S.J - COL
The deceptive nature of Colorado’s success this season has been well documented by some of the more statistically inclined members of the hockey blogosphere. As I presume that those reading are familiar with that fact, I won't go into any detail. The Sharks are the better team in virtually every facet of the game, save for perhaps goaltending. As with any series, an upset is always possible, but I think that a lot would have to go wrong for San Jose to lose.
S.J in 5.
There isn’t really a lot to be said about this series. I don’t think that the Predators are a bad team, but they have the worst goal differential among the playoff teams in the West. Chicago, on the other hand, is probably the best team in the entire league. They have the best goal ratio once schedule difficulty and empty netters are taken into account, and they were far and away the most dominant team in the league in terms of outshooting. I expect them to advance without too much difficulty.
CHI in 5.
I don’t find Vancouver to be all that impressive, but I think that they’re the right pick here. They have the better goal differential, the better shot ratio at EV with the score tied, the better goaltender, and they’ll be starting the series at home. The Kings are respectable and while I suspect that I’ll end up cheering for them here, I just can’t justify picking them in the result.
VAN in 7.
I’ve taken quite a liking to Phoenix ever since I watched them smoke the Kings on the first Saturday of the season. Imagine my disappointment when I found out that the Red Wings finished 5th. Outside of Chicago, I don’t think that the Coyotes could have asked for a less favourable draw in the first round.
I’ve remarked in the past about how Phoenix has been one of the stronger teams in the league terms of outshooting at EV this year, which is impressive given where they were last season. However, Detroit’s numbers are even better in that respect. Additionally, Detroit’s underlying numbers have improved over the course of the season, whereas the reverse has been true for Phoenix. I’m not sure if that’s terribly relevant to each team’s chances, although it can’t be a good thing from the Coyotes’ perspective.
Finally, the Wings are clearly the better squad on special teams. There isn’t much of a difference between the two teams in terms of shot prevention on the penalty kill, but the Wings are much better at generating shots – not to mention goals – on the PP.
All in all, while I think that the Coyotes are largely legit, they’re clearly overmatched here.
DET in 6.
WSH – MTL
I don’t think that Washington is as strong as its goal differential would imply. However, even if that’s accounted for, they’re still the better team by a substantial margin. Neither club appears to have much of an advantage over the other on special teams, but the Habs get bombed in terms of shots at even strength whereas the Capitals are above average in that respect. The Capitals should dominate the play at even strength and, unless Halak can bail his team out, that should be the difference.
WSH in 5.
N.J – PHI
I agree with Sunny Mehta -- these two teams are reasonably close to one another in terms of ability, but the Devils have a clear advantage in goal. Whereas Brian Boucher has a career even strength save percentage of 0.910, the corresponding figure for Brodeur is 0.922. The true difference in ability is probably larger if one considers that the shot recorder in New Jersey undercounts and that Brodeur has generally been better post-lockout than pre-lockout. Ordinarily I try to refrain from basing a pick on goaltending alone, but when the teams are relatively evenly matched and the gap in goaltender ability is large, I think that it’s reasonable to do so.
N.J in 7.
BUF – BOS
Although the Sabres may have the better record and goal differential, the Bruins strike me as the better team here. The two teams exhibit similar profiles on special teams (good PK, poor PP), but Boston appear to be the better team at even strength. The Bruins were second to only Chicago in terms of outshooting at EV with the score tied, whereas the Sabres were around the league average in this regard. The Sabres actually had the better EV goal differential, but only by virtue of the percentages. I suspect that Boston’s territorial dominance will prevail as the percentages equalize from this point forward.
Some may argue that the Sabres have the better goaltender in Miller, but I’m not sure if that’s necessarily true. Miller finished the season at 0.928 at EV and 0.919 on the PK. His career values are 0.922 and 0.880, respectively. I think it’s reasonable to assume that his career values are more reflective of his ability than this season’s numbers. To the extent that Buffalo has the better goaltending, the difference probably isn’t large.
BOS in 6.
PIT – OTT
This matchup strikes me as the Eastern Conference analog of the Vancouver-LA series. I don’t think that the two teams are that far apart in terms of quality, but the Penguins have the advantage in pretty much every conceivable area that relates to winning – goal differential, outshooting (both in general and at EV), penalty differential, special teams and, as with the Canucks, the higher seed. Although I don’t necessarily think that the Senators will get blown out of the water, there’s simply no rational basis for picking them.
PIT in 6.