A Brief Preview of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs

NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 11: Children touch the Stanley Cup trophy as it sits on display in Times Square on April 11, 2012 in New York City. To kick off the start of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs, a 21 foot, 6,600 pound replica of the Stanley Cup trophy was unveiled in Times Square. The replica trophy doubles as a water fountain that New York residents and visitors can drink from. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

First of all, today should be an exciting day for hockey fans, but with the way this year has gone for Canadiens fans, I'm more than a little bummed out about it. Yesterday was the draft lottery and with that bit of Canadiens news out of the way, seeing the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin is just even more depressing. There was a lot of promise early on in the season for the Canadiens from the staff here at Eyes on the Prize, but unfortunately that promise was ignored and we are here today with nothing but watching 16 other teams compete for club hockey's ultimate glory.

With the Habs out, I become a supporter of the Chicago Blackhawks. They are a very distant second on my list of favourite NHL teams, for the longest time the anti-Canadiens: a long history with none of the glory. Today they are run by Bowmans, have a star bilingual captain with a goaltender from Montreal and compete for the Stanley Cup every year. I like their chances in the Western Conference again this year, provided Jonathan Toews comes back from his concussion successfully.

Here's a brief summary of the advanced metrics we like so much around here and how they relate to the teams involved, teams sorted by Fenwick Close (ratio of shots towards the net when score is within two goals):

2012 Playoff Team Metrics

Team

FenClose

FenTied

Special Teams %

PDO (5 on 5)

Pittsburgh Penguins

55.02

54.96 (2)

107.5 (1)

995.9 (16)

St. Louis Blues

54.93

55.29 (1)

102.5 (6)

1028.5 (1)

Detroit Red Wings

54.39

54.78 (4)

97.9 (15)

1014.0 (9)

Los Angeles Kings

53.60

54.91 (3)

104.0 (5)

1021.6 (3)

Boston Bruins

52.60

52.93 (5)

100.7 (9)

1012.6 (10)

Chicago Blackhawks

52.49

52.58 (8)

93.3 (16)

999.1 (15)

San Jose Sharks

52.19

52.60 (7)

98.0 (13)

1019.0 (5)

Vancouver Canucks

51.44

52.78 (6)

105.8 (3)

1020.4 (4)

Philadelphia Flyers

51.14

49.34 (14)

101.5 (8)

1004.1 (13)

New Jersey Devils

51.08

51.97 (9)

106.8 (2)

1000.5 (14)

Ottawa Senators

50.90

49.95 (12)

99.8 (10)

1009.3 (12)

Florida Panthers

50.29

51.22 (11)

98.0 (14)

1017.8 (6)

New York Rangers

49.90

49.81 (13)

101.9 (7)

1014.2 (8)

Washington Capitals

49.84

51.28 (10)

98.3 (12)

1011.4 (11)

Phoenix Coyotes

49.17

48.99 (15)

99.1 (11)

1021.7 (2)

Nashville Predators

46.08

45.47 (16)

105.2 (4)

1014.9 (7)

Guide:

FenClose: Fenwick is the measurement of shots on goal and shots that missed the net, the most accurate predictor of puck possession skill readily available for every team, and therefore of wins. Scoring chance data is better, but is not available for every team. FenClose measures the +/- in percentage form (50% being as many events for as against), when the score of the game is within 2 goals and the result is very much in doubt.

FenTied: Same as FenClose, but only when the score is tied. The difference between this and FenClose is it eliminates any score effects/strategy a team might deploy: if a team likes to sit back and defend a one goal lead it can effect their FenClose number, for example.

Special Teams %: Simply taking PP% and PK% and combining them; the league average is therefore 100. The higher the number, the better the team is at special teams.

PDO (5 on 5): Combining a team's collective shooting percentage and save percentage during 5 on 5 situations. The league average is 1000. Teams with higher PDO's tend to have better goaltending, and possibly better shooting luck (though over the course of a full season and including the whole team, shooting luck isn't a major factor).

Rankings for the final 3 categories are in brackets. Fenwick and PDO information was taken from Behind the Net, Special Teams % was taken from NHL.com.


After the jump, I'll make my picks.

Eastern Conference

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators

The Rangers are what I refer to as a paper tiger. Show them the standings sheet and you think they're incredibly impressive. But really, that's all they are. The Rangers are a very weak #1 seed held up by an MVP quality season from Henrik Lundqvist in goal. Outside of their goaltending, the Rangers really look a lot more like a #8 seed. They possess neither brilliant offence or systems, they should be as likely to score as they are to get scored on. The Senators are not much different, and are very thin in terms of forward depth. However, I feel their goaltending and defensive play is strong enough here to overcome Lundqvist's brilliance at the other end. Ottawa has a coach that has gotten a lot more out of his roster in MacLean than Tortorella has from my perspective, and in the end, this matchup is so close I think it comes down to preference. I'm taking the upset here. Senators in 7.

