Isn’t it weird how the Carolina Hurricanes keep getting goalie’d?

The Canes simply don’t have the killers to punch through a goalie playing as well as Sergei Bobrovsky

Told you. 

For the fourth straight season (we’ll throw out the 2020 playoffs because…well c’mon), and every season under coach Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes look pretty damn unlikely to make the most of a stellar regular season campaign. In fact, they look likely to not win a game beyond the second round, as has been their way. Perhaps they can manage a gentleman’s sweep. They don’t hang banners for that though (unless you’re Nashville). Regular season division titles feel good at first, but pretty quickly are just a mere stepping stone to what’s supposed to come next. They have been the escalator to nowhere for the Canes, though.

The Canes will rue their luck. They hit the post three times in Game 3. They had most of the puck, running up a 70+ percent share of attempts and expected goals. Sergei Bobrovsky is playing at a ridiculously high level. Hockey can be cruel for reasons it never explains, or even finds. That’s what the Canes will tell themselves when they break out the golf clubs, at least.

But here’s a strange note. Sergei Bobrovsky is running a .981 save percentage this series. Last year, when the Canes lost in seven to the New York Rangers, Igor Shesterkin put up a .949 with the Canes only managing 13 even-strength goals over the series. In 2021, when they got clubbed by the Lightning in five games, Andrei Vasilevskiy ran a .940. In 2019, when the Bruins had their chance to kick the Canes’ ass back into the closet with a whoosh, Tuukka Rask ran up a .956 save percentage.

Strange, no?

It gets stranger when you look at the opposing numbers the Canes goalies put up. When Rask was dunking their head in the toilet, Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek combined for a .857. When Vasilevskiy was swatting them away like they were mere gnats, Alex Nedeljkovic and Mrazek totaled up a .895. Last year as the Rangers were putting them to the sword, Antti Raanta put up a respectable enough .917, but Pyotr Kochetkov got lit up twice he registered a .792 (!).

That doesn’t explain it all, or this year especially, as Raanta and Frederik Andersen have been fine or fine-plus. So there’s something more.

Well, this might do most of the explaining.

While Bobrovsky has been great, the Canes make it easy to be great. Look at the chart. Everything is from the points. Nothing is coming from in front or from the circles, where teams generally get their shots when they’re making a goalie move from side to side to open things up. This has been the story every season. It’s not that the Canes didn’t get some great chances, because they did, and Bob simply had the answers. But they’re not getting enough of them, and worse yet, they don’t seem to ever have the answers on how to get them. Their style is to get the puck deep, win it, get it to the points, and fire away. It works October-March because they’re so dedicated to working so hard. It’s no secret why they surge in the doldrums of January and February (15-3 from Jan. 19 to March 9 this season, 12-3-2 in the same period last season) because most other teams run out of fucks to give then. But their exceptional effort matters far less in the playoffs when everyone’s doing it.

They pile up the attempts, sure, but those kinds of attempts just seem to get a goalie into a rhythm. At least that’s what it feels like. The style the Canes play keeps the margins pretty tight, which means they’re banking on their run-of-the-mill goalies, and their not quite 1A stars to finish or save one more chance than the other guys. They don’t get out on the rush, they don’t try anything new.

It could also be argued that the Canes simply don’t have the killers to punch through a goalie playing as well as Bobrovsky is or as well as the others have in previous seasons. Sebastian Aho had a great Game 3, with four or five prime scoring chances. But he didn’t score. It’s awfully harsh to criticize a player when he’s getting the chances. Sometimes your luck is out. And yet the Canes’ and Aho’s luck always seems to be out, and he’s the No. 1 center. Sure, Andrei Svechnikov is out, and this series has been so tight he very well might have made a difference. Then again, the Panthers were without Sasha Barkov for basically all of Game 3, and they still found a way. Always helps when Brent Burns is hellbent on losing Matthew Tkachuk in coverage to open up everything. Here you can watch him needlessly chase Sam Bennett behind the net while getting nowhere near and opening up a passing lane for Tkachuk to Sam Reinhart:

The Canes’ attack is almost entirely through their blue line, but that doesn’t play through a whole playoff run. Last year, no Cane other than Vincent Trochek had more than two goals against the Rangers, and he’s gone. Two years ago no one had more than one goal in five games against the Bolts. Same story in 2019.

The Canes have tried to huff the old hockey axiom that it’s the ultimate team game, and a team has simply roll four lines without much dropoff. But it’s hard to maintain depth in a salary-cap league without sacrificing something. The Canes have sacrificed true sharpness at both ends for their precious depth. And they keep eating it to teams that get inspirational performances in net and with someone with playoff flair scoring against them.

It’s not easy to find those players, but if the Canes want to do more than be cannon fodder in rounds two or three, they’d better figure it out.

This Nikola Jokic shot encapsulates the Nuggets-Lakers series

I wouldn’t imagine that it’s often you can encapsulate an entire series in the NBA playoffs in one shot, but Nikola Jokic isn’t really concerned with what’s normal:

While LeBron James could summon his old self for the first half to try and be defiant against a sweep, it clearly took just about everything out of him as he spent most of the second half watching or settling or limping. And Jokic simply provides too much for too many teammates. This shot is just how powerless the Lakers were to do anything about it all series, and as soon as it went in you could sense that the whole arena knew they were boned. Sometimes, that DUDE is just too powerful to plan for or counter.

Dodgers reverse course, re-invite Pride Night guest

Nice to know that shaming can work both ways sometimes:

While it’s still sad that the Dodgers had to be coerced into doing this, at least they got there. Maybe the added attention will be a bigger bullhorn for the Sisters’ overall message and cause. There certainly will be louder voices in protest both onsite at Dodger Stadium and online, you can be sure. But any victory tolerance and acceptance gets is worth noting.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate.

The Rangers eat dirt like the frauds they’ve always been

Members of the Rangers said they let Igor Shesterkin down in Game 7

It’s important to review recent New York Rangers history to know why they ended up with a handful of their own dicks in the first round, to a New Jersey Devils team that is far more equipped for what wins in the NHL these days. Two years ago, James Dolan took a break from his normal paint-huffing routine to climb down what assuredly is a staircase covered in gold and marble to declare that the Rangers rebuild, overseen by John Davidson and Jeff Gorton, was for weaklings, essentially. And that it wasn’t moving fast enough. You can be sure the word “pussies” was uttered in those meetings, given where the team went next.

So everyone was fired, Dolan declared that the Rangers had to be big, tough, and mean. They hired Gerard Gallant, who specializes in turning players into hair-triggered, puck-ignorant missiles (case in point: Trouba, Jacob), as coach. They traded for Ryan Reaves, whose 27 career goals over seven seasons still exceeds his collection of brain cells. Reaves didn’t even last through a second season on Broadway. They traded Pavel Buchnevich (who has gone on to collect 143 points in two seasons for some piss-poor Blues teams) for Sammy Blais, who has the hands of a backhoe, and they were so impressed with him they sent him back to St. Louis after 54 games as a Ranger. Dolan had them live up to their glitzy locale by signing Artemi Panarin the year before all this. He has three even-strength playoff goals in 27 playoff games the past two years.

New York has put up gaudy regular season standings points

The Rangers have put up gaudy regular season standings points the past two years, but as the Boston Bruins just got finished proving, the standings aren’t worth much anymore. They tell us basically who might be good and who probably sucks, and too many other details beyond that. The Rangers have borderline sucked at even-strength both this year and last, and have power play’d and goalie’d their way to 100+ point seasons. You can power play-and-goalie your way through 82 games, and maybe even a couple of rounds in the playoffs if the Penguins have two goalies get hurt and Trouba is also allowed to decapitate the other team’s best players, as he was with Sidney Crosby last year. He couldn’t catch Jack Hughes this time around.

The Rangers were 17th this year in Corsi percentage, and 19th in expected goals percentage. They were 24th in both categories last season. Last year it was Chris Kreider scoring with a quarter of his shots on the power play and Igor Shesterkin’s Vezina season that covered up all their faults. This year it was Mika Zibanejad and Shesterkin. You can fool some of the people some of the time, but there comes a time when you have to win games at 5-on-5. The Rangers are decidedly unequipped.

All that glitters…

It’s true that the rebuild wasn’t really going to work because their two top-two picks, Alex Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko, blow chunks. Rangers fans and media alike keep trying to convince themselves that they’re a great energy line now in some sort of public-facing Stockholm Syndrome, and yet they continually get their asses kicked up to their ears when faced with any kind of opposition. Zibanejad is a good player, but he’s no No. 1 center. Take a look at what Hughes did in this series to see the difference.

But these were the Rangers, this is New York, this is Dolan, and instead of addressing their real concerns of depth scoring on the bottom six or finding any d-man that could skate with the puck over 3 MPH, they chased big names to put on the marquee. Vladimir Tarasenko’s body has been breaking down for a few years, but the Rangers thought they could revive him. Patrick Kane spent the first four months of this season looking like his bones had turned to the consistency of milk left out in the sun for a month, had one good week, and they thought they could bring “Showtime” to the Garden. That went so well that they had to kick Kane off the first power play unit during their series with the Devils and watched him eschew any battle for a puck unless they were already up three goals.

Speed kills

It was striking just how second-best, and more importantly, slower the Rangers were all over the ice once the Devils stopped just donating them power plays as they came to grips with playoff hockey. In Games 3-7 the Devils’ expected-goals shares at even strength were 58.3, 70.2, 55.5, 52.7, and 69.1. That’s getting one’s ass rubbed in the moonshine violently.

Whatever the Devils wanted to do, they could do. When they wanted to strangle the Rangers defensively and dare them to work through the neutral zone, they didn’t have any puck carriers to do it or didn’t have the forecheckers to short-circuit it by winning the puck back below the goal line. When the Devils wanted to turn up the volume and pressure the Rangers in their own zone into turnovers and cause chaos in the Rangers’ zone, they could do that too. In Game 7, Adam Fox was determined to prove he’s just another phrase for “Torey Krug,” a power play specialist who’s great if you can get him set up in the offensive zone first but is in bad need of an after-school tutor in his own zone. Here’s Ondrej Palat turning him into a fine paste to open the scoring last night:

The rest of the Rangers’ blue line was completely unarmed to deal with what the Devils were bringing to them, because they are slow and stone-handed. Here’s Trouba losing a puck battle badly in while pinching up, with a little help from Kakko as Palat once again plays them like a bass drum to start the rush to the Devils third and killer goal:

K’Andre Miller looked slow. Trouba’s main trick of braining some opponent came far too late to make a difference. Niko Mikkola looked exactly like the type of player the Blues felt they didn’t need anymore.

Rangers aren’t getting any younger

The Rangers will still hang around for a couple more years. They have a little cap space — about $10 million — and an extension for Miller might eat up a decent chunk of that. They’re not exactly young. Of all their important players, only Fox, Chytil, and Miller are young, and whatever they want to do this summer will have to keep in mind an extension for Shesterkin that isn’t too far over the hill. How much better can they get? They also just saw what they are against the new rising power in the division, one rife with players under 25, who have a much bigger runway for improvement and $24 million more in cap space.

The Rangers, as all Dolan’s teams seem to be, were built with an ancient and archaic vision of what the game should be and how you win. While Trouba’s hits and Gallant’s faces and bitching to the refs may act as a form of discount Viagra to Dolan and any Rangers fan over 50, they just got a face-full of what the game looks like now, and they were miles behind it. Oh, and Connor Bedard might land in the division soon.

This is what happens when you let a loose cannon of an owner come down and tell you what he thinks the score is. The Rangers have been a shell of a good team for two seasons, and the Devils just showed the world how there are no insides beyond that shell.

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate for more hockey thoughts that involve Rick Vaive.

The Devils go old school

Jack Hughes scored a first-period goal for the Devils

Hockey looking back on its history is not usually a good thing. The game is better now, it’s faster now, there is more skill than ever before, and the sport is better off now that it’s moved out of its bar brawl past, even if Flyers fans still base their entire existence on thinking that’s how the game still works.

But that doesn’t mean the past doesn’t have lessons for every team. The New Jersey Devils certainly took a page out of what they used to be to throttle the New York Rangers last night at MSG, even if it only resulted in a pretty squeaky 3-1 win.

It’s still hard to think of the Devils as the flash-bang squad that they became this season. They are loaded with lightning-skated talent, led by Jack Hughes and his ability to make any game look like he’s being defended by a group of Wile E. Coyotes. But you hear “New Jersey Devils,” and any hockey fan above the age of 22 still thinks of mud-stained hockey, traps, and the not-little urge to slit your wrists while watching it.

The Devils have been pummeled in the first two games at home by trying to get the pace up to where they like it, which the Rangers easily swatted aside by being conservative and waiting to simply direct the Devils where they wanted them to go, got above them to loose pucks which led to a lot of New Jersey penalties and then they just decided to ignore Chris Kreider in front of the net. Matching 5-1 losses at home portended getting swept out on their ass in their first playoff appearance under this guise, and worse yet, to the fiendish big-timers from across the river.

Speed kills

The tide started to turn in Game 3 when the Devils throttled down, and then they hit the sweet spot last night. The Devils’ speed all over the ice allows them to do a couple of things at once. Rare is the team that can have both its d-men pinch aggressively in the offensive zone to keep pucks alive and deep and get their forwards where they want to be, but then easily retreat into a 1-2-2 neutral zone set-up that left the Rangers nowhere to go.

Here’s the thing about the Rangers. They’re not a great forechecking team, and they’re not a great (or even good) even-strength team. That’s why they depend on making place right outside or inside the opponent’s blue line, to open up space to carry the puck in and immediately set up. On the top six, only Kreider can be considered a plus forechecker, someone who can get the puck back after it’s just dumped in. The Rangers’ “Kid Line” of Filip Chytil, Kaapo Kakko, and Alexis Lafreniere get a lot of pub for their energy, and they certainly do skate around a lot, but they actually suck at it. They were utterly helpless last night despite whatever bluster the broadcast made about them, they were all underwater in Corsi and expected goals. That said, they were the best the Rangers could muster because they were at least willing to try to chip and chase.

Because the Devils were simply sitting on their own blue line, with the middle “2” of the 1-2-2 squeezing against the defensive “2,” which cut off the cross-ice passes between the red line and offensive blue line that the Rangers need for oxygen. Every time they tried it someone was there to poke it away or break it up and force the Rangers to start again. It forced the Rangers to simply try and chip it into the corners behind, but again, they’re not really built for that.

The Rangers also don’t really have a d-man who can weave his way through one or two guys to break that down. Adam Fox can on a good day, but his big skill is really more when they are already set up in the offensive zone. Beyond him, you can forget it. There is no other candidate.

Even if they had more than Fox, the sharp end of the Devils’ neutral zone formation, that “1” is almost certainly a really quick forward who can at least pressure from behind and run that puck carrier into the rocks of the defenders standing up at their own blue line and cutting off the middle of the ice. The Devils won by simply letting the Rangers have the puck, especially after Hughes gave them the lead. And the Rangers couldn’t do much. And because the Rangers couldn’t generate much on a forecheck and recover loose pucks, the Devils didn’t have to take too many penalties and put the Rangers on the power play where they’ve feasted. They only took three all night, and none in the 3rd.

The Rangers were smothered

Even trailing for most of the game (the game was only tied for nine minutes), the Rangers only managed 43 percent of the attempts and 29 (!) percent of the expected goals at even strength. They were smothered. While he’s flashed on the power play and for maybe a shift here and there at even strength, whatever the rumored injury that Patrick Kane has been carrying for multiple seasons has left him looking like he’s skating through oatmeal when anyone’s around him. Vladimir Tarasenko used to be able to force his way through traffic and into space, but he can’t do it nearly as often now. This is the same problem the Rangers ran into last year when the Lightning made them create everything they could for offense, and they couldn’t do it.

The Rangers still have an enormous edge in net, as though Akira Schmid has only given up two goals in two games on the road he’s left rebounds all over the ice and still looks like he’s trying to hide his weed before the cops break down the door a lot of the time in the crease. Maybe he’ll calm down as he gets more playoff starts. Igor Shesterkin is still far more likely to steal a game. The Rangers also have more players who have turned playoff games on their own in the past, and only need a shift or two to do so. While the Devils have found a way to completely neuter the Rangers’ offense, it still tightens the margins of the game to a goal here or there. One moment of inspiration, no matter how much of an outlier it is to the game overall, can flip the whole series.

The alluring aspect of this series was the contrast in styles. The Devils are as rocket-fueled as it gets, and the Rangers have to turn things into a cage match to win. The Devils turned the tables on them. Do the Rangers have another gear?

Follow Sam on Twitter @Felsgate as he wistfully remembers Sam Rosen and John Davidson doing Rangers games on WOR.

