2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 1 Preview
The 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs start with no Canadian teams and a Bruins team that choked down the stretch, again, to miss the playoffs for the second straight year. The Flyers and Red wings both got in with negative goal differentials. We’ve only had one team do that in the past two seasons and that was the Red Wings in 2014. We also have two re-matches of last year’s first round in this year’s first round and one from two seasons ago. Which is one of the reasons I don’t like this new divisional playoff format. You have a much greater chance of having the same match-ups over and over again. The NHL wanted rivalries but it’s not all that exciting seeing the same match-ups year after year.
For my Stanley Cup prediction, I’m sticking with the Kings winning it all. Th Stars ans Blackhawks have a shot of coming from the West though. I think they’ll play either the Capitals or Penguins, depending on who wins that 2nd round match-up. I’d need to see how they both play in the 1st round before making a pick. But I’m probably leaning towards the Capitals at this point because of all the Penguins’ injuries. Kings over Capitals.
A1 Florida Panthers vs. W1 New York Islanders
Season Series: 2-1 Panthers
Playoff Series History: None
What We Learned: The Panthers are for real, mostly, and surprisingly won the division with a mix of old and young that works well. The Islanders had a really disappointing season and they may have a postseason that’s also disappointing.
Stars to Watch: Jaromir Jagr has played in 202 playoff games. He hasn’t played in any since 2013 when, for the Bruins, he scored no goals but had 10 assists. Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov will play in their first postseason. Both dynamic players, they should be fun to watch. John Tavares and Kyle Okposo are the usual ones to watch for the Islanders. Okposo will need to be better than he was last postseason. Josh Bailey had a good playoffs for the Islanders last season but he struggled this regular season. He might play well, again, despite that. Nick Leddy, for the Islanders, and Aaron Ekblad, for the Panthers, will both bring it from the blueline.
X-Factor: A lot of the Panthers players have never been to the playoffs before so this is all new to them. But then players like Jagr have been here plenty. It’ll be interesting to see how the younger players handle it. The Islanders have more pressure, as last season was their first trip and they barely lost in seven games. The natural progression is for them to move past the 1st round this season but normally they would be a higher seed than they are.
Goalie Problem: Roberto Luongo is still chasing his elusive Stanley Cup. He hasn’t played in the playoffs since 2013. And in the 2012 and 2013 postseasons he played in just five games. So he’s a little rusty when it comes to the playoffs. He’s also been hit or miss come playoff time too. But I think he’ll be more relaxed playing in Florida so he should do well. On the other end Jaroslav Halak knows a little about playoff goaltending. He should be fully healed from his injury and ready to start. He played well against the Capitals last postseason. This should be a fun duel.
Fun Fact: In the Panthers history, starting in 1993 and including this season, they have only won their division twice, made the playoffs five times and only won a playoff series in 1996 when they made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Prediction: Probably the 2nd hardest series to predict, with the hardest one being next up in the preview. I’d like to say the Islanders will progress and make it to the next round because that’s what they should be doing. But they didn’t really have the kind of season that makes you believe they can pull off the upset. The Panthers, on the other hand, are having a kind of run reminiscent of their 1996 season. This team isn’t like the 2012 team that was cobbled together with a bunch of veterans and flamed out in the 1st round. I still think it’ll be a close series. Panthers in seven.
A2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. A3 Detroit Red Wings
Season Series: 2-2
Playoff Series History: 1-0
What We Learned: The Lightning managed to have a good season despite off the ice drama, injuries and being the Stanley Cup runner up. The Red Wings made the playoffs for the 25th straight time with some luck and a new coach.
Stars to Watch: Steven Stamkos is injured so eyes will be on Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov. Johnson is banged up and hasn’t played all that well this season. But he elevated his game in the playoffs last season so history could repeat itself. Kucherov is now the man in Tampa Bay so he’ll need to elevate his game like he did last postseason. For the Red Wings, this is Pavel Datsyuk’s last NHL season so he will want to go out with a bang. He has the best ppg average of any Red Wing this season. Dylan Larkin is in his first postseason and Tomas Tarter had three goals in the series last year. Both will need to be big for the Red Wings to have a chance to win.
