing their best defenseman and number one goalie before the opening round, they ended up taking down two division rivals, the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals.

Then, the surprising Ottawa Senators pushed them to double overtime of Game 7 in the Eastern Conference final. Chris Kunitz made sure that the Pens faithful left PPG Paints Arena with reason to celebrate with the series-clinching tally.

Nashville and Pittsburgh meet for the third time this season. Each team won a contest in the regular season. Here’s how both teams stack up heading into the Stanley Cup Final.

Nashville’s Strengths

2017 Stanley Cup Final

Ryan Ellis (left) with Mattias Ekholm (right). (Photo: Nashville Predators Twitter)

David Poile brought P.K. Subban to the Music City to emphasize the strengths on defense and moving the puck from zone to zone. Both units have been fantastic this postseason.

Subban and Roman Josi have found ways to block shots, create scoring chances and cause havoc in the neutral zone. They have been great, but so have their partners.

Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm have combined for 19 points and a +17 rating on the ice. All four logged the most ice time in the playoffs so far. They will continue to do so because of their effectiveness.

While his blue line has been sharp, Pekka Rinne is helping his own cause with his play. While he wasn’t as solid as the first two rounds, he did enough to thwart an impressive Ducks’ offense, allowing 14 goals for a .925 save percentage. He continues to play above his previous playoff production.

Nashville as a unit did well on the penalty kill last series and allowed just five powerplay goals all postseason. From Colton Sissons’ hat trick in Game 6 to clutch goals from unlikely sources, the Preds have surprising depth up front.

This is the most complete team they’ve had in months. Despite entering the playoffs as the eighth seed, Nashville is built like a Stanley Cup-caliber team.

Nashville’s Weaknesses

There aren’t many weaknesses for this team, but it starts with their health. Ryan Johansen, their best skill forward, is out after emergency thigh surgery last series. Captain Mike Fisher sustained an injury last series, but he returned to practice a couple days ago and the team is hopeful he’s ready for Game 1. Viktor Arvidsson’s status is unknown after he missed yesterday’s practice for an undisclosed reason.

Their health should improve closer to the start of the Final, but for now, it’s a question mark.

Rinne, for his performance in net this year, historically struggles against the Penguins. In eight games against Pittsburgh, he’s 1-5-2 with a 3.57 GAA and a .880 save percentage. He did not play in Nashville’s win against them in the regular season and gave up four goals in the other matchup. He has his hands full with a stacked Pittsburgh lineup, so he needs to continue to defy his past numbers.

As a whole, Nashville is not a strong powerplay team. They’ve scored just 15 percent of the time on the man advantage. As discussed further, Pittsburgh doesn’t give up many opportunities on the penalty kill. Nashville doesn’t have the edge on special teams.

Pittsburgh’s Strengths

The Penguins not only have the depth and speed on offense, but their systems and the way they score boost their efficiency.

On the game-winning goal on Thursday night, Justin Schultz cut in front of the net with Jean-Gabriel Pageau trailing him. Schultz saw another defender in front, so he skated by him to keep Pageau on the far side. Because of this, Pageau screened goalie Craig Anderson, who did not see Kunitz’s shot.

That creativity, combined with Pittsburgh’s skill and aggressiveness, is dangerous for any team.

2017 Stanley Cup Final

Evgeni Malkin. Photo courtesy of CBS Sports. PHoto by USATSI.

Their formations work even better considering Sidney Crosby’s teammates are too. Evgeni Malkin continues to lead all scorers with 24 postseason points. Phil Kessel isn’t far behind with 19 points. While he didn’t play in Game 7 due to an upper-body injury, Patric Hornqvist played well in both games against the Predators this season.

Matt Murray made 123 saves between the pipes since taking over for Marc-Andre Fleury in Game 4. Nashville produces with under-the-radar players. Pittsburgh has the star firepower.

The key factor for the Penguins is special teams. Their penalty kill is a respectable 85.5 percent, giving up just eight goals in the playoffs. However, their 14 power play tallies are tops in the postseason and they had the second-most such goals in the regular season at 60. The Predators’ penalty kill is average, but Pittsburgh can expose it if they play to their expectations.

Pittsburgh’s Weaknesses

As is the case with Nashville, Pittsburgh has its own share of bruises. As mentioned before, Hornqvist didn’t play last game. Schultz returned to the lineup after missing four games. Kunitz had to miss time earlier in the postseason.

They didn’t do themselves any favors going to seven games for two consecutive series. They’re healthier than they were a few weeks ago, but health is still a nagging issue.

On top of health issues, some forwards are in a lull, too. Conor Sheary was a healthy scratch in Game 6 and hasn’t scored in 16 games this postseason. After an electrifying start, Jake Guentzel has just two goals since May 1. He was a non-factor after regulation on Thursday.

While Bryan Rust was never expected to excel up front, he hasn’t lit the lamp as much compared to his four goals against Columbus. Pittsburgh is stacked on all four lines, but the role players have had more value on the intangibles than on the score sheet lately.

Finally, how well can the Penguins adjust to the vaunted Preds blue line? They struggled to adjust to Ottawa’s neutral zone trap, and while Nashville doesn’t use a trap as often, it’s a little different than Guy Boucher’s scheme. The Predators could use a similar system as they did against Chicago, who is also a fast team.

