The playoffs begin Wednesday night, and while all eyes are going to be on the top stars who hit the ice, the NHL’s second season might offer the best opportunity to those who had forgettable regular season.
Players have made careers off of one big post-season performance, and for those who underperformed during the campaign, it could be the perfect opportunity to make a seemingly lost season into one worth remembering. And for these five players who have taken some heat for less-than-satisfactory outputs during the campaign, the playoffs could be their chance to salvage their seasons:
Joel Ward, San Jose Sharks
A three-year deal with a $3.275-million-per-year price tag may have seemed like a big bill for Ward’s services when he inked his deal with the Sharks, but the veteran winger made San Jose GM Doug Wilson look good right off the bat when he fired home 20 goals and 43 points in his first season with the organization. The deal was even defensible last season, despite Ward falling off a bit and notching just 10 goals and 29 points. This time around, though, Ward is getting paid big bucks for little to no production. While he was limited to just 52 games due to injury, he scored five goals and 12 points while averaging less than 12 minutes of ice time. Father Time is catching up to the 37-year-old.
That said, Ward has never been one to fold when the going gets tough, and as far as bottom-six talents go, he’s one of the more proven veteran performers of his kind. In 83 post-season games, he’s scored 22 goals and 52 points, and he’s been a better than half-point per game player in the past three consecutive playoffs. Ward’s time in the NHL is almost done, but don’t put it past him to go out with a bang in the post-season.
Leo Komarov, Toronto Maple Leafs
Over the past two seasons, the Maple Leafs’ favorite uncle has been a useful piece in the middle of the lineup. In 149 games, he scored 33 goals and registered 68 points, all the while averaging 17:25 in ice time. Beyond that, he was pesky, the type of player who could get under opponents’ skin and play mind games. This season, though, Komarov was nowhere near as useful in any regard. His ice time has slipped, he’s been an afterthought at times and, statistically, the decline has been steep. He scored just seven goals and 19 points in 74 outings this season.
Luckily, Komarov can erase all memory of a subpar regular season with a big playoff performance, and he’ll have to start against the Bruins. With Boston’s defense certain to key in and focus on shutting down Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Nazem Kadri, it will be the bottom half of the lineup, the half that gets away from the toughest matchups, that is going to have to step up and make a difference at times throughout the series. And, hey, if Komarov wants to mix things up a bit and create some havoc, the Leafs wouldn’t mind that, either.
Corey Perry, Anaheim Ducks
The drop-off for Perry has been precipitous over the past three seasons. A 34-goal scorer in 2015-16, Perry followed that up with a 19-goal effort in 2016-17 and was only able to muster 17 tallies and 49 points this season. And while his averages were up slightly — he scored 0.69 points per game, slightly more than the 0.65 he registered last season — Perry no longer appears to be the dominant offensive force he once was. That’s the bad news.
The good news? Perry isn’t the type of player to shy away from any of the facets of the game that can make a player successful in the post-season. He can be the biggest pest in the league, the type of player you love to hate, but not just because he’ll throw an extra jab in after the whistle. And right when a team’s frustration with him is nearing its peak, Perry will score with a smirk. Over his past three playoff appearances, Perry has 14 goals and 33 points in 40 games. That’s a hair better than his career regular season points pace and significantly better than the rate he’s scored at over the past three campaigns. The playoffs are when Perry really comes to play.
Conor Sheary, Pittsburgh Penguins
Sheary first made his presence truly felt with a four-goal, 10-point performance during the Penguins' 2015-16 Stanley Cup run, but the 2016-17 campaign made it appear as though he was a budding star. In 61 games, Sheary scored 23 goals and 53 points, and the belief was Pittsburgh had found a diamond in the rough. Despite adding another Stanley Cup to his resume, Sheary had a so-so post-season last time around, though, and he followed that up with a thoroughly disappointing 2017-18 campaign. Despite playing in nearly 20 additional games, Sheary’s point total dipped to 30 and his goal total dropped off to 18, all the while he skated about 14 minutes per night.
The thing with Sheary, though, is that it might take just one goal to get him going. He went on an eight-goal run across the first 20 games of the season and he scored another three in the final five games of the season. If he gets hot at the right time, Sheary could be the top secondary threat on a Penguins team that three-peats.
T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals
Oshie’s season is the one thing the Capitals didn’t want to happen when they gave the 30-year-old an eight-year, $46-million deal. Sure, he scored another 18 goals and finished fifth in scoring in Washington with 47 points, but, statistically speaking, this was one of the worst years of Oshie’s NHL career. His 0.24 goals per game were less than half of the rate at which he scored last season and his 0.64 points per game is tied for the second-worst rate of his 10-year big-league tenure.
If there’s any player who can quickly salvage his entire campaign in the post-season, though, it’s got to be Oshie. Across his past 25 playoff games in Washington, Oshie has fired home 10 goals and 22 points, and with the spotlight sure to be on Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom, Oshie might draw some favorable matchups in the early part of the post-season. It would take nothing more than a couple of good games in the post-season for Oshie’s mediocre regular season to be forgotten, particularly if those standout outings come in the second round against a team such as, say, the Penguins.
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