A few thoughts after Night 1 of the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs…
• Columbus defenseman Jack Johnson is a polarizing player.
On the one hand, he’s an offensive defenseman who is capable of hitting or approaching 40-point seasons. He led the Blue Jackets with 24:40 of average ice time this season, which is actually more than a minute less than he was pulling in a season ago. He’s a guy the emerging Blue Jackets lean on, even though he’s their third-highest paid defenseman at $4.357 million against the cap through 2017-18.
On the other, he can be a liability at times. His negative Corsi for relative percentage this season was worse than every Blue Jackets defenseman and second-worst to only R.J. Umberger on the team. The volatility in his game, especially this season, was a reason why he wasn’t included on Team USA’s Olympic roster this time around.
But Johnson is a competitor. And when it comes to the playoffs, he’s a scorer.
In the regular season, Johnson has 190 points in 490 games for a .39 points-per-game percentage. Since arriving in Columbus two years ago, his points percentage has been .45.
It’s a different story in the post-season, albeit in a small sample size. After last night’s Game 1 loss to Pittsburgh, Johnson has played 13 Stanley Cup playoff games and scored 14 points. He scored the first goal of the series against the Penguins.
• Speaking of the Blue Jackets, they’re following the Philadelphia Flyers playbook on how to handle Sidney Crosby.
When Philadelphia knocked out Pittsburgh in the 2011-12 playoffs, they very effectively distracted Crosby by getting in his face and physically taking it to him. In Game 1, Brandon Dubinsky was the main instigator and No. 87 was held to a single secondary assist and a minus-2 rating. That appears to be Dubinsky’s top priority this series, so the Penguins around Crosby have to do their best to get to Dubinsky first. Meanwhile, the Blue Jackets have to do their best to keep up distracting the best player in the world, while not taking any dumb penalties doing it.
The problem for the Blue Jackets is that Pittsburgh still has Evgeni Malkin, who recorded two points on the night. Columbus is the big-time underdog here, but by limiting Crosby’s effectiveness, they’ll have a shot to at least hang around, as they did in Game 1. That’s all they can ask for and what will give them the best chance to win.
• Tampa Bay’s Radko Gudas recorded nine hits in 23:27 of ice time in Game 1 against Montreal.
Anyone else get the feeling he’s going to turn momentum in a big way and at a crucial point in this series with his physical play? The thing is, he could just as easily swing it in favor of his team with a crunching hit, or in favor of Montreal with a bad penalty. He almost took one on a late hit against Brian Gionta Wednesday.
• Carey Price didn’t have the best game on Wednesday night – especially early on – but his sturdy play in overtime is why Montreal will be the favorite in this series as long as Tampa Bay is without Ben Bishop.
• Already without Bishop, the Lightning may also be down their second-highest point producer from the regular season.
Ondrej Palat, who scored eight points in his last six regular season games, left Game 1 early in the third period and didn’t return. It’s being called an upper-body injury today, which is the playoff norm that also doesn’t tell us anything about his availability for Game 2 yet.
If he’s out, that would make two big losses for the Lightning. How much more can they overcome?
• The Anaheim Ducks nearly blew a 4-0 lead on the Dallas Stars in Game 1 of that series. Within one game Anaheim showed how inconsistent it can be with a lead and the way the game played out, it was reminiscent of last year’s series against Detroit – another team the Ducks were supposed to steamroll.
If you’ll recall, the Ducks took a 1-0 series lead on Detroit and seemed to overwhelm the Wings when it suited them. But they allowed Detroit to hang around for too long. Anaheim outscored the Red Wings 10-3 in the games they won, but lost four one-goal games to them, including three in overtime.
Because of analytics that run against them, Anaheim is a popular first round upset pick this year. But it goes beyond analytics. While the Ducks can and have dominated, they have a tendency to take their foot off the gas from time to time and let their opponent hang around longer than they should.
In Game 2, will the Ducks be the team that ran roughshod over the Stars in the last half of Wednesday’s first period, or will they be the team that allowed the West’s final playoff qualifier to come one empty-net goal away from finishing a huge comeback? Despite the win, Anaheim raised some red flags in Game 1.