Western Conference First Round Preview

Before I get to breaking down each series, let’s take a moment to Thank David Ortiz (God) about the fact that the Bruins are in the Eastern Conference.  Sure, they drew the Red Wings, which kinda sucks, but they could play west of the Mississippi.  There are 4 elite teams in the West, by my calculation, and they all play each other in the first round, meaning that 2 elite teams will automatically be crossed off a couple of weeks from now.  HA.

Now, let’s get down to business…

Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars

In case you’re wondering, I’m not putting the Ducks in the “elite” category in the west, and the fact that the Stars are 6 spots ahead of them in team Fenwick Close Percentage should tell you why.  The Stars are 9th at 51.9%, and the Ducks are 15th at 50.2%.  The Stars also have an advantage in net, as Kari Lehtonen’s SV% is 91.9 compared to Jonas Hiller’s 91.1.  It also should be noted, however little it matters, that the Stars played in the Central, the hardest division in the league.  The Pacific was harder than either Eastern division, but it wasn’t the Central, so the Stars had tougher competition throughout the year.  Both teams are bad on the PP and just ok when down a man, with the Ducks having a slight advantage, but it’s not going to swing the series.

The more I think about it, the more it feels like the series will come down to Lehtonen.  Contrary to what a lot of Bruins fans will think based on last year, I expect Tyler Seguin and his line to score against Jonas Hiller.  Whether Lehtonen will have better success against Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry is another question entirely.  Ultimately, though, I think the Canadian Olympians will show up and score on Lehtonen just enough for the Ducks to win, and it’ll be the kind of close series that shocks no one who involves advanced stats but shocks everyone who just picks favorites.  Be prepared for the “Stars were almost the surprise of the first round” narratives, even though it should surprise no one if they keep this series close.

Ducks in 7.

Colorado Avalanche vs. Minnesota Wild

Ilya Bryzgalov is not the Ilya Bryzgalov from Philadelphia.  In fact, after starter Josh Harding went down and Niklas Backstrom started sucking, he came in an was about a league average, or maybe slightly better, goaltender.  That’s not exactly amazing, but it’s far better than what people think when they hear the name “Bryzgalov” now.  Wild fans will also like the fact that the Avs are only rated 27th in FF% at 46.8%, but the Wild aren’t much better at 48.6%, which is just 21st.

Despite the fact that Breezy (Yes, that’s how his name is pronounced) isn’t as bad as people assume, here’s the problem: He’s going up against Semyon Varlamov, who is far better than “average” this season.  Varlamov is the non-Tuukka Rask Vezina winner, and, simply put, the advanced stats advantages that the Wild have won’t overcome the goaltending differential.

P.S. This is the time to note just how amazingly lucky the Avs were that the Blues collapsed in the end of the regular season.  They went from facing the Blackhawks to facing the Wild.  Patrick Roy definitely owns Ryan Miller’s sex tape.

Avalanche in 6.

Chicago Blackhawks at St. Louis Blues

Can I take a rain check on predicting this one?  This all comes down to injuries, and nobody knows how healthy the Blues will be.  They’re currently without the American Beast Mode tandem of David Backes and T.J. Oshie, and it’s hard to tell if they’ll be back Thursday.  It looks like Backes will be ready by Game 2 at worst, and probably Game 1, but Oshie’s status is completely up in the air because of the nature of head injuries.  Vladamir Tarasenko is also out, which was expected but is still a big deal.

And that doesn’t include the injuries to Vladamir Sobotka or Brenden Morrow.  It also doesn’t include the injuries to Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, because both of those guys will be back for the playoffs.  So we have a banged up Blues team currently struggling vs. the Cup Champion Hawks coming into their own.  Sure, that sounds like a narrative, but I think it’s true in this case.  This series might just be an example of one team getting lucky in its injury timing, while the other got the short end of the stick.  Either way, I just think that the Blackhawks’ switch will be turned completely on.  Let’s bemoan the fact once again that the Avs could’ve gotten the Blackhawks and the Blues could’ve gotten the Wild.

Blackhawks in 5.  (Absolutely subject to change before Thursday if the Blues’ injuries are less severe than it seems.)

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

Holy shit is this series amazing.  These are possibly the two best teams in the league, especially after the recent additions to the team.  Marian Gaborik had 16 points in 19 games for the Kings after the trade deadline, and by Kings standards, that’s like Wayne Gretzky level.  And the reason that I use the phrase “recent addition” for the Sharks is that rookie Tomas Hertl has finally returned, and I don’t think people are paying enough attention to this variable.

With Hertl, the Sharks’ depth is now not all that far off from that of the Kings.  The Kings are ridiculously loaded on all 4 lines, which project to be Marian Gaborik – Anze Kopitar – Justin Williams, Jeff Carter – Mike Richards – Jordan Nolan, Dwight King – Jarrett Stoll – Dustin Brown, Kyle Clifford – Trevor Lewis – Tyler Toffoli.  That’s insane.  But now look at the Sharks top 12, or at least top 9.  Joe Pavelski – Joe Thornton – Brent Burns, Patrick Marleau – Logan Couture – Martin Havlat, Tomas Hertl – James Sheppard -Tommy Wingels.  That’s also pretty sick, even if the 4th line isn’t as good as the Kings’.

I haven’t mentioned the fact that the Kings are 1st in FF% at 56.7% and the Sharks are 3rd at 54.6%, which is kind of important.  The Kings are are obviusly awesome at shot differential, but there may be something to their inability to score.  They may be one of the few examples in recent memory of teams that shoot at a below average level, and even a huge advanced stats proponent like Tyler Dellow agrees.  But it seems like the differences in shooting ability would be at least made up for by the differences in shot differential.

Both teams are built for 5 on 5 with a tad of good penalty killing thrown in.  San Jose is slightly better at both, but neither of the teams’ special teams units will likely be the difference maker in the series.

The Kings have Jonathan Quick, who has been the best goalie in the playoffs over the past 2 years.  He always seems to step his game up in the spring, and it would shock literally no one if the same thing happened this year.  But Antti Niemi isn’t too shabby in net, either, although he’s not Quick.

On paper, the Kings have a slight advantage, while the Sharks have home ice.  But this is the kind of series that you can actually base a lot of your prediction off of hunches, because the teams are so damn close in terms of everything that we can measure.  These are two heavyweights going at it, and it’ll be a great series, but one has to lose.  I’m going to barely pick the Sharks, because there may be something to the idea that they’ll have more urgency than ever, as this could be Thornton, Marleau, and Boyle’s last real shot at a Cup.

Sharks in 7.

One response

  1. […] case you missed it, here is my preview for the Western Conference’s first round playoff matchups.  Here is the one for the East, […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: