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Mailbag: Canadiens have edge in first round

NHL.com's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

Here is the April 5 edition of Dan Rosen's weekly mailbag, which will run every Wednesday through the course of the 2016-17 NHL season. If you have a question, tweet it to @drosennhl and use #OvertheBoards.

 

The Rangers and Canadiens will meet in Round 1. Who will have the edge in the series? Who will be the difference makers? -- @_rodrigues_20

This matchup is not set yet, but it's almost certain the Rangers and Canadiens will meet in the first round and if they do, the obvious difference makers are the goalies, Carey Price for Montreal and Henrik Lundqvist for New York. The one who plays better will likely lead his team to a win. But it can be more complicated than that and that's why I'm giving the Canadiens the edge.

The Canadiens defense is safer and more reliable in front of Price than the Rangers defense is in front of Lundqvist. And the Canadiens penalty kill, and Price's play on the penalty kill, has drastically improved. It all changed since Claude Julien took over as coach for Michel Therrien on Feb. 14. Price has no doubt been better, but part of the reason the Canadiens under Julien have been allowing 0.55 less goals per game than they were under Therrien is because they have been more aggressive in the defensive zone, and their forwards are doing a better job of keeping shots to the outside and clearing the puck. Their system is devised to outman the opposition and it's leading to them spending less time in their zone. They do it shorthanded, too. The Rangers have a terrific transition game, but they are prone to giving up several chances in front of the net per game with lapses in coverage either because the forwards are too high hoping to get the puck and go, or the defensemen are too low or shaded closer to the circles instead of in the slot. And their penalty kill has been average at best.

The way these two teams play in front of their own nets will be key in this series and even though the Canadiens don't score a lot, they defend better and I think they'll be able to take advantage of the holes the Rangers are prone to leaving in front of Lundqvist.

Video: FLA@MTL: Price denies MacKenzie's shorthanded break

 

Do you see a first-round matchup between Columbus and Pittsburgh deciding who will be in the Stanley Cup Final? Do you think Anaheim can beat Chicago in the playoffs this year? I think those teams are the best this year out west. -- @vojtkiss

No, a Columbus Blue Jackets-Pittsburgh Penguins series will not determine which team goes to the Eastern Conference Final or the Stanley Cup Final. The Washington Capitals will have a say. As I mentioned above, I think the Canadiens will have a say, too. The Rangers will if they defeat Montreal. I wouldn't pick the Toronto Maple Leafs to win a few rounds, but I wouldn't be shocked if they did because of their high-end skill. I think their defense will be exposed and it will cost them. I'm not ready to make a prediction on which Eastern Conference team will get to the Final because I need to see if the Penguins get healthy before the playoffs begin. They say they will.

As for the Anaheim Ducks defeating the Chicago Blackhawks, I say no. I've said this before, the Blackhawks will win the Stanley Cup this season. I agree that Anaheim might be their toughest test in the Western Conference, but I have no doubt that the Blackhawks will get past whoever is put in front of them.

 

Will there be trades after the Cup Final and before the expansion draft. If so, who's most likely the biggest name traded? -- @TheGracefulGoon

Oh yes there will be trades. The second trading season in the NHL is always in June and this year we have the added wrinkle of the NHL Expansion Draft and protection lists. Teams will be making trades with the Vegas Golden Knights to ensure they don't take a certain player who isn't on the protection list. There will be trades like this: A player from Team A who has to be left available for Vegas in the expansion draft will be traded to Team B because Team A doesn't want to risk losing the player for nothing and Team B has a spot on its protection list available. General managers have been having those conversations already. I imagine we'll get something resembling a trade frenzy, or at the very least June will be more frenzied than the lead up to the NHL Trade Deadline this year.

Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury will be the biggest-named player moved unless he agrees to waive his no-movement clause to be left available for Vegas in the expansion draft. Even if he does that, the Penguins could still trade him because Matt Murray has established himself as their No. 1 and operating a two-goalie system again would be difficult on all parties. Fleury has been such a good citizen for the Penguins that he deserves the right to try to be a No. 1 elsewhere if he's not going to be in Pittsburgh. The Penguins will make the emotional decision and trade him.