X-Factor: Depth for both teams will be a factor. The Lightning are nowhere near as deep as they were last season and struggled because of it. They are without Stamkos so they will need to adjust. They might be without Johnson for a bit, who was nowhere near as effective last postseason after he got injured. Ryan Callahan’s scoring has fallen off a cliff. Both teams had nine players score double digits in goals. But the Lightning had 11 the season before and more twenty plus goal scorers. Top defenseman Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman are also injured for the Lightning.
Goalie Problem: Ben Bishop played well in his first playoffs and will need to do so again, even more so. If he doesn’t play well the Lightning have no chance. Petr Mrazek had the better season but was pretty bad the last week of the season. Jimmy Howard has the playoff experience but wasn’t that great all season. I’m guessing the Red Wings will go with Mrazek. But no matter the choice, goaltending will probably be the reason the Red Wins go home early.
Fun Fact: Last year was the first time the Red Wings didn’t make it out of the 1st round in consecutive playoffs. It might be stretched to three in a row.
Prediction: This is probably the hardest first round series to pick. You have two teams that aren’t as good as they could be. The Lightning are about half the team they could be. Normally with that many key injuries, I would pick against the Lightning. The problem is the Red Wings really haven’t been that impressive at all this season. So unimpressive that they got crushed by the Bruins, a team that basically lost all their other must win games the last week of the season. This will be a tight series like last postseason. Lightning in 7 again.
M1 Washington Capitals vs. W2 Philadelphia Flyers
Season Series: 2-2, One Flyers win was in a shootout
Playoff Series History: 2-2
What We Learned: The Capitals crushed it all season long in every aspect. The Flyers aren’t that great of a team but here they are anyway, lucky us.
Stars to Watch: You should always watch Ovechkin but probably more so now. He had five goals in his last three games including three in the last game to hit 50 goals. Evgeny Kuznetsov emerged last season in the playoffs and should continue to evolve his game as he’s already became the Capitals leading scorer in his second season. Statistically, Claude Giroux had his worst season since 2010. But he’s still mister everything for the Flyers and he brings it in the playoffs. Pesky Wayne Simmonds does more than piss everyone off as he was the Flyers 2nd leading scorer and lead the team in goals. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s used as more of a scorer or agitator.
X-Factor: Whose going to score when it matters? The Capitals replaced seemingly clutch Joel Ward with even more clutch Justin Williams, whose fit in nicely. For the Flyers, how will rookie Shayne Gostisbehere do/hold up?
Goalie Problem: Braden Holtby is the man. He first rose to prominence in the playoffs in 2013. He’s only been better since. The Flyers won’t score many goals. Steve Mason has been really good at times this season. But he’s not Holtby. Despite he’s long career, this will only be his third playoffs. He was bad with the Blue Jackets but pretty good with the Flyers in 2014. Mason will be under siege and will need to stand on his head.
Fun Fact: The Capitals were 2nd in the NHL in goals for (GFA) and against (GAA). Not too shabby. The Flyers were 24th in goals for and 13th in goals against. They scored the least amount of goals of all the playoff teams. Quite a difference between the two teams.
Prediction: I can’t really see the Flyers beating the Capitals. The Capitals havae more talent and ar a better team. This is the Capitals though, who find ways to lose series like nobody’s business. But the Capitals are a much better team with Barry Trotz as coach. He has them focused and they will beat the Flyers. The Flyers are just happy to be here. Capitals in five.
M2 Pittsburgh Penguins vs. M3 New York Rangers
Season Series: 3-1 Penguins
Playoff Series History: 4-2 Penguins but they’ve lost the last two
What We Learned: The Penguins aren’t dead. You just need to fire the coach to jump start them. Sidney Crosby also still has it. The Rangers are efficient and constant. You thought they’d be the 2nd seed for sure and then they almost became the 4th. I have a feeling the Islanders tanked on purpose, seeing as how they didn’t even play John Tavares against the Flyers, to avoid the Penguins.
Stars to Watch: Sidney Crosby of course but the unsung heroes of Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino and Carl Hagelin have been so good of late, you’ll need to keep an eye on them. Phil Kessel is good for a point a game in the playoffs too. For the Rangers it’s Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Derek Stepan. Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle and Ryan McDonaugh will bring it from the blueline, more so than most.
X-Factor: Injuries and more injuries for the Penguins. The goalie injuries for the Penguins will be discussed below. But Evgeni Malkin will be missed for at least the first two rounds of the playoffs. The Penguins have been scoring without him but you always need all hands on deck for the playoffs. Olli Maatta is also injured and may miss time. He’s usually been injured throughout his career, which isn’t good. Also will the Penguins actually play defense this postseason? For the Rangers, will Rick Nash do anything? A question seemingly always on the mind of Rangers fans. His regular season wasn’t great.
Goalie Problem: Henrik Lundqvist had another stellar season for the Rangers. But come playoff time, he tends to raise it up a notch or two. He’ll be there and he’ll need to be against the 3rd highest scoring team. Last season and this season were Marc-Andre Fleury’s best of his career. He also didn’t stink in the playoffs for the first time since the Penguins last won the Stanley Cup. The problem is he has a concussion and it seems doubtful he will play. Backup Matt Murray played well but he also has a head injury. So it looks like it’ll be Jeff Zatkoff in net who hasn’t played much in the NHL. His AHL playoff stats are pretty bad so hopefully he’ll do much better here.
Fun Fact: Henrik Lundqvist has played in 111 playoff games but actually has a losing record, at 54-56. Sidney Crosby has just three goals in his last 18 playoff games.
Prediction: Well isn’t this exciting. This is the 3rd year in a row these teams have met in the playoffs. Yawn. Last year the Penguins were atrocious and the Rangers were the top seed in the NHL. This year, things are very different. I stand by what I always say about the Rangers, they aren’t a great team. They just have a great coach and goalie, which make them better than they are. The Penguins are hot, they are scoring and they had the 2nd best win in the conference. The only thing that makes this tricky is the Rangers have a huge advantage in goal. I imagine Fleury will make it back by Game 3, or so, if not earlier. However, I’m still giving the overall advantage to the Penguins. Penguins in six or seven.
C1 Dallas Stars vs. W2 Minnesota Wild
Season Series: 4-1 Stars, three wins were in overtime
Playoff Series History: This is their first meeting ever
What We Learned: The Stars had a couple of head scratching games but, overall, they were the 2nd best team in the NHL this season. The Wild had more up and down streaks than anyone this season. They finished down.
Stars to Watch: Jamie Benn just keeps getting better and scored 40 goals for the first time. Jason Spezza has really rejuvenated his career with the Stars. Patrick Sharp usually elevates his game in the playoffs. The Wild had 11 players in double digits in goals but no one had more than 25. So they are more of scoring by committee. Mikko Koivu and Ryan Suter are two to keep an eye for the Wild. Suter needs to deliver more on the blueline for the Wild to have a chance. Koivu didn’t play all that well last postseason and will need to do better as well.
X-Factor: Injuries, injuries. The best players on both teams weren’t mentioned above because of their injuries. The Stars have Tyler Seguin who started skating in limited fashion. He said he won’t miss the playoffs. I believe him but it’s likely he misses a game or two to start. The Wild have Zach Parise who has some mystery injury. He’ll probably miss a couple of games too. Both are key players.
Goalie Problem: Devan Dubnyk came down to earth this season but he was still decent. He wasn’t that great at times last postseason so he’ll need to play better against the highest scoring team in the NHL. Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen basically played the same amount of games and basically had the same exact numbers. I assume they go with Niemi. Niemi last played in the playoffs in 2014 for the Sharks, where he was dreadful. Lehtonen also last played in 2014 in the postseason and wasn’t much better. It’s safe to say goaltending is the Stars weakest link.
Fun Fact: The Wild were the least penalized team which is good because they had the 4th worst penalty kill. The Stars had the 5th best powerplay.
