By: Joe Borek
Sorry all, was having loads of issues with connection and my computer trying to get this article in. This is just exactly how my X-Factors article for the play-in round teams went. We will look at two factors from each team that would help them to move up in the round-robin or stay pat as well as move far in the actual playoff series. So without further ado, let’s get into the X-factors for the NHL Round Robin Teams.
St Louis Blues
Be more efficient on the power play, continued good Goaltending. Jordan Binnington followed up his stellar burst on to the scene year from last year with another big season for the Blues in 2019-20. He also looked excellent in their first game against the Avalanche even though they took the loss. He faced more shots 38 to 32 shots faced by Grubauer, who also played well. Binnington made 36 saves as his team lost 2-1 on a crazy last tenth of a second goal by the Avs. Nothing he could have done about that, and he is the reason as to why the game was still tied in the last remaining seconds. So if the Blues continue to get good Goaltending from him, they don’t need to worry and should bounce right back. Now, as for the power play, they need to be sharper. The blues are the third-ranked power play, and they only went 1 for 4. They need to improve upon that if they don’t want to risk losing their top seed and bounce right back after their loss to the Avs. Highlights of the defending champs can be seen below.
Goaltending/ Continued offense- The Avalanche made an exciting decision not based on experience but based on this season. Pavel Francouz when filling in for Grubauer and went off and then played 34 games himself only two under Grubauer’s 36. However, they went with the NHL veteran, and man, was that the right decision. Grubauer earned first star honors and was a big reason for the Avalanches 2-1 win. Next, the Avalanche, like the Blues, needs to bounce back and step up on offense. They were only 1-5 on the power play. Going forward, that is going to need to improve. The Avalanche, though battled and played a good game lead by their goaltender to then have a late .01 second goal by Nazem Kadri. Which for now moves them ahead of the Blues. The Avalanche winning a game like that against the West’s best team in the Regular season shows just how dangerous they can be, however, especially if they get a top seed. Avs highlights can be seen below.
Improved Penalty Kill/ Continued Solid Goaltending- The Golden Knights need to improve their penalty kills play in the postseason or just play very disciplined. This is because they are a top team in the league and loads of fun to watch. You cannot say the same about their PK, however. It is ranked 27th in the league, and they need to sharpen up on that to advance in the postseason. Since sure, I believe they can play disciplined hockey, but it’s the playoffs you bound to take penalties, and when they do, how their PK steps up will be something to follow. Now with Goaltending, this is one of the teams best positioned going in. They have a guy in Fleury who stepped up time and time again for the Pens in the playoffs plus the Golden Knights. Especially in their inaugural season in 2017-18, where Fleury helped to carry the Knights to the cup where he played well even in a losing effort. Now there is a new name in town, and that’s Robin Lehner, who looked terrific in a small sample three games after being traded over from the Blackhawks. If they do lean on him throughout, then, they will need him to be just that on point. Lehner is a goalie who seemed to find a good situation for him overall finally. Well at least for the remainder of this year in Vegas as he is a FA after this year. If he has a great playoff run, obviously he then is setting himself up for either a useful extension or payday in FA. Either of two, I’m sure he will take. Knights highlights below.
Improved offense/ and Continued great defense and Goaltending– The Stars have Ben Bishop. Or big game Bishop, because he comes up clutch and can do it again this year potentially. Especially with one of the more solid defenses in front of him. The Stars allowed the second least goals in the league and had an ok PK ranked 17th. They do, however, enable shots on their netminder ranking 18th in that category, but that’s where Big Ben comes in. So yes, the issue for Dallas is not defense or Goaltending no, its offense. They ranked 26th in the league in goals per game, and they clearly will need to improve on that to have a long playoff run. You cannot expect to just D everyone up in the playoffs because some teams are just far too deep with their lines. So eventually, Dallas will need their scorers to step up and take over some games if they want to be carried to the promised land. Stars highlights can be seen below.
Hart, Keeping the Momentum Going– The Flyers were one of the best teams in hockey going into the pause, and they kept that momentum going in their first game back against the regular season top-seeded Bruins. After a slow first 10-12 minutes where they were carried by the play of their stud netminder Carter Hart, the Flyers took over from there. They were dominating on the forecheck and able to stress out the top, not Bruins team to put the league on notice coming in as the four seed immediately handling the one seed. Now on top of keeping that momentum going as a whole, Hart needs to keep his momentum going. With the sharp mind on that kid that has him wise beyond his years, there is no reason to think he can’t keep doing so. In that case, if Hart keeps doing his thing and the Flyers keep their momentum going they can be a hazardous team to reckon with as a top contender just like how the Avalanche beating the Blues in the grueling close game they were inputting the West’s senior team from the regular season on notice. Highlights of the Flyers are below.
Rask and Step back play- Of course, if the Bruins want to go deep in the playoffs, they will need Rask. They also might need him, though, if they don’t want to lose first place after losing game one of the Round Robin to the Flyers. They said he was healthy, and he did return to practice, so it seems Rask is in line to play Wednesday. If that’s the case, then the Bruins have a perfect chance of bouncing back from their loss to the Flyers. They are playing the offensively stacked Lightning, so they for sure would prefer to have their Vezina netminder for that game, of course. Rask seems to be on pace coming back, so if he does that energy alone from having him back in net will help the Bruins to play a stronger game. Also, I know the Round Robin to some isn’t as intense as a series play but, the Bruins want to protect their President Trophy winning top seed from the regular season. So mark my words they certainly will come out firing in the game against Tampa. Whether it gets them the win or not remains to be seen. Highlights of the Bruins below.
Holtby/ continued great offense– Without even having the option of going to their youngster Ilya Samsonov the Capitals will now need veteran Braden Holtby to step up. His playoff save percentage is .928 behind Rask for the best, so it should not be a question if he can step up or not. The only reason there is a question is that he struggled this year. However, just like Markstrom of the Canucks and Talbot of the flames, among others, he is coming into a contract year and is going to be looking to impress to get big bucks. Now onto the offense that’s simple, the Caps dominate the offensive zone ranking second in the league in goals. They also need to play physical while doing so, which also isn’t a problem for them having a player like Wilson and others on their team. If the Caps can continue just to play their physical game with top-scoring, then they will be fine as long as Holtby plays like his usual self and not this season’s version. Highlights of the Caps can be seen below.
Continued top Offense/ Great Goaltending and Defense– This team might be offensively stacked, but they also play an excellent defense helped out by Vezina candidate goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. Their defense ranked 7th in the league, and I would be surprised if many fans know that with how much their offense is talked about. They are also top 15 in shots on goal allowed at 12. Their only question is being more physical. That is what hurt them last year. You cant out skill the other team all the time in the playoffs. However, if they play more physically and keep playing their game defensively and offensively, this team is undoubtedly a top contender in the East as arguably the deepest team in hockey. They have the leagues best offense, after all, to go with that 7th ranked defense. Highlights of the Lightning can be seen below.