Stanley Cup Prediction

A powerful offense meets an imposing defense. Nashville is seeking their first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Pittsburgh can be the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.

The Predators will not disappoint in their Cup debut, forcing the Penguins off their game. However, Pittsburgh knows how to adjust and win on this stage. They have the best skill player and their offense runs a bit deeper than the Preds’ defense.

Get ready for a fun Stanley Cup Final- Penguins in 7.

 

Feature image from of the Tennessean. Photo by Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Is P.K. Subban skating towards the NHL Hall of Fame?

It is the first time P.K. Subban was at this point. After seven missed opportunities and two misses in the conference finals, he heads to the Stanley Cup Final. But even when Subban’s Nashville Predators dispatched the Anaheim Ducks 6-3 on Monday night, he knew exactly what to do at the postgame ceremony.

Don’t touch the Campbell Bowl.

That’s the superstition for a conference finals winner. There’s no celebration for reaching the end when there’s a better trophy to hoist. Nonetheless, Subban has his first shot at holding up the ultimate trophy: Lord Stanley’s Cup.

As Subban climbs the ladder to the hockey pinnacle, how is his progress towards becoming an NHL great? Is he on the path to the Hall of Fame, and will a Stanley Cup put him in the discussion?

The Pros for P.K. Subban

It’s easy to analyze Subban’s body of work from a statistical standpoint to start. He’s a four-time All-Star who won the Norris Trophy back in 2013. Multiple aspects of a defenseman’s game judge Norris winners, one of them being scoring.

Subban brings that to the table. Since his first full season in the NHL back in 2010, Subban’s 316 points are the sixth-most for a defenseman in that span. He’s also done well on the power play with 143 total points in his career.

Other statistics also jump out on his resumé. His 576 penalty minutes are third-most amongst his blue line colleagues in the last seven seasons. The advanced metrics across are also favorable. In his career, his Corsi and Fenwick ratings are 52.5 and 52.4 percent, respectively, meaning his team controls the puck more when he’s on the ice.

Entering this season, his offensive zone starts and finishes were virtually even around 53 percent. Therefore, his teams did not cede possession while in the offensive zone much during his ice time. In short, he does well in moving and keeping the puck for his team.

P.K. Subban Hall of Fame

P.K. Subban has charged up the Predators fanbase. Photo courtesy of NHL.com.

This may not be as important to his case as his play, but it still holds value: he’s a talented and well-liked person. He’s come in to a new atmosphere and brought excitement to the Predators franchise. He’s embraced his new home with acts of community service and is a solid presence in the locker room.

It won’t stand for much when it comes down to voting, but it spotlights his character and his play instead of detracting from it.

The Cons for P.K. Subban

Subban has done well in his time in the NHL, but anointing him into the Hall of Fame may be premature. For starters, he’s only 27 years old. There is still plenty that could happen in the rest of his career, be it injuries or decline in play. Other factors include varying statistics in other categories and the competition playing around him.

Hits, blocks and takeaways have been measured for a defenseman’s effectiveness for a while, even though the categories do not tell the entire story. Even so, they have merit as to the type of player one is.

Subban’s marks in these categories have ranged from inconsistent to uninspiring. In the 2014-15 campaign, Subban had 142 blocked shots. Yet in the season after, he finished with just 80.

His 135 hits in 2013-14 are a career-high, but he ended with just 78 in Nashville this year.

He had 183 takeaways in his career, but that hardly stands up against other defensemen. All of these statistics are mutually exclusive, and the defensive system can alter them as well. The question is if the variance will hurt his chances.

P.K. Subban Hall of Fame

Back in his Montreal days, P.K. Subban squared off against Erik Karlsson often, Photo by John Mahoney, The Montreal Gazette.

Not only do some stats falter in comparison, but other players excel at his strengths, too. Subban has only reached the top 3 in Norris voting twice out of seven seasons. In that span, other players such as Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns have more points and ice time.

Karlsson is an excellent skater while Burns has a fearsome shot. With players that do better in similar areas, Subban’s place amongst the premier defensemen is not as clear.

How does P.K. Subban get there?

P.K. Subban is a talented player. Overall, he had a fine season for Nashville and is now leading them into the Stanley Cup Final. Great players always have more incentive to get into the Hall of Fame with a title.

If Subban takes the Music City to the top, it’ll boost his chances. Karlsson and Burns have yet to win the Cup.

As for his play on the ice, his value comes from his puck handling and his ability to score. Looking at the recent defensemen inducted into the Hall of Fame, Subban has work to do. Scott Niedermayer, elected in 2013, had 838 total points in 18 seasons. Subban has 358 in eight years, and he averages more points per game than Niedermayer.

At the same time, he doesn’t produce as much as Nicklas Lidstrom did in his career. Other players like Chris Pronger excelled in other areas such as PIM. Chris Chelios played 28 seasons and his incomparable to most defensemen.

As it stands, Subban would probably need around seven to nine more seasons of high-quality performances. Regression is expected at some point, but Subban has the potential. Hoisting the cup with Nashville is just one step, but it goes a long way.

 

Stats via Hockey Reference, Puckalytics and Behind the Net. Feature image courtesy of SportsNet.ca

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