Saturday, April 28, 2012

Thoughts on Caps@NYR Game 1

First playoff game I've been to since 2001 (Pens@Caps). The atmosphere was intense. Definitely a lot more fun than New Jersey in the regular season. That being said...

  • Alex Ovechkin either needs to play with Backstrom and Johansson, get his act together, or sit on the bench. He shouldn't be getting dominated by a line centered by Derek Stepan or Brad Richards. That being said, Dale Hunter should be trying to get Ovechkin away from the power-versus-power matchup that Tortorella likes to use. Plan for next season: make sure Ovechkin can handle those matchups competently by the playoffs so if it comes up on the road, Hunter needn't worry.
  • The Capitals had the better of play, easily, in the first forty and last ten. Those soft goals and mental lapses kill, though. Today was a wasted effort, like Game 6 versus Boston. Hopefully, the Capitals can overcome it again. If they play, on the whole, like they did today for the rest of the series, they'll win in five or six comfortably.
  • Holtby needs to find a way to "focus" or the Capitals will truly have a mountain to climb, down 0-2 heading back to Washington.
  • Alexander Semin and Ovechkin need to remember that the Rangers will dive to draw penalties and they don't have that reputation, either. No more of those marginal plays, please.
  • Marcus Johansson by the game is looking more and more like a Danny Briere-type--not great with possession, not big, but will come through in the postseason. Johansson hit the post at least once, and eventually he'll stop facing elite netminders and score a lot more.
  • Jay Beagle started the game with Ovechkin and Brouwer. Really, Hunter?
  • With the game winding down, it should be Carlson, not Wideman, out there with Green on defense. Aside from 08-09, Carlson's lowest 5v5 points/60 season rate is better than Wideman's best.
  • I love it when fans heckle me after their team (skaters, specifically), honestly, didn't deserve to win. Congratulations, guys. You, a 1-seed, won a home game against a 7-seed despite only getting 14 shots on goal and despite the other team hitting the post four times. I could make a habit out of going to road games in hostile arenas, if I could trust the Capitals to come forth with this effort every game. (I did shut up a group of fans, though, by telling them what I was doing in New York. Wasn't sure if they'd be impressed, but apparently they were.)
  • On the flip side, I'm sure John Tortorella will coax a better game out of his team on Monday.
  • If both teams are taking away shooting lanes, how about more of this? Arrive a little bit late. It's all about timing, and neither team really had it going (though the Caps I thought were much better, even if just while deflecting shots).
  • Is it time to give Knuble a look in the top-six?
I'm feeling a lot better about this series than I did yesterday. Nonetheless, I'm not sure how Boyle and Dubinsky can influence this series when they get back, so it's imperative the Caps take Game 2 and head back to DC having won home ice advantage and having some margin for error. This reinforces my belief that the Capitals are the better team right now, so they need to show it before the Rangers get back two of their hard-minutes (either by competition or zone start or both) forwards. That extra edge would, I imagine, push the Rangers over the top if they're already up 2-0. If it's 1-1, not necessarily.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Conference Semifinal Predictions

I went 6/8, missing completely on the Hawks and Wings falling. Corsi went 3/8, getting only New Jersey, Los Angeles, and St. Louis. All defensive-minded teams that excel at shot prevention. Hmm...

Note: Corsi predictions based off these numbers.

1 New York Rangers vs 7 Washington Capitals

How do the systems match up? The Rangers mid-season were trending up in terms of possession, but stagnated are overall mediocre. The Capitals have been improving by the game since late January, but it's hard to peg how they'll do against another team that relies on great goaltending, a disciplined system, and blocking shots like the Rangers. I do think Boyle's big dump-and-chase game could prove problematic for Ovechkin's line and Semin's line, but luckily for Washington, he's out of the lineup.

Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom need to be fantastic. Semin was good last series, but Backstrom could be better. With McDonagh and Girardi making Ovechkin's life tough, but Staal not quite where he was pre-concussion, Backstrom and Semin have ample opportunity to run roughshod over the Rangers' bottom pairs. And they need to, because even after facing Tim Thomas beating Henrik Lundqvist will be hard.

Holtby. If he implodes, Rangers in 4. If he can hold it together like he did in the last series, the Capitals have a very good chance. He probably won't be able to make all the great saves he did last series, so he'll need to cut back on the soft goals.

Speed. The Rangers have some of the league's fastest forwards in Hagelin, Gaborik, and Kreider. Roman Hamrlik and Jeff Schultz will have to hold it together when they find themselves out there against a fast, physical forecheck. 

Prediction: I don't want to pick against Washington when the numbers have the series as roughly 50-50. Capitals in six.

(Corsi prediction: Capitals in 7)

4 Philadelphia Flyers vs 6 New Jersey Devils

Which goalies show up? Ilya Bryzgalov was lights-on for most of the first round. The red light was on behind him quite frequently. Martin Brodeur was better, but he still made some miscues that one might expect from an aging, declining netminder.

