Lessons from the 22/23 NHL Playoffs?

Every season means a new set of lessons and discoveries about the wild and wonderful Playoff period inside National Hockey League.

It’s a learning experience both for the viewers like you and me and for the teams taking part in them. This season’s Playoffs have been NO different.

What a season though… full of surprises, full of moments of ‘why won’t you score’ or wristwatch checking as we entered YET another OVERTIME.

With that, here’s SIX important lessons to learn from the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Tkachuk effect!

November 5, 2022, Los Angeles, California, USA: MATTHEW TKACHUK of the NHL’s Florida Panthers is called for a penalty during a game against the Los Angeles Kings at Crypto.com Arena in Los Angeles, California on November 5, 2022 (Credit Image: © Alex Cave/ZUMA Press Wire)

If there’s something that we’ll learn about the Florida Panthers’ season it’s this… saying that that trade from Calgary Flames has paid off, is an understatement.

Matthew Tkachuk joined the Panthers from the Flames back in Summer last year, in exchange for Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar and he’s gone on to be one of the biggest disruptors to the Panthers’ DNA.

What’s the lesson here?

Sometimes you have to break off a piece of the core to get more. In other words, trade the old for someone younger. Tkachuk already delivered more goals (40) than Huberdeau did, if not as many points. 

Can it be copied?

Tkachuk is a little bit of a unicorn. Consider this:

1: He’s a strong physical player with astounding offensive acumen who has a very bad habit of frustrating the defence and chewing up his opponents in all areas of the ice.

2: He didn’t want to stay at Flames and was available with a year left on his current contract. Finding another Tkachuk means someone wanting to leave and in the sweet spot between contracts.

3: It wasn’t a rash decision on Panthers’ part. They needed someone younger and were willing to break up their core by offloading Huberdeau and Weegar. Flames just so happened to offer them long-term contracts.

Tkachuk was cheaper and younger and there was more mileage.

Questionable perceptions

W087YK Dallas Stars Jamie Benn waits for the faceoff against the St. Louis in the first period at the Enterprise Center in St. Louis on January 8, 2019. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI

Game THREE of the Western Conference Final, a game that will certainly leave a mark not just on Stars fans but also on Mark Stone’s jaw.

No sooner that the game got started, Vegas Golden Knights had scored. Jack Eichel delivered an amazing pass and Marchessault sent the biscuit to the basket. Jake Oettinger was still realising the game has started.

Knights were one up in the space of two minutes, but that’s not the only thing that got people’s attention.

The Jaw

The Stars’ captain Jamie Benn knocked the Knights’ captain Mark Stone to the ground and rammed his stick into his jaw. In so doing, he also landed on Stone.

Knights got a Five-minute penalty plus a 10-minute misconduct, which they seize to score their second. They would win the game 4 – 0.

No problem

2MEHX3Y Dallas Stars’ Joe Pavelski plays against the Detroit Red Wings in the third period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, April 22, 2021, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

In the press conference following the defeat, Joe Pavelski was questioned about his captain’s misconduct. He would say that he wasn’t.

‘You guys ask if I’m disappointed in the guy I have so much respect for? Who battles so hard? I have no problems with [Benn].’

While few would expect the Stars to criticise their captain, it’s not really done. His teammates would support him despite what it clearly looked like to everyone else.

What’s the lesson here?

Do you call it out for what it is or do you support your leader no matter the consequences, no matter what they did?

Dallas clearly put stock in their captain’s credibility even after what he did to Stone, something that would be easily questioned in other teams or written about at length.

Benn would tell the press, ‘Obviously, didn’t want to take a five-minute penalty, but when the game happens fast, emotions are high… Obviously I would’ve liked to not fall on him and I guess use my stick as the landing point.’

Where were Canes’ goals?

2MA2777 Carolina Hurricanes’ Brent Burns plays during an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Scoring is an issue that has afflicted Carolina Hurricanes for a while now and it continued to bite in this season’s Playoffs.

Last Summer Rod Brind’Amour managed to pull in Brent Burns, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty to help with their offense and goal scoring.

Racked with injuries or a lack of performance in those trades, Canes were still able to power through against the New York Islanders and then New Jersey Devils in the Second Round.

Against Devils, they were able to deliver 3.54 goals across 60 minutes of playtime, the third highest scoring record of the playoff teams playing in the Second Round.

What’s the lesson here?

Devils were certainly easier to score against but Canes needed an offense when it mattered… specifically against the Florida Panthers.

Moving into the Third Round, that’s when the offensive deficiencies started to show. Give them their due, the Canes were outshooting the Panthers 17 – 1, especially in Game 2.

They were offensive, they were scoring but not by much. They didn’t have someone like Tkachuk to beat Sergei Bobrovsky.

Perhaps Brind’Amour should consider unicorn hunting?

Farewell to playoff comebacks?

Toronto Maple Leafs right wing William Nylander (88) celebrates his goal with teammates Mitchell Marner (16) and John Tavares (91) during second period NHL hockey action against the Winnipeg Jets, in Toronto, Thursday, March 31, 2022. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

Perhaps you prefer a dramatic comeback win. There were certainly more of them during the Regular season.

Statistically speaking, a team trailing in the third period would tend to rally and win 11.2% of the time.

In the Playoffs it’s been looking more like 6.3%, roughly five of the 79 games, where a team has rallied after the second.

The same can be said of being two goals down. The Regular season saw teams come back from the deficit to win 7.85% of the time. It’s more like 5.1% in the Playoffs.

What’s the lesson here?

It’s more of a farewell to dramatic comebacks perhaps. Defence appears to be the key to winning the Playoffs. Keep it tight and close out the opponents.

Resting your goalies

It’s clear that a team that has a series of well rested goalies has a greater chance of performing a deep Playoff run.

Continuous play wears them out and if they’re on the line most nights, performance slips. Take the Dallas Stars goalie Jake Oettinger for example.

Jake Oettinger

Oettinger had his work cut out in the Dallas Stars goals.

He would play 81 games in the Regular and Playoff season combined, that includes the 19 playoff games from the First to Third Round.

It’s clear from his stats that the strain of covering for Scott Wedgewood was taking its toll. During the Regular Season he had an SV of 1,632, (.919 SV%) SA of 1,776, GA of 144 and GAA of 2.37.

Move into the Playoffs and see his Save Percentage and GAA go down (SV of 471, (.895 SV%) SA of 526, GA of 55 and GAA of 3.06).

That’s probably why GAME 6 of the Playoff against Vegas Golden Knights saw the Knights run away with a 6 – 0 win.

Sergei Bobrovsky

2MD6TGM Florida Panthers’ Sergei Bobrovsky plays during an NHL hockey game, Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Without taking away from the importance of Alex Lyon as the Panthers’ backup goalie who helped the team get into the Playoffs, Bobrovsky returned at the right time.

The Russian goalie only played 50 games in the Regular Season and was subsequently injured in late March forcing Paul Maurice to call on Lyon.

While shaky, Bobrovsky’s return in the FIFTH leg of the First Round, helping shore up the goals against Boston Bruins. Florida Panthers were able to win the series in seven.

During the Regular Season he had an SV of 1,321, (.901 SV%) SA of 1,466, GA of 145 and GAA of 3.07. The break certainly helped his Save Percentage and GAA (SV of 500, (.931 SV%) SA of 537, GA of 37 and GAA of 2.32).

Adin Hill

2P6T5B5 Vegas Golden Knights goaltender Adin Hill dives on the puck during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Florida Panthers, Tuesday, March 7, 2023, in Sunrise, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)

When the Vegas Golden Knights’ goalie Adin Hill, made his return to the team after an absence between March and May, he came back fighting in the Playoffs.

Bruce Cassidy’s goalie management for this season focused on gauging how many starts a goalie could manage from their roster of five, then finding the two who could carry them through the Playoffs.

Laurent Brossolt had managed the crease helping the team to get past the five First Round games against the Winnipeg Jets.  Then both Hill and Brossolt would manage the Second Round against the Edmonton Oilers.

Hill’s Save Percentage and GAA are quite impressive given these are his first Playoffs (SV of 348, (.938 SV%) SA of 371, GA of 23 and GAA of 2.06).

What’s the lesson here?

Take special care with your goalies. While you’re managing the fitness, fatigue and injury of your the rest of your roster anyway, the guy keeping the goals out needs a specific kind of focus.

If there are goalies on the roster who perform better in the Playoffs, why not spare them the full brunt of the Regular Season so that they are fit and ready to take the pressure of those last four rounds of the Postseason.

Get ready for a long night

2PG7AG5 Florida Panthers left wing Matthew Tkachuk plays during the first period of an NHL hockey game, Monday, March 20, 2023, in Detroit. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The Playoffs might not have the fancy comebacks or rallying which made the Regular Season exciting, there are the multiple Overtimes which have kept the NHL experience pure.

While the Regular season would result in a 3v3 and a shootout if there’s no winner, the Playoffs are all about the continuous sudden death.

The First game of the Eastern Conference Finals between Carolina Hurricanes and Florida Panthers registered four Overtimes, the sixth longest game ever recorded in the Stanley Cup’s playoff history.

Panthers won GAME 1 at 139 minutes and 47 seconds when Tkachuk planted the puck past a very tired Andersen.

What’s the lesson here?

Is it time to add a time-limit or shootout in the Playoffs or is there some kind of unwritten pact between the fans and teams that the game must go on until there’s a winner?

Posted on: 05 Jun 2023