Prediction: The Wild seem to be like the Blues, in that they are a team with some talent but they don’t really evolve into anything and they don’t add the missing pieces necessary to get themselves over the hump. So they end up being good enough to make the playoffs but not good enough to do anything in them. The Stars are the 2nd best team in the NHL so I think it’s pretty self explanatory what will happen here. The Stars don’t really have any weaknesses besides goaltending and it’s not bad enough to lose to the Wild. Stars in 5, maybe 6.
C2 St. Louis Blues vs. C3 Chicago Blackhawks
Season Series: 3-2 Blues, all wins were in overtime or the shootout for them
Playoff Series History: 8-3 Blackhawks
What We Learned: The Blackhawks do what they do in the regular season which is, be above average but not great. The Blues do what they do lately, which is either win the division or come o so close to doing it.
Stars to Watch: Vladimir Tarasenko is the man for the Blues. He notched 40 goals for the first time this season. He also has 10 goals in 13 playoff games which is petty good. Kevin Shattenkirk and Alexander Steen had decent seasons and usually have okay playoffs. The rest of the Blues don’t show up in the postseason. What’s not to say about Patrick Kane? He’ll be there. Jonathan Toews had an average season but he’s never seen a big game he didn’t like. He’ll be there too. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook will also be there. Although Keith will be a little late to the dance.
X-Factor: For the Blues it’ll be, can anyone other than Tarasenko show up at all? Goalie, defenseman or forward, it doesn’t matter. Just show up. For the Blackhawks, Artemi Panarin had a great “rookie” season and will now need to translate to the postseason. I thought Teuvo Teravainen had a great breakout postseason last year but that did not translate to anything other than a disappointing regular season for him. It’ll be interesting to see if he can replicate some of his postseason magic this postseason.
Goalie Problem: Corey Crawford had one of his best seasons this year but he was injured and he didn’t play well in his first game back/final game of the season. He was also yanked last season during the playoffs. Having said that, he usually plays well in the playoffs and he has two Stanley Cups to show for it. He should be fine. Jake Allen and Brian Elliott both had great seasons for the Blues but neither have ever translated that to postseason success. But Ryan Miller didn’t have any either. Something must be wrong when all Blues goalies have great regular seasons but stink it up in the playoffs. Don’t expect much to change now.
Fun Fact: The Blackhawks still haven’t lost to a Central Division team since they redid the playoff format. They actually haven’t lost to any team currently in the Central Division since 2002, when the lost to the Blues. Meanwhile the Blues haven’t beaten any Central teams since the redid the format. Okay so this is only the third season with the new format.
Prediction: Considering that the Blues usually bomb in the playoffs and the Blackhawks don’t, it’s pretty clear what will happen. Having said that, the Blackhawks struggled at times towards the end and did lose the season series to the Blues. But these are the Blues and coaching and playoff goaltending aren’t their strong suit. But I do feel for the Blues. They had the 2nd best record in the conference and they get the Blackhawks as their reward. Blackhawks in six.
P1 Anaheim Ducks vs. W1 Nashville Predators
Season Series: 2-1 Predators
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Predators
What We Learned: The Ducks were actually able to bounce back from their beyond dreadful start and somehow win the division. The Predators were basically the 4th best team in the Central Division all season long.
Stars to Watch: James Neal, Shea Weber and Filip Forsberg for the Predators. After that, it’s a bit of a drop-off in terms of talent. These three will need to bring it for the Predators to have a chance. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler are the big three to watch for the Ducks. The depth on the team seems to have shrunk, with Rickard Rakell and Jakob Silfverberg being the only other scoring threats.
X-Factor: What will Ryan Johansen contribute? It’s to early to make a verdict of the Johansen trade. He had 34 points in 42 games, which isn’t bad. But that equates to 16 goals in a full season, which isn’t what the Predators were hoping for. He did have six points in six games in the playoffs for the Blue Jackets. Can the Ducks win a Game 7 if it goes there? I guess against the Predators they could but I wouldn’t like their chances. They’ll need to wrap this up quickly.
