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)

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