Five Thoughts For Friday: Playoffs and Coaches

Why is nobody shooting in these playoffs?

Five Thoughts For Friday: Playoffs and Coaches
Photo by Maurice DT / Unsplash

It's Friday, so let's get down to business. You want thoughts, and after much scrounging and digging through my brain, I managed to muster up five of them.

1. Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots, Shots... Nobody?

Here's a list of teams who have seen their shot totals increase in the playoffs: Colorado Avalanche, Carolina Hurricanes. That's it. In the regular season, 62.5% of teams had 30+ shots on goal per game. That has dropped to 37.5% in the playoffs. Vancouver dropped from 28.4 shots per game in the season (26th in the league) to 18.4 in the playoffs. And it's not because they're getting completely destroyed by Nashville, because the Predators are second-last with 24.4 shots per game these playoffs. With offence on the rise league-wide, it's a little sad to see the marquee event arrive, the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and that offence to evaporate (the Avs notwithstanding). I'm not sure if this is coaching decisions or what, but I'm not sure anybody wants to see a return of mid-90s Jacques Lemaire-style hockey.

2 . What's brewin' in Boston?

I'll admit I had my reservations about this Boston team as our designated Leafs killers entering these playoffs, but they nearly won the division so I was willing to let it slide. Besides, these Leafs seemed mentally fragile, had three goalies who'd played meaningful minutes this year with middling success, and had made curious offseason moves like substituting Bunting with Reaves. But after a couple of games in which the Bruins looked thoroughly overmatched, I've started to wonder — have Jim Montgomery's magic beans run out? He's a great coach, and the Bruins have superb goaltending, two star wingers, and a great defensive lineup. But especially down the middle, the Bruins are thin as anything. I'm not sure if Charlie Coyle or Pavel Zacha are considered the 1C, but neither of them would crack a list of the top-32 centres in the league. Would they crack anyone's top-50 list? Top-60? It's a little obscene that, in 2024, Trent Frederic, Morgan Geekie, 86-year-old James van Riemsdyk, and Danton Heinen all finished with more than 35 points. It seems a little more fitting that it took them 30 minutes last night to get a second shot on goal. It's possible this team just punched well above their weight all year and we're seeing them crash at the worst possible time.

At least, either way, Florida should crush whichever of this teams moves to Round 2.

3. Rhinestones and Cowboys

On the flip side of complaints, this Dallas–Vegas series has been amazing. Two team that are deep and well-coached, with firepower, strong goaltending, and talent. Watching Jake Oettinger, Logan Thompson, and now Adin Hill put on goaltending clinics at different times has been fun. Seeing Vegas' cap navigation strategies work out has been fun (at least for me; after all, we'd all love our teams to use LTIR to build a Cup contender). Watching the whole gamut of players, from youngsters Wyatt Johnston and Jason Robertson, to mid-career stars Jack Eichel and Mark Stone, to grizzled veterans Joe Pavelski and, arguably, Alex Pietrangelo, this series has it all. If all hockey was like this, the game would market itself. After some first-round duds (looking at you, Capitals and Islanders), I'm looking forward to future rounds of the playoffs when all the series should kind of be like this.

4 . Le Roy est mort

I didn't want Patrick Roy as the Sens' coach. He showed in Colorado that, despite getting some good results, he was inflexible, proud, and baffling. I think it's safe to say we saw that again these playoffs, especially with his goaltending selection. Yes, Semyon Varlamov put up some better numbers than Ilya Sorokin this year. However, Sorokin is still in his prime while Varlamov is aging out. Also, as the starter, Sorokin tended to play against tougher teams. If you're a playoff team with any aspirations, you need to play your starter. After all, Justus Annunen had better numbers than Alexandar Georgiev this year; Anthony Stolarz had better numbers than Sergei Bobrovsky; hell, Laurent Brossoit had better numbers than Connor Hellebuyck. Could you imagine if Florida or Winnipeg had starter their backups in Game 1 because of save percentage? But Roy picked his favourite (who happened to be his goalie back in Colorado) and decided it was do or die with the worse goalie.

Every coach has their irrational favourites. Guy Boucher wanted Tom Pyatt and Gabriel Dumont in the lineup for some reason. DJ Smith got this team Ron Hainsey, Nikita Zaitsev, and Scott Sabourin. However, there's a difference between forcing a skater into your opening night lineup and forcing your backup goalie into being your postseason starter. I think Patrick Roy has far too much ego to be an effective NHL coach, and his performance this playoffs says to me we dodged a bullet.

5 . Coach Check

It kind of feels like Sens coach is becoming the 2024 version of Sens owner: a gig that everyone is at least on the long list for. Who isn't an option? I've seen Craig Berube, Todd McLellan, Gerard Gallant, Dean Evason, Dave Hakstol, Jay Woodcroft, and Don Granato as former NHL coaches who may be options, along with Marlies coach John Gruden. I'm also curious though to see who might become available. The Hockey News wondered if Mike Sullivan might become available. Could Jim Montgomery be an option if Boston loses another Game 7? I'm hardly unique in saying that I really want the Sens to get a coach with NHL experience, even if just to show that this team can hire a coach who isn't the cheapest option available. I also would prefer not a guy like Evason or Woodcroft or Granato who only have one NHL coaching gig, for the same reason that he could just be the cheapest guy available. And I'm not convinced by a guy like Hakstol.

The more I think about it, the more I think I'm just jaded after this season went so badly for the Sens. I think I expect this roster to be better than it's performed, and I'm worried no coach will actually be able to make those beliefs come true. All coaches make inexplicable decisions. All coaches come with an expiry date. At least a coach with NHL experience can help this young team better understand what's expected in the NHL.

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