2012 Playoff Preview

With the matchups set prognosticators around the hockey world are gauging the auguries and making feverish calculations on their abacuses, here are my thoughts on round one.  A few points before I get into the specific series:
1. Team’s rarely repeat Cup runs; the classic exceptions are Detroit and Pittsburgh (08 and 09), but all other finalists since the lockout have failed early (Carolina and Edmonton to make the playoffs; only Philadelphia moved as far as the second round)
2. The Cup winner has been no lower than 8th overall in the NHL (Carolina and Anaheim were 4th, Detroit 1st, Pittsburgh 8th, Chicago 3rd, and Boston 7th), which means while the President’s Trophy is largely meaningless, a team must be among the best to win it all (following this formula the potential Cup winners are Vancouver, the Rangers, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Nashville, Philadelphia, Boston, and Detroit)
3. Playoff experience is something that gets thrown around as a vital ingredient over and over again, but I’ve never seen actual data to show that it equals success (for recent Cup winners it works with Boston, but not Chicago)–if it was a vital criteria than Detroit should win the Cup every year
4. The idea that teams need to lose before they win is simply absurd–29 teams lose every year, so other than the Cup winner it’s axiomatic for everyone
5. The officiating will be awful (Ottawa favourites Dan O’Rourke, Kevin Pollock and Tim Peel have made it into the playoffs, while Greg Kimmerly is on standby and Dean Morton didn’t make it); calls will be missed and bad calls will be made (including goals reviewed)

New York Rangers (2nd)-Ottawa (16th)
Season series: Ottawa 3-1-0/Rangers 1-2-1
Goals For: 249 (Ott, 5th), 226 (NYR, 13th)
Goals Against: 187 (NYR, 3rd), 240 (Ott, 24th)
Powerplay: 18.2% (Ott, 11th), 15.7% (NYR, 23rd)
Penalty Kill: 86.2% (NYR, 5th), 81.6% (Ott, 20th)
Faceoffs: 50.1% (Ott, 16th), 50% (NYR, 18th)
5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio: 1.14 (NYR, 6th), 1.05 (Ott, 11th)
Shots Against Per Game: 27.8 (NYR, 6th), 32.0 (Ott, 29th)

Conventional wisdom says good defence beats good offence and if that holds true than the Rangers should beat Ottawa.  There are, however, examples that run against that wisdom with the Rangers, who have lost in that same situation to Washington twice (in 09 and 11).  The Senators don’t have the firepower of those Capital teams, but that and their season series record does provide some hope.  The Sens have more offensively depth, while the Rangers have an edge in physical forwards.  All the pressure is on New York and a loose and healthy Ottawa team could take the series.  I feel like the Rangers’ problems scoring will prove to be their achilles heel.  Ottawa in seven.

Boston (7th)-Washington (15th)
Season Series: Boston 1-2-1/Washington 3-1-0
Goals For: 269 (Bos, 2nd), 222 (Wsh, 15th)
Goals Against: 202 (Bos, 5th), 230 (Wsh, 18th)
Powerplay: 17.2% (Bos, 15th), 16.7% (Wsh, 18th)
Penalty Kill: 83.5% (Bos, 11th), 81.6% (Wsh, 21st)
Faceoffs: 54.5% (Bos, 1st), 50% (Wsh, 17th)
5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio: 1.32 (Bos, 3rd), 1.01 (Wsh, 13th)
Shots Against Per Game: 29.8 (Bos, 13th), 30.2 (Wsh, 16th)

Boston has all the numbers in this series and should win, but the crazy thing about Washington is that they have enough talent to pull off an upset (they won the season series, for instance).  The Caps are down to their third goalie however, and if the Bruins can stay healthy they should beat the Capitals.  Boston in six.

Florida (14th)-New Jersey (9th)
Season Series: Florida 2-1-1/New Jersey 2-2-0
Goals For: 228 (NJ, 11th), 203 (Flo, 25th)
Goals Against: 209 (NJ, 8th), 227 (Flo, 17th)
Powerplay: 18.5% (Flo, 7th), 17.2% (NJ, 14th)
Penalty Kill: 89.6% (NJ, 1st), 79.5% (Flo, 25th)
Faceoffs: 50.6% (Flo, 11th), 47.1% (NJ, 29th)
5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio: 0.93 (NJ, 19th), 0.88 (Flo, 25th)
Shots Against Per Game: 26.8 (NJ, 2nd), 30.5 (Flo, 18th)

A statistical mismatch is almost everyway the one advantage the Panthers have (their powerplay) won’t be much of a factor given how rarely the Devils are penalized.  Brodeur has been slowing down for years and hasn’t been good in the playoffs post-lockout, but I’m not a fan of Theodore and think he’ll out play him.  While the Panthers did win the season series, I’d be shocked if they beat New Jersey.  Jersey in five.

