I don’t want to belabor what’s already been talked about last night but what in high hell was that?!
As I’m sure most fans are doing these days, I’ve been incessantly checking the Eastern Conference standings just to get a snapshot of what the current match-ups are and to make guesses about how things might shake-out. Following last night’s confounding loss, and before I lost my cool, I noticed something interesting about the recent records of the Eastern Conference playoff teams. In particular, if you combined the records of these playoffs teams’ most recent games against non-playoff teams, you’ll find that they’ve gone a dismal 1-5-1 against non-playoff teams. The list of playoffs teams that have played, and lost, their most recent games against a non-playoff team include the Penguins, Bruins, Canadiens, Leafs, Islanders, and Rangers. Now, this stat isn’t meant to absolve the Leafs of an unacceptable performance against the Lighting, however it appears that they are not alone in their struggles to finish strong despite meagre competition.
Moving on, I just wanted to thank everyone who participated and voted in our season-ending awards polls. We got over 2,500 votes in total and I think the collective wisdom of our readers may yield some bankable foresight. Below are some charts relaying the results of the polls. Since this is a Leafs-centric community, I fully expected there to be certain biases towards Carlyle and Phaneuf, although I think the latter is the most likely of the two to get an actual nomination. To be honest, what I’m looking forward to most is to see how accurate our readers are in predicting the eventual winners.
With the Leafs back in the playoffs, this is the first time where I’ve actually be somewhat excited about making playoff predictions. My picks are the following: Capitals vs. Rangers (ECF), Blackhawks vs. Ducks (WCF), and Rangers vs. Blackhawks (SCF). The Capitals are an awakened giant and the Rangers are in slumber-mode, but are still very scary. Some of you may be surprised that I don’t have the Penguins or Bruins in the ECF. For the Bruins, I don’t think they’re at the same level as when they won the Cup in 2011. As for the Penguins, despite their ridiculously talented line-up, their goaltending proved less than adequate last year against the Flyers and continues to be a glaring question mark for me. In the West, I think the Blackhawks and Ducks will continue their strong play and emerge. In the end, I don’t think Chicago’s magical season would be right without at least an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals, and I think the Rangers will get it together in time to have a chance to win it all.
In this week’s Leafs Roundtable, we’ve got a couple of new panelists who’ll share their thoughts on the poll results, playoff predictions, Eric Karlsson’s return, and some reminiscence on where they were the last time the Leafs were in the playoffs.
What are your thoughts on the poll results?
“The biggest surprise, to me, is not that Bobrovsky won the Vezina vote by a landslide – but that Shero didn’t win GM of the year by more of a landslide. Not only has the Pittsburgh GM rather expertly constructed an excellent team around two comically-lucky-generational-superstar-lottery-picks and outright [censored] stolen several notable/impactful employees from Joe Niewendyk, but he’s recognized that he has a team in its prime window of contention and made bold moves to full-on go for it.” -Matt Mistele (@TOTruculent)
“The Jack Adams is a tricky one. It’s hard to ignore the injuries the Senators have faced, losing Karlsson, Spezza, and Anderson. Yet at the same time, it’s finally catching up to them. Perhaps Carlyle deserves some kudos for the Leafs turnaround, but there are legitimate questions about their ability to defend consistently and he’s not responsible for the Leafs’ horrid play the last several years. I’m not a fan of Quennville as I felt he already had a very good team to begin with. Same goes for Therrien, although Montreal has had a lot of luck in their favour — most power-plays, few penalties, no major injury issues.” - (@mORRganRielly)
“What was shocking was all of the love that New York Islanders centreman John Tavares is getting. With big seasons from forwards such as Ovechkin, Toews, Crosby and Marty St. Louis, it’s deserved high praise that he gets the nod for the Hart trophy. He’s helped bring the once-woeful Islanders back to the mainstream of the NHL, leading the club in points (46), goals (27). His offence has been of the impactful variety, with nine power play goals and five game winners.” -Michael Stephens (@MLHS_Mike)
“The Norris winner should go to the defenseman who displays high-end proficiency in his own end and puts up points. To me, that eliminates Subban. He has faced extremely weak lines until recently and now that he’s facing stiffer competition, the team isn’t playing well — the anchor of the Montreal defense is Markov. Period. I think the decision should come down to Phaneuf and Suter. From going over the stats, Phaneuf has faced the league’s toughest competition every single night and still sustains a 5 on 5 on-ice save percentage of .918 (Reimer’s ESSV% is .929). Context, Phaneuf is the one ensuring that the rest of the defense doesn’t have to take on tough match-ups. Only two players have started in the defensive zone more than Phaneuf (58.5% starts) and only Phaneuf has played with the league’s weakest teammates. Factor in the points he has accumulated and and the ice-time he eats up and it’s no contest.” - (@mORRganRielly)
What are your predictions for the ECF, WCF, and SCF?
