The first of my semi-weekly analysis of the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. In today’s funhouse: my take on Shea Weber’s fine, Claude Giroux belongs among NHL’s elite players, Max Lapierre’s antics wearing thin, and more.
If the bloom wasn’t off the rose for NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan prior to the start of the playoffs then it certainly is now, if the outcry over his decision to fine, rather than suspend, Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber is anything to go by.
In the dying seconds of Game One of the Predators-Detroit Red Wings series, Weber took offense to how he was hit by Red Wings center Henrik Zetterberg. He first punched Zetterberg in back of the head, then seizing Zetterberg and driving him face-first into the glass.
Most fans and pundits called for Weber to receive at least a one-game suspension for the incident, and there was considerable outrage when he merely received a $2,500.00 fine, which is chump change for someone who earned $7.5 million this season.
TSN analyst Bob McKenzie explained “the outcome or result of a hit usually trumps intent”, which Vancouver Canucks forward Byron Bitz discovered the same night when he was suspended for two games for boarding Kyle Clifford of the LA Kings from behind in Game One of the Canucks-Kings series.
That didn’t mollify Shanahan’s growing number of critics, who believe the Weber incident was yet another example of the league favoring a star player whilst doling out harsh justice to a lesser-talented player.
One player who definitely elevates his game in the post-season is Philadelphia Flyers center Claude Giroux.
In Game Two of the Flyers-Pittsburgh Penguins series, Giroux had six points – 3 goals (1 on the power-play, one short-handed) and 3 assists – leading his club to an 8-5 win over the Pens, and a 2-0 lead in the series.
Adding those numbers to Giroux’s earlier playoff totals, he currently has 44 points in 42 playoff games, an impressive total for a fourth-year NHL player.
Only 24, Giroux has been a rising star in the NHL since his rookie season of 2008-09, and this season not only led the Flyers in points for the second straight year, but also finished third in the league in points.
When talking about the elite players in today’s NHL, Giroux definitely belongs there, and appears well on his way to becoming one of the greatest players in Philadelphia Flyers history.
Down 2-0 to the Los Angeles Kings, the Vancouver Canucks have been their own worst enemies so far in this series.
One significant reason why they’re down early is their undisciplined play, chirping at opponents, complaining about calls, and trying to draw penalties by diving.
Among the chief culprits is forward Maxim Lapierre, a well-known “pest” who distinguished himself in Game Two with a blatant dive after being barely touched by Kings defenseman Drew Doughty’s slash.
Lapierre isn’t solely to blame for where the Canucks find themselves, as they’ve played poorly as a team, but his shtick is getting old.
There’s a reason the Montreal Canadiens and Anaheim Ducks traded Lapierre in the span of one season. While his pesky ways got him to the NHL, they’re only effective in small doses. At some point, his antics do more to hurt his team than help.
It’s a shame, because when Lapierre isn’t playing the fool, he is a good, hard-working third-fourth line forward with a decent scoring touch.
If he put more focus on that part of his game, rather than on trying to be a distraction, he’d be a more valuable asset for the Canucks.
Should he continue his current path, Lapierre could chirp and dive his way out of Vancouver.
When the Washington Capitals lost starting goalie Tomas Vokoun to a season-ending injury, and backup Michal Neuvirth was subsequently sidelined, they were forced to turn to Braden Holtby, a promising young goalie lacking NHL playoff experience, for their opening round series against the defending Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins.
Stanley Cup history is of course filled with stories about rookies who starred in the playoffs, from Montreal’s Ken Dryden in 1971, to Philadelphia’s Ron Hextall in 1987 to Carolina’s Cam Ward in 2006, but as notable as those examples were, they occur less frequently than fans believe.
The Capitals, who barely made the playoffs this season, weren’t given much of a chance using a rookie netminder untested in the heat of NHL post-season action against the defending champs.
But after the opening two games, Holtby has acquitted himself well, carrying the otherwise outplayed Capitals to two overtimes. That included a Game Two 2-1 victory in double overtime to send the series back to Washington tied at 1, making a total of 72 saves in those two games.
As strong as Holtby has been between the pipes, the Capitals are in danger of wasting his brilliant performance.