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals

Eyeballing the rosters, this matchup looks promising. Eyeballing the results, not so much. The Capitals are a weird team, clearly underachieving while being held back by the tactics employed by their Head Coach Dale Hunter, who is clearly out of his depth at this level. Claude Julien, on the other hand, is a master of matchups and employing a brand of hockey Hunter probably strives for: simultaneously tough and responsible. Tim Thomas is the wildcard here, he's fallen off a cliff since his supposedly non-political public stand against meeting Democratic presidents. On the other end, there is my favourite goaltending prospect, Marshall, Saskatchewan native and ex-Saskatoon Blade Braden Holtby filling in for two injured goalies in Michael Neuvirth and Tomas Vokoun. I really hope for a surprise here, but I can't see it. Bruins in 5.

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils

A lot of people are pointing at Florida's goal differential this year and remarking how awful it is that they are a division champion. Meanwhile, the advanced metrics suggest they are a better team than the East-leading Rangers. For the first time this century (remember, the century actually began in 2001), the Panthers have made the playoffs. What's most shocking about this is that the club is still there after all that futility. The Devils are similarly unspectacular, with great special teams propping up an alright 5 on 5 team with declining goaltending from Martin Brodeur. This is a close matchup, but featuring two teams that I don't think will make it any further than Round 2, much like the NYR/OTT series. What the hell, I'll take the team with no respect right now. Panthers in 7.

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers

Everyone is excited for this matchup, and it's easy to see why on the surface. The rivalry, the games that ended the year, the stacked Penguins lineup, the... injury depleted Philadelphia defence backed by inconsistent goaltending. Well, okay. We could get some interesting score lines. And some nasty play. But in the end.... yeesh, this shouldn't be a contest. Of course, Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending might give the Flyers their only real chance. Still... Penguins in 4.

Western Conference

(1) Vancouver Canucks vs. (8) Los Angeles Kings

Vancouver won their second straight President's Trophy, but no one believes they are as good as they were a year ago, and for good reason. The Sedin combination dropped in production, as did pretty much everyone else. The goaltending is still strong but a point of increased controversy. What they do have is great special teams, but as they found out last year in the playoffs, that doesn't matter much when penalties are rarely called. They have strong defensive depth, but most of the West seems to be close in that regard and has better or equal forward depth. The Kings, meanwhile, had a tumultous year but look very strong by the underlying metrics. They have a Vezina caliber goaltender playing behind one of the league's best in Drew Doughty. They have centres coming out their wazoo. They traded one of the league's worst defensemen for an elite shooter/possession player. Kings in 6. And hopefully Vaigneault is fired so the Habs can hire him back.

(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) San Jose Sharks

Oh boy, this should be a doozy. The Blues are legitimately elite... they have depth everywhere and with the return of Andy MacDonald seem to have that top scorer thing figured out. This is a well coached, well managed team and really I can't help but hope for them at this point. The Sharks are similar in every regard except standing. Finishing 7th was a kick in the groin to this organization, both 8th and 3rd would have been preferable. The Sharks have a great PP but an awful PK unit (76.9%!), kind of the inverse of the Canadiens in that respect. Scuttlebutt around the NHL is that if the Sharks don't make a run this year they'll blow the team up, even though they made the Conference Finals last year and are contending every other year... though their long term core of Thornton, Marleau and Boyle is getting old. Anyways, this might be the best series you'll see in the entire playoffs in terms of two top teams that are closely matched. Blues in 6.

(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (6) Chicago Blackhawks

Dave Tippett and Don Maloney deserve a ton of credit for keeping Phoenix a relevant team in the NHL standings if not in Arizona itself. There are 'Moneypuck' signs all over this team: Ray Whitney and Radim Vrbata have been written off several times as too old or too streaky, yet they led the team in scoring en route to a division title. They scooped up Mike Smith on the cheap after dealing star goalie Ilya Bryzgalov in the offseason. They acquire young puck moving defensemen like they're incredibly valuable or something. They build around two-way centremen like Martin Hanzal, Antoine Vermette and Daymond Langkow. It's a great strategy, but when they meet a team that is both well built and spend happy like Detroit or Chicago, they can't make up the difference. The Blackhawks have awful special teams which is a major concern, but less so with the notorious post-season officiating. Jonathan Toews is returning from concussion and should be a big boost for the team, which can shelter him if need be from tougher situations as he gets his legs back. Blackhawks in 7.

(4) Nashville Predators vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings

By the metrics, this is Detroit in a walk, but there are some caveats. Olivier Bouchard did some research for me and found out that post-Radulov, the Predators posted a 53% FenClose, an amazing improvement. Adding an elite player like Alex Radulov can be very significant, but with such a small sample I'm wary of the team improving to that level. That said, Nashville might have the league's top goaltender in the amazing Pekka Rinne, and they hold a very significant special teams advantage. Also, Detroit has a losing record on the road this year, though they possess the best home record to counter that. I'm picking the Wings to take one game in Nashville and hold serve at home. Red Wings in 6.

Feel free to come back to me in 2 weeks and laugh as I go 1-7 or something.

Who wins the Cup? Oh, probably Pittsburgh. Stupid Penguins.

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