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Mailbag: Maple Leafs will scare Capitals's Dan Rosen answers weekly questions

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

Here is the April 12 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.

Should the Washington Capitals be worried about facing the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round? Haven't played very well against them this season. -- @gdohlke79

The Maple Leafs can be a dangerous opponent because they have young players who have shown no fear, some veteran experience and leadership from Roman Polak and Brian Boyle, who was a terrific pickup at the NHL Trade Deadline, and they should get quality goaltending from Frederik Andersen. They are a great unknown because we haven't seen Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Toss in the fact that Washington defenseman John Carlson isn't a sure thing to play in Game 1 on Thursday and it's enough to put the Capitals on notice. They shouldn't be worried though. Washington is a better team than Toronto. The better team should not be worried.

Video: PIT@TOR: Matthews seals crucial win with empty-netter

As for the head-to-head matchup in the regular season, the Capitals won two of the three games and outscored the Maple Leafs 12-10, but I don't buy that it matters all that much what happened in the regular season between teams playing in the playoffs. There are extenuating circumstances in the regular season that don't exist in the playoffs. For example, Toronto defeated Washington 4-2 on Nov. 26, but the Maple Leafs were playing their first game in three nights and the Capitals were playing the second game of a back-to-back and their third in four nights. Washington won 6-5 on Jan. 3, but Philipp Grubauer was in net, not Braden Holtby. The Capitals won 4-1 on April 4, but it was the second game of a back-to-back and third game in four nights for the Maple Leafs.

The point is that the regular season doesn't matter now. The Capitals are the better team and they will show it, but the Maple Leafs will put a scare into them. I see the Maple Leafs this season in a similar way to how I saw the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007 when they were going into their first playoff series with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They lost in five games to the Ottawa Senators, reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2008, and won the Stanley Cup in 2009.


At the start of the year if you were told these 16 teams made the playoffs, would you be surprised by it, why, and would you believe it? -- bixyboii

I would have laughed in your face if you told me the Maple Leafs were going to make the playoffs and the Tampa Bay Lightning would not. I probably wouldn't have apologized either. OK, I'd like to think I would have, but I can't be so sure. Point is, there is no way I or many other people, including Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, general manager Lou Lamoriello and president Brendan Shanahan, could have seen the turnaround in Toronto happening this quickly. They probably would have been happy with 20-25 goals from Matthews; he scored 40. They probably would have been happy with 200 or so points from their rookies; they had 304. So, no, I wouldn't have believed it if you told me the Maple Leafs were going to make the playoffs.

At the start of the season, I thought the Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames would be improved, but I didn't think either would be a playoff team. I didn't think they'd be able to get by some of the more established teams that I did pick to make the playoffs, like the Lightning, Florida Panthers, New York Islanders, Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars. I know I wasn't alone in picking those five to make it when we did preseason picks in October. I also picked the Buffalo Sabres. I'll take my mulligan on that one.


The Rangers' speed will be a factor in beating Montreal, but what are the expectations for the young guys like Jimmy Vesey and Pavel Buchnevich? Also, do you think those young guys can be like the "HBK Line" of the Penguins last season with Vesey-Lindberg-Buchnevich? -- @_rodrigues_20

Great questions. However, it doesn't look like Buchnevich is going to play in Game 1 against the Canadiens on Wednesday. He was not on a regular line in practice Tuesday. That was Tanner Glass on the fourth line with Oscar Lindberg and Jesper Fast, much to the dismay of many or all of the Rangers fans who follow me on Twitter.

Video: PIT@NYR: Vesey lifts backhand for go-ahead goal

I question the decision to use Glass under these pretenses: I understand he's a crasher and a banger and he creates chaos on the ice, but I'm not in favor of chaos over goals. Buchnevich can score. He has a shot that can beat Carey Price. I'd try to use that. However, if I may say one thing in defense of coach Alain Vigneault's decision, Glass has played his role fairly well since coming back from Hartford of the American Hockey League and Buchnevich has been inconsistent, showing he isn't strong enough on the walls or on the forecheck to make enough of a difference in the 10 or so minutes he gets when Vigneault puts him on the fourth line. He needs to bulk up. However, he has good-to-elite skills, so I'd still use him. And I wouldn't use him on the fourth line. I'd use him with Mika Zibanejad and Rick Nash on the second line. I'd use Vesey with Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller on the third line, and Michael Grabner with Lindberg and Fast on the fourth line.

However, Vesey has to be a difference-maker if he's going to play on the second line with Zibanejad and Nash, which appears to be the case for Game 1. I'm not sure he will be. Vesey hit a wall earlier in the season and I don't think he has crashed through it yet. He has played 80 games. The most he played for Harvard in one season was 37 in 2014-15.


If their respective teams don't ask them to stay on as head coach, do you think Vegas considers Doug Weight/Bruce Cassidy/other interim? -- @mikeybox

Let's start with, I'd be shocked if the Boston Bruins didn't give Cassidy the full-time job even if they lose to the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference First Round. The only way I think Bruins president Cam Neely and general manager Don Sweeney don't give the job to Cassidy is if the Bruins absolutely fall apart and lose to the Senators in four or five games, basically never really putting up a fight. I don't see that happening. I've got the Bruins winning the series.

Boston went 18-8-1 under Cassidy and scored 3.37 goals per game. It beefed up its power play and it went 27.8 percent, and its penalty kill stayed excellent at 84.9 percent. The players bought into what he wanted and they performed well. It would take a collapse in the playoffs for him to be available to Vegas.

As for Weight, the New York Islanders announced Wednesday morning that he had been given permanent status as their coach. So he is obviously off the table for Vegas. Weight guided New York to a 24-12-4 record and had the Islanders alive for a playoff berth in the last weekend of the season. 

Vegas has options, including former Islanders coach Jack Capuano.

Think the NHL will go back to the old playoff format? 1-8, 2-7, 3-6, 4-5? Seems not a lot of people like it now, including me. -- @whoopoi

I haven't heard of any substantive discussions about changing the playoff format. There have been some rumblings of discontent from Blue Jackets general manager Jarmo Kekalainen, but remember he's directly impacted by the format this season because Columbus finished fourth in the NHL standings with 108 points and have to open the Stanley Cup Playoffs against Pittsburgh, which finished second with 111 points. Kekalainen is obviously biased this season.

I do wonder, however, if in the final breakdown of this season if the NHL or the general managers put more of a concerted effort into looking at the playoff format and breaking down their likes and dislikes. On the other side, getting matchups like we have in the first round in the Eastern Conference, two that feature four 100-point teams, makes for an enticing start to the playoffs, which obviously drives interest.

If it were my call -- and it's not -- I'd have the two division winners as the top two seeds in whatever order they finish and 3-8 in each conference would be the next six best teams. Under my scenario, five of the eight first-round series that we have now would still be happening (Capitals-Maple Leafs, Blackhawks-Predators, Ducks-Flames, Wild-Blues, Oilers-Sharks). The question is, do you reseed after the first round or do it in bracket form? Brackets create challenges, which drives fan interest. Like it or not, that's part of the business of the game.

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