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)

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