TIOPS DAILY FIVE
*Rumblings, Musings, Opinions*
1. Tonight’s Game 3 is all about the New York Rangers. They’re the heavy favorite in the series and the pressure is all on them. This is suppose to be their season. As Larry Brooks of the New York Post wrote, the Rangers are a team right now in neutral through the first two playoff games.
How the Rangers respond tonight after giving the Penguins momentum in Game 2 and a belief that they can win, will dictate where this series is heading.
New York has yet to bring out their “A” game in the series. If the Rangers “A” game shows up, then this series is going to go as expected. It’s possible New York’s “A” game never shows up all series. If not, this series will be a toss-up if the Sidney Crosby of Game 2 shows up a couple more times this series.
A Stanley Cup type team like the Rangers are looked at in many circles, should come into to Consol tonight, smack the Penguins in the mouth and put on a dominating performance and take control of the series. A Stanley Cup type team would put doubts back into the Penguins head starting immediately in the first period.
From a Rangers perspective that’s what I’d be looking for tonight.
If the Rangers don’t and it’s another competitive 50-50 type game, then New York might be entering dangerous waters.
2. Following Game 2, One long-term NHL observer told me he felt Mike Johnston coached one of the best games (Game 2) he’s seen from a Penguins coach in a very long-time. That said, if the Rangers capitalized on at least a couple of their seven power play opportunties, the narrative would likely be much different from that standpoint.
5 v 5, though, Johnston out-coached Alain Vigneault in Game 2. Johnston’s system on the breakout is flawed and easy to defend but for one night he fit the profile that Jim Rutherford touted him as of being a coach who makes adjustments.
With the Rangers collapsing to the strong side on the forecheck and very successful at it in Game 1, the Penguins game planned in Game 2 to start stretching the weak side winger. It led to much improved success in having clean entries out of the defensive zone and creating offense through the neutral zone that led to some odd-man rushes.
Where Johnston has been exposed this season as an inexperienced coach is once a good coach has seen something or got a good glimpse of Johnston’s tendencies, Johnston has struggled to adjust to how the opposition has adjusted to the Penguins.
That’s going to be a great storyline to watch tonight. How does Alain Vigneault respond to the Penguins adjustments they made in Game 2 or does he at all?
3. The Penguins had struggled mightily to sell out the first two playoff games until this morning. The win in Game 2 helped some but they had to pull out all the maneuvers over the last week. The Penguins contacted some amateur hockey organizations about buying tickets in offering $89 per ticket for a lower level seat. The Pens Elite were offered even cheaper tickets at $79 per for lower level tickets. Here’s the problem the Penguins have ran into. Some season ticket holders who have lower level seats got wind of this and are now asking, how can you charge us $125+ per ticket and offering non season-ticket holders below face value?
Regardless, you might have an actual hockey crowd tonight due to the cheap tickets going around but how this crowd and the fan base embrace the Penguins this week in an underdog role is going to be fascinating to watch. Some of my fondest memories of the Penguins growing up were the 1999 and 2000 playoff runs, where everyone embraced the Penguins in an underdog role as an 8th seed in 1999, knocking off No. 1 seeded Devils and in 2000 as the 7th seed in the East in beating the Capitals in six games and then jumping out to a 2-0 series lead against the favored Flyers in round 2.
It was fun to root for a team that didn’t have Stanley Cup or bust expectations slapped on their back.
4. One NHL executive believes Brandon Sutter’s strong play down the stretch has put the Penguins in a great position where they can sell high on him this summer. One feeling on Sutter is the Penguins either have to trade him during the summer with his value high or commit to him long-term. “Has to be one or the other,” an NHL source says. Sutter has his flaws, struggles in the corners/wall play, doesn’t create his own shot consistently unless it’s off the rush, but some scouts, GM’s see him as a low-end No. 2 center. How he’s produced again down the stretch is why there’s that view of him. Sutter’s always going to be one of those players where another coach is going to believe he can make Sutter a 30 goal scorer. From the Penguins end, they could do worse than Sutter for sure.
Sutter certainly has value going into the summer and interesting enough Sutter was nearly traded to the Los Angeles Kings in February, a league source says.
The Kings quietly made an aggressive play for Sutter and Jim Rutherford was in listening mode and had interest in Mike Richards, though, the specifics of the proposed deal are unclear.
5. The Edmonton Oilers winning the draft lottery was such a let down due to the lack of U.S. exposure McDavid’s going to get and it’s a franchise that now has such a black cloud around them. The Oilers now having the top pick in four of six years is sickening to some around the league. According to the NHL, prior to the drawing of the final ball, the Maple Leafs had the highest odds (36.36%) of winning based on the combinations still in play, followed by Buffalo (27.27%), Edmonton (18.18%), while Carolina and Columbus (each 9%) were each still in contention for McDavid.
What a bummer for the league that McDavid didn’t land in Toronto. Of those final four teams that had the best chance after the first wave of teams were eliminated, all three would have been great spots, minus the winning team — Edmonton.