If you were trying to come up with a list of players who had been most involved in creating offence at 5-on-5 in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, you’d likely start off with Nathan MacKinnon. Despite his team being eliminated, MacKinnon is still the league’s leading point getter for now, putting at least one point on the board in every game he played in the post-season until the Avalanche’s Game 7 loss to the Dallas Stars.
While MacKinnon was absolutely brilliant in the playoffs, if you think he’s at the top of the list you’d actually be wrong. The player who has created the most scoring opportunities per minute at 5-on-5 this post-season is our spotlight player of the week.
It’s become almost an annual event where Brayden Point takes things to a whole new level in the playoffs and everyone starts asking where he ranks among the best players in the world. This year has been no exception, as Point leads all NHLers who've played at least 100 minutes in offence-creating plays with 11.8 every 20 minutes of 5-on-5 action, just ahead of Patrice Bergeron at 11.4 and MacKinnon at 11.2.
Point is the top scorer still playing, so it’s not surprising that he has been tearing it up offensively, but he’s been far more than a dynamic offensive presence.
Only seven forwards with 100 or more minutes played have transitioned the puck up the ice more effectively than Point, and of those players only one is still playing: Nick Cousins.
As excellent and surprising as Cousins’ play is, remember that he’s not playing top line minutes, whereas Point is, which means he’s facing top checkers every game. Among top line players, it’s a three-horse race in transition play between Point with 21.2 successful transition plays per 20 minutes, Mathew Barzal with 20.9, and Mark Stone with 20.8. How has that transition and offensive dominance helped the Lightning? Let’s see how much better his teammates play with him on the ice.
Point’s impact on the Lightning’s control of shots and passes is...completely absurd. The biggest areas where Point is pushing the needle are the most important ones in small samples -- controlling the inner slot and puck movement within the slot -- but he’s been heavily in control of volume as well.
Without Point on the ice, the Lightning have actually controlled less than half of the shot attempts, inner slot shots, and almost exactly half of the slot passes. And he’s arguably been as big of a difference maker on the defensive end as he has been offensively.
To give an idea of the well-rounded game Point has been playing, here is a list of all the metrics that he has been within the top-10 per cent of among all skaters in this post-season. These are at even strength unless otherwise specified: primary assists, controlled entries, offence-generating plays, successful plays vs. unsuccessful plays differential, one-timer passes, offensive zone possession time, controlled entry rate, offensive zone possession success rate, cycle passes, offensive zone faceoff wins, slot passes, transition plays, successful offensive zone dekes, offensive zone puck battle wins, defensive zone possession success rate, slot shots on net, inner slot shots on net, cycle chances, power play controlled entries, shot block success rate, offensive zone loose puck recoveries, offensive zone puck battle win percentage, slot pass success rate, loose puck recoveries, and slot pass receptions.
Does that seem like a lot? Because it’s a lot.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, Point was injured midway through Game 2, and is unlikely to play in Game 3 according to head coach Jon Cooper.
If you’re wondering how the Lightning can weather the loss of a player who, in my opinion, is easily their MVP thus far and looking like the easy vote for the Conn Smythe at this point, you’re not alone.
Cooper pointed to Anthony Cirelli as a player who can step up, but even the biggest Cirelli boosters can’t expect him to fully fill Point's skates. It’ll take a total team effort to avoid letting the Islanders back in the series.
• Speaking of the Islanders, I know many fans hate their style of play. They choke the life out of opponents defensively, but I’m not sure the boring tag totally fits. To me, a boring team doesn’t generate chances, they just sit back and counterattack and play listless, slow games. Four Islanders are in the top-nine in scoring chances in the post-season. Jordan Eberle leads all players with 44, Anders Lee is fourth with 36, Brock Nelson if fifth with 35, and Anthony Beauvillier is ninth with 34. Oh, and then there’s that wildly entertaining Barzal kid at 14th with 30.
• One troubling thing for the Islanders, though? They topped their opponents in even strength expected goals in 12 of their first 13 games played in the post-season. Since then, they’ve only done that once in five games: Game 7 against Philadelphia.
• There’s lots of positives to build on going forward for the Vancouver Canucks, but one thing you have to hope for is that the organization knows this season’s strategy won’t work again. The rope-a-dope style can give you short-term success, but it’s not a long-term strategy. Vancouver has an interesting cap situation to work around to get better. Their young stars are obviously legit, but at even strength they were out-chanced 306-458 in the post-season at 5-on-5. The progress is there, but playoffs are not guaranteed next season.
• One area the Canucks must work on going forward is rush chances. These playoffs have been dominated by strong rush teams, but in rush chances on net the Canucks were outshot 52-100. They had the worst differential in the regular season as well. Not only does that leave them vulnerable defensively, but without the ability to create those chances it’s harder to get back in games once you’re down.