Shot prevention. The Devils were the best in the league in shot prevention during the regular season (although New Jersey does undercount shots), rarely went shorthanded, and had a great PK when they did. Philadelphia played pretty well against the best shot-generation team in Pittsburgh. How will the Flyers fare now?

Discipline. If the Devils allow themselves to be roped into the physicality, this series is over. They rely on sticking to DeBoer's system and not making mistakes. They don't have much room for error and can't afford to be distracted (much like Washington against Boston).

Prediction: I think the underlying numbers underestimate Philadelphia. I like their defensive depth, goaltending, and forward depth over those of New Jersey. Flyers in 7.

(Corsi prediction: Devils in 6)

2 St. Louis Blues vs 8 Los Angeles Kings
LA is not your typical eight seed. First in the league by a wide margin in score-adjusted Fenwick since the all-star break. They're scoring three goals a game since then, too. The Kings demolished Vancouver. Then again, the Blues did pretty well against San Jose (remember to consider score effects).

The big names need to be better. Jeff Carter and Mike Richards were heavily outshot, and they're both guys who can typically outshoot top lines. Same deal with David Backes. It's hard to imagine, but both these teams did not play nearly as well as they could have in the first round.

Luck. With the top two teams in terms of regular-season goals against facing each other, the games figure to be mainly 1-0 or 2-1 (3-2 without overtime would mean both teams had an off night in their end!).

Prediction: This should be a great, low-scoring series with terrific, clockwork-like defensive play, great goaltending, and flashes of high skill. I think LA has a bit more and is a slightly better possession team. Kings in 6.

(Corsi prediction: Blues in 7)

3 Phoenix Coyotes vs 4 Nashville Predators
Goalie cooldown. Chicago got Smith'd in Game 6 and Detroit Rinne'd in the first four games. Neither is a true-talent .940+ goalie in the long run. The one that cools down more will lose.

Speed versus skill. Phoenix can create some offense with its speed and committed two-way play. The Coyotes were a half-decent possession team, but Nashville was on the same level as Minnesota (looking at the entire season). The Predators got better as the season went along, but I think Phoenix is still slightly. Nashville's skill needs to show up in a big way and counteract the shot disadvantage I expect it to get.

Last game continuity. If the Coyotes' skaters play this series like Game 6 versus Chicago, Phoenix will lose. If the Predators' skaters play like they did in Game 5, Nashville will win.

Prediction: Coyotes in 7.

(Corsi prediction: Coyotes in 5)

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thoughts on Each Playoff Series

Note: Corsi predictions based off these numbers.

1 New York Rangers vs 8 Ottawa Senators

How does John Tortorella run line matchups? Brad Richards was the top Rangers center by quality of competition, and was a minus player despite playing with either Marian Gaborik, Derek Stepan, or considerable two-way talent on his wings almost all the time. Erik Karlsson, meanwhile, already had one of the highest plus-minuses per 60 minutes of 5v5 of any NHL D while ranking second among Ottawa D in quality of competition, and facing Richards could really shine.

Can Henrik Lundqvist keep this up? The likely recipient of the Vezina trophy in two months, "King Henrik" carried the Rangers while they struggled in possession for the first month or two of the season. While the Blueshirts been much better since, they're still not elite in that regard. Ottawa obviously boasts lethal offensive weapons at all four skater positions with great speed, and gave the Rangers fits during their regular season-series win.

How well can Hagelin, Boyle, Prust, and company move the puck up the ice and cycle? Cycling neutralized Ovechkin for entire shifts last season. Boyle and Hagelin are great at moving the puck up the ice. That is an easy blueprint for beating Spezza when the latter has an offensive zone faceoff. But will it work?

Prediction: I think the Rangers are just too disciplined and have too much two-way depth for the Senators to exploit any weaknesses, because the Rangers' roster does not have any. Rangers in 6.

(Corsi prediction: Senators in 7)

2 Boston Bruins vs 7 Washington Capitals

Can the Bruins flip the switch? Boston has been noticeably worse since the all-star break or so (I'd argue just before), as if they got disinterested. But the Bruins started winning down the stretch, taking seven of their last 10 as Ottawa pulled ahead of Boston briefly in the Northeast standings. The Capitals, meanwhile, have been solid possession-wise since around then. The Bruins before the break were flirting with the top-5. If that Bruins team shows up, the Capitals will truly be outmatched in every facet of the game.

Alexander Semin and Mathieu Perreault need to be fantastic. I expect Chara, Seidenberg, and Bergeron to outscore Ovechkin. With Chara and Seidenberg off the ice, though, the Bruins have no reliable defensemen left. Semin and Perreault should be able to feast on them, and need to if the Capitals are to outscore the Bruins in this series.

Playoff mode for Joel Ward. I disagree that Joel Ward was brought in solely for his playoff heroics last spring in Nashville. It sure would be nice, though, if he could find that groove again. And even if he doesn't, he did a great job keeping the puck in the offensive zone (even compared to fellow tough-minutes eaters like Legwand, Suter, and Weber) despite team-worst zone starts. He doesn't need to score if he can neutralize Krejci and Lucic.

