Thursday, April 29, 2010

#147: On to Round 2...

---SOGD goes 5-3 in Round 1---

I'm not off to as good a start as I was after one round last year.

If this is the first time you've read "Steeltown Sports," the past couple of years I have been tracking NHL playoff series results round-by-round, using regular season shots-on-goal differential, or SOGD (taking the average shots a team takes per game throughout the year, and subtracting the number of shots given up). A negative SOGD is pretty much the death knell insofar as actually going on to win the Stanley Cup.

Last season, I introduced a wrinkle, taking into account a team's SOGD after the trade deadline and tried to predict series winners off a combination of both the entire season and post-trade numbers. I went 6-2 in the first round (11-4 overall in predicting series).

This year, I really didn't change my approach. "Steeltown Sports" is 5-3 after the Conference Quarterfinals, which, in my opinion, is not that good.

San Jose, Chicago, Detroit, Pittsburgh and Boston all advanced, but Washington, New Jersey and L.A. fell.

With Round Two about to get under way with San Jose/Detroit Game One (in less than an hour as I write this), I feel I have to write quickly to make "valid" predictions.

First, a quick review as to what "went wrong" in the three series I missed.

1) L.A. in 7 over Vancouver.

I even called it "a thrilling 7". The teams were very close statistically, but L.A. had the slight edge. Vancouver, though, as a unit, had experience.

In the six games, L.A. only outshot Vancouver twice (not the same two games that they won, though). That said, Kings goalie Jonathan Quick was not up to the task and finished with an inferior save percentage (a vastly more telling stat that Goals Against Average) for the series than his Canuck counterpart, Roberto Luongo (.884 for quick, vs. .893).

Had L.A. gotten the better of the shots-on-goal, they might have won. Experience (or lack thereof) seems to be the chief difference, at least at a preliminary glance.

2) N.J. in 6 over Philadelphia.

This is simply a matter of Flyers goalie Brian Boucher absolutely shining over Martain Brodeur of the Devils. Unlike the L.A./Vancouver series, this wasn't even close. In the five games it took Philly to oust Joisey, the Devils won the shots on goal battle in four of them. Philly won Game One 2-1, despite getting only 14 shots.

For the series, Boucher had a sterling SV% of .940, and Brodeur looked tired or uninspired with a mark of .881: virtually first and last among all qualifying goalies in the opening round. Few saw that coming.

And, you may have noticed that Boucher is getting all the press.

The only match for the SOGD statistic is a hot goalie. How to predict a hot goalie is the quandry I have yet to solve.

3) Washington in 5 over Montreal.

The shocker of the tournament. Even if Montreal beats Pittsburgh in Round Two, it will not be the gargantuan giant-felling that this 7-game epic was.

And, just like Boucher in the Phi/NJ series, it's a goaltender of the underdog who is getting the credit (and rightfully so): Jaroslav Halak.

Halak is just a shave behind Boucher in the SV% department (.939), but he faced nearly twice as many shots.

The Capitals, meanwhile, seemed to not know how to handle the increasing pressure, having blown through to a division title and the President's Trophy.

Montreal had (and still has) nothing to lose.

Moving now to a quick look at Round 2.

Here are the SOGD averages for the season (and the SOGD averages after the trade deadline) of the surviving teams.

Eastern Conference
4. Pittsburgh +4.1 (+8.9)
6. Boston +1.9 (+4.1)
7. Philadelphia +3.0 (+2.0)
8. Montreal -3.5 (+0.4)

Western Conference
1. San Jose +0.4 (+0.7)
2. Chicago +9.0 (+7.3)
3. Vancouver +1.4 (+1.4)
5. Detroit +4.0 (+7.1)

Western Conference

#1 San Jose vs. #5 Detroit

The Sharks struggled against the only team in the tournament with a negative SOGD in both the regular season and trade deadline categories.

Now, they're facing a Red Wings team that finally found their championship stride in the final two periods of Game 7 against the otherwise very game Phoenix Coyotes.

Statistically, Detroit should roll in five, especially if you take into account San Jose's goalie Evgeni Nabokov's tendency to underperform in the playoffs.

That said, I think San Jose was looking past Colorado and allowed them to gain some confidence. They know they're up against the two-time defending Western Conference champions, so that should light more of a fire. Still...

Red Wings in six.

#2 Chicago vs. #3 Vancouver

The roles are reversed this year, with Chicago having home ice advantage.

What is the same, though, is that Chicago has a decided advantage in SOGD, both for the entire season and post-deadline.

The only thing weighing a little more in Vancouver's favor is that their SOGD is in the positive this year (unlike last year), so they're not necessarily a "sure thing" to be eliminated from winning it all.

Luongo could perform better this series than last, but his counterpart, Antti Niemi faced five more shots than Luongo in round one and made nine more saves (.921 SV%).

Luongo will very likely face several more shots than he saw against the Kings and will have to start performing better from the moment the puck drops at the United Center on Saturday.

Blackhawks in six.

Eastern Conference

#4 Pittsburgh vs. #8 Montreal

For Montreal, it's out of the frying pan and into the fire.

They oust the President's Cup winner in historic fashion (the first #8 seed to defeat a #1 after falling behind three games to one), only to face the defending Stanley Cup champions who looked pretty impressive most of the time against Ottawa.

In order to win, Jaroslav Halak will have to perform like he did in Games Six and Seven of the Capitals season at least four times. Montreal's defense, also, will be tested. They blocked a bunch of shots that never even made it to Halak, and that takes a toll.

Finally, they face their tallest task in Game One. They will have had only one day to revel in their victory only to travel from Washington to Pittsburgh to face a rested Penguin team.

If Montreal can win Game One, that might almost be more impressive than their Game Seven win against the Capitals.

The Penguins are starting to hit their stride, and unless goalie Marc-Andre Fleury implodes, Pittsburgh should finish Montreal quickly.

Penguins in five.

#6 Boston vs. #7 Philadelphia

This will be the most entertaining of the series. Boston's goalie Tuukka Rask was fourth overall in SV% (.927), so if both he and Boucher can perform at similar levels, there won't be many goals scored.

Not only that, but the season-long SOGD works in favor of Philadelphia, but the post-deadline stat sways toward Boston. The tiebreaker here might just be Boucher's save percentage combined with Boston's low scoring percentage during the regular season (a league-low 7.5%). It was only 7.8% during round one, so not much better.

With Flyers captain Mike Richards potentially injured and/or not at 100%, there are a lot of questions, but Philadelphia has more recent playoff experience and should prevail.

Flyers in seven.

Enjoy! (And feel free to comment)


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