Power forwards...huge, hulking, “whittle-guy” killers that can skate...a goalie’s worst nightmare...and supposedly, the ghost of Christmas past. The new rules adopted my “My NHL” practically sent them to their graves. At the very least, the new rules assured a long, penalty-plagued transition. Many of the typical power forwards became a liability to their teams. Many teams, in fact, even downsized their defense...looking instead for speedy, puck-moving, and agile blue-liners. The power forwards were forced to either change their game and get in the best condition of their lives, or find a new job. Ironically, those that chose option A are now dominating these playoffs—especially this second round. Some of them continue to struggle as far as taking penalties, but overall, they have re-immerged with a vengeance.
There are several players that exemplify the previous attributes, but the number one example, in my mind, is Jaromir Jagr. He has literally come to life against Buffalo, scoring huge goals in the last three games. Not a single Sabre can contain him...he is forcing turnovers, crashing the net, and scoring. On the other hand, he continues to find his way to the box. Some call them big-man penalties, but the reality is...it is extremely difficult to change the way you have been conditioned to play the game for most of your career. Jagr will continue to alter his play, but if he continues to bull over and crush the opposing team (and Lundqvist is in net!), I’m certain the coaches will be okay with 4-6 minutes in the box!
Thomas Holmstrom is a rare breed...he is the typical power forward that did not have to change his game very much with the new rules. He may go to the box a few more times, but overall he is the same today as he was four years ago. Todd Bertuzzi fits the mold; unfortunately, he continues to struggle with adapting to the new rules. Ryan Smith is another example...if you ever wonder where he is, just look for the guy in front of the net, deflecting the puck for another goal. Morrow, Lindros, Arnott, Shanahan, Iginla, Tkachuk, Roberts, and Linden are several more of the prototypical power forwards. They have changed their games and their teams have benefited significantly...especially in the playoffs!
Team-wise, San Jose actually bucked the trend and built their team around these so-called dinosaurs. Led by head bull and scoring machine Joe Thornton, the Sharks have bullied their way into the second round. Whether it is Thornton, Marleau, Clowe, Grier, Guerin, Michalek, or even Cheechoo...opposing players will remember the hits laid out by this group. They then add insult to injury by scoring quite frequently. At certain points during each game against Detroit, there have been huge spans of time that a Sharks’ line spends cycling in Detroit’s zone. They absolutely wear down the Wings and somehow keep pucks in over and over again. Eventually, they either run out of gas themselves or they score. The average height of the Sharks team is near 6’2”...it is a daunting task to shut down one line with that much power and speed, let alone four. Again, however, these guys spend a fair amount of time in the box as well. When you play that physical, bullish type of game, at some point you will end up taking penalties; over-aggressiveness, I believe it is called!
Anaheim has a similar make-up as that of San Jose...one line for sure fits the above description. Getzlaf, Penner, and Perry are a bone-crunching, goal-scoring engine. When these guys are on the ice, most of their time is spent in the opposing zone. They can cycle forever and generate numerous scoring chances. Rob Niedermayer is a player that has struggled more with the new rules than most. He is highly talented and can hit with the best, but penalty-wise he still has some room to grow. That being said, his huge hit the other night caused the turnover that led to the series-winning goal!
As the power forwards have re-immerged and are now dominating the playoffs, the captains, as well, have stepped up and are leading the way. I’ve already discussed Jagr, so the next best example is Daniel Alfredsson. He has put the Senators on his back, as a captain should do, and taken them to the Eastern Conference Finals...finally! He is not only scoring, but he is throwing his body around and playing excellent defense, especially on the penalty kill. Briere and Drury are setting the tempo and scoring big goals. Naslund was off and on, but scored some important goals. Morrow was instrumental in pushing their series to seven games. He scored the overtime winner, and only goal in game 5; and set up several goals by screening Luongo or deflecting it past him. Of course, he also threw some monster hits! Marleau and Selanne have been integral, and Iginla was a beast. Lidstrom, I believe, is playing hurt...but he has led the Red Wings to the brink of the Western Conference Finals, even without scoring as much. Gaborik regained his scoring touch late in the season and carried it into the playoffs. Timonen was steady and Elias seemed rejuvenated, factoring in numerous goals. Pittsburg and Atlanta did not have captains, and Yashin and Taylor were somewhat productive.
These captains are scoring, hitting, and playing shut-down defense. Overall, they have been solid, dynamic, general-like leaders. They have put their teams on their backs and forged ahead with vigor. They have adhered to the old adage, lead by example. They have proven to everyone why they deserve to wear that sacred “C”...and do not be surprised if one of them earns the Conn Smythe trophy...even instead of a magnificent goalie!