NHL playoff notes: How Flyers, Wild, Kings can come back
Some quick thoughts ahead of Monday's three-game slate:
• Despite the unfavorable result in Game 2, there's no reason for the Philadelphia Flyers to change their approach to the Capitals in Game 3. Coach Dave Hakstol wanted more shots and more scoring chances and his team responded, firing it towards the net every chance it got. The Flyers ended up with 42 shots, 14 of which were high-danger chances according to War On Ice. And while they barely dented Capitals keeper Braden Holtby, their best chance of success will come from testing him repeatedly. Washington is a superior team by any measure, but the Caps need the puck to take advantage of their edge in talent. If Philly continues to hold an edge in possession and fire-at-will, the Flyers could break through.
• Heading to Philadelphia with a 2-0 series lead, there's room for improvement in Washington's game. That list starts with staying out of the box. In Game 1, the Caps took three minors in the opening frame, a disruptive stretch that derailed any chance they had of riding the wave of energy at Verizon Center. In Game 2, they put the Flyers on a two-man advantage that could have ceded momentum to the visitors if not for some brilliant work by the penalty kill. Discipline, especially in the opening frame, will be key to the Caps' chances tonight.
• Dallas coach Lindy Ruff revealed on Sunday that Mattias Janmark will return to the Stars lineup for Game 3 on Monday. The rookie forward was a healthy scratch on Saturday night, creating roster space for the return of Tyler Seguin.
Ruff wouldn't reveal who'd be coming out to make way for Janmark, though.
“I've got some good, tough decisions to make,” he said. “I really have nobody that hasn't been playing well.”
There's a possibility that Seguin could be the one to sit—Ruff said he'd make that call after Monday's morning skate. Although he didn't make much of an impression in Game 2, Seguin skated about as well as you'd expect for someone making his playoff debut after missing a month of action with a partially torn Achilles.
It's more likely then that Val Nichushkin will be sent to the press box. Janmark can't make an impact in an energy role on the fourth line and the third line led by Radek Faksa has arguably been the team's best so far in the playoffs. That leaves the second line that needs tinkering. Ruff said he likes Nichushkin's size, but Janmark has been the more physical player of the two to this point, memorably flattening Minnesota's Matt Dumba in the opener.
Nichushkin can be a frustrating player. He's big, he can skate and it's nearly impossible to strip him of possession. But he can go silent for long stretches as well. Janmark's been cold of late, scoring just two goals in his final 15 games of the regular season, but he brings a more predictable effort level. It only makes sense to get him back in the action.
UPDATE: Seguin has been ruled out for tonight's Game 3. Ruff delivered the news at this morning's skate, revealing that Seguin is back in Dallas doing more rehab.
"He's day-to-day," Ruff told reporters. "It's related to his injury. We'll just take it day by day and see where he's at."
Ruff explained that the setback is related to Seguin's original injury. "It might be kind of a fallout of all of a sudden playing at a high pace." He later defended his decision to allow Seguin to return to action, possibly before he was physically ready, in Game 2.
“He was ready. His declaration was he was ready to play, felt great, then it becomes my decision. It was my decision to play him because I felt he looked good in the couple of previous practices. He just irritated something that rendered him not effective.”
So it looks like Janmark will assume Seguin's spot in the lineup, likely on the second line with Nichushkin and Jason Spezza. Patrick Sharp will take Seguin's spot on the top line.
Ruff also revealed that defenseman Kris Russell (illness) is unlikely to play tonight. It'll either be Patrik Nemeth or Jordie Benn stepping up to fill in.
• This is what it's come to for the offensively-challenged Wild: With no untapped forward options worth considering, they'll turn to a rookie defensemen to provide a spark in Monday's must-win Game 3.
Minnesota recalled Mike Reilly from Iowa of the AHL on Sunday, likely to replace Nate Prosser on the blue line. The 22-year-old had one goal and six assists in 29 games for the Wild this season. Those aren't eye-popping numbers, but his ability to make good decisions and move the puck quickly up ice might help jump start a team that's managed just one goal through the first two games of the series.
To be effective in that role, though, he'll need to skate more than the 12:01 that Prosser averaged as the team's sixth defenseman during the two games in Dallas. Will Wild coach John Torchetti trust Reilly with his team's season on the line. Doubtful, but these are desperate times and Torchetti is clearly out of answers.
• Maybe what the Wild need as much as anything on Monday night is to show up on time. They were outplayed by a wide margin in the first period of both games in Dallas, getting outshot by a combined 28-9. And while they emerged from both knotted at zero, the effort exerted seemed to take a toll as the game wore on. Possession is key, starting with finding an edge in the face-off circle. (Dallas is winning 56.9% of the draws so far.) So is committing to an attack that's both smarter and grittier. The D needs to make better decisions at the blue line in order to get pucks through to the net. The Wild's forwards need to support that by establishing a presence down low and winning more puck battles.
• The Los Angeles Kings have found success in recent years as possession monsters, but the way they finally gained traction in Saturday's 2–1 loss suggests they might have to change up their style if they want to get back into their series with the Sharks.
It was right after San Jose took a 2–0 lead on Logan Couture's power play goal that Kings coach Darryl Sutter altered his team's transition game. Instead of lugging the puck out of the defensive end, the Kings leaned heavily on the long pass as a way to stretch out the Sharks in the neutral zone. It was an odd look for them, but effective. They finally started gaining the offensive blue line with some consistency and generated some sustained possession as well. Although the Kings couldn't dent Martin Jones at five-on-five, the chances were there. It was a smart in-game adjustment, and a reminder of how effective Sutter is in the role. Watch for more of this tonight.
• For a guy who is coming off a long stint on IR, Kings winger Marian Gaborik looked pretty sharp in Game 2. He used his speed to great effect, generated six or seven solid scoring opportunities and ended the night with a 62.5% Corsi. Maybe that was just the adrenalin pumping in the first game back after a knee injury and a crash is inevitable. But the Kings desperately need his speed against the faster and more agile Sharks. Watch his legs early. If he's going, L.A. has got a chance. If not ... it's going to be another frustrating night for the Kings.
• Has any player been more of a disappointment to this point than Anze Kopitar? He has just one shot on net through the first two games and has looked sluggish in the defensive end. More to the point, he's been widely outplayed by San Jose captain Joe Pavelski, who has scored the opening goal in both games for the Sharks and has been a constant presence on the attack.
This isn't what anyone expected from a player who is recognized as one of the game's top two-way performers.
"I definitely have to be better," Kopitar told reporters on Sunday. "I take pride in leading the team and for me I know this is just not good enough. [I've] got to bring it a lot better."
There's some concern that he's dealing with a nagging injury, although most players are at this time of year. The bigger issue will be matchups. With the series shifting to the SAP Center, the Sharks will have the right of last change. And that means there'll be no escaping Pavelski's attentions. Not an ideal situation for the guy who is being counted on to turn the series around for the Kings.