PK Subban hits primetime, the Clippers’ window closes, and the Yankees take care of business in Boston and Baltimore.
1. PK’s party
I was cooking dinner before Game 1 of the Second Round of the NHL Playoffs, watching NBC’s pregame coverage of the Predators/Blues contest that would open the round.
Keith Jones of NBC noted that the PK Subban show hadn’t quite begun yet. The newest Nashville superstar had played well but wasn’t the highlight reel fixture that makes him one of the most dynamic and exciting players in the NHL.
Then the PK Subban show started.
I honestly am not sure off the top of my head the last time a single hockey player dominated a playoff game like that. Subban was on the ice for only about a third of the game, but he was the force that moved the game forward. He had a point on each of his team’s first three goals of the Second Round, and probably should have had another on the team’s fourth and final tally.
And these were no secondary assists or stat stuffers without a true impact—Subban scored Nashville’s second goal, and their first and third were the result of Subban’s snapshot, even if he didn’t get credit for the goal. Factor in the celebrations after the fact and Subban was worth the price of admission all by himself.
At this point, Subban has taken a place beside names like McDavid, Crosby, and Ovechkin as some of the few names that can truly take over a hockey game, and dominate a storyline. He may just be the most entertaining of them all.
And I’m sure the phone lines were lighting up at Montreal radio stations this week, as Montreal’s fans and front office shifted their focus to reconstructing a team that fell short once again, while the former face of their franchise put on a herculean effort for the all-important Game One win on the road.
And typically, I’m against looking at trades in that kind of vacuum. While a full season and playoff run isn’t exactly a small sample size, it’s often impossible to evaluate players and trades on a true 1:1 basis. You have to factor in that the players often play different positions, as is the case with the Adam Larsson/Taylor Hall trade that’s currently being debated by fans in Edmonton, New Jersey and beyond, or the other piece that may have changed hands.
But that isn’t the situation here. It’s a player-for-player trade and with a pair of #1 defensemen at that. And while one season and exiting a little earlier doesn’t mean Montreal’s mission has failed, their championship window is that much closer to closing, in part due to the replacement of Subban with Weber. If the Canadiens don’t want to spend years in the future hearing about the mistake that was this trade, they need to make a meaningful Cup run, and soon, before that Weber contract truly becomes an albatross.
With Subban’s Predators sitting just 120 minutes away from a Western Conference Final birth during what should be Weber’s best years in Bleu, Blanc et Rouge, the clock is ticking for Montreal.
Much is made of home ice advantage, particularly in the NHL playoffs, but maybe it shouldn’t be. The Edmonton Oilers and Anaheim Ducks certainly don’t seem to be paying it any mind.
The Oilers seemed to be in the driver’s seat after a pair of wins in Anaheim to start the series, returning home as conquering kings with a chance to take the series by the throat. Instead, the Ducks skated onto the ice at Edmonton’shiningng new Roger’s Place and wasted no time in making it feel like home. The team won in commanding fashion on Sunday, and have worked their way back into this series, down by just a game after three contests between the two.
If the McDavid, Talbot and the Oilers can do what their resume this season says should be expected, Game Four will show us this was all just a mirage. Edmonton defended their home well this year, finishing in the top 10 in home winning percentage, according to the fine folks at SportsClubStats.com. And there’s reason to believe there’s still an advantage for Anaheim in their two remaining home games should this series, considering the Ducks finished second in the league in home winning percentage. Strange, then that these are the two teams trading road victories.
Any coach, player, or fan will readily tell you the importance of home ice advantage, and it’s often true, if only for the sake of comfort. But this series is another reminder of just how strange and surprising the NHL playoffs can be.
Anaheim may be able to give the Washington Capitals and their fans some consolation because this is beginning to seem like a cruel joke. Like the Ducks did, the Capitals have fallen behind by two games after dropping a pair at home, and to their biggest rivals, and thorns in the side, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the team’s two most important defensive players, #1 blueliner Kris Letang and rookie goalie Matt Murray, on the sidelines for likely the length of the series, it seemed the Capitals would finally have their best chance to ice the Pens. The team was perhaps the best in the NHL wire to wire, but still found a way to improve at midseason, picking up American all-star Kevin Shattenkirk to sure up the blueline and juice an already swelling powerplay.
But despite the changes, the results have so far been the same. Like they did last year against Philly, the Capitals struggled against the low seed in the East this year, barely prevailing against the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games, five of which went to overtime. And they’re looking just a step too slow and not quite skilled enough to topple the NHL’s top team in the Penguins.
Look, I have a love for the Capitals, and for many of their playoff-stricken stars. And there’s more than enough talent on this team to make up two-game deficit against any team, even the Pittsburgh Penguins.
But this is beginning to look like another edition of a familiar story.
Maybe all you need in life is a good meal.
At least according to the Ottawa Senators’ newest hero, Jean-Gabriel Pageau. The winger scored four of the Senators’ five goals in their 5-4 double OT win in Game Two over the Rangers and afterward said that he was feeling a bit full before puck drop, and chalked it up to a healthy serving of chicken parm he enjoyed as a pregame meal.
As a fellow fan of chicken and cheese, I can definitely vouch for the sustaining power of the dish. But I think Pageau probably had a decent amount to do with it. While he acted in typical hockey player fashion, diminishing his scoring skill after the game, he put 19 goals in last year and stayed in the double digits this year.
