NHL playoffs: Eight undersung players of the second round
They are the players whose national ink comes in thimbles, not barrels. They get the occasional "attaboy" mention, but after most games they are otherwise left alone by the folks holding microphones or notepads. Among teammates and hardcore fans, however, they receive appreciative nods, not unlike the quiet but skillful drummer in the band with the superstar front man and flash guitarist.
Here are eight players, one from each of the remaining teams in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, who don't get nearly enough attention for what they provide:
Erik Karlsson gets the glory, but he probably wouldn't get quite as much without his unassuming defense partner,Marc Methot. While Karlsson swashbuckles his way up the ice with the puck, Methot is usually home minding the proverbial store, making sure tjat everything is safe and secure. He's a main pillar of Ottawa's defense, but check out his numbers at the offensive end so far during these playoffs -- five points (one goal) in six games. He produced a total of 11 in 47 regular-season matches, so he's added a little extra to his game. Methot, a former Columbus Blue Jacket acquired in a July 2012 trade for Nick Foligno, was a big reason why Ottawa handily beat Montreal in the first round. Yet, search Google for any feature stories about him from the last two weeks and you come up mostly empty. If the Senators are going to hold off the high-powered Penguins and have a chance to win their series, Methot will be an integral part of that effort.
If you're the third-line center on the Penguins, playing behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, you know you're not going to get the prime time. That's Sutter's lot in his professional life, but he goes about his job selflessly. He's been a fine replacement for Jordan Staal in that regard. He doesn't get many offensive-zone starts -- just 45.4 percent of the time according to the excellent advanced statistics website Behindthenet.ca.-- but he takes important defensive-zone face-offs and is a mainstay on the penalty kill for coach Dan Bylsma. Sutter shows up in important offensive moments, too. Of his 11 regular-season goals, five were game-winners. That wins you a lot of appreciation from the guys in the room.
Until Brad Marchand scored his first goal of the playoffs and became the overtime hero of Game 1 against the Rangers, some observers of the Bruins thought that Paille should have taken Marchand's place on one of Boston's top two lines. Paille hits, he grinds, he's fast, and he has pretty good hands. Yet, he mostly plays on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. He's also used by coach Claude Julien quite a bit on the penalty kill, and that may be where Paille's biggest contributions to the team take place. He's one of those guys who is very good with his stick, poke-checking pucks away from attackers and out of the zone. He's also dangerous offensively as a short-handed specialist.
On a team where Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Henrik Lundqvist get the biggest paychecks and the brightest spotlights, Brassard has been one of the Rangers'' best postseason players this year. They gave up a pretty good player to get him in Marian Gaborik, but Brassard came to New York with something of an underachiever reputation. He hasn't shown it so far after six lackluster seasons with the Blue Jackets, and the former first-round pick has been mostly tremendous with New York. He's steadily emerged as one of their leaders, and while he was never close to being a point-per-game guy with Columbus, he's become one under coach John Tortorella, picking up the Rangers' offensive slack with a six-game points streak that was still alive after Game 1 vs. Boston. He's been solid at face-offs in the playoffs, checking in at a 50.9 percent success rate so far, after a 52.8-percent regular season, and he's cool in pressure situations.
The Kings are a tough club from which to choose just one guy, but with apologies to Trevor Lewis and Rob Scuderi, Williams gets the nod for most mysterious indifference from the media. This guy has been in the league for 12 seasons, and he's had two 20-goal campaigns and two of 30 or more. He's also played on a pair of Stanley Cup championship teams (2005-06 Carolina Hurricanes and last season's Kings), yet people rarely talk about him. Often playing on a line with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown, Williams just tends to get overlooked nationally. But when you check his numbers, you see that he's one of the Kings' most consistent offensive players. All Los Angeles had to do to get him from Carolina in 2009 was give up the immortal Patrick O'Sullivan and a second round draft pick. What a steal for the Kings.
Maybe it's the late starts on the West Coast, or his hard-to-spell name, or his quiet nature, but Vlasic doesn't get much publicity despite his having been a really solid defenseman for seven seasons with San Jose. Well, actually he got some pub in Game 2 against the Kings after taking a costly delay of game penalty late in the third period that led to two L.A. goals. The Daterjinx strikes again. But one errant flip of the puck into the stands isn't going to perma-stain the things Vlasic does for this team. (Before his gaffe, he scored the goal that gave the Sharks a 3-2 lead.) Hie ordinarily makes smart, fundamental plays with the puck in his own end. During his time with the Sharks, he's onl had one minus season (2007-08, when he was -12). Vlasic had one of the best CORSI numbers on the Sharks during the regular season (7.16) and the highest PDO (1,023). In Fancystat speak: that means his team had the puck an awful lot when he was on the ice, and with good results.
Entering Game 2 of the Western semifinals against Detroit, the Blackhawks had yet to allow a power-play goal. Through six games, they were 20-for-20. Ask any hardcore Hawks watcher and they'll tell you that Frolik has had a lot to do with that success. He's a penalty-killing ace, adept at stealing pucks and getting them down the ice. The Blackhawks led the league in penalty killing during the regular season, too, at 90 percent. Yet, nobody much talks much about Frolik. Penalty-killing is just not a sexy part of the game, but it's vitally important and Frolik is a Jedi on the PK. He came into the league with a reputation as a goal scorer, and he netted 21-in each of his first two seasons in the NHL, but he has accepted more of a defensive role in coach Joel Quenneville's system and the Blackhawks have been better for it. (Frolik is also a dead ringer for Ashton Kutcher. That's got to count for...something.)
Looking for an overlooked reason why the Red Wings upset the Anaheim Ducks in the first round? Look toward the face-off circle when Andersson, 24, lined up for draws. After winning just 46.5 percent during the regular season, he succeeded at a 53-percent clip against Anaheim. For a Wings team that still heavily relies on getting the puck first and playing its possession game, that was huge. In Games 6 and 7, he won 20-of-35 face-offs. Like a lot of other guys on this list, Andersson gets little of the sexy ice time, rarely starting a shift in the offensive zone. But as they always seem to do, the Wings have successfully incorporated another little-known Swede into their system. He's certainly not flashy offensively, but it looks like the Wings will have a strong checking-line center for years to come.