It will be interesting to see what wins out in the end in this Stanley Cup Final between two teams with very different strengths.
The Los Angeles Kings are hard-hitting, sturdy and strong, built on goaltending and defense with a few talented offensive forwards and one truly elite skilled defenseman in Drew Doughty. It’s no coincidence that the scrappy, feisty Dustin Brown is their captain. That's where the team gets much of their personality from.
The New York Rangers used to be the same kind of big and strong grinding team more apt to block shots and throw punches than dazzle with offensive gifts. But that was the Rangers under John Tortorella.
The Blueshirts have become something different under coach Alain Vigneault. There is much more speed and skill among the Rangers forward group, and Ryan McDonagh has been freed up to become the two-way force that defines the term franchise defenseman. It will be telling to see which style comes out ahead once the series has concluded, but there is little denying that team speed is playing an important role for both hockey clubs.
Fast-moving forwards like Derek Stepan, Carl Hagelin, Marty St. Louis, Chris Kreider, Benoit Pouliot and Mats Zuccarello are dotted up and down New York’s front line, and have consistently stretched opposing defenses throughout the postseason with sheer foot speed. Not all the forwards are natural goal-scorers capable of finishing things off at the end of the play – and are perhaps much closer to Daniel Paille than anybody else on the Bruins roster in that regard – but they still exert much needed pressure on the defense.
That kind of pressure made the Montreal Canadiens defense corps look mistake-prone, unsure of themselves and altogether beatable in the conference finals, and was exactly the kind of thing that was missing from a dominant, methodical Bruins attack that quite simply didn’t have any game-breakers.
There appear to be two camps of thought on the improvement front for a Bruins team that could use offseason improvement: one is upgrading the defensemen group and finding a faster, offensively gifted blueliner for the second pairing in the vein of Alex Edler and Keith Yandle.
The second school of thought is continuing to let the young, quick, puck-moving group of young defensemen mature while adding some needed pure speed and athleticism to a group that’s already big and strong around the net. Clearly, the Bruins don’t want to lose their big, bad identity and shouldn’t be looking to all of a sudden transform into a group of speedy Smurf forwards such as Montreal's.
Still, there’s little denying that the NHL world is evolving, and it’s leaning more toward a faster, skilled game than the mammoth men that once ruled the league as recently as 10 years ago.
“I think it has...ever since before this [recent] lockout and going back to the last lockout," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg sais. "When I was in Philly they had [Derian] Hatcher, Mike Rathje and Chris Therien...all those huge guys. They were all 6-foot-6 or 6-foot-7, and after [the lockout] Philly was really struggling. They were really big, but it seemed like within the rules you just couldn’t hold guys up.
“Now it seems like even more guys are just flying. We saw it in [Game 1 of the Cup Final] with those breakaway goals where they just couldn’t hold back the speed. Overall guys like Hagelin are trying to beat you wide in foot races with guys like McDonagh putting the puck in places for them. I think the game is getting faster. It’s nice, and it’s fun to play in.”
That didn’t mean Seidenberg, or anybody else with the Bruins, thinks a major speed overhaul is needed for the Black and Gold. Much like the Bruins got noticeably slower with the subtraction of Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin and Nathan Horton from last year’s team, they could use a couple of players with pure, unadulterated speed to help up the tempo of Boston’s attack across the board.
“At the end of the day it’s about team speed, and it’s about putting the puck in the right spots so guys don’t have to stop skating when they’re going after the puck. If you’ve got speed already and you don’t have to delay, or wait for something to happen, that’s team speed. That’s something we have,” said Seidenberg. “You always need a good mixture. I don’t think Montreal beat us because they were faster, or anything.
“It was just that we didn’t play our best hockey. Hopefully it’ll be different next year…I’m sure it will be. I think all of the young guys, including us, learned from it.”
There’s little doubt the younger Bruins players will be improved from a disappointing playoff experience that exposed some jitters, and that’s something that all NHL players must be taught somewhere along the line.
Still, you can’t teach the kind of speed that’s been present in the last few rounds of the playoffs. That’s something the Bruins will need more of next season along with everything.
That should be the No. 1 objective for the B’s front office whether it’s through improving the roster’s front end or back end in what should prove to be an active offseason for just about every NHL team.
*Good for the Boston Bruins Foundation for raising $30,000 for the MSPCA-Angell Adoption Center based off the sales of their Pucks & Pops calendar, featuring rescue dogs and Bruins players. Dennis Seidenberg and Bruins Foundation President Bob Sweeney delivered the check to the appreciative MSCPA last week, but the idea behind the calendar was the brainchild of longtime Bruins PR guru Heidi Holland, who is one of the biggest dog lovers you’ll find over on Causeway Street. A job well done and generous stick salute to everybody involved with the effort.
*NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman wasn’t ready to make any World Cup announcements at his press conference at the Stanley Cup Final, but it sounds like the wheels of progress are turning toward an NHL-sponsored event that would attempt to recreate the magic of the Olympics. There’s likely no way it will be as popular as the Olympics given all of the factors involved, but it’s something that could fit in nicely once every years in alternating fashion with the Winter Games.
“It's not something that's fully baked. As you know, World Cups and international competitions are something we do jointly with the Players' Association. While we're having very substantive discussions about what the possibilities are, what the World Cup might look like, how it should be done, whether we're looking at a series of World Cups, is something that we're not yet in a position where we're comfortable making any announcements,” said Bettman. “Even if we announced that we were doing a World Cup, for example, in '16, the fact of the matter is you then have 20 follow-up questions about how it would work, what the different issues were, and how they'd be addressed.
“I think we want to get to a position where we and the Players' Association are comfortable that we're in agreement on all of those issues. That's something that we have been working on, and we will continue to work on. I think [the World Cup] is important, and I think it's a great opportunity for the game.”
*Remember that it’s the “Stanley Cup Final” and the “NBA Finals” when talking about the two championship series for the NHL and the NBA. That “s” really makes all the difference in the world to all the grammar police officers on duty, or at-large roaming on the Interwebs.
*Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.