2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs – Round 2 Preview – Eastern Conference
What a 1st round the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs were. There’s still one game to go but overall, so far, I got four of seven series correct. I’m not surprised the Islanders beat the Panthers and that’s the pick my gut was telling me to make so I should have just made it. I thought we would get the Islanders vs the Lightning in last year’s conference finals. Instead we get it in this year’s 2nd round.
Out west, I’m not surprised the Sharks beat the Kings but I did have the Kings going all the way so that makes me feel a little stupid. The Sharks have a good team but I didn’t expect them to win in just five games. But the Kings always start slow in the playoffs, for whatever reason, and weren’t able to recover after dropping the first two games against the Sharks, who wanted revenge. If the Kings had just gotten one more point, I think they would have beaten the Predators even with a slow start. They still would have gotten the Sharks in the 2nd round but I think they would have had momentum and then could have beaten them. As for the Blues, I have no explanation and I still can’t believe they won. I think it was pure luck, really.
The Western Conference 2nd round preview will be posted after the Ducks vs Predators series is over.
A2 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. W1 New York Islanders
Season Series: 2-1 Islanders
Playoff Series History: 1-0 Lightning
What We Learned: The Islanders have learned from their past playoff failures. The Lightning are skilled and deep enough to overcome important injuries.
Stars to Watch: What will John Tavares do for an encore? He single-handily lifted the Islanders into the 2nd round with his Game 6 heroics and overall series fire. He is tied for 2nd in playoff scoring as well. Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Nick Leddy also had a strong series. Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson picked up where they left off last postseason. The duo showed they don’t really need Steven Stamkos. Kucherov and Tavares are tied for first with five playoff goals.
X-Factor: While the Lightning are a deep team, their scoring depth will need to get better. Kucherov, Johnson and Alex Killorn accounted for 10 of the Lightning’s 12 first round goals. Other players will need to step up. Jonathan Drouin had one great game against the Red Wings but he will need to do more. Ryan Callahan and Ondrej Palat will also need to step it up. The Islanders had a pretty decent, well balanced, contribution from everyone.
Goalie Problem: Well Jaroslav Halak was not ready to play but having Thomas Greiss as a backup isn’t a bad plan B. Greiss was great against the Panthers in a series where goals were scarce but scoring chances weren’t. Ben Bishop played well against the Red Wings and kept his head scratching plays to a minimum. This will probably end up being a low scoring series where goaltending will be the difference.
Fun Fact: The Lighting had the most penalties in the 1st round at over 25 minutes a game and will need to be more disciplined in this series. Three of the Islanders wins came in overtime which is quite impressive. The Lightning won all of their overtime games last season during their playoff run.
Prediction: So the Islanders did what they should have done and progressed given their experience and talent. I am annoyed I didn’t pick them over the Panthers. The Lightning did what they were supposed to do, beat a weaker team despite their injuries. Both of these teams are pretty even. There’s isn’t anything I like about one more than the other. Both teams actually performed better than expected. You could really flip a coin here. But since I have to pick one, I’m going to go with the Lightning. Just based solely on the fact that they have more experience and nothing else. If the Lightning continue to be mostly top heavy with their scoring, the Islanders may end up taking it if Kucherov struggles. Either way, it’s going to be a long tight series. Lightning in seven. Though I wouldn’t be surprised if the Islanders won.
M1 Washington Capitals vs. M2 Pittsburgh Penguins
Season Series: 3-2 Penguins
Playoff Series History: 7-1 Penguins, yikes
What We Learned: The Capitals crushed the Flyers until they got a new hot goalie but, unlike in the past, the Capitals were able to get that one goal to win that elusive final game. The Penguins scored goals in bunches, with ease, on a marquee goalie in Henrik Lundqvist.
Stars to Watch: Evgeni Malkin showed their was no rust to his game and Sidney Crosby kept right on chugging. In fact, the whole Penguins team was clicking. Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, Nick Bonino and Kris Letang all had a great series against the Rangers. Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin and even John Carlson all played really well against the Rangers. Justin Williams didn’t have a big goal so he’s due in this series, especially since it will go long.
X-Factor: The x-factor with the Penguins is also their defense. They were pretty good against the Rangers except for Game 2, the only game they lost. They reverted back to their old way of playing sloppy, puck watching defense. If they do that against the Capitals, consistently, they are toast. The Capitals, surprisingly, don’t really have any holes on their team.
Goalie Problem: Braden Holtby is the only goalie in the playoffs to record two shutouts. He’s also 2nd in playoff SV% behind only Michael Nuevirth, who played in half as many games. He’ll be on his game in this series and he’ll need to be. Jeff Zatkoff started for the Penguins and played decent. Matt Murray came in and played even better. He’ll get the nod with Fleury still battling symptoms. Murray’s body of work is still scarce so there’s not much to go on. The Capitals boast more firepower than the Rangers, however, so he will be tested.
Fun Fact: The Penguins scored the most goals in the 1st round at 4.2 per game. The Capitals gave up the fewest goals in the 1st round at a measly rate of 1 per game. So something has to give. The Penguins also had the best powerplay at 38% and the Capitals had the 2nd best penalty kill at 95.8%.
Prediction: Despite how good the Penguins are, and don’t get me wrong this is the best Penguins team since they won the Stanley Cup, they won’t win this series. They are good enough to win but they won’t. This is based on the simple fact that what normally derails the Capitals, is a hot goalie that can string together 40+ save games. The Penguins don’t posses this goalie. It’s possible that Matt Murray becomes this goalie but I doubt it. So this means the Penguins would need to outscore the Capitals in every game. Given their firepower, that is possible. However, Holtby is one of the best goalies in the NHL now and you aren’t going to put up four goals on him consistently. The Capitals prevail based on their goaltending. If Holtby goes down though, they are done. And if you’re saying the Penguins solved Lundqvist so they can solve Holtby, not so fast. The Rangers defense isn’t as good as the Capitals and Holtby had a much better year than Lundqvist. Capitals in six, maybe 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.