Video: CHI@PIT: Fleury denies Panarin's breakaway chance

 

Besides Henrik Lundqvist, who will have to be the top go-to-guy who can carry a heavy weight? -- @JoeyJets12

I'm assuming you're talking about carrying a heavy weight for the Rangers. Ryan McDonagh is obvious, so I won't say him. It even seems too simple to say Chris Kreider, but I'm going to say Kreider. He has to create havoc around the Canadiens net and he needs to produce. Since he's the Rangers' leading scorer, he carries the burden of being a go-to scorer. He can't have a so-so series, he has to be excellent. He has to be fast, powerful and fearless. Kreider has to play the same game he has played for pretty much the entire season. I can mention Kreider's linemates -- Derek Stepan and Mats Zuccarello -- as well. That line has to be dominant for the Rangers to have a chance. If it is, players like J.T. Miller, Kevin Hayes, Michael Grabner, Rick Nash and Mika Zibanejad will be better too. The Rangers depth up front has to be a difference maker against Montreal. They are deeper than the Canadiens at forward, but I still don't think it'll be enough.

Video: PHI@NYR: Kreider's clever redirect beats Stolarz

 

How far do you think the Penguins will get in the playoffs? -- @MiamiHeatFan48

In my original answer, I said that defenseman Kris Letang is the key guy. Well, he's not going to be around for the playoffs. The Penguins announced Wednesday that Letang has to have surgery for a herniated disk in his neck and will be out 4-6 months. This is a massive blow to the Penguins' chances of repeating as Stanley Cup champions. Nobody they have can replace what Letang does for them, especially in the playoffs. A great case could have been made for him to be the Conn Smythe Trophy winner last season. He played 28:52 per game and had 15 points. He played in every situation and was basically dominant all the time. I thought before Letang's surgery was announced Wednesday that the Penguins' chances of repeating hinged on Letang's health. Now that he won't be there, I find it very difficult to pick the Penguins to get out of the Eastern Conference. They have a chance to beat Columbus if they get Evgeni Malkin back and some others, including Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley, but I highly doubt they'll get much further without Letang.

 

The Hurricanes improved this year and will barely miss the playoffs. What's the outlook for them next year? -- @coachowen15

Good to really good. I like the Carolina Hurricanes. I like coach Bill Peters and the way he has Carolina playing. The Hurricanes have always been a stingy defensive team and a strong possession team under Peters; now they have some talent to score goals, too. Look no further than Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho. I like that Elias Lindholm took a positive step this season and I like the leadership Jeff Skinner is providing. I think he can, and should, be the next captain in Carolina. I especially like their defense with Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, Noah Hanifin and Brett Pesce. I like that they have more prospects coming on defense including Jake Bean and Haydn Fleury.

What I don't like is their current goaltending situation. That needs to be rectified, but the problem is Cam Ward and Eddie Lack are each signed through next season. The Hurricanes should not be in the bottom five in even-strength save percentage if they are also in the top five in percentage of offensive zone starts. Maybe Alex Nedeljkovic will be the No. 1 in Carolina, but he's not ready yet. I'd try to make a change in goaltending for next season to make it better. It might be the difference in making and missing the playoffs.

Video: CAR@MIN: Skinner wires home a one-timer for a PPG

 

After Minnesota's play of late, realistically, do you think they can make a run? If so, how far? -- @Colin_Jacobsen5

The Minnesota Wild's play since the start of March is alarming to be sure, but I didn't think they were going past the Western Conference Second Round even before they started to slump. As I stated above, the Blackhawks are my Stanley Cup championship pick, so naturally that means I think they would defeat the Wild if they met in the second round. But now it's fair to question if they can even get out of the first round, especially if they're going to face the St. Louis Blues, who are playing well and getting excellent goaltending from Jake Allen. The Blues are the team nobody in the Western Conference wants to face right now, not with the way their top line of Alex Steen, Vladimir Tarasenko and Jaden Schwartz is producing and with the confidence Allen has shown. The biggest problem for the Wild is special teams. Their power play and penalty kill have been generally poor for the balance of their games since the beginning of March.

 

Who do you have winning the Jack Adams Award this year? -- @LTGimpy

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock.

There are many good choices this year, but here is my order: 1. Mike Babcock 2. Joel Quenneville 3. John Tortorella 4. Mike Sullivan 5. Todd McLellan.

Barry Trotz deserves a nod too, but my top five is not changing.

What Babcock has been able to do with a young, yet talented roster is remarkable. He has kept all of those young players in line and on point. He has had the right amount of patience and pushback. His season has been outstanding.

Video: NHL Tonight gives their Jack Adams Award favorites

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