“Last season I picked a Vancouver vs. Pittsburgh final, and both were eliminated (quickly and handily) in the first round. So with that in mind… Eastern Conference Final: Boston Bruins vs. Washington Capitals. Western Conference Final: Chicago Blackhawks vs. San Jose Sharks. Stanley Cup Final: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Boston Bruins; Blackhawks in six games.” -Michael
“Tough call. I’m going to venture Washington vs. Pittsburgh for the ECF. San Jose vs. Chicago for the WCF. And for the SCF, it should be Pittsburgh vs. Chicago.” -mORRganRielly
“I don’t like making specific playoff predictions. Anything can happen, and that’s the best part. A Pittsburgh-Chicago SCF should happen – not just because they’re the top of their respective conferences, but because they’re teams at the pinnacle of their contention window. They’re built to win cups, and built well. It would be like RoboCop vs. Terminator 1 Terminator, before he got all soft in Judgement Day and did the thumbs up as he’s lowered into the…excuse me, I have to go cry now.” -Matt
Does Karlsson’s return alter the Eastern Conference playoff outlook?
“Not really. I think Karlsson needs some time to get back to game-speed. From what I read earlier this week, he’s still a bit behind the play in practice. He might be able to compensate with his skill, but the skating ability is what makes him such a tremendous player. Ottawa may get into the playoffs, but they’ll be gone in the first round without Spezza and Karlsson at 100%. ” -mORRganRielly
“On paper, it looks good. In reality – he’s healed ridiculously quickly. And he’s coming back in, essentially, the playoffs. That’s not like coming back in the regular season. He will need to go from zero to one hundred (thousand) in the span of basically no games – assuming, of course, Ottawa even makes it. Heyo!” -Matt
“With Erik Karlsson returning from injury, there is much cause for concern, though it has little to do with the Ottawa Senators chances in the playoffs. This is an issue of player safety. Initial reports indicated that the severity of Karlsson’s injury would sideline the reigning Norris winner for three to four months. That was only 71 days – or just over two months – ago… Some people heal more quickly than others, and Karlsson would have received expert care. But in an industry known for hiding, misdiagnosing or not diagnosing injuries, you’ll forgive my skepticism. Unless he’s related to James Howlett, he’s probably not 100% yet and could put himself at further risk of injury by suiting up. But he’ll do it, because it’s the cup.” -Michael
Where were you the last time the Leafs made the playoffs?
“Like too many of the other writers here, I was still in high school in Toronto the last time the Maple Leafs made the playoffs. It was the tail end of grade 12, and I’d recently torn my MCL playing hockey… I was, however, lucky enough (despite my knee injury) to take in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals match-up between the Leafs and the Ottawa Senators. Gary Roberts scored both Leaf goals, and Eddie the Eagle was sharp (and likely sober), making 31 saves en route to the shutout as the Leafs evened the series at 1 – 1. With every save Belfour made, the volume seemed to double. My ears were still ringing the next morning in class (well, I probably skipped that class), and my voice was hoarse for days.” -Michael
“I was in my last year of high school when the Leafs last made the playoffs. I remember the room, the chair, and the half-reclined kind-of-sideways position I was sitting in when Roenick scored that OT goal. I was eating Cheetos. And not even the small, crunchy, branded, good kind. The large, bland, styrofoamy, no-name kind. Haven’t touched one since.” -Matt
“I do remember where I was the night Roenick scored. My ex-girlfriend and I were going out that night with friends from high school. I did everything I could to delay. If I remember correctly, she was in the car waiting for me while I was in the living room hoping the Leafs would score in the third period. They did. Twice. I was freaking out. I couldn’t believe it. Meanwhile, the girlfriend was still sitting in the car. I jump into the shower (again), and get ready. Overtime. She’s still sitting in the car by the way. I don’t remember if I had a cell phone then, but if I did I’m sure she sending me angry text messages. Then Tucker hits Kapanen. I’m screaming at the TV. It’s been almost an hour since Pilar (or Sundin?) tied the game late in the third period. I’m freaking out. I see the Leafs pressuring the Flyers. Then someone clears the puck. Roenick comes off the bench, it’s a two on one. One of the nicest sh– … sigh. It’s been awhile since I have thrown a remote control. Oh, and she was right behind me when I threw the remote with the angriest look on her face.” -mORRganRielly
VLM: The Smartest Player the Leafs Have Is… - Without a doubt, it’s Scrivens.
BCP: Ten Playoff Thoughts for the Maple Leafs - Curt is back with his thoughts on the Leafs heading into the playoffs.
Hope in the Big Smoke: Matt Frattin, Sleeper - If he gets the chance, I can totally see Frattin scoring some clutch goals.
National Post: Marlies Keep Wining, Despite Poaching from Leafs - Dallas Eakins gets it done.
The Hockey News: Success Down the Stretch Means Nothing in Playoffs - Maybe I should have read this before picking the Capitals.