NHL Conference Semifinals Predictions: What The Numbers Say

EASTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (7) Ottawa Senators

Pittsburgh has the advantage when it comes to even strength play. Ottawa only scored 76 5-on-5 goals this year (3rd worst in league) and the Penguins scored 107 (3rd most). Both teams were solid defensively in 5-on-5 situations during the regular season. The Penguins only allowed 79 goals, while the Senators allowed 74 goals. In the first round, the Penguins allowed 14 5-on-5 goals (2nd most) but 11 of those came with Fleury in net in the first four games of the series. Meanwhile, Ottawa allowed the least goals in 5 on 5 situations in the first round (just 6). For the Penguins, games should be cleaner with Fleury not starting and it should be harder for the Senators to score on even strength situations with Vokoun in net. Craig Anderson may be stellar in net, but the Penguins simply have too much firepower. It may be overwhelming for the Senators.

In special teams, the Penguins ranked 2nd in PP during season, but ranked 13th in terms of time on the PP. The Senators ranked 1st in PK during season and ranked 5th in terms of time on PK. In short, the Senators go to the box a lot, but kill many penalties. Penguins were 1-for-15 on PP in the season series, despite sweeping the Senators. The Senators were 1-for-12 on PP in season series against Penguins, but were 6 of 25 against Montreal in the first round despite having the 20th ranked PP in the season. The Penguins PK was ranked 25th, but they killed 18 of 20 penalties against a more potent Islander powerplay unit.

PREDICTION: The Senators can win this series if Anderson gets hot and their No. 1 ranked PK unit shuts down the No. 2 ranked PP unit. Seeing that the Penguins firepower is simply too much to handle, this is likely. Penguins in 5

(4) Boston Bruins vs. (6) New York Rangers

This is easily the most evenly matched series we have seen thus far. In fact, NHL.com’s headline to preview this series is called “Mirror Images.” That is essentially what these two teams are. In terms of 5-on-5, the Rangers ranked 3rd in the league with a 1.30 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio and the Bruins ranked 4th in the league with a 1.28 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio. Boston scored 96 5-on-5 goals in the season while New York scored 91. However, the Rangers allowed the fewest 5-on-5 goals as they only surrendered 70 and Boston allowed 75. In other words, the 5-on-5 differential between two teams is exactly ZERO.

In terms of special teams, both teams were atrocious on the PP both in the regular season and in the first round. The two teams played a combined 14 games in the first round and just five PP goals. The Rangers have the lowest PP percentage among remaining playoff teams, clicking near 7 percent. As for the Bruins, they scored the fewest PP goals in the regular season at just 30. That said, the Bruins have a very strong penalty kill. They ranked 4th in the regular season in the PK. The Rangers ranked 15th. That said, the Bruins don’t get on the powerplay much (least time on the PP in the regular season) and when they do get on the PP they don’t score, so it’s unclear whether that will be an advantage for the B’s.

With everything at a near deadlock, it’s important to look at puck possession. Often times when all else is equal, the team who possesses the puck more gets more opportunities – and thus, more goals. The Bruins led the league in faceoff percentage and were second in terms of shots on goal per game. In the first round, the B’s won 60 percent of their draws and averaged almost 40 shots per game – possibly a huge reason why they were able to crack James Reimer in the dying minutes of Game 7. If they control the puck and get shots on shots on shots on Lundqvist, they may be able to crack him in seven games. It also helps that they have the home advantage in the series.

The Bruins biggest problem has been getting up and playing motivated hockey and this could hurt them against the Rangers. When the Rangers scored first this year, they had an 18-2-1 record and when they were leading after the first period, they had a 13-0-1 record.

Looking at all of this, it’s very difficult to decide a winner between these two teams. There is no telling stat or number that favors one team over the other.

Prediction: Winning faceoffs and controlling the puck may be the difference maker in this tight series. Both goalies are great so the team that possesses the puck and creates more opportunities will have a better shot of cracking the opposing goalie. For me, that’s going to be the Bruins in 7.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

(1) Chicago Blackhawks) vs. (7) Detroit Red Wings

Chicago is by far the best 5-on-5 team in the league. They had a 1.52 goals for/against ratio in the regular season, the best in the league. Detroit has strength on the 5-on-5, too, but it’s mainly because of their stingy defense. They only allowed 70 goals on the 5-on-5, tied for best in the league. They haven’t been as potent offensively as the Blackhawks, though. The Hawks led the league with 108 5-on-5 goals. The Red Wings had just 77. Unfortunately for the Wings, the Hawks allowed the second fewest goals on the 5-on-5 situation with just 71. So in short, both teams can play defense and have strong goaltending, but the Hawks have the scoring and this gives them a huge advantage.

In terms of special teams, the Hawks have a stifling penalty kill. They killed off every penalty in the first round against Minnesota and had the third best PK in the regular season. Detroit was average on the PK in the regular season and was more porous in their first round series against Anaheim (71.4 percent PK). The Red Wings did have the second most powerplay opportunities in the regular season, but who knows how helpful that will be against a stingy Chicago PK. Finally, neither team had a great powerplay in the regular season, but Detroit showed they can be solid in their first round series. Then again, that was not against Chicago’s PK.

Prediction: Blackhawks in 5

(4) Los Angeles Kings vs. (6) San Jose Sharks

Sharks were tied for fourth for the fewest 5-on-5 goals scored this season at 77. The Kings have a more potent 5-on-5 offense as they scored 88 in the regular season. Defensively, both teams were solid on the 5-on-5 with the Sharks allowing 77 goals and the Kings allowing 81. The Kings have the slight edge on the 5-on-5 because of their offensive burst and Jonathan Quick in net.

The Sharks were extremely reliant on their PP in their first round series against the Canucks. Seven of their 15 goals in the series came with the man advantage. That may be a problem against Jonathan Quick and the Kings. If the Kings stay out of the box they’ll be fine, but that may be difficult against a Sharks team who was used to drawing penalties all season long (they drew the fourth most 5-on-4 opportunities in the NHL). Fortunately for the Kings, they had an 83 percent PK rate in the regular season so they have the firepower to kill those penalties.

Prediction: The Sharks shouldn’t feast on the PP the same way they did against the Canucks and their 5-on-5 offense hasn’t showed it can score on a consistent basis. Kings in 6.

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About andrekhatch

Red Sox. Cowboys. Lakers. Penguins. USC.
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