Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Some Thoughts on Round Two

You may have noticed that I never got around to a Game 5 review. Sorry about that, it's not like it hasn't been a week since it happened. You know how times is, ever elusive. Things just got away from me. Throw in a little minor surgery and a week goes by in a bit of a haze. Now that the painkillers have worn off enough that I can string a coherent thought or two together (well, as close to coherent as I normally get) it seems we've gone to far to go back now.

Moving forward, a little faster than anticipated, we are on to round two. After a week of relaxing, rehabbing and hopefully remembering how to score the New York Islanders come to town. With the Lightning wrapping up early, they were more than happy to see the Islanders slug it out with the Florida Panthers over 6 games, including two that went to double overtime.

I watched most of the Islanders Game 5 through a slight drug-induced haze. The one benefit of being confined to a hospital bed was double overtime hockey. It killed a bunch of hours. The nurses thought it was funny that I would doze off and then snap awake when the announcers voices hit that rising crescendo. The only regret was that the Lightning weren't involved, it would have been interesting to watch my vital signs spike and freak out the attendants.

Game 6 I managed to watch most of as well. And in the span of the 7 or 8-ish periods I saw, I really don't have a feel for them. I really don't know what to expect in this series. It's odd to watch a lot of hockey and not have a feel for a team. For instance, you knew going into the Detroit series that it was going to be a grind. They were going to check close, get in your way and make you skate through mud to score. If the Lightning advance and play Washington or Pittsburgh you know it's going to be fast moving and high scoring. Lots of pressure, lots of open ice.

With the Islanders....I just don't know. They're just kind of there. I recognize some of the names, others not so much. I know John Tavares is a stud and the Lightning should really, really do their best to keep him off of the puck. Looking at the numbers they did score 232 goals as a team (five more than the Lightning) and gave up 216 (15 more than the Lightning), but pretty comparable. I had no idea where they stood in either category. I know they were in a bit of a battle at the end of the season to make the playoffs and then get out of the final wild card spot, but finding out they had 100 point, wow.

Their scoring was more balanced as they boasted four 20+ goal scorers in Tavares (33), Brock Nelson (26), Kyle Okposo (22) and Franz Nielsen (20). Another four players scored at least 10 during the season. That makes things a little difficult to defend. They've continued to spread the scoring out in the playoffs as they've had 9 players combine for their 15 goals. Compare that to the Lightning who have 12 goals from five players. Shut down one line and the Lightning struggle. Shut down one Islanders line and another one might find a way to score.

The question mark for them in the series is going to be in the net. Thomas Greiss signed a nice little backup goalie deal at the beginning of the season. The Islanders agreed to pay him $3 million over two years to sit on the bench wearing pads and a baseball cap and every once in a while come in to give starter Jaroslav Halak a day off. That plan veered off the tracks in March when Halak blew out his groin and Greiss became the number one. He has responded well.

He finished the regular season with personal bests in almost all categories, picked up 23 wins in 38 starts and had a respectable 2.36 GAA and .925 save percentage. The German continued his hot run against the Panthers in the first round and gave up only 2 goals over the last two games despite facing 90 shots.

Can he hold it up against an offense that figures to put more pressure on him than Florida did? If I knew the answer to that, I'd be a rich man. Not that the regular season has anything to do with it, but he did beat the Lightning 2 out of 3 times in the regular season (got a bit roughed up in the one loss, though). From what I saw, he didn't look like a goalie riding a hot streak. He was in control, limited his rebounds and made pretty good reads. Heck, he even stopped a penalty shot in overtime. That' not something a career back up gets to do much of in the playoffs.

So I apologize for not being more helpful, but I really don't know what's going to happen. I'm inclined to think it's going to go six or seven games and be close. There could be a blowout, but momentum could be hard to maintain due to the erratic nature of the schedule. They start on Wednesday, have two days off. Play Saturday and have two days off. Play Tuesday and have two days off. (Seeing a theme here, yet?)

That kind of staggered schedule is beneficial to both teams. The Islanders who had a pretty good battle with the Panthers get to recharge a bit after a short rest before Game 1 and the Lightning's walking wounded get a little healthier. While it's not drawn out long enough to expect Steven Stamkos to return to action (hey, did you here he was on the ice today?), it might be enough to get JT Brown back and maybe even Anton Stralman.

Stralman's return could be huge for the back half of the match up as it would decrease the work load for Matt Carle and some of the other blueliners. For the record if Stralman does return I think it's Nikita Nesterov or Jason Garrison that gets benched before Carle. Hey, I've been hard on him all year, but he's played his Alaskan ass off in the playoffs. Still, I'd rather be cheering his 15 minutes of play rather than his 20 minutes of play.

If the Lightning don't find a way to support Tyler and his linemates then it's going to be a frustrating series. Having to hope for two goals then watch Ben Bishop make 35 saves is not good for my well being. The Ondrej Palat, Val Filppula and Jonathan Drouin have to start cashing in the chances they create during even strength. They've been having fun with the puck, now they got to make the other team pay.

So, gun to my head I say the Lightning win in 6.

How am I doing with my predictions so far:

Alex Killorn will score two big goals – He's scored two game winners. WINNER
Lighting win in six – They won in five. NOT A WINNER
Bishop with 2 shutouts – He got one, but it was a 1-0 shutout. PART TIME WINNER

Drouin will score more points in the postseason than the regular season – he's 40% of the way there!
Marchessault with Kucherov award – winning in five games kept Coach Cooper criticism's to a minimum. There is still a chance.
Will Stamkos play over/under Game 4 – didn't happen until the second round. NOT A WINNER

Series Predictions:

Panthers over Islanders in five – whoops
Washington over Philadelphia in four – took five, but got it
Pittsburgh over New York in seven – only took five, but got it

Dallas over Minnesota in five – took six, but got it
St. Louis over Chicago in seven – NAILED IT
Anaheim over Nashville in six – missed the six, still got a chance to pick the winner
Los Angeles over San Jose in seven – missed it.

Based on my history not too bad. As for the second round:

Caps over Pens in seven in the best series
San Jose over Anaheim/Nashville in six
Dallas over St. Louis in five

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