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In the second and final part of our playoff primer, the focus turns up front
to the forwards.  There are several elements to consider, only one of which
involves the goal scorers.  Checking in the postseason always tightens and
successful teams usually have a quality shutdown line while depth and experience
are always important as well.  Here is a look at how each of the Habs’ possible first
round opponents stack up in these areas.

According to

Sports Club Stats
, there are four first round matchups with a percentage
chance of occurring of 10% or higher. 
Those teams will be the focus of this article.


(Combos are from the most recent game played as of April 22nd and are based on the most
frequently used even strength units.


NY Islanders:

Line Combos

Matt Moulson –
John Tavares – Brad Boyes
Kyle Okposo – Josh Bailey – Frans Nielsen
Michael Grabner – Keith Aucoin – Colin McDonald
Matt Martin – Casey Cizikas – Jesse Joensuu
Eric Boulton
Brock Nelson (AHL)
Marty Reasoner (healthy)
David Ullstrom (healthy)

Analysis: With all due respect to the supporting cast, this is for the
most part a one line team.  Tavares, a legitimate Hart Trophy candidate,
and Moulson are one of the top one-two punches in the league.  However,
just two other players have hit the double digit mark in goals which has to be a
bit concerning for the Islanders.  Michael Grabner’s point total isn’t all
that impressive but he is a threat to score whenever he’s on the ice.

This team doesn’t have a prototypical checking unit but all of their lines
can play in all three zones which helps offset that somewhat.  I’ve long
been a fan of Frans Nielsen’s game; should Jack Capuano decide to put a more
traditional third line together, he will be the one to anchor it. 
Obviously, a team that has missed the playoffs a lot is going to lack NHL
postseason experience in general.  Boyes and Reasoner have some but after
that, they’re sorely lacking in that category. 

NY Rangers:

Line Combos

Carl Hagelin –
Derek Stepan – Ryan Callahan
Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Ryane Clowe
Taylor Pyatt – Brad Richards – Mats Zuccarello
Arron Asham – Darroll Powe – Chris Kreider
Brian Boyle
Derek Dorsett
J.T. Miller (AHL)
Kris Newbury (AHL)

Analysis: Despite having some impressive names on paper, this team has
lacked a consistent go-to scorer unlike their Long Island counterparts all
season long.  Nash and Stepan have both picked it up as of late which bodes
well for the Rangers.  Depth is a strength for New York now with their
moves at the trade deadline; with six ten goal scorers, their top three lines
are all capable of producing on a regular basis.  They’re not as gritty as
they were when compared to their most recent postseason appearances which has
been a concern for John Tortorella all season long.

Like the Islanders, they lack a traditional shut down line but similarly to
Montreal, their top line is capable of going head to head against the opponents’
top units on a nightly basis.  Their defence first philosophy also limits
shots and scoring chances so they can get away without having a true shutdown
player or two in their lineup.  All but one player on the team has seen
some playoff action in the NHL.  That type of experience always comes in
handy in the postseason and I’m sure it has had a positive impact on their
recent run to get into playoff contention. 


Line Combos

Milan Michalek
– Kyle Turris – Daniel Alfredsson
Jakob Silfverberg – Cory Conacher – Mika Zibanejad
Erik Condra – Colin Greening – Jean-Gabriel Pageau
Guillaume Latendresse – Zack Smith – Chris Neil
Matt Kassian
Jim O’Brien (healthy)
Peter Regin (healthy)
Jason Spezza (injured)

Analysis: On paper, this is not a formidable bunch but they have done
enough to hang onto a playoff spot.  With Spezza not expected to return in
the near future, they’re not going to be getting any help in time for the
postseason.  Scoring has been a chore all year long for Ottawa despite
leading the league in shots per game and it’s likely that this will be the case
once again in the playoffs.  Alfredsson and Michalek are both proven
veterans though and surely will make their mark on the scoresheet whoever they
play against.

Defensively, this is a very stifling team with several promising two-way
players.  That, coupled with their top notch goaltending and quality
defence corps, means that whoever plays them will be in for a very low scoring
series.  Although this is a very young team, many of these players have had
some NHL playoff experience from last year where they hung tough with the
heavily favoured Rangers.  There are some teams where it could be argued
that they’re more built for the playoffs than during the regular season. 
Paul MacLean’s squad is one of them.


Line Combos

James van
Riemsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
Nikolai Kulemin – Nazem Kadri – Joffrey Lupul
Clarke MacArthur – Leo Komarov – Mikhail Grabovski
Frazer McLaren – Jay McClement – Colton Orr
Joe Colborne
Tim Connolly (AHL)
Matt Frattin (healthy)
Ryan Hamilton (healthy)

Analysis: The Leafs have been one of the biggest surprises of the
season and will head into the playoffs with one of the highest scoring forward
groups in the league.  They also have the requisite levels of ‘pugnacity,
testosterone, truculence, and belligerence,’ that Brian Burke famously vowed to
give the team, making them an opponent that can
not only light the lamp with a highly productive top six, but also cause some
discomfort physically. 

Their play in their own end has left something to be desired, especially in
the past few weeks.  This isn’t the most defensively-oriented bunch and
they find themselves getting outshot and outchanced regularly, much to the
chagrin of Randy Carlyle.  That’s
their potentially exploitable weakness.  In terms of experience, despite
the fact Toronto has yet to play a playoff game since the invention of high
definition, several of their players have played in the postseason with previous

Forward Rankings: 1) NY Rangers, 2)
Toronto, 3) NY Islanders, 4) Ottawa

Statistical Comparison

Stats are as of games played through April 24th.









Montreal 3.00 2.63 1.19 21.2% 79.3% 30.7 27.2 49.5%
NY Islanders 2.89 2.89 0.98 20.5% 80.2% 31.1 28.3 49.7%
NY Rangers 2.56 2.28 1.26 16.0% 81.0% 31.0 28.5 50.3%
Ottawa 2.33 2.11 1.01 16.6% 88.3% 33.0 31.6 49.6%
Toronto 3.04 2.70 1.05 19.0% 87.2% 26.7 32.3 50.1%