Division Championship Preview

The second round of the NHL playoffs starts tonight, which means that the first round of the NHL playoffs is over! (Well, except for the fact that the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks will be playing Game 7 of their first round series after the Tampa Lightning and New York Islanders kick off their second round series).

In the first round, my playoff model went 6-1, while I myself went 6-1, as well! The only series we differed on was the Nashville v. Anaheim series, where the model picked Nashville and I picked Anaheim, so regardless of the outcome, one of us will be 7-1 through the first round.

Here’s a breakdown of the four series in Round 2, as well as predictions from the model and prediction from myself.

Dallas Stars vs. St. Louis Blues

Dallas Strengths: The Dallas Stars have an insane amount of offensive firepower, and are a fairly strong 5v5 team. They dominated the Minnesota Wild, as was expected, though the St. Louis Blues will provide more of a challenge. The Stars’ also have one of the league’s better power plays, though their potency without Tyler Seguin in the lineup has yet to be fully seen.

Dallas Weaknesses: The Dallas Stars defense is notably weak, and is only made worse by the below average goaltending of Antii Niemi and Kari Lehtonen. The duo combined for a .891 save percentage in round 1, and neither goalie was really elite; Lehtonen was the better goalie, but only posted a .911 save percentage.

St. Louis Strengths: The St. Louis Blues are one of the league’s stronger teams, with strong puck possession numbers, a strong, underrated goaltender, a great penalty kill, and an elite power play. The additions of rookies Colton Parayko, Robby Fabbri, and Joel Edmundson have boosted the overall performance of the roster, and it’s made the Blues one of the favorites in the West.

St. Louis Weaknesses: Time to nitpick! The Blues don’t have the best penalty differential. That’s really only their first weakness on paper, though Ken Hitchcock also made some interesting personnel decisions in round 1. Hitchcock also seemed to be out of touch with how to win hockey games, and it seemed like the Blues won despite the efforts of their coach, and not because of. It will be interesting to see what happens in round 2.

I like Dallas, but I think that the Blues are one of the best teams in the West this year. Unfortunately for the Stars, they don’t have elite goaltending, and in a seven game series, goaltending can be completely ruin a team’s chances to move on.

Shane’s Prediciton: St. Louis in 6.

Model’s Prediction: St. Louis in 5.

San Jose Sharks vs. Nashville Predators/Anaheim Ducks

San Jose Strengths: The San Jose Sharks showed off their strengths in their first round series with against the Los Angeles Kings, matching the Kings at 5 on 5, drawing a ton of penalties and capitalizing on those man advantages. Joe Pavelski had quite the series, putting up 5 goals in 5 games.

San Jose Weaknesses: The goaltender situation in San Jose isn’t ideal, as Martin Jones was a solid-but-not-great goaltender, and only managed a .912 save percentage through round 1. The Sharks also don’t have the best penalty kill, though they manage to avoid taking penalties.

Nashville Strengths: Great 5v5 team, average special teams. Their defensive corps is elite, and Ryan Ellis has had a dominant series on the backend, leading all skaters in both Fenwick For percentage and relative Fenwick For percentage.

Nashville Weaknesses: Pekka Rinne has not been a great net minder this season, posting a .908 save percentage during the regular season, and a .901 save percentage up to this point of the playoffs.

Anaheim Strengths: The Ducks had a strong 5v5 team during the season, and led the league in power play efficiency and penalty kill efficiency. Their special teams make them a dangerous team, as they can match teams at even strength, and beat teams while on the man advantage.

Anaheims Weaknesses: The Ducks take a lot of penalties. In a matchup against the Sharks, who draw a lot of penalties, the Ducks could be in some real trouble.

I see San Jose taking this series because of their ability to draw penalties and then convert on the man advantage. The Ducks have an elite penalty kill, but may end up playing most of the games a man-down, while the Predators just might not be able to keep up. I look forward to seeing Joe Thornton in the Western Conference Final this season.

Shane’s Prediction: Sharks in 6, regardless of opponent.

Model’s Prediction: Sharks in 5, regardless of opponent.

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. New York Islanders

Tampa Bay Strengths: The Tampa Bay Lightning are a great 5v5 team, with a great goaltender. Ben Bishop posted a .926 save percentage during the regular season, and a .950 save percentage through the team’s first round victory over the Detroit Red Wings. Just like last season, the Bolts are one of the best teams in the East.

Tampa Bay Weaknesses: The Lightning are missing Anton Stralman and Steven Stamkos. Nikita Kucherov has stepped up in the absence of Stamkos, scoring 5 goals and adding 3 assists to finish with 8 points in 5 playoff games, put the team’s puck possession numbers haven’t survived the absence of two key players. Against Detroit, the Lightning only managed a 49.5% Corsi For percentage, and relied a little too much on Ben Bishop.

New York Strengths: The New York Islanders have Thomas Greiss, who finished second in the league with a .933 5v5 save percentage, and John Tavares, who had 9 points in 6 playoff games against the Florida Panthers. The Islanders also have one of the league’s best penalty kills, and don’t take a ton of penalties.

New York Weaknesses: The Islanders are not a good 5v5 team. Over the past 20 games of the season, they had a 46.7% Corsi For percentage. Against the Florida Panthers, they had a 44.1% CF%. The Islanders will need another magical performance from Greiss, who had a .944 save percentage against the Panthers.

The Islanders are not a good team. They won their first round series because their goaltender played out of his mind, and because their star player was, well, a star player. The Lightning may be missing some key players, but I still see them dominating the Islanders and moving on to the next round.

Shane’s Prediction: Tampa Bay in 5.

Model’s Prediction: Tampa Bay in 5.

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals

Pittsburgh Strengths: The Penguins are basically the same team they were headed into the first round, and now they’ve got Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup (and healthy). From our first round preview:

Ever since Mike Sullivan took over behind the bench for Pittsburgh, the Penguins have been one of the league’s 5v5 teams, with a CF% of 55.3% only being bested by the Los Angeles Kings’ 56.5%. The 5v5 dominance is complimented by a strong penalty kill (5th in the league in efficiency), and solid net minding from Marc-Andre Fleury (his .921 save percentage is 6th among goalies who played 50 games).

Change “Marc-Andre Fleury” to “Matt Murray”, and you’ve got yourself a pretty solid description of this Penguins team.

Pittsburgh Weaknesses: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Washington Strengths: Like the Penguins, the Capitals are an elite hockey team that showcased it in round 1. From our round 1 preview!

The Washington Capitals finished the season with a 52.0% CF%, and had a 52.4% CF% post trade deadline. With Braden Holtby in net, and elite shooters/playmakers such as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechking, the Captials could be expected to maintain a slighty elevated PDO. They did, and their goals for percentage on the season was the top in the league. They also have elite special teams. Their dominance of the league standings this year was no fluke; the Capitals are a very, very good hockey team.

They good.

Washington Weaknesses: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

These two teams are ridiculously talented/skilled/elite/synonyms for the words good, and the winner of this series is going to be the Cup favorite moving forward. I see this as a bit of a toss up, but I have to go with Pittsburgh. They’ve just been too good since Mike Sullivan’s take over.

Shane’s Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7.

Model’s Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7.

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