Pittsburgh (4th)-Philadelphia (6th)
Season Series: Philadelphia 4-2-0/Pittsburgh 2-3-1
Goals For: 282 (Pit, 1st), 264 (Phi, 3rd)
Goals Against: 221 (Pit, 12th), 232 (Phi, 21st)
Powerplay: 19.7% (Pit/Phi, 5th/6th)
Penalty Kill: 87.8% (Pit, 3rd), 81.8% (Phi, 17th)
Faceoffs: 50.4% (Pit, 13th), 48.3% (Phi, 24th)
5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio: 1.17 (Pit, 5th), 1.13 (Phi, 7th)
Shots Against Per Game: 27.4 (Pit, 4th), 28.4 (Phi, 7th)

Two of the highest scoring teams in the league, I think the Penguins have the physical edge and I expect the series to get goofy in an awful hurry.  Injuries are to be expected.  I don’t like the goaltending on either team (I’m not a fan of Fleury), but the Penguins own all the statistical edges and are healthier going into the series so they should pull it out.  Pittsburgh in seven.

Vancouver (1st)-Los Angeles (13th)
Season Series: Vancouver 2-1-1/Los Angeles 2-2-0
Goals For: 249 (Van, 4th), 194 (LA, 29th)
Goals Against: 179 (LA, 2nd), 198 (Van, 4th)
Powerplay: 19.8% (Van, 4th), 17% (LA, 17th)
Penalty Kill: 87% (LA, 4th), 86% (Van, 6th)
Faceoffs: 52.2% (Van, 3rd), 51.5% (LA, 7th)
5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio: 1.19 (Van, 4th), 0.98 (LA, 17th)
Shots Against Per Game: 27.4 (LA, 5th), 30.8 (Van, 21st)

This series comes down to defence and Jonathan Quick.  The only chance the Kings have of winning is to shut down the Canucks and have Quick win the series for them, but I think that’s unlikely.  Vancouver is strong defensively and has two goaltenders who can win games for them, minimizing the Kings’ advantage, and teams that can’t score don’t win the Cup in the post-lockout era.  Canucks in five.

St. Louis (3rd)-San Jose (12th)
Season Series: St. Louis 4-0-0/San Jose 0-4-0
Goals For: 228 (SJ, 12th), 210 (Stl, 22nd)
Goals Against: 165 (Stl, 1st), 210 (SJ, 10th)
Powerplay: 21.1% (SJ, 2nd), 16.7% (Stl, 19th)
Penalty Kill: 85.8% (Stl, 7th), 76.9% (SJ, 29th)
Faceoffs: 53.3% (SJ, 2nd), 50.4% (Stl, 14th)
5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio: 1.34 (Stl, 2nd), 1.10 (SJ, 9th)
Shots Against Per Game: 26.7 (Stl, 1st), 28.6 (SJ, 8th)

The Blues own most of the statistical edges and dominated the Sharks in the regular season series; given San Jose’s lengthy history of playoff chokes there’s little reason to expect St. Louis to lose.  Blues in five.

Phoenix (11th)-Chicago (10th)
Season Series: Phoenix 3-1-0/Chicago 1-2-1
Goals For: 248 (Chi, 7th), 216 (Phx, 17th)
Goals Against: 204 (Phx, 7th), 238 (Chi, 22nd)
Powerplay: 15.2% (Chi, 26th), 13.6% (Phx, 29th)
Penalty Kill: 85.5% (Phx, 8th), 78.1% (Chi, 27th)
Faceoffs: 50.6% (Chi, 12th), 50.2 (Phx, 15th)
5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio: 1.11 (Phx, 8th), 1.01 (Chi, 14th)
Shots Against Per Game: 28.6 (Chi, 9th), 31.6 (Phx, 28th)

Two teams with underwhelming goaltending, it’s a good offence against a good defence.  I think the dynamic of the series changes if Toews is able to play, but even without their captain the intangibles go to the Hawks.  Chicago in six.

Nashville (5th)-Detroit (8th)
Season Series: 3-3-0
Goals For: 248 (Det, 6th), 237 (Nsh, 8th)
Goals Against: 203 (Det, 6th), 210 (Nsh, 9th)
Powerplay: 21.6% (Nsh, 1st), 16.1% (Det, 22nd)
Penalty Kill: 83.6% (Nsh, 10th), 81.8% (Det, 18th)
Faceoffs: 51.6% (Det, 6th), 49.0% (Nsh, 22nd)
5-on-5 Goals For/Against Ratio: 1.44 (Det, 1st), 1.05 (Nsh, 10th)
Shots Against Per Game: 27.0 (Det, 3rd), 30.8 (Nsh, 20th)

A difficult series to call and it has to be kept in mind that Rinne has played 73 games this season (!).  A physical Nashville team could wear down Detroit, but ultimately I think goaltending is going to be the key and assuming Rinne still has gas left in the tank the edge has to go to the Predators.  Nashville in seven.

The second round would look like this:
The Bruins have the Sens number and Ottawa will be gased after beating the Rangers.  Boston in five.
PittsburghNew Jersey
An emotionally drained and physically exhausted Penguin team will be stymied by their boring opponent (who will likely employ the box-out strategy the Habs used to beat the Penguins two years ago).  New Jersey in six.
Yet another rematch between the two teams, the edge goes to the Canucks if they are healthy.  Vancouver in six
St. LouisNashville
Eventually a team has to score goals and I think the punchless Blues will suffer due to their lack of offence.  Nashville in six.

The third round:
BostonNew Jersey
The Devils don’t match up well against the Bruins at all and will be run out of the rink.  Boston in five.
The Canucks are going to be beaten up (emotionally and physically) and will run out of gas.  Nashville in seven.

Cup final:
An interesting match-up in many ways, but the Bruins will be healthier and they’ve been here before.  Boston in five.



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