With the 2019-20 NHL postseason about to begin let's take a quick skate around the NHL and examine the one flaw that can hold back all 24 teams playing in this year's playoffs. Maybe it's a goalie situation, or a lack of depth, or an injury, or a shaky defense, or just a general lack of offense. Whatever it is, almost every team has something that can stop them.
They have some big names on this roster (Taylor Hall, Phil Kessel, Derek Stepan) and some really intriguing young players at forward (Conor Garland, Clayton Keller) but it is still a team that has struggled to consistently generate offense. Their goaltending duo is as good as it gets in the NHL, but they can not win every game 2-1 or 1-0. They need to score more.
I say maybe because even that is a stretch. If the Bruins have a weakness it is definitely their scoring depth beyond their top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron, but it is still not a bad complementary group of forwards. This has been the best team in the NHL all season and you have to really dig deep to find something to criticize here.
A year ago the Flames were the top regular season team in the Western Conference and the second-highest scoring team in the NHL. This season? A massive step backwards across the board as they dropped down to the No. 8 seed in the west and a below average team offensively. At the center of that decline has been superstar forward Johnny Gaudreau who has fought through some inconsistency this season offensively and has not been quite as dynamic as recent seasons.
It would not be a Carolina Hurricanes season if we were not wondering about their goaltending situation. James Reimer and Petr Mrazek are solid, but nothing spectacular. Nothing that is going to steal a game or a series. The good news is the Hurricanes are so good defensively (especially if Dougie Hamilton is ready to play) that they do not really need that level of goaltending to compete. They just need them to be good.
The Blackhawks' mini dynasty between 2010 and 2015 was built around their ability to shut teams down and dominate possession. They are now a far fall from that level play. This has been one of the league's worst defensive teams for a couple of years now, and if Corey Crawford is not a wall in net they are going to have major issues.
It is tough to find a flaw here because the Avalanche are not only a bonafide Stanley Cup contender this season, they are set up for long-term excellence and dominance in the Western Conference. They have the forwards, the defense, and even the goaltending. Special teams could prove to be a little better (their power play is only 19th in the league this season, for example) but nothing there seems to be a dealbreaker for them as a contender.
The Blue Jackets are one of the biggest surprise teams in the league this season, and they owe a lot of it to the surprising goaltending performances from Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins. Injuries decimated much of their offense this season, but even when they are fully healthy they are really missing the presence that a player like Artemi Panarin provided for them -- a player that you knew had the ability to dominate every shift and every game. It is a very solid team, one that is capable of beating Toronto in the play-in round, but they do lack the firepower offensively that the Maple Leafs can boast.
Thanks to their defense and goaltending the Stars are capable of shutting down any team on any given night. That makes them extremely dangerous in the postseason. The only problem is they tend to shut themselves down, as well. The Stars the second-lowest scoring team still playing (ahead of only Columbus), which is a little surprising given the fact that they DO have a couple of top-line players in Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov.
The Oilers have two MVP caliber players in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and some solid complementary pieces sprinkled throughout the lineup. But this is still a two-horse team and if McDavid and Draisaitl do not completely carry them they have absolutely zero chance of winning or competing. It is a testament to the greatness of those two that this team finished as high as it did in the standings.
Sergei Bobrovsky has struggled in his debut season with the Panthers, but it would be very unfair to put all of the blame for their goal prevention issues on him. This is, quite simply, a bad defensive team that has some holes on the blue line and a terrible approach to team defense. Bobrovsky has not consistently bailed them out, but they have not done him any favors, either.
It is by no means a bad roster, and the Wild can absolutely beat Vancouver in the play-in round and maybe give someone a fight in Round 1. But there are simply not many players on this roster that can take over a game by themselves and change it. It is next to impossible to win a championship -- or even get close to one -- without such a player.
The Canadiens might be a little better than their record indicates, and they could give the Pittsburgh Penguins a fight in the play-in round. Montreal is a dominant possession team at 5-on-5 and even though he has not always played at that level this season, Carey Price is still capable of stealing some games. But the special teams in Montreal have been a mess all season. The Penguins have a very good PK unit and a power play unit that is loaded with All-Star talent. Could be a problematic matchup for them.
