NHL

Cullen: Notes on Bickell, Saad, Moulson, Letang, Fleury, more

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Scott Cullen
5/5/2014 12:31:00 AM
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The Chicago Blackhawks locked down the Wild, to go up 2-0 in their series, and the Pittsburgh Penguins controlled play against the New York Rangers, evening their series at one game apiece. Notes on Bryan Bickell, Brandon Saad, Matt Moulson, Kris Letang, Marc-Andre Fleury and more.

BLACKHAWKS LOCK DOWN WILD

The Chicago Blackhawks stifled the Minnesota Wild on the way to a 4-1 win in Game Two, taking a 2-0 series lead.

LW Bryan Bickell picked up a goal and two assists to lead the Blackhawks' attack and RW Marian Hossa had three assists. LW Brandon Saad also had a pair of goals for the Blackhawks and the performance of supporting cast wingers like Bickell and Saad reminded me of the recent article in the Chicago Sun-Times by Mark Lazerus, about Chicago's use of analytics.

The article, without getting into specifics, discusses how the Blackhawks use all kinds of data in their player evaluation and one of the easiest ways to dismiss Chicago's use of analytics is that, hey, they have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews -- it's not analytics that make them a good team. Of course elite players matter more than a team's analytical approach, and Toews and Kane are great, but they are just two players. The rest of the roster still needs to be filled out and, for Chicago, that includes big-bodied wingers like Saad and Bickell.

Bickell, who was a playoff hero last season, scoring nine goals and 17 points in 23 games as the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, finished the 2013-2014 regular season with 11 goals and 15 points in 59 games, so expectations were relatively low coming into this postseason. However, digging a little deeper into the numbers, we see that Bickell had a 58.0% Corsi during the regular season (second among Blackhawks forwards, behind Jonathan Toews) and was among the unluckiest forwards in the league with a 95.6% PDO (on-ice shooting plus save percentage); these underlying statistics suggested that Bickell might be due for better results and, with five goals and eight points in this year's playoffs, he's getting better results.

Before scoring two goals, including an empty-netter, Sunday, Saad had one goal in 32 career playoff games. The 21-year-old is also a strong possession player, and has seven points (2 G, 5 A) in eight playoff games this year. For a team that has Toews, Kane, Hossa and Patrick Sharp, getting big production out of Bickell and Saad is just about unfair.

A little more on the Blackhawks forward lines: with Andrew Shaw hurt and Brandon Bollig scratched, the Blackhawks returned Kris Versteeg and Jeremy Morin to the lineup. Ben Smith had a rough game, in terms of puck possession, on for 29.4% (10 for, 24 against) of the 5-on-5 shot attempts when he was on the ice. The Blackhawks, without Smith on the ice, were getting 62.0% (31 for, 19 against) of the 5-on-5 shot attempts.

With Jonathan Toews on the ice, the Blackhawks had 73.7% (14 for, five against) of the 5-on-5 shot attempts. With Toews off the ice, the Blackhawks had only 41.5% of the shot attempts, though there were obviously some score effects at play, since Chicago dominated possession in score close situations.

The Wild have been having trouble generating offence against Chicago. Blackhawks G Corey Crawford stopped 18 of Minnesota's 19 shots Sunday, and he's stopped 48 of 51 (.941 SV%) in the first two games of this series.

One of the more notable problem areas in the lineup for the Wild is LW Matt Moulson, who has one goal (on 20 shots) and one assist in nine playoff games and has, effectively, been taken out of an offensive role. No Wild player had a lower percentage of offensive zone starts in Game Two, but this one example stands in contrast to the Blackhawks' forward depth.

This wasn't expected to be a particularly close series and, through two games, the Blackhawks are living up to their favoured status. The Wild will have to find a way, perhaps with better matchups at home, to get more chances or else this could be short work for Chicago.

PENGUINS BLANK RANGERS

The Pittsburgh Penguins dominated play against the New York Rangers in Game Two, winning 3-0 and evening the series at one game apiece.

Penguins G Marc-Andre Fleury stopped all 22 shots he faced, and that gives him a .914 save percentage (224 saves on 245 shots) in the playoffs -- his highest playoff save percentage since 2007-2008.

D Kris Letang had an outstanding game for the Penguins, with a goal and two assists, while playing 25:35; a bit of a break through for an offensive defenceman who had one point in the previous seven playoff games.

Penguins C Sidney Crosby didn't record a point, but was on top of his game, generating a game-high 10 shot attempts and on the ice for 74.1% (20 for, seven against) of 5-on-5 shot attempts.

Marcel Goc was the possession ace for Pittsburgh in Game Two, on for 12 shot attempts for and just two against (85.7%).

The only Rangers line to finish on the right side of the possession ledger -- and just barely (10 for, nine against) -- was the trio of Brad Richards, Carl Hagelin and Daniel Carcillo.

On the other hand, the line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard and Benoit Pouliot was on for less than 15% of 5-on-5 shot attempts, while D Ryan McDonagh was on the ice for four attempts for and 19 against (17.4%).

The Rangers have played four games in the past six days and looked fatigued in Game Two. With Game Three going Monday night, there isn't much time for rest, but they will need to use whatever they can on home ice to tilt the ice back in their favour. The way Game Two played out, the Penguins controlled play even more decisively than the final score indicated and the Rangers could fall behind in this series while they struggle with a more condensed schedule than their opponents.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.

Marian Hossa and Bryan Bickell  (Photo: Bill Smith/National Hockey League/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Bill Smith/National Hockey League/Getty Images)
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