The lockout-shortened NHL season ended yesterday, and the playoffs start tomorrow. It’s a whole new season. Joe Micheletti, hockey analyst for MSG Network and NBC Sports Network, joined The John Feinstein Show to preview the NHL playoffs.
The New York Rangers went 7-3 in their last 10 games to earn a six seed and a match-up with Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. The Caps have also been hot down the stretch.
“In talking to [Caps head coach] Adam Oates, John, he was so impressed with the way Alex was buying into what he was trying to sell,” said Micheletti.
A few months ago, Ovechkin switched from the left wing to the right wing, and the move is starting to pay dividends. The star scored 23 goals in his last 23 games of the season.
“It showed something to his teammates,”said Micheletti. “It took him awhile to learn it. And then once those things all clicked together, he became what he is now, and that’s a player that certainly has a good shot at winning the MVP.”
Oates deserves a lot of credit too. The Hall of Fame player turned coach should be a candidate for coach of the year.
“There are a lot of superstars in many different sports that have gone to the hall of fame that simply can’t coach,” Micheletti said. “Adam Oates has this ability to really be able to have this communication level with the superstars of the game that’s unlike anybody else.”
The resurgence of the Toronto Maple Leafs is another intriguing story. And their success, like the Caps’, hinges on coaching. Randy Carlyle came into Toronto “…with a different philosophy on how to play the game,” said Micheletti. “They became a much more structured team in Toronto.”
And once they got used to the system, individual players (Joffrey Lupul, Phil Kessel and James Reimer among others) became better.
“They built this team to play more together as a team,” said Micheletti. “And I think Randy Carlyle has a lot to do with that.”
The Montreal Canadiens earned the second seed after missing the playoffs last year. Their strong showing in the regular season can be attributed to multiple factors. Captain Brian Gionta returned from bicep surgery to spark the offense. Defenseman Andrei Markov, who missed most of the previous two seasons with knee problems, helped shore up the defense.
“Carey Price, even though he’s struggled lately in goal, had a good season for them, and gave them the type of goaltending they needed early on,” said Micheletti. And younger players provided a boost. “The young Gallagher kid, who might be rookie of the year, gives them a lot of spunk, a lot of energy.”