Thursday, April 28, 2011

#199: NHL Playoffs, Round 2

---Shocking Results---

Right off the bat, I'll mention that the official Steeltown Sports predictions in Round One, as far as winners were concerned, went 4-4 (Washington, San Jose, Detroit, and Nashville were correct).

Professional bettors would never accept that.

Then again, professional bettors typically make their money off of upsets, and there were only two, insofar as seeding (both #5s defeated the #4s).

It's enough to make Barry Melrose (who picked every single higher seed in Round 1) look like a genius.

If you remember from post #197, we also ran an experiment to find out of these was a stronger tendency to predict a series winner factoring in save percentage.

Vancouver, San Jose, Nashville, Washington, Philadelphia, and Boston were correctly predicted in that model, which, of course, is 6-2. With a better corrolation than the current official system, we'll keep following to see if it holds.

Another prediction that seems to be coming true is the one that said NHL fans were in for an exciting postseason. With six series going at least six games, and four going the distance, that doesn't appear to be far off, either. And it should only get better.

First, a thumbnail sketch of the series that were.

Western Conference

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Chicago

Strange times. Checking the statistics from the seven games as a total, Vancouver outshot Chicago by just two. The Canucks had the lower save percentage (89.8% vs 92.7%) and a lower shooting percentage (8.7% vs. 10.2%).

However, Chicago lost three of four games by just one goal, and won two of their three by 5 goals, which would account for the percentage advantages.

This actually does not bode too well for the Canucks if they want to have a chance at the Cup (which many so-called "experts" are predicting), except that they have drawn the weakest team remaining in the tournament, the Nashville Predators.

Despite season averages, Vancouver actually outshot Chicago in five of the seven games.

And speaking of seventh games, their Game 7 was a classic, with a shorthanded goal by reigning Conn Smythe trophy winner Jonathan Toews with under two minutes to go to force overtime.

More, please...

#2 San Jose vs. #7 Los Angeles

This is one of those series that the Shots-on-Goal Differential (SOGD) + Save percentage formula worked perfectly. The Sharks advanced in a thrilling six games over the game L.A. Kings. Still, the ice was tilted in San Jose's favor much of the series, with the Sharks outshooting Los Angeles by an average of 10 shots per game. I'm not certain if it was Kings' goalie Jonathan Quick's fairly decent 91.3% save percentage or San Jose netminder Antti Niemi's anemic 86.3% that allowed the series to go six games.

#3 Detroit vs. #6 Phoenix

This is one of two series that this blog nailed, accurately predicting a Motor City sweep. Detroit trailed only three times in the series (once early in Game 1, and twice in Game 4). To Phoenix's credit, they did win the shots battle in Game 2 (33-31), but were outshot, on average by 7 shots per game.

#4 Anaheim vs. #5 Nashville

This is the other series that this blog nailed, accurately predicting Nashville winning its first-ever Stanley Cup playoff round in six. This was the only matchup that involved two teams with negative shots on goal differentials for the season, and it was fairly ugly. Nashville outshot Anaheim by an average of about 4.5 shots per game, but Anaheim was also assessed 32 more minutes in penalties (12 of them coming with 10 seconds left in the series).

Neither goalie did particularly well, either. The Ducks' Ray Emery posted a 89.7% save rate, while Vezina finalist Pekka Rinne (another accurate prediction) underperformed with a borderline-terrible 87.6%

Eastern Conference

#1 Washington vs. #8 NY Rangers

This is the only series winner from the East SOGD correctly predicted. Washington won in 5, though had it not been for the Rangers blowing a 3-0 lead in Game 4, the "Washington in 6" might have been a third series predicted accurately.

Despite the talk in the mainstream sports media about how dangerous the Washington Capitals offense is, it was actually pretty quiet against New York. Washington had a little better than one-shot-per-game average over New York. It was actually buoyed by the goaltending of Michal Neuwirth, posting an NHL second-best save percentage of 94.7%. New York's shooting percentage was a pathetic 5.4% (tied for worst in the first round).

On the other side of the rink, Henrik Lundqvist saved an OK (but pretty low for him) 91.7% Washington shot only 8.3%.

#2 Philadelphia vs. #7 Buffalo

Both the official Steeltown Sports pick and the little off-shoot experiment we're running here predicted a 7-game series. The experiment picked the right team.

The Flyers had a slightly higher team save percentage than Buffalo (91.5% vs. 91.2%), but the surprise was that Buffalo only outshot the Flyers in game 3, despite the season differential being in the Sabres favor.

#3 Boston vs. #6 Montreal

Classic, classic, classic.

Any series that goes the distance, and then some, is worth the price of admission.

It wasn't the lowest-scoring series of all time, and perhaps there were a few more goals than expected in a couple of games, but the final four games were decided by a single goal, and three of those took extra time to decide.

Neutral hockey fans, rejoice.

