NHL Playoffs Handicapping: Players to Watch
by Trevor Whenham - 4/9/2012
Hockey is the ultimate team game. Even the best players on the team can play only a third of the game, so a team succeeds in the layoffs does it because of their depth and chemistry.
From a betting perspective, though, there are some players who are more important to pay attention to than others. These players are key indicators — the types of players that determine how their team is likely to perform. If they are playing well in the playoffs then their teams could perform well also. If they are struggling, though, then there is a good chance that their teams aren’t going to fare particularly well.
Here are five very important players in this year’s NHL playoffs to help with NHL handicapping:
Ilya Bryzgalov, G, Philadelphia Flyers
Bryzgalov was the big offseason addition that was supposed to provide the piece to the Flyers that had been missing for so long. It hasn’t always turned out like it was supposed to.
His numbers on the year were decent, but a step away from what was widely expected. He was better down the stretch — except for a two rough starts in his last three games — but early in the season he really struggled.
The Flyers play the most dangerous offensive team in the league, Pittsburgh, to open the postseason. If they can’t trust their goalie then they are in serious trouble — especially because Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury reliably raises his game in April.
Bryzgalov needs to make an early statement in this series or Philadelphia could have real issues.
Martin Brodeur, G, New Jersey Devils
The Devils are a No. 6 seed in the East, but thanks to a lucky break — facing a weaker division winner in Florida in the first round — they could do some playoff damage.
They are a team that has historically known how to peak when it matters most. If they want to mount yet another deep run, though, then Martin Brodeur has to do what he has done so many times before and take the team on his shoulders.
He’s the best goalie of his generation, but he’ll be 40 before these playoffs start, and his age seems to be catching up to him. He hasn’t been lousy this year by any means, but he has been a step below his best.
We need to see the Brodeur of old if the Devils want to reach their best.
Roberto Luongo, G, Vancouver Canucks
It wasn’t entirely his fault by any means, but Luongo rightly shouldered a lot of the blame for Vancouver’s loss in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. He hasn’t been as strong this year as he was during the regular season last year, and he doesn’t have the overwhelming support of the Vancouver fanbase. More than most goalies of his caliber he also has the bad habit of getting into his own head.
The Canucks won the President’s Trophy this year and have a good chance of going all the way. Luongo needs to be as good as he can be, though, and he’ll face a massive challenge in the opening round when he faces a very talented L.A. team that is in strong form after a slow start.
Nicklas Lidstrom, D, Detroit Red Wings
Lidstrom is an absolute freak of nature. He’s the best defenseman of his generation by a wide margin. He turns 42 at the end of this month, though. He has had a very good year as always, but he did miss 12 games after two healthy seasons.
The Red Wings have had a pile of playoff success during his career, and the biggest single factor in that success has been Lidstrom’s play. He’s rock solid in the postseason, and he’s a quiet leader that allows the offense to perform like they can because they trust what’s happening behind them.
If he can keep playing at that level then Detroit can be dangerous in the wide open Western Conference. If there are any signs at all, though, that he isn’t able to perform at that same high level then Detroit could be in real trouble.
It’s long been safe to just assume Detroit will play well in the playoffs and win their share of games. That may not be the case anymore.
Alex Pietrangelo, D, St. Louis Blues
St. Louis is a phenomenal story. They didn’t even make the playoffs last year, but this year they flirted with the President’s Trophy. They did it with the classic recipe — patience with young players, relentless attention to defense, coaching perfectly suited to their assets, and outstanding goaltending.
They are by far the best defensive team in the league right now — at least they were in the regular season. They are very young, though, and completely untested in the postseason. The ability of their young talent to handle the added pressure of the playoffs will determine their fate.
Not only are they young, but they lack a true superstar, so the load is shared among several young players. Of those, 2008 first-round pick Pietrangelo is the one to watch.
He’s the third-leading scorer, and a crucial influence on the defense. When he is playing well the team typically follows suit. If he looks comfortable early in the playoffs then this team absolutely has the potential to win the West. If he’s tentative and second-guessing what got him this far, though, then they could be in trouble in their first tough series against San Jose.
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