Goalie Problem: The Ducks duo of John Gibson and Frederik Andersen just won the Williams Jennings trophy for having the best GAA this season. That doesn’t always translate to playoff success though. Just ask the Blues. It’s unknown who will get the start in net though. I’m betting it will be Gibson though. In any case, both goalies had such solid seasons it doesn’t really matter. For the Predators, Pekka Rinne is still somewhat getting it done. He’s season have mostly been trending downward as of late. He can still be effective when needed and the Predators boost one of the best defensive tandems.
Fun Fact: The Ducks had the 4th best face-off wining percentage and the Predators had the 5th worst. It’s only a difference of 3.2 percent but it adds up. The Predators gave up the fewest shorthanded goals and Ducks were next in line so don’t expect many of those.
Prediction: The Duck should send mother nature and the Jets a thank you card because, without that snow, they wouldn’t have beaten the Capitals when the game actually meant something. Because they wouldn’t have beaten the Sharks, a great road team, in a Game 7 at home with how awful they’ve been in those. But it doesn’t matter now, as they have the Predators instead. I like there chances to win this as they’ve gone through a lot of adversity this season and managed to handle it. The inexperienced defense is the Ducks biggest weakness but the Predators don’t have that many weapons to exploit it. Rinne also isn’t what he once was. Ducks in six.
P2 Los Angeles Kings vs. P3 San Jose Sharks
Season Series: 3-1-1 Sharks
Playoff Series History: 2-1 Kings
What We Learned: The Kings led the division all season long until the final month of the season. But they didn’t win the division the times they won the Stanley Cup so I don’t think they care much. The Sharks had a great rebound season by any stretch but get rewarded with the Kings again. They’ve never had much luck in the playoffs.
Stars to Watch: Joe Pavelski has become the new man in San Jose. Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau are still around kicking though. Brent Burns had an amazing season from the blueline. Joel Ward should be good for a key goal or too. I think Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture will have a key goal or two in them as well. Justin Williams is gone, Marian Gaborik is injured but Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter are still there for the Kings. Dustin Brown usually puts up better numbers in the postseason and he will need too. I expect more from Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli. Milan Lucic has fit in nicely and has had decent postseason performances with the Bruins.
X-Factor: Will that epic collapse by the Sharks have any effect on their psyche? It’s been a couple of seasons but postseason success isn’t really their forte. For the Kings, it’s can they stay focused? Seeing as how they’ve been here, done that before. Bu their basically like the Blackhawks, disinterested in the regular season and interested in the playoffs. Except how they started against these very Sharks two years ago. They can’t have that start again but it will be tough, because the Sharks had the best road record in the NHL this season and they open up in Los Angeles.
Goalie Problem: If you look up “clutch goaltending in the playoffs”, there’s a picture of Jonathan Quick. There’s really nothing else left to be said about him. His past payoff performances speak for themselves. He will go up against his former understudy in Martin Jones. Jones had a decent season is his first full time starting gig. He doesn’t have any meaningful playoff minutes under his belt. The Kings might know his tendencies too, which may end up being a disadvantage for the Sharks. Should be a fun duel though.
Fun Fact: This will be the 4th time in the past six seasons these teams have played each other in the playoffs. 2014 featured the Sharks blowing their 3-0 series lead. 2013 featured the home team winning all the games and five of them were decided by one goal. Not sure what this series will bring but it should be fun to watch.
Prediction: I feel for the Sharks, I really do. But I can’t see them beating the Kings. If the Kings had won the division, I could see them beating the Ducks. But, alas, that was not meant to be. Which means another first round exit for the Sharks. But it’s not a shoo-in by any means. The Sharks beat the Kings three times and scored five goals on them in those three wins. So they must be doing something right. But playoff time is when the Kings excel and this season should be no different. Should be a dandy anyway. Kings in seven.
Author: Alex Mueller
Alex Mueller graduated from Temple University with a minor in journalism over a decade ago. He’s been writing about NHL hockey, on and off, since the Fall of 2009. He’s written for Pucking Awesome, the Checking Line and now Hockey Recaps. He played goalie at San Diego Ice Arena. His first novel, Bobby Sterling vs Truth, is available on Amazon now.