I said earlier during the playoffs in blogs and podcasts that the Senators were the most anonymous team in the playoffs, and perhaps the dullest, thanks to their uber-conservative play style and the aforementioned lack of star power. And while that largely holds true, from Bobby Ryan’s seemingly newly learned ability to spell intense to Pageau’s brilliance, the Senators are shedding that title during these playoffs, and an Eastern Conference final run could shake the bad rep off entirely.
While the NHL’s best teams battled in the second round, the rest were hoping to find a piece of the future that could see them in the same spot.
The non-playoff bound teams gathered to find out the order of the NHL Draft last night, as the NHL held the first edition of a newly revamped lottery. It put the first three picks in this year’s admittedly underwhelming draft to a weighted chance, slightly favored in favor of the worst finishers. And let’s just say it didn’t go according to plan.
Each of the first three overall picks went to teams that finished outside of the bottom three in the regular season, namely to the New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars in that order. That was bad news for the league’s worst teams, the Colorado Avalanche, coming off maybe the worst season in the Salary Cap era, and the Vancouver Canucks, who have finally admitted they are rebuilding after missing the players for several years.
But perhaps the team getting the worst news last night was the Vegas Golden Knights. The team is entering a more difficult market than it first seemed, as the NFL’s Oakland Raiders are on their way to crowd the market, and getting a young star with this year’s top pick would have given local fans a reason to tune into a team that is likely to struggle early on. It may have been advantageous, to say the least, for both the league and its newest team if the Knights ping-pong balls had bounced a little better.
I guess fixing draft lotteries is just one more thing the NHL can’t do quite as well as the NBA.
7. Guard games
No one would be willing to argue that the series between the Washington Wizards and Boston Celtics will decide the best team in the Eastern Conference—that’s clearly the Cleveland Cavilers. But that shouldn’t dimish the high stakes that do exist in this series.
Given the apathy that many fans feel toward LeBron and the Cavs and the gap of quality between them and the rest of the conference, the #2 spot in the East is more alluring than it may appear. And with both teams looking to both keep their current stars and attract enough new ones to competently compete with Cleveland, establishing a claim to the #1 contender position is nothing to sneeze at when it comes to free agent recruitment.
And about those stars—this series may also turn into a referendum on the top guards in the East. Boston’s Isaiah Thomas has been climbing the ladder of NBA fame in recent months, and an emotionally-charged playoff run would almost certainly be enough to silence his critics and establish him among the top guards in the East.
And if there’s anyone that knows about fighting off loud critics and earning a place among the biggest names in a star-heavy league, it’s John Wall. He’s always resided somehow just below the NBA’s elite, and a run of his own would do plenty for his status among NBA guards.
The NBA playoffs, particularly the early rounds, don’t get the shine of the NHL’s tournament, and there are some fair reasons for that, but even if this series may not factor into the eventual championship contests, there’s plenty to watch.
While Wall and Thomas tussle for the soul of the Eastern Conference, the Clippers may have just lost their claim to that of the West.
For years, the Clippers were the basketball superfan’s team, a collection likable and media-friendly stars that everyone wanted to see take the leap, but never quite did. And while they may have taken the Utah Jazz to seven games, and done so without big-name big man Blake Griffin, the team’s first-round exit seemed like its last dying breath.
The team will surely be in the playoffs again and may make a run to the second round or deeper, but it’s beginning to become clear that this current collection will not be championship-bound, at least not in this reality. While Chris Paul may be known as the point God, his reign is starting to end, the team’s twin-tower style is out of vogue in the NBA, and they could just never put it together during the primes of Griffin, Paul, and DeAndre Jordan.
The loss to Utah felt especially seismic because of the youth of the Jazz. With talented, if slightly unheralded players like Rudy Gobert and Gordon Hayward, the Jazz are set to become the next team that NBA League Pass devotees carve out time for, if they haven’t done so already. It’s seemingly just a matter of time before the team
There’s been lots of talks that the Yankees-Red Sox isn’t at the fever pitch it wasn’t once was, and that’s probably true on most counts. But if the bitterness between Boston and New York has fizzled as both teams have moved up and down the AL East standings, it seems like we’re about to see the teams reassume their mantle atop the division.
The Red Sox are an obvious juggernaut this year, and most baseball observers’ pick to win the Division, if not the Pennant and maybe even a World Series championship. And while they’ve been off to a rocky start and some questions remain about whether the team can have enough to go right to be sized for a new ring, there’s reason to believe those predictions have merit. While he may have lost the decision on Thursday, Chris Sale was a vision on the mound, and he’s been electric all year. Their pitching staff, if a bit injury prone or due for regression, is nothing if not star-studded. Their offense is young and brimming with promise, and this team should be successful this year, next year, and a few more after that.
And while the Yankees are supposed to be playing the role of the reloading superpower, at least to start the season, that hasn’t been the script they’ve followed. Aaron Judge has exceeded mine and most other fans expectations by a long shot, Masahiro Tanaka is making me worry less and less about his ability to be a true #1 starter, and the team is leading the division, even it is just April. The pitching staff has held together so far, and while there may be a fall coming, this hot starts assures that the Yankees will be in the hunt for at least a few months this year, which is a sight for sore eyes, especially when you consider all this is without the services of starters Didi Gregorious at shortstop and sophomore sensation Gary Sanchez behind the plate. The team may have faltered in one game over the weekend against the Baltimore Orioles, but a two-out-of-three series is more than good enough, and as April closes it’s been a fantastic first month in the Bronx.
While the Yankees likely won’t be competing with the Red Sox for an AL East crown this year, it seems like they almost certainly will be soon, and maybe even sooner than expected. And, especially in a season that may not end in celebratory fashion, any sweep against the Red Sox is reason enough to be excited as a Yankee fan.