Can everything finally come together for the Capitals? Can Carlson and Alzner re-find the magic they had during the 10-11 regular season? Can Mike Green break out of his scoring slump? Can Dennis Wideman and Semin be "good Dennis" and "good Sasha" for this series? Can Nicklas Backstrom be the best player on the ice sooner rather than later? Can Braden Holtby outplay Tim Thomas over seven games or less?

Yes, but will they?

Prediction: I don't want to pick against Washington when the numbers don't have the series as lopsided in favor of the opponents. Capitals in six.

(Corsi prediction: Bruins in 7)

3 Florida Panthers vs 6 New Jersey Devils

Who starts winning the tight games? The Panthers were notorious for their 18 overtime and shootout losses this season (and also shot a league-worst 2.6% at 4-on-4). The Devils won 11 games in a shootout. Both these teams are adept at extending the game, clearly. At some point, someone will need to score.

Which team has worse goaltending? These teams are roughly equivalent in terms of possession with the score tied (but New Jersey easily considering other situations), so it may just come down to Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen versus old Martin Brodeur. All below-average netminders. If there are any shot quality factors in play here (as well as shooting talent for Ilya Kovalchuk), I think they'd all favor the Devils, but over seven games that probably won't amount to too much.

Will Tomas Fleischmann show up? My guess is no.

Prediction: Devils in 5.

(Corsi prediction: Devils in 7)

4 Pittsburgh Penguins vs 5 Philadelphia Flyers

Giroux is a stud. He beat Malkin and Crosby head-to-head in the small sample of their season series. He needs to outscore his opposition so the Flyers have only one stud center to outduel.

How good is Couturier? He'll get the other stud C. I'm not sold on Malkin just yet (he gets put into very privileged situations regarding competition, zone starts, and linemates), but he'll wipe the floor with Briere and may with someone like Voracek, too. Couturier needs to be at his smartest.

PDO regression. Since the Penguins beat the Rangers 2-0 on February 21st, they have a 1067 score-tied PDO and 1036 total PDO. Crosby specifically is over 1150. When will that come back down?

Prediction: I'd rather pick the Flyers than Penguins. Flyers in seven.

(Corsi prediction: Penguins in 5)

1 Vancouver Canucks vs 8 Los Angeles Kings

LA is H-O-T. First in the league by a wide margin in score-adjusted Fenwick since the all-star break. They're scoring three goals a game since then, too.

Daniel Sedin. A huge part of the Canucks' success over the past three years has been their power play. Daniel Sedin is a big, albeit not irreplaceable, part of that.

Center depth. Kopitar. Richards. Carter. Loktionov. Versus Sedin and Kesler. Wow, there's only a tiny mismatch there...

Prediction: Kings in six.

(Corsi prediction: Kings in 7)

2 St. Louis Blues vs 7 San Jose Sharks

Are the Blues fading? After topping the league for so long in possession metrics, St. Louis has fallen off a bit.

Goaltending. I think Niemi versus Halak and Elliott is much closer than you think it is. Both Niemi and Halak I think are above-average, while Elliott..who knows. All I know is the Sharks' PDO (specifically, both their shooting and save percentages) has been down all season, but they're still a good hockey club, generating over 55% of the chances at even strength, and once again boast the best power play by shots (Fenwick For is the best predictor of power play success).

Joe Thornton. He's having the best season of his career, putting up a ton of offense in a shutdown role. He's big, strong, and skilled. He's the Shark best suited to dominate the structured Blues, who obviously are great system-wise but can be beaten, like most teams, one-on-one.

Prediction: I like smart teams. St. Louis is a very, very smart team. Blues in six.

(Corsi prediction: Blues in 5)

3 Phoenix Coyotes vs 6 Chicago Blackhawks

Toews. Chicago's possession numbers are still solid, but not elite. Toews will make them elite again.

Goaltending. Ah, the great separator in the West. Smith versus Crawford and Emery. If the goaltending matchup plays out like it has this season--Smith hot, Crawford and Emery not--this will be over quickly. But small sample sizes rule in the playoffs, and I suspect one of the Chicago netminders will have some magic.

Forecheck. Phoenix's defense is old aside from Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Keith Yandle. Chicago likes to forecheck and play an up-tempo, fast game. This contrast of styles I think favors a younger, smarter team, which I believe Chicago is.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 6. I would have gone shorter than that, but I think Toews will need a couple of games to get up to speed.

(Corsi prediction: Blackhawks in 5)

4 Nashville Predators vs 5 Detroit Red Wings

Paper versus performance. On paper, Nashville is stacked. Their performance possession-wise has been mediocre at best, and that's with Alexander Radulov in the lineup. Meanwhile, Detroit is finally healthy and should look like the dominant team they were early in the season.

Young man's game. Nashville is younger. Suter, Weber, Radulov, and others can still log massive minutes (I'm talking 30 a game here). Lidstrom cannot, Datsyuk cannot, Zetterberg cannot. Nashville can use their best players more than Detroit can.

Prediction: There is a giant gap in Fenwick here. I'm not going to bet against it. Red Wings in 5.

(Corsi prediction: Red Wings in 4)