Their offense has sputtered, while defensively they’ve been frequently out-worked by the hard-charging Bruins. They need to do more than draw on Holtby’s inspiring play if they’re to have any real chance of upsetting the Bruins.
Though it’s only early in the opening round, Game Two of the Ottawa Senators-NY Rangers series is a potential candidate for nastiest game of this year’s playoffs.
It began with Senators defenseman Matt Carkner jumping Rangers forward Brian Boyle in retribution for Boyle roughing up Sens star defenseman Erik Karlsson in Game One. Carkner was booted from the game, along with Rangers center Brandon Dubinsky as the “third man in” for trying to save Boyle from further punishment.
Shortly thereafter, Boyle fought in Senators tough guy Chris Neil, which was the last real fight of the game, but not the end of the nasty spirit, as players on both teams engaged in slew foots, head shots, and hitting from behind.
The worst saw Rangers forward Carl Hagelin take out Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson with a flying elbow to the head in the second period, knocking Alfredsson out of the game with a suspected concussion.
Those were merely the highlights – or rather, lowlights – of what was an undisciplined, hateful game.
Of course, playoff hockey is intense and physical, but the liberties taken by several players on both clubs were the kind the NHL claims it is trying to eradicate.
Critics of league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan suggested this was a classic example of teams taking matters into their own hands, because they can’t trust the officials or the league to properly officiate these games, or suitably punish those who engage in dirty play.
It remains to be seen what the aftermath will be from this game, but Shanahan will have to start handing down strong punishment to prevent dirty tactics from sullying the remainder of the playoffs, as well as send a message the league won’t tolerate head-hunting, slew-footing and other dangerous cheap shots.
Plenty of weirdness in the second game of the San Jose Sharks-St. Louis Blues series.
The opening goal was the result of Sharks defenseman Marc-Eduoard Vlasic, attempting to clear the puck from his goal crease, accidentally shooting it into his own net.
Later in the first period, the Blues players bench broke, resulting in a delay of the game while a replacement bench was found and installed.
Finally, Blues defenseman Barrett Jackman accidentally wiped out his own goalie, Jaroslav Halak, attempting to break up a scoring attempt by the Sharks. Halak had to leave the game and was replaced by Brian Elliott.
It didn’t adversely affect the Blues, who went on to win on goals by David Backes (on a sweet set-up by T.J. Oshie, who outworked and outhustled two Sharks to make the play) and Andy McDonald, tying the series 1-1 going back to San Jose.
This game also had its share of ugliness, with a game-ending brawl which saw Blues Vladimir Sobotka and Roman Polak beating up Dominic Moore and Justin Braun respectively.
Have to wonder how long the Phoenix Coyotes can continue in this series against the Chicago Blackhawks without two of their best players.
Early in Game One, they lost leading goal-scorer (35 goals) Radim Vrbata , and then early in Game Two, center Martin Hanzal – the OT hero of Game One – was sidelined.
They also got a scare in the second period, when Blackhawks center Andrew Shaw slammed into goaltender Mike Smith behind the Coyotes net, knocking Smith to the ice, where he lay for several minutes with an apparent head injury.
Fortunately for the Coyotes, Smith – their MVP and one of the league’s top goalies this season – was able to continue without any lingering after-effects. Shaw received a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct. The Blackhawks went on to win the game in overtime 4-3 to head back to Chicago with the series tied at a game apiece.
The Coyotes could probably still win this series without Vrbata and Hanzal, but if they were to lose Smith, their hopes would be dashed.
Game One of the New Jersey Devils-Florida Panthers series was a tale of three different games, spread over the three periods.
In the first, the Devils totally dominated the Panthers, out-shooting them 26-9, taking a 3-0 lead, and appeared poised to run away with this one.
But in the second, the Panthers composed themselves, scoring twice while outshooting the Devils 11-6, and wresting back control of the game as the period progressed.
In the third, both clubs settled into a tight-checking style, with the shots even at 6-6, as the Devils outlasted the Panthers, hanging on for a 3-2 win.
It’ll be interesting to see what style emerges over the course of this series, and which team gets the better of the play.