Once again, as with the PHI/BUF series, the Bruins had the better of the Shots-on-Goal battle overall (running counter to the regular season trend), and with comparable goalie play by both teams, the two-shots-per-game advantage the Bruins enjoyed were just enough.

#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Tampa Bay

Yes, the pick here was Pens in 7. But I had a ton of caveats with it, saying such precient things as:

Pittsburgh can certainly win this series, but it's gonna be a white-knuckler.

And the winner looks like it has a very good chance to play for Lord Stanley's Cup.


Goaltender Dwayne Roloson, who was cruelly denied a Stanley Cup when he was injured in Game One of what turned out to be a seven-game series loss for his then-Edmonton Oilers to the Carolina Hurricanes, has one more push to make.

And did he ever push. How about a first-round best save percentage of 94.9%, limiting the Penguins to an abysmal 5.4% shooting percentage (tied with the Rangers), allowing his team to rally from a 3-games-to-1 series deficit.

The Penguins, despite being equal with Tampa in the SOGD department for the season, outshot the Bolts in every game, firing at the net a first-round high 257 times. Tampa shot 77 fewer shots (an advantage for the Penguins of +11), and only Roloson's superhuman effort allowed his team to advance.

Some critics complain that it was Pittsburgh settling for low percentage shots much of the time, but they fail to remember things like the low-percentage shot that ultimately won the Stanley Cup for the Blackhawks last year, and, to a lesser extent, the gold medal for Canada in the Winter Olympic games.

The system is correct. As a Penguin fan, I have no real complaints. It was a merely a mixture of lack of execution and a gargantuan effort by an athlete who knows his days in the sport are numbered.

Marc-Andre Fleury needed to be a bit more consistent, in the middle games, too. Despite a shutout in Game 1, and a competitive 95.7% save percentage in Game 7, his average for the series was 89.9%.

That said, I still credit Dwayne Roloson, more than scorn Marc-Andre Fleury for Tampa's triumph.

Now to the next round...

Western Conference

#1 Vancouver vs. #5 Nashville

The only interest I have in this series is to find out of Pekka Rinne can find the skill set that made him a Vezina candidate, because the other side of the ice features fellow candidate (and perennial candidate) Roberto Luongo.

Vancouver's positive SOGD vs. Nashville's negative pretty much tells me that the Predators' party is just about over. For those prediting a Vancouver appearance in the Stanley Cup, this match-up buoys it because San Jose and Detroit are likely to destroy each other in other other Western Conference Semifinal.

Shots on Goal Differential says Vancouver in 5 (official pick) - and for giggles we're going to predict the Preds win game 3

The experimental SOGD with Save Percentage says Vancouver in 6.

#2 San Jose vs. #3 Detroit

Lovers of high-scoring hockey are going to need to change pants often during this series. Detroit has a high shooting percentage, and the Sharks actually put the puck on net with more frequency. There might be a couple of games in this series where the finals resemble first quarter scores in the National Football League (when they play).

If San Jose goaltender Antti Niemi doesn't push his statistics back up to an average level, Detroit may advance, despite San Jose's fairly significant SOGD advantage this season.

SOGD says San Jose in 6. (official pick)

Experiment says San Jose in 6. (dangerous when they agree in round 1...)

Eastern Conference

#1 Washington vs. #5 Tampa Bay

There is a deceptive amount of experience on this Tampa Bay team. Many of these folks have been making playoff runs long before the lockout of a few years ago. Being tested against a Penguin team whose system is almost enough to get by without a superstar now go against a team whose system, while improved, is not on the same level.

Washington is just happy to have avoided a first-round let down. I think Dwayne Roloson will have an easier time of it, whereas Michal Neuwirth will get a rude awakening to the second round. This Lightning team is for real.

SOGD says Tampa Bay in 6. (official pick)

Experiment says (when adjusting Tampa's save percentage slightly for Roloson's addition) Capitals in 6.

Did I mention that I kind of hate what the experiment predicts sometimes?

#2 Philadelphia vs. #3 Boston

Two teams just happy to be here after trailing in their respective first round series and each having to play a decider at home.

Philly is the defending Eastern Conference Champions, and Boston is the expert-predicted 2011 Eastern Conference Champions (but not by me).

Both teams like it rough. Both teams shoot a bunch. Both teams allow other teams to shoot a bunch. Old-time hockey fans should enjoy this one, top to bottom.

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas cannot afford to take a step back if his team is to advance.

SOGD says Flyers in 5. (official pick)

Experiment says Bruins in 6.

With the way things are, I expect the winner of San Jose/Detroit to play for the Cup as they were supposed to meet in the Western Conference Final...but Chicago's loss to Vancouver flipped the script (still predicting the Sharks, though). The East is more wide-open, though I think the Lightning showed people a lot of what they didn't expect. San Jose over Tampa Bay is how it looks to me right now.

Your comments, as well as your own predictions, are welcome.


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