NHL Playoffs: Pens-Caps is amazing, Ducks’ Bruce Boudreau gets (wrongfully) fired

No need for a build up today, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals’ series has been awesome through three games. Fifteen goals, an overtime-winning hat trick from TJ Oshie, over 200 shots on net, and two, count ’em two suspensions … Continued

Profile picture of SiriusXM Editor
SiriusXM Editor
May 4, 2016

No need for a build up today, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals’ series has been awesome through three games. Fifteen goals, an overtime-winning hat trick from TJ Oshie, over 200 shots on net, and two, count ’em two suspensions already!

Oshie’s Game 1 hat trick was just the kind of bang we all love a series opening with, especially a rivalry. Here’s what’s crazy though, the only other player with multiple goals in the series is Carl Hagelin with two. Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom are all still goalless, while Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin have just one each.

The physicality in the series hasn’t gone unnoticed, either.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety continues to be a joke. Just before the end of the regular season, Florida Panthers captain Willie Mitchell made headlines by noting that the DoPS is “slipping” in terms of protecting the players. Here’s a good example, Brooks Orpik is allowed to shirk his duties as a defender,corner Olli Maatta and pick off his head with extreme force for merely a three-game ban. When the words “no player should reasonably expect to be hit at this time, or in this manner,” and then delivers “a high, forceful hit” that is “excessively high, and excessively late”, comes out of the mouth for the DoPS in an explanation video, protection isn’t given by sitting out a few games – it’s sitting out the series and then the next.

But here we are, with the Penguins up 2-1 heading into Game 4 of the fiercest series of the postseason thus far. The difference, aside from the physicality? Goaltender Matt Murray leads with one game stolen over Braden Holtby.

In Game 3, Murray made a career-high 47 saves during the 3-2 win. That’s mighty impressive for the 21-year-old rookie who still has less than 20 total games of NHL experience. We all know that goaltending is the proverbial x-factor in any playoff series, with Murray’s .935 save percentage and Holtby’s .922 SV% in the series with just a five-shot difference, perhaps what we ought to watch for is which goalie cracks first. Neither will be perfect. Goals will be scored. The fight is on with Pittsburgh leading the possession game by a widening margin, and Washington nearly doubling them up in hits (132-75).

Elsewhere in the League

With all the series knotted at 2-1, we’re starting to see the leading teams pull away.

In fact, the St. Louis Blues have gotten cocky enough to start blowing kisses. Here’s Ryan Reaves towards no one in particular at the end of Tuesday’s 6-1 Game 3 win over Dallas,

That’s a whole lot of love, and here’s some more as Kevin Shattenkirk expresses his deepest affections to Jaden Schwartz,

But the one who deserves the most love of all is still Brian Elliott, who has turned away 96 of 102 shots the Stars have sent his way thus far. That’s a .941 SV%. Dallas, as I mentioned last week, doesn’t really “get” save percentage and has an .885 combined SV% between Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi in this series.

The disparities don’t stop there. St. Louis leads in hits (102-82), shots on net (102-96), and scoring chances (92-85). Let’s dig in to that last metric.

The adage, “your best players have to be your best players” can sometimes ring a bit hollow, just look up Pittsburgh and Washington’s numbers. This series however is falling closer in line.

Jamie Benn leads the Stars with 10 individual scoring chances, followed by Colton Sceviour (nine), Ales Hemsky and Radek Faksa (eight each). Sceviour and Faksa have 38 combined career goals in the regular and postseasons. Hemsky has 38 goals over his last three seasons. They’re not who you want leading the way in scoring opportunities.

The Blues meanwhile are led by Jaden Schwartz with 12, followed by Vladimir Tarasenko (11) and Troy Brouwer (11 each), Paul Stastny and Alex Steen (nine each). Each Blues player blows their Stars counterpart out of the water over that span, suggesting the 15-5 lead the Blues have in goals scored is a true reflection of the gulf between these two teams.

Pivoting away from the teams still in contention for the Cup, to a man who was fired last week. Bruce Boudreau was let go by Anaheim shortly after they fell in a Game 7 for the fourth straight season under his watch. For many, that’s well more reason enough. For myself however, it’s confusing.

Fun fact, Boudreau has missed the playoffs just once since 1995-96 with the San Francisco Spiders of the IHL. That includes nine seasons in the AHL with three franchises, and three seasons in the ECHL prior to that, winning championships in both leagues.

The only league he hasn’t hoisted the cup in is the NHL. As the fastest coach to record 400 wins, it hasn’t been his fault no matter what his 1-7 career record in Game 7’s implies. It takes a lot to get a team to four-straight Game 7’s (and to the playoffs four years in a row) and Boudreau accomplished that. Hockey coaches aren’t like coaches in other sports. They don’t have a direct influence over plays like a baseball manager’s ability to dictate match-ups, a basketball coach’s ability to create advantageous shots, or a football coach’s organization and predictive skills. No, as a hockey coach, all one can do is inform, motivate, and try to gain an edge through line manipulation.

Recall how out-classed Dallas looks thus far with their .885 SV%. Boudreau’s teams have posted an .887 SV% in Game 7’s. That’s 27 goals on 219 combined shots against. Conversely his teams has fought against a .943 SV%, or current Brian Elliott, over that span scoring just 15 goals on 262 shots.

Even Captain Ryan Getzlaf knows the truth,

So please Bob Murray, keep telling us about how “some things have to be changed” one year after reaching the cusp of the Cup Final. Maybe, just maybe, Murray should be concerned more with his cap-handling acumen versus his own team’s streak of bad luck in a very small sample size of Game 7’s.