Disappointment. It’s a yearly tradition for fans of 30 NHL teams. The emotion varies for many fans, people in Vancouver might be mildly annoyed but hopeful for the future while fans in Tampa have already consumed all the alcohol in Florida.
Fans around Nashville are probably somewhere in between. This was a team that was poised to make a run but ultimately fell short of their goal. I’ve already talked about why the Predators lost, find it here, but now what?
Do we just ignore hockey until the draft? Heck no! Show out and show NBC that they should show more and more Predators’ games on national television. So, if we’re going to get invested, what’s a good team to get behind? Let’s answer that question together.
This article will just be about the Western Conference teams. My colleague, Michael Wade, will be writing the guide for the Eastern Conference.
How could we root for the team that knocked the Predators out of the playoffs!?! Well, quite easily. Let’s say the Stars go all the way and win, it’ll be nice to think that it took the champs to beat the Predators.
The Stars make for a fun hockey game. They have a mobile defense that moves the puck up the ice quickly, which creates rush scoring chances and turnovers. This fun style of hockey has led to them scoring the second most goals at five on five while also giving up the second most.
Alex Radulov, Tyler Seguin, and Jamie Benn are the heavy hitters up front, and boy do they not disappoint. All three have over 12 high danger chances created and over two expected goals scored. On top of that, Roope Hintz and Miro Heiskanen have stepped seamlessly onto the national stage, with this jaw-dropping goal being their first highlight.
Dallas plays a controlled style of hockey once possession is established, but don’t mistake their patience for timidness. There’s a lot of bite to this team that could change the game in an instant. As I write this, they’re tied one game apiece with the St. Louis Blues. This series could easily go the distance.
That said, this club relies heavily on the Vezina quality goaltending of a netminder who’s best known for ripping his groin in half. I like Anton Khudobin, but I don’t trust him to win 12 games in fairly quick succession after Ben Bishop goes down with injury.
The Stars, while not necessarily boring, can play a boring style of play if their opponent prefers to. Nashville wanted to create a low event series that would be decided by shooting talent and goaltending, and Dallas was more than happy to play along. If the Blues or any other squad decide to slow down the tempo of the game, it could turn into the Western version of an Islanders game, and no one wants to see that!
Also, things could get really dicey if Roman Polak and Ben Lovejoy are on the ice together, but it hasn’t really happened yet. There’s a lot of positives about the Stars, but I could also see this squad unraveling against a deeper team.
St. Louis Blues
While it’s never a good idea to root for a hockey team from St. Louis, this one feels different. I like this current team even better than the one that featured Wayne Gretzky, Brett Hull, Al MacInnis, and a young, up and coming defenseman by the name of Chris Pronger. Even with all of those big names, I legitimately fear this current Blues squad more.
The Blues play a suffocating strategy that attacks in waves. Each line has a different style that ultimately forces the opposition to rethink their approach during each shift. It’s a fun spectacle to watch that never really gets old.
Vladamir Tarasenko is the obvious big name everyone hears when the Blues are discussed. His transformation from a perimeter-hugging sniper to a player who relishes getting to the dirty areas is incredible. Tarasenko only has one goal at five on five so far, but he currently leads the team in scoring chances and high danger chances.
If the Blues go on the powerplay, make sure to keep an eye on Tarasenko. He’s a prime example of what I like to call the “disappearing puck” trick. One second, it seems as if Tarasenko is settling the puck to make a pass, and before anyone can react, the puck is somehow in the back of the net.
Despite my fascination with Tarasenko, the best players on the Blues are Ryan O’Reilly, Colton Parayko, and Alex Pietrangelo. Being able to throw out two Norris quality defensemen for over 40 minutes a night must be the ultimate security blanket.
Where I see the Blues crashing and burning is goaltending. Jordan Binnington has been outstanding with a 92.93% save percentage at five on five. My issue with him is that he’s been a very average AHLer for the last six years. Binnington stepping up has been an incredible Cinderella story but I could easily see him turning back into a pumpkin at any moment.
If the Blues are forced to rely on Jake Allen for whatever reason, are we even sure they win another game?
The Avalanche are part of the chaos club that upset first seeds this post-season. I thought they had no chance against the deeper and more talented Calgary Flames, but I forgot one thing. Through Nathan MacKinnon, all things are possible.
For the 23 minutes a night that MacKinnon’s line is out, the Avalanche are a world class team. Without the trio, the numbers fall back down to earth but remain just over 50%. The differences are stark, but the excitement can be overwhelming.
The offense doesn’t really have much else, but the defense is a hidden gem. Samuel Girard and Cale Makar are premier puck movers despite being younger than 21. If they get the puck in the defensive zone, expect it to leave with possession promptly. Their offensive abilities haven’t come to fruition yet, but their ability to start the breakout more than makes up for anything they lack.
The issues that plague this squad is that no one can score besides the top line. It’s been an issue forever, but the management team didn’t want to sacrifice futures for a premature playoff run. Joe Sakic made the right decision for the long-term, but I’m not sure they’ll be able to get past a deeper squad.
Colorado has an interesting matchup in the second round. They’re currently tied one game apiece with the Sharks, heading back to Denver. I’ll go more into why the Sharks shouldn’t win in just a bit, but the Avalanche have had almost a full week of rest and aren’t really suffering from any injuries. The playoffs are a war of attrition and if they can stay healthy, the Avalanche will go far.
So, besides the fact the bottom nine of the offense can’t score, this team should be fine.
San Jose Sharks
You might not want to root for the Sharks, and I don’t blame you. As someone who’s watched too many of their games, this Sharks team seems different than all the rest.
The offense is probably the deepest in the NHL. Every line can score and it’s seemingly highlighted by putting future Hall of Famer Joe Thornton on the third line alongside Kevin Labanc (56 points) and Marcus Sorensen (30 points).
If offense isn’t your jam, may I suggest the Sharks’ defense? Erik Karlsson is still the best defenseman in hockey despite having one and a half ankles and a groin made of paper. Brent Burns is the epitome of a wild card, he can be incredible in the offensive zone while leaving a lot to be desired in the defensive zone, it’s a lot of fun to watch. Otherwise, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brendan Dillon, and Justin Braun fill out a very competent defensive group.
The issue with jumping on the Sharks bandwagon is they might all die before the next round. The Vegas Golden Knights gave the Sharks an absolute war that forced many players to play through injuries, according to multiple sources. It also doesn’t help that their most talented scorer, Joe Pavelski, is out and no one knows for how long.
This team is old and hurt, and worst of all, trusting Martin Jones to stop the puck over 90% of the time. He’s been good recently, but every time I see the Avalanche shoot, I wonder if this is the easy goal that’ll send Jones tumbling.
If you’re a glutton for punishment in the hopes that it’ll make winning even sweeter, the Sharks are for you.