Last spring, I started taking a relatively simple mathematical look at each series, using shots on goal and goaltender save percentages to determine which team might be expected to win the series.
Since I'm the first one to emphasize that overall statistics (or standings) are not necessarily representative of the current value for a team, especially with respect to injuries, these statistics merely provide a baseline for the series, perhaps providing an idea what a team needs to do in order to emerge victorious.
In some cases, teams will simply need to keep doing what they've been doing throughout the regular season; in others, they might need better goaltending, or fewer shots against, or more shots for -- just something -- to provide better expected results in a seven-game series.
The calculations below are rather simple and the expected goals for each team in the series are determined by taking each team's shots for and against over the course of the season and splitting the difference.
So, Vancouver had 31.5 shots on goal per game and Los Angeles allowed 27.4 shots on goal per game; the average of those two numbers is 29.45 shots, so that's the number that is then multiplied by (1 - the opposing goaltenders' save percentage) to determine an expected goals per game.
Finally, the number is multiplied by seven to indicate an expected goal total for a seven-game series. There's no guarantee that scoring more goals in a series will result in winning four games first, but the odds certainly favour the team that scores more.
|Los Angeles||30.6||27.4||Jonathan Quick||0.929||17.41|
Verdict: The Kings gave the Canucks all they could handle in four head-to-head matchups this season, and Los Angeles' propensity for limiting shots on goal, combined with one of the league's best goaltenders this season, actually gives the Kings a fighting chance, especially considering that they are an eighth seed. The Canucks suffered one regulation loss in their last 10 games, the last nine of which were played without LW Daniel Sedin, who is expected to make his return for the playoffs. The Kings suffered two regulation losses in their last 14 games and will present more of a challenge than a typical eighth seed because, if Jeff Carter is able to play, his presence helped lift the Kings out of what had been a season-long goal-scoring funk. The issue that could come into play is, if the Kings win the goaltending battle early, will the Canucks give backup Cory Schneider (who posted a .937 save percentage this season) an opportunity to take the reins.
|St. Louis||30.6||26.7||Jaroslav Halak||0.926||17.61|
|San Jose||33.8||28.6||Antti Niemi||0.915||15.67|
Verdict: The Sharks are one of three teams to outshoot the opposition by more than five shots per game, yet they have to face a stifling Blues defence that is backed by strong goaltending. One of the problems that can exist for a team that finishes high in the standings and has an impressive backup goaltender (same goes for Vancouver above) is that they don't get to reap the rewards so much in the postseason, since the schedule generally allows the starter to go the whole way, unless poor play dictates a change. In St. Louis' case, it's an advantage to have Brian Elliott ready to be called in, yet that advantage is not fully realized until the Blues decide to go with him instead of expected starter Jaroslav Halak.
Verdict: Phoenix is one of three playoff teams to be outshot by at least 2.0 shots per game, so they come in at a decided territorial disadvantage against Chicago, but the Blackhawks have a few strikes against them -- the questionable status of centre Jonathan Toews and shaky goaltending. Maybe Corey Crawford, who has been playing well since mid-March, can hold his own for a series against Mike Smith, because it's not like Smith had a track record of such success prior to this season, but there's no denying that Smith has been great this season and he comes into the playoffs on a high, allowing a total of two goals against in his last five starts.
Verdict: For all the additions that they made throughout the season to improve their roster, not the least of which is getting Alexander Radulov back from the KHL, the Predators remain a team that gets outshot consistently and they're going up against a Red Wings team that, despite injuries to Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstrom during the season, still ranked among the very best in the league in shot differential. Additionally, Jimmy Howard has enjoyed a bounceback season so, provided he can stay healthy, that could diminish the Predators' advantage between the pipes.
|N.Y. Rangers||28.5||27.8||Henrik Lundqvist||0.930||18.21|
Verdict: While the Ottawa Senators have been the surprise team of this season, they come in as decided underdogs against a Rangers team that has both an advantage in goaltending and a defensive style that allows four fewer shots on goal per game. Craig Anderson has had some strong playoff performances and the Senators have game-breaking talents that could make matters interesting, but the Rangers' strong play all season long has established them as rightful favourites.
Verdict: The defending-champion Bruins hold a slight advantage, though Thomas isn't playing at the elite level that he did in 2010-2011. Braden Holtby has played well in seven games for the Capitals this season, but it's only been seven games and injuries to Tomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth have created the possibility of the Capitals opening the playoffs with their third-string goaltender in net. One wildcard for the Capitals is the return of C Nicklas Backstrom. He missed most of the second half of the season with a concussion, but if he's able to play at a high level, he could make the Capitals better than their overall numbers suggest and would give Washington a fighting chance at pulling off the upset.
|New Jersey||27.5||26.8||Martin Brodeur||0.908||16.85|
Verdict: It seems preposterous to suggest that the Devils are at a goaltending disadvantage with Martin Brodeur facing Jose Theodore, but Brodeur has a below-average .908 save percentage this season and hasn't made it out of the first round since 2007. Of course, Theodore's recent playoff history isn't sparkling either, getting yanked after suffering opening game losses in 2009 and 2010 while with the Capitals and, to top it off, he's winless in his last seven starts, so it's not easy to forecast a Florida victory. Expectations are higher in New Jersey, where they have achieved so much success, but the higher-seeded Panthers could actually push the Devils.
Verdict: Quite possibly the toughest first-round matchup, the Penguins are close to firing on all cylinders now that they have Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and others back in the lineup. That healthy roster gives Pittsburgh an advantage over a Philadelphia team dealing with more injuries. The Penguins may be the Cup favourite, but it wouldn't be a shocking turn of events if their Round One opponent intefered with such grand plans, especially if Bryzgalov is on his game, as he has been for much of the second half of this season. If Bryzgalov can outduel Fleury, it could offset the Penguins' high-octane offence.