Playoff Power Rankings Week 5: Meier at will

The final four is set, and while I don’t have any evidence for this, doesn’t it just feel like Boston-San Jose?

Welcome to Fear the Fin’s weekly(ish) player power rankings. Who had the biggest impact, the best goals or the prettiest smile in the week that was and who you should totally grab off of waivers in your fantasy league to stick it to Derek in accounts receivable. All rankings subject to the whims of fate and whatever we’re feeling in the moment, postseason power rankings are prone to being particularly mercurial.

Game 2 of the Western Conference Final goes tonight and, if Game 1 was any indication, we can expect that both the San Jose Sharks and St. Louis Blues will be out for blood. What that means as a turn of phrase, however, seems to be being interpreted differently in the dressing rooms.

The Blues threw 41 hits during Game 1 compared to the Sharks’ 35. Hits are a subjective stat, varying pretty widely depending on the scorekeeper in the building (by way of example: in 2015-16, the New York Islanders’ Matt Martin led the NHL in hits with 365, besting second place Radko Gudas’ 304 and teammate and line mate Cal Clutterbuck’s fourth place 288. In 40 home games, Martin recorded 192 hits, for a hit per game rate of 4.8. In 40 road games, Martin was credited with 173, for a rate of 4.3. It doesn’t seem like much, but Martin was just under 12 percent more likely to be credited with a hit at home than on the road), and it certainly seemed like the hits that the Blues were laying were heavier than what the Sharks brought to the table.

To compare, the Sharks saw 27 hits in Game 7 of the Colorado Avalanche series, and the Blues threw just 33 in five periods of their Game 7 win over the Dallas Stars. It’s clear the Blues are trying to win by wearing our boys down physically and taking advantage of the damage done to the San Jose squad in a brutal first round series against the Vegas Golden Knights. The strategy is working pretty much as one would expect so far, which is to say it isn’t working very well.

There is a strong negative correlation between the amount by which a team outhits their opponent and the likelihood that they win that game. In 2015, the good people over at Hockey Graphs compiled some data that showed a pretty strong negative correlation between hit differential and goal differential and argued that the reason for this was that the team that has possession of the puck in any given moment is not in a position to throw hits. The more a team has the puck, the fewer hits they are capable of throwing without a penalty parade.

However, in this case, that doesn’t seem to apply. In Game 1, the Blues controlled possession to the tune of a 5-on-5 adjusted rate of 50.81 percent; not dominant, but respectable. This is where the aforementioned penalty parade reared its ugly head for St. Louis. The Sharks spent 6:06 on the power play, including a long 5-on-3 where Joe Pavelski did his damage and, while this doesn’t explain the Blues’ apparent propensity for pugnacity, it may be a consequence of it. If a team is out-hitting and out-possessing their opponent, they may be prioritizing poorly.

San Jose should expect a more disciplined Blues team to come out in Game 2 tonight, and should strive to stay on the right side of that penalty box glass if they want to pull off another W.

1. Timo Meier

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week3235301063.98

The much anticipated rocket to stardom for Timo Meier may be taking off right now, and we’re just strapped in for the ride. With two goals in Game 1, Meier finally got the proverbial monkey off of his back after scoring just three in the first 14 of the postseason. While the Sharks’ depth has been lauded as one of the team’s key strengths to leverage in this series, San Jose’s stars shone brightest in Game 1. Meier, Logan Couture and Gustav Nyquist accounted for four of the Sharks’ six goals, and eight of their 16 points. The Blues will likely have an answer for them, but they may not be able to properly wield it until they get last change in Game 3.

None of this goal would have happened if Couture and Meier weren’t pressuring the heck out of Colton Parayko’s breakout. Couture pressure forced Parayko to pass back to his defensive partner, but Meier was there. Credit Jay Bouwmeester for hitting the brakes and shifting gears as fast as he did, but Meier was off to the races already and used the confusion to chip the puck under the defenseman’s poke check. Using his hips to sit back on his heels to protect the puck, as is his tendency, Meier had plenty of time for his Peter Forsberg impression that punished a maybe-not-quite-aggressive-enough Jordan Binnington. What a talent.

2. Joe Pavelski

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week222440548.18

With Pavelski’s triumphant return in the Sharks’ Game 7 win over the Avalanche, it was inevitable that his name would end up in this column, it was just a question of where. With a goal and an assist in each of his games this week, the captain is showing that he won’t be slowed by a little thing like brain damage, and his impact on the team is noticeable. Pavelski’s position on the Sharks’ second line with Tomas Hertl and Evander Kane has settled the lineup into a comfortable normalcy, and that comfort was readily visible in both Game 7 and in Game 1. If he keeps putting up two points every night, the Sharks will be in a very good spot.

