If your team is already reserving tee times for the Spring, the nightmare may already be over. If your team plays in Canada, we know the entire season has been a nightmare. But for the happy teams gearing up for the tournament, there are still a few things to worry about. If you find your team facing their listed scenario, prepare that panic button.
Dallas Stars: A J.S. Giguere Impersonator Appears
Red Wings fans remember it well. That Game 1 masterclass that seemingly broke the backs of the mighty, offensive powerhouse back in 2003. 63 saves on 64 shots completely negated the massive talent gap between the Mighty Ducks and the defending champs. Dallas is far and away the West’s elite offensive team. With 24 more goals than the next best team, no playoff contender in their conference holds a candle to them. But the playoffs do strange things to goalies. Every year, there’s at least one surprising performance that carries a team. Giguere did it in ’03, Quick did it in ’12, and there are many more examples. The mental anguish of being beaten by a goaltender will stick with a team for multiple seasons after the nightmare is over.
St Louis Blues: Vladimir Tarasenko Gets Shut Down
It would be far too easy to pick on the Blues’ lack of playoff success. I’ll save that for the Sharks. This season, Missouri’s finest are once again a solid choice atop the West’s elite. They’ve won over 100 points, allowed less than 200 goals and more than held their own in the tough Central division. Their scoring, however is a bit top heavy. Vladimir Tarasenko leads the team with 34 goals, but only one other player has more than 20 goals this year. Playoff teams are all capable of taking a single player out of a series. If Tarasenko is limited, the Blues’ offense will suffer immensely. The return of Alexander Steen will help, but the goal scoring needs to be spread out a bit.
Chicago Blackhawks: Duncan Keith Can’t Re-adjust In Time
It can be argued that Duncan Keith’s suspension just gives him a nice rest and short vacation before the postseason. But hockey players know that time off slows them down. After injury, for instance, a skater must re-acclimate to game speed. As he will be missing Game 1, wherever it is played, Keith will have to jump into a critical playoff series already underway. As the top blue liner on that team, Keith is crucial to the success of Corey Crawford and company. A slightly lesser nightmare is their utter helplessness against the Wild this season. Despite knocking Minnesota out of the postseason three consecutive times, the Hawks have looked woeful in 5 losses to the only playoff team that likely won’t crack 90 points. This seems like the perfect season for the Wild to exorcise those demons.
Anaheim Ducks: An Inability to Draw Penalties
Teams tend to clamp down on penalties in the playoffs (or at least they try to). The refs do their best not to make the games about them (or at least we’d like to think they do). The Ducks are hoping that is not the case. 122 of their 207 goals this season are at 5v5 even strength. That comes out to around 58% of their offense. No other playoff team scores less than 63% of their goals without special teams. The Ducks, while staunch on defense this season, have utilized their league leading power play and penalty kill to surge their way back to the top. The Perry/Getzlaf duo is among the most dangerous in the league. So if their opponent is disciplined, the Ducks may have a hard time finding the back of the net.
Los Angeles Kings: Anze Goes Missing
In 2013, the Kings were attempting to defend their dream run to the Cup a year prior. In 18 games, Anze Kopitar managed only 9 points. Not horrible, but not good enough when he is meant to be the offensive leader on the squad. Conversely, in 20 games the year before he earned 20 points and in 2015’s Cup run he scored 26 points in as many games. It seems the formula for that “every other year” strategy to continue requires Kopitar to produce a point per game. Much like the Blues’ Tarasenko, he must find a way to escape the shutdown defender that will undoubtedly be assigned to him. If he fails, the Kings can kiss that pattern goodbye.
San Jose Sharks: Game 7 at Home (Against LA)
On two levels playing a Game 7 at home will be the nightmare Sharks fans will fear. To prey on their history, the last Game 7 they had at home was against the Kings to finish off that reverse sweep. Should they meet again, all the talk in the hockey world leading up to that game will be predictable. “Can the Sharks Move On?” “Will they Choke Again?” While any player will do his duty and say it does not have an effect, it absolutely does. It is a distraction, it is annoying, and it will take a bite out of their game. On a more analytical level, the Sharks have hardly felt at home at the Tank this season. Fans have not been showing up and neither have the players. San Jose is 25th in the league while on home ice. The last thing this team needs is a conflicted arena at home for Game 7.
Nashville Predators: Playing Dallas
The Predators used to hang their hat on brutal defense. Pekka Rinne benefited from skilled blue liners on all three lines. With the trade of Seth Jones, the defense has dropped off. They are capable on both sides of the puck, but if they run into the buzzsaw that is the Stars’ offense, it will be over quick. They cannot hope to match their shooting production and Rinne has not been the Vezina candidate he usually is. Of course, Rinne could turn it on just in time; but, to be frank, the Stars just outmatch the Predators.
Minnesota Wild: Penalty Trouble
The Wild are the 4th worst penalty kill team in the league. Devan Dubnyk has (of course) come down to Earth after last year’s miracle run. He can no longer bail out his extremely streaky squad. They had won 6 straight to solidify their postseason status, now they are losers of 4 straight as they limp into the playoffs and will face the best of the West. With a 77.7% kill rate, the Wild would have to make up even more goals as they face either the arsenal in Dallas or the notoriously heavy-hitting Blues. Perhaps the Wild go on another winning streak and surprise us all. But the penalty box could make this postseason a short one.