NHL playoffs notes: Goalie issues; Red Wings seek offense
A visibly weary Bruce Boudreau was asked on Monday about altering his lineup ahead of Tuesday night's must-win Game 3 in Nashville.
"We've discussed it," the Ducks coach said. “But is this a change for the sake of change or a change to make us a better team?”
At this point that distinction might not matter. Anaheim simply cannot come back with the same approach that it brought to Games 1 and 2. The Ducks have gotten fair-to-spare goaltending from John Gibson. They struggled to fight their way through the smothering defense of the Predators. And they failed to maintain their discipline at key moments.
This team needs a new look. And it's going to get one.
Boudreau confirmed on Tuesday morning that Frederik Andersen will get the start in tonight's game. He'll also add forward Shawn Horcoff for some veteran experience.
Gibson doesn't deserve the goat horns after Anaheim dropped the first two games of the series, but by allowing three goals in each he failed to steady the ship when his struggling teammates needed him most. On many teams, that'd be something a coach would have to fight through, but Boudreau is blessed with a viable option in Andersen, who started this series on the bench despite playing 16 playoff games last season. Bourdreau has made it clear that he has faith in both men but he's looking for a spark. Andersen—who pitched a 24-save shutout of the Capitals in his final start of the regular season—might be the one to provide it.
We'll see what else he has in mind, but the changes should stop in net.
On defense, Boudreau might want to tap Hampus Lindholm on the shoulder more often. Cam Fowler and Sami Vatanen have led the team in ice time through the first two games, but both the eye and the analytics suggest Lindholm has been the more effective defenseman in all three zones. That's hardly out of character for the 22-year-old. Lindholm has shown he can rise to the occasion when the opportunity presents itself. He played his best hockey of the season when Fowler was out of the lineup with a knee sprain, proving he can be the go-to guy. With his skating ability, poise under pressure and strong defensive game, there's no downside to leaning on him here. This could be his moment.
Up front, it's time to expand Rickard Rakell's role. The flashy forward had his season derailed by appendix surgery that cost him the final two weeks, and he looked worse for wear in the opener. But the rust started coming off as game two progressed. His skating picked up, he was more involved physically and he generated a couple of scoring chances. Boudreau inserted him on a new-look line alongside Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry for a few shifts in the third period, and the unit showed some zip.
Spreading the talent hasn't worked, so it makes sense to reunite the big dogs full time. Rakell might be the key to getting them hunting again.
• No surprise that goal scoring is the primary concern for the Red Wings heading into Game 4 of their series against the Lightning. Detroit struggled all season to light the lamp, finishing with an average of just 2.55 goals per game. That ranked the Wings 23rd in the league, the lowest of any team that qualified for the postseason.
Goals have been even harder to come by against the Bolts. Detroit has scored just two in each of the first three games. While that was all they needed to record their first win of the series in Game 3, they fell short in Games 1 and 2.
There's nothing coach Jeff Blashill can do about his team's hands ahead of Game 4, but he might want to show some film from Minnesota's Game 3 win over Dallas on Monday night to illustrate an ongoing issue with situational awareness.
The Wild got back in their series by focusing on the front of the net. They got pucks down low and had bodies out front looking for tips and rebounds. That's virtually the opposite of what Detroit's done in each of its first three games—the forwards spent too much of their zone time below the goal line, and not enough in front of Tampa Bay netminder Ben Bishop. Stopping and planting in the crease, rather than performing yet another drive-by, could generate the fortunate bounce that gets the Red Wings to three or more for the first time and back on even ground in this series.
• For a Chicago team that's looking to even up its set with St. Louis, the key will be getting the lead and then protecting it.
Sounds obvious enough, but that's been an issue for the Hawks against their old rivals this season. The Blues managed to come from behind and steal a win after spotting Chicago a lead three times during the regular season. On Sunday, St. Louis battled back from a 2–1 deficit at the start of the third period to win, 3–2.
“If you look at how many times we’ve come back from being down this year, to go through that in the regular season, you learn from it,” Alex Pietrangelo said. “At this time of the year, it seems to be second-nature for us.
“Obviously we’d prefer not to be down going into the third period, but we have a belief that we can come back no matter what the score is.”
That confidence that has belonged to the Hawks in the past. And maybe now that they're deep into the series they'll rediscover it. Chicago, after all, is 43-14 in Games 4-7 under coach Joel Quenneville.
• Jeff Zatkoff was the first goalie off the ice at Pittsburgh's morning skate, so it looks like he'll get his third consecutive start against the Rangers tonight. Marc-André Fleury continues to practice with the Penguins, and it's hoped he'll be ready to go for Game 4, so this could be New York's final crack at the third stringer. Zatkoff was excellent in the opener but was shredded by New York's passing and net presence in Game 2. That's not entirely on him (defensemen Trevor Daley and Olli Maatta had awful games in front of him), but Zatkoff looked exactly as vulnerable as you'd expect of a minor leaguer. If the Rangers can take advantage of him again, they'll wrest home ice back from the Pens and could force coach Mike Sullivan into a tough decision between the pipes.
No word yet on the lines, but don't be surprised to see Sullivan shakes them up. Evgeni Malkin's return in Game 2 coincided with another soft effort from the Nick Bonino-Phil Kessel-Carl Hagelin trio. It might make sense to slide Malkin between those two wingers and see if he can make something out of their speed.
• Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby was favoring his knee when left practice early Tuesday morning after reportedly colliding with a teammate.
There's no official word yet on his condition, but there are reports that he received treatment and appeared to be walking without a limp.
Holtby has been stellar in the early going, allowing just two goals as the Caps have built up the first 3-0 series lead in franchise history.
Game 4 is set for Wednesday night in Philadelphia. If Holtby is hurt, or is held out for precautionary reasons, backup Philipp Grubauer could get the call. He's made one playoff start in his career, allowing three goals on 21 shots in a 4–3 win over the Islanders in the opening round last spring.