Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Playoff Predictions -- Western Conference

(1) San Jose vs Anaheim (8)

This is a tough matchup for the Sharks. Out of all of the teams that the Sharks could have potentially drawn (NSH, CBJ, MIN, STL, EDM), Anaheim is probably the strongest.

The Sharks started the season on a tear, outshooting and outplaying the opposition like it was nobody's business. Since that time, they've cooled down a bit. They're still consistently outplaying the other team, but not to the degree that they were at the beginning of the year. I'm not sure how important this is, but I know that Matt at Battle of Alberta has been an advocate of excluding a team's first 20 games of the year when assessing each team's chances of playoff success. Perhaps there's something to that.

Anaheim has a formidable powerplay and I think that if they're going to win this series, they're going to have do it on that basis, considering that San Jose is clearly the more dominant team at ES. There are two problems with this, however:

1. If this series sees a lot of special teams play, it might actually benefit the Sharks more, as the Sharks are a much more disciplined team than Anaheim and have a much better PP/PK ratio.

2. The Sharks have the better PK and have a pretty good PP in their own right.

This series won't be an easy win for San Jose by any means, but at the same time it's hard to pick against them.

Sharks in 6.

(2) Detroit vs Columbus (7)

Having browsed through the picks of other bloggers and media personalities, Columbus seems to be a popular pick as an underdog.

From what I've seen, some of the rationale behind the pick is that Columbus will be able to exploit Detroit's weak goaltending situation.

I don't necessarily agree with this reasoning.

Firstly, Detroit has had poor goaltending all season, yet they've still managed to post a much better goal differential than Columbus. That's important.

Secondly, I have a hard time believing that Chris Osgood is as bad as his save percentage would imply. This is same goaltender that posted a 0.914 SV % in the regular season last year and 0.930 SV % in the playoffs. A lot of that had to do with playing behind the league's best team -- his expected save percentage based on shot quality in the playoffs last year was something like 0.94, according to hockeynumbers. However, this years Wings are as good or almost as good as last years squad. True, Osgood is getting up there in age, but I doubt that any age-related decline would be so marked. Save percentage is at least partly random in its distribution and I would expect Osgood's save percentage to gravitate towards the league average in the foreseeable future (i.e. the playoffs).

Thirdly, even if Osgood actually is terrible, then the Wings have the option of playing Conklin in his stead, who's actually been fairly competent this season.

Detroit in 5.

(3) Vancouver vs St. Louis (6)

There isn't a great deal that can be said about this series, but it's obvious to me that Vancouver is the better team and I expect them to advance without too much difficulty.

Not only is Vancouver the better team on paper, and they're also better by virtue of conventional metrics of team strength, like goal differential. Vancouver's underlying numbers are pretty average, although one of the benefits of having a goaltender like Luongo is that it generally allows you to be an EV outscorer without having the shot differential to match.

St. Louis has played well in the second half of the season, but so have the Canucks. Therefore, picking St. Louis on account of their second half play isn't overly logical.

Canucks in 5.

(4) Chicago vs Calgary (5)

A lot of people are discounting the Flames -- even Flames fans themselves, it seems.

One of my earlier posts addressed the fact that the Blackhawks are an interesting team. They have an excellent shot differential, an excellent goal differential, yet are marginally above average in terms of the expected goals numbers at hockeynumbers. I'm not sure how to account for this but I'm thinking that it might have something to do with the "shoot liberally and prevent shots against at all costs" strategy, as historically employed by Joel Quenneville.

As Kent notes, Chicago is a territorially dominant team at even strength, with an aggregate team corsi of 655. However, Calgary has an even better corsi at 778. Thus, both teams perform well here, with there being no clear advantage to either of them.

The difference between these two teams largely relates to goaltending. Whereas Chicago's has been excellent, Calgary's has been below average, even though for some reason I keep hearing Kiprusoff's name brought up when discussing the Vezina. While this will likely work to Chicago's advantage over the course of the series, I'm not sure how sustainable their team save percentage is, considering that they tend to give up such high quality shots against on average.

While I'm not necessarily convinced that Chicago is the better team, their advantage in goal differential is hard to ignore. That, coupled with the Flames injury problems and the fact that they'll be starting this series on the road, tilts the scales in their favor.

Blackhawks in 7.


Kent W. said...

The Kiprusoff thing continues to baffle me. If you visit Flames messageboards, a large contingent of fans are naming him the club's MVP.

Cognitive dissonance is a powerful thing, I guess.

Sunny Mehta said...


I too have read all the trendy picks of Columbus upsetting Detroit in the first round. I too think it's ridiculous. People say all sorts of stuff when there's no real consequence to being wrong. Note that Vegas (where consequences are real) isn't buying the bs: Detroit is trading as the heaviest first round favorite at over 5-to-1 to win the series.

In my opinion, the best bet of the first round is Anaheim at 2.5-to-1. As you mentioned, the Sharks were awesome early in the season. While i think think they're still the better team, the two teams have been much closer in performance over the second half. I would not be shocked to see an upset.

Kent W. said...

Im one of the guys who picked CBJ to upset - mostly because it feels like cheating to pick all favorites to win in the first round and nominally because I kinda hope they pull it off.

It'll be no surprise if it doesn't happen, of course.

Matt said...

I'm not sure how important this is, but I know that Matt at Battle of Alberta has been an advocate of excluding a team's first 20 games of the year when assessing each team's chances of playoff success. Perhaps there's something to that.I'm not sure either. It's certainly arbitrary, but at the same time, it excludes some ~ ancient history and effectively gives some more weight to more recent performance, where the roster is more likely to resemble the playoff roster.

Several times since the lockout it has brought into focus that certain teams have "caught up" or "fallen back". I know in 05/06 it showed that the Sabres were probably better than the Sens, but the Sens had a 15-point head start at the end of November that BUF never made up; this was borne out in the playoffs. And in 06/07 it showed that the Sens were the team to beat, but they didn't stand out in the regular standings because their start was so lousy (this was also borne out in the playoffs, obviously).

I forgot to do it this season, but just eyeballing it, I don't think it would illuminate much; the standings would be about the same. Only thing I can see worth noting is that the 8-point gap between DET and CHI closes to 2 if you exclude the first 20gms.

I certainly hope we don't see that series, but if it happens I don't know if you could give the Wings much of an edge.