It’s never enough for Rob Manfred and his greedy pig bosses

This man hates baseball

You’d think after negotiating a CBA, before which Rob Manfred got to live out his lifelong dream of canceling baseball games, where the owners got a new level of luxury tax penalties, didn’t really have to pay younger players all that much more than the pennies they already were, and certainly didn’t suffer any major changes that would cost the owners more money or restrict their franchise values, they and their stooge might just sit and grin and watch the money roll right in.

Silly rabbit.

At the Sports Business Journal’s World Congress of Sports, where he was fielding questions from Dan Beckerman and Peter Guber — so just rename this fucking thing A Stupefying Collection of Assholes — Manfred answered one of the questions posed to him by saying that having no limits on contract lengths was transferring money to older players and not leaving any for younger players, who make up the majority of today’s stars. Because teams only have a certain amount they can spend, once a highly paid player goes off the boil he’s immovable, and hence those who might deserve a bigger paycheck can’t get it from teams that are carrying these anchors (hasn’t stopped the Padres, who are still paying Eric Hosmer, mind).

Let’s be clear: The only obstacle keeping young players from getting paid more is the people Manfred works for, and that’s the owners. The San Diego Padres, New York Mets, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels have had no problem handing out long-term deals and finding more money for other players too. Same goes for the Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners and a couple of others to boot. We know there’s more than enough money there for everyone, they just horde it simply because they can.

This is a management tactic as old as the goddamn hills, trying to pit one section of the labor force against another to keep them from uniting against management. Make it seem like those who have earned their long-term deals are the villains, and suddenly maybe the younger players might be receptive to listening to a cap on players they perceive aren’t them.

When is it enough for these dickbags? They get to run a multi-billion dollar industry, the value of their franchises has multiplied four or five times and will only continue to roll over as much, they’ve got essentially a salary cap in place, they’re four years from this CBA ending and they’re already got their hatchet man setting targets for a way they can grab a little more.

And if they want to, when 2027 rolls around, they could lock the players out long enough to get it. Only a shit-for-brains like Manfred would take the good buzz baseball has these days thanks to the rule changes, quicker pace of play and game times, and the shine from the WBC highlighting some of the game’s best players in a new way and toss it into the nearest pig pen he could find.

I’d say I hope someone’s lawn mower goes rogue one day and runs him over from the knee down, but these jackasses would just find another.

Great start, Leafs

Well, that couldn’t have gone much worse for the Leafs.

In a pivotal series that will decide the future of an entire organization and shape a lot of careers, the Toronto Maple Leafs got fustigated by the Tampa Bay Lightning to the tune of a 7-3 scoreline that wasn’t that close. Even when they had managed to pull within 3-2, they immediately tossed up their lunch and then completely melted down when Michael Bunting decided he could do one better than Draymond Green in the chucklehead department. Hopefully he’ll receive a suspension as well for that cheap shot at the worst possible time. But everything is at the worst possible time for the Leafs.

There’s still a very long way to go, and the Leafs will know from last year an emphatic Game 1 win guarantees nothing. But they may already, or should be, asking themselves if a team can really be serious about a Stanley Cup when it is starting Luke Schenn, the husk of Mark Giordano, Justin Holl, Jake McCabe, and TJ Brodie on defense with a straight face. They were slow and ponderous and beat all over the ice to loose pucks, because they have the collective mobility of syrup.

The Leafs’ forwards can get them out of a lot of jams, and it’s looking like they’ll have to.

Blue Shirts win

Elsewhere, the New Jersey Devils learned there’s a difference between playing fast and being in a rush. New Jersey is faster than the N.Y. Rangers, and they tried to manifest that against the Rangers by trying to force turnovers above their blue line or on the forecheck But they were in such a hurry they were manic with the puck for the first period, left some gaps when they turned it over, and they didn’t get the big saves that Igor Shesterkin gave the Rangers. Once they settled down at the end of the first and through the second period they were far the better team, but by then it was too late. Give Shesterkin a lead he can sit on and it becomes quite the mountain. Lesson learned.

Max Muncy crushes one

Meant to get to this yesterday. I know Max Muncy crushes this ball, Dodger Stadium ops, but there are a few people in the bleachers who might be interested in catching it, and turning the lights off ups the odds of them getting some seams imprinted on their dome by like 700 percent:

I know L.A. loves its dark bars, but try not to turn your ballpark into one when there’s a baseball hurtling at your patrons. First rule of business school.

To follow Sam’s addled thoughts in real-time, follow him on Twitter @Felsgate.