At 5-on-5 play the Predators are an elite team, and that is not an exaggeration. They dominate possession, they have an outstanding goal differential, and they dictate the pace of games when both sides are even. But the second somebody goes to the penalty box everything completely falls apart for them. They are 25th on the power play, 29th on the penalty kill, and have been consistently decimated by the special teams game all season. Better goaltending would help fix the PK situation, but the power play has been a mess for two years now and played a huge role in their Round 1 exit a year ago.
The Islanders have been a painfully average team for most of the 2019-20 season, and it all goes back to the same flaw they had a year ago: They simply do not have enough offense. Mathew Barzal can be an impact player, but once you get beyond him there is a sharp drop off in offensive talent throughout the roster. They are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league and need to be perfect defensively to have a chance.
Adam Fox is an emerging star on their blue line, but everything after him is a big question mark defensively. The Rangers were one of the league's worst shot suppression teams in the league during the regular season and rely almost entirely on their goalies (Igor Shesterkin, Alexandar Georgiev, and Henrik Lundqvist) to bail them out. Bright future here for this team, but the defense is a big weakness for this season.
The Flyers have emerged as a surprising Stanley Cup contender this season and it is kind of shocking to see just how quickly they have become a top tier team. Their defensive play has been outstanding, Carter Hart is becoming the goalie they hoped he would be, and they can score. The only flaw you might be able to point to with them is the fact their special teams have been fairly average this season.
More of a major question mark than an actual flaw. Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry both have the ability to backstop the team to a Stanley Cup (Murray of course has already done it two different times) but neither goalie has been consistent this season or been able to secure the job. It is still not yet known which goalie will officially open as the starter or how long of a leash they will have. The rest of the roster is Stanley Cup caliber.
The Blues look even better than the 2019 team that won the Stanley Cup, and they are getting Vladimir Tarasenko back after he was limited to just 10 regular season games. It is difficult to bet against them right now. They have the defense, they have two outstanding goalies, they have an underrated offense, and their power play has been elite. The only area they do not dominate is on the PK, which is a little odd given how great they are defensively.
This is probably nitpicking, but we have to find a flaw for them and this is as close as we can get. They are *only* 14th in the league on the PK this season, which is not even terrible. It is just average. They excel in every other area and have one of the absolute best rosters in the league. The only other flaw we can point to is some kind of a mental hurdle that they have to overcome after getting so close to the Stanley Cup so many times over the past five years only to see their offense wilt at the absolute worst time.
Of course it is the defense. It has always been the defense. The Maple Leafs will be able to score goals with any team in the league, but the factor that will determine how far they are able to advance is their ability to stop other teams from scoring goals. It is not that the defense is lacking in talent (Morgan Rielly is great, Tyson Barrie is underrated, they have some promising young players) it is simply the fact they have not been able to consistently lock things down. Frederik Andersen in net has always been the key to their goal prevention.
The top of the Canucks roster is outstanding and gives them a great core to build around for the future with Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, Quinn Hughes, J.T. Miller, and Bo Horvat leading the way. The problem they are going to have is a lack of depth and forward and defense. It is a top-heavy roster with some question marks beyond their top six impact players (the five aforementioned players and starting goalie Jacob Markstrom). They have a chance to get through Minnesota in the play-in round, but everything after that might be a challenge.
This still might be the best team in the Western Conference and they addressed some of their biggest flaws at the trade deadline with the additions of Robin Lehner and Alec Martinez to help fix their goaltending and defense depth. The biggest flaw they have had this season has been on their PK where their 76 percent success rate is among the bottom-five in the league. You can win a Stanley Cup with a bad power play. Historically, it is very difficult to win when you can not kill penalties. This needs to be fixed come playoff time.
I hate saying goaltending because Braden Holtby is a Stanley Cup champion and has been one of the league's best goalies for most of his career. But he has clearly regressed in recent years and is coming off the worst regular season performance of his career. Ilya Samsonov is the future of the position and has been the superior goalie for most of the season, but he will miss the entire postseason and will not be ready to play again until next season.
The Jets have an outstanding collection of goalies, and assuming he continues his regular season performance a goalie (Connor Hellebuyck) that could carry them a long way through the postseason. The weakness: Their blue line. While Neal Pionk has been a nice addition and Josh Morrissey has developed into a strong top-four blue-liner the rest of the group is not exactly championship caliber. That unit is their Achilles Heel and will put a ton of pressure on Hellebuyck to carry the load defensively.
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