Thursday, April 14, 2011

Stanley Cup Playoffs: Night 1

Some thoughts on the night of hockey action:
  • I'm not surprised, but the Rangers really impressed me with their defensive commitment last night. They often kept a really tight pack around Henrik Lundqvist, and made his job as easy as possible by either partially deadening or completely snuffing out shots from Washington's offensive talents. Nicklas Backstrom looked especially frustrated at times with his inability to get pucks all the way to the net (he was credit with one shot on goal in the game). I know the Capitals want to go to the net and create problems for Lundqvist, and I'm not saying they shouldn't. However, they also need to find a way to spread the Rangers out a bit and create some open lanes to get pucks to the net. If the puck never gets to Lundqvist, all it does is create frustration for the offensive players.
  • That said, it's also hard not to be impressed with the Capitals' ability to shake off Lundqvist's play, as well as Matt Gilroy's third-period goal that gave the visitors a 1-0 lead. It reinforces an argument I've heard a few times about how this Washington team is different. The Capitals are obviously a better defensive team, which is evidenced by their 32 blocked shots in Wednesday's game (the Rangers, whom I just lauded for strong defensive play, "only" had 28). But it was their lack of panic at the other end of the rink that caught my eye. Just stick with the plan ... stick with what you do well ... and good things will happen. It's something Washington would forget in previous years, but something they did very well in the playoff opener this time around.
  • If you're a Pittsburgh fan, you're happy your team won. You're happy that they continue to grind out games without two of the best -- if not the best -- players in the world in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Not many teams would be able to consistently perform without such talents, but Dan Bylsma finds a way to get his team prepared and playing well. The Lightning had a lot of shots, and Marc-Andre Fleury was sharp, but the big thing was that they really didn't threaten much after the Pens took the lead.
  • Vancouver got two in the first and put a clamp on the Blackhawks. Roberto Luongo made 32 saves, and the Canucks showed all the things that made them such a dangerous team during the regular season, including a commitment to team defense that everyone needs this time of year. Game 2 is absolutely critical for Chicago, both in terms of planting a seed of doubt into the Canucks before the series moves to Chicago, and just getting some good vibes going in their own room. It's a long trip home, but probably not long enough for them to convince themselves that falling behind 2-0 in the series is nothing more than the home team holding serve.
  • Phoenix is terrible on the power play. As we learned with UMD's championship run, you can't afford to be poor in any aspect of special teams if you want to win in playoff hockey. Most of the time, five-on-three power plays in the postseason are quite the rarity. If you aren't good, it's a momentum-killer, and it's going to be tougher to climb out of that hole. Phoenix had a 1-0 lead, and the absolutely critical moment of the game was the five-on-three they had where they did virtually nothing of any positive nature. It's one thing if you pepper a goalie and he stands on his head. But the Coyotes only had one shot in 91 seconds of a two-man advantage. They'll be kicking themselves for that until Game 2 Saturday afternoon.
  • How about the save Pekka Rinne made on Teemu Selanne in the first period? This game is totally different if Selanne buries it, and at first I thought Selanne had simply whiffed on the shot somehow. Instead, Rinne made an unreal save.

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