This goal felt like a microcosm of Pavelski’s road to this moment. A seventh round draft pick in 2003, Pavelski took his time getting up to the pros, making his San Jose Sharks debut in 2006, but never looked back. The story of how little Joe got from a throwaway draft pick to the captain of an NHL team is one of persistence, and nothing showed that persistence more than this goal (other than being there in the first place). Sitting in one of his customary spots on the power play, after a few passes Pavelski saw Robert Bortuzzo overcommit to Brent Burns in the slot, so he sidled over to the goal. Upon receipt of the pass, Pavelski went straight to the net, but would not be stymied by a beautiful and tragic toe save from Binnington, batting the puck out of the air and past the goaltender. Pavelski got to where he is with hard work and persistence, in his career and on this play.

3. Marc-Edouard Vlasic

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week321330352.38

Last week: 4

Often hailed as one of the league’s premier defensive defensemen, Marc-Edouard Vlasic is taking this opportunity to show us another side of himself: the sniper. With two goals in Game 6 of the second round, Vlasic was an outlier in what was an overall disappointing effort from our boys in blue. He was one of a short list of Sharks skaters on their game that night, and hasn’t gotten off of it since, a necessity for a player who will likely be seeing a steady stream of Vladimir Tarasenko for the next few weeks. Vlasic’s three goals in 11 playoff games so far matches his regular season output over 72, and if Vlasic wants to add goal scoring to his already considerable repertoire, that’s all fine with us.

Every highlight this week is also a Meier highlight. Entering the Colorado zone, Vlasic was well aware that Gabriel Landeskog’s attention was all on Meier, and it’s almost visible in the French-Canadian’s posture. He looks like he’s sneaking through a museum to steal a priceless artifact, right behind the guard the whole way. After Meier’s chance, the puck squeaked right out through Landeskog’s legs to Vlasic’s stick. When Vlasic pounced, he got just enough wood under the puck to elevate it past a sprawling Philipp Grubauer to tie the game at one.

4. Gustav Nyquist

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
Season (DET, SJS)81223860411220452.44
This week304410264.5

Last week: 5

The Goose is riding shotgun with Couture and Meier, and keeping up with them just fine, thank you very much. With four points in three games this week, Nyquist is keeping pace with his regular season production, but is still probably under-performing given the chances he’s helping to create. Nyquist’s 5.88 shooting percentage is bound to regress upwards at some point and, if he continues to play with the aggression and tenacity that he’s demonstrated thus far this postseason, at some point may come sooner than we think.

Again, it’s a Meier highlight. After Meier pushed Alex Pietrangelo into the proverbial mud and took his proverbial lunch money, though, Nyquist and Couture were off to the races. Nyquist faked shot convincingly enough to draw Joel Edmundson’s stick wide to cover the shot for just long enough, and was able to toss a perfect, no look, tape to tape pass across the slot to Couture. Binnington, committing to the shooter as is tradition, albeit perhaps a bit too aggressively, was caught in the parking lot as Couture had all day to take his shot.

5. Logan Couture

TimeGames PlayedGoalsAssistsPointsPrimary PointsPenalty MinutesShots on Goal5v5 adj Corsi for %
This week322442664.88

Last week: 1

The fact that Couture is coming in so low on this list this week is not a slight, it’s more to highlight other performances that are just barely worthy to bask in Couture’s postseason’s presence. Among the clear favorites for this season’s Conn Smythe award, Couture leads all players in goals and in points, and seems to bring danger with him off the bench on every shift. With Pavelski back in the lineup, it wouldn’t have been crazy to expect Couture to take a step back out of the spotlight, but he clearly has no interest in doing so.

The Blues were close to even in most 5-on-5 possession metrics in Game 1, but a large part of that was due to a massive push at the end of regulation. Couture’s empty netter sealed the game with a three-goal lead, which at the time, felt like it might be necessary. It’s just another example of Couture being trusted to be on the ice when it matters most, and having the poise and composure to hold his shot until the time is right to end it.

Hono(u)rable mentions

Erik Karlsson: Karlsson sits 17th in the league in shots on goal this postseason with 39, and not one of them has gone in. Defenseman usually have lower shooting percentages than forwards as a factor of proximity, but if you’re a regular defender of the all important gambler’s fallacy, then he’s due.

Martin Jones: Since being pulled twice in the Sharks’ first round series against Vegas, Jones has a .928 save percentage. Nobody tell him that, though, because he’s rolling.

Brent Burns: Burns scored four goals and ten points in seven games during round two and, defensive warts aside, anyone who can put up those kinds of points is going to win you a series here and there.