The NHL’s 24-team postseason will likely start at the beginning of August and fans will finally be able to watch hockey for the first time in months. With all the factors surrounding this year’s playoffs, the action we see on the ice will not be what is traditionally expected from the NHL’s playoffs.
Traditionally, the playoffs are defence-heavy with the home-ice advantage being a very important factor. This time around, they will be playing in an empty arena and defence will be thrown out the window no matter how much the coaches try and stop that.
Throughout the season pause, players have had very limited access to ice, and while they stayed in shape and worked out, skill-specific drills and simulations were impossible to do. For skaters, this is a big deal, but it is nothing compared to the impact it has on goaltenders.
In a video conference call, Darcy Kuemper said it best:
“Conditioning isn’t really the issue. It’s just that, you know, you get out there for the first time in a couple months and you kind of have to re-teach yourself how to play goalie.”
Goalies are all about repetition and routine. With the pause and lack of normal training routines, it can throw goaltenders off. While some of them have been able to get some ice time (Sergei Bobrovsky and Andrei Vasilevsky are in Florida where there are virtually no restrictions), others are stuck at home with tennis ball workouts.
This will be a very interesting factor in the playoffs as some goalies have been able to train properly based on their geography. Henrik Lundqvist has been able to train on the ice consistently because he chose to quarantine in Europe. Once the puck drops, will it be glaringly obvious which goalies were able to practice and which ones were thrown into the fire?
With training camp being just two weeks long, that will definitely not be enough to get goalies back to their regular-season shape. This is where offensively driven teams are given a major advantage.
NHL playoff games are normally “a game of inches” where one small bounce can make or break a team’s season. This time around, it will be a goal duel until the end. Teams that are able to keep the offence rolling and keep fighting despite weak goals allowed by their goaltender will have a major advantage over defence-heavy ones. Your defence can only go so far if your goaltender is still shaking off the rust from the season pause.
The best way to combat it is to support him offensively and teams like the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers will have a much better time doing this than the Arizona Coyotes or New York Islanders.
This year’s playoffs are anything but traditional and teams will have to adapt on the fly. The teams that are able to do so the quickest will have a much better time than those who try to play it like any regular postseason.