Wednesday, May 30, 2012

#257: Stanley Cup Final 2012

---Not a Complete Surprise---

This has been the worst season for predicting winners on this blog.

Through three rounds, SOGD (Shots on Goal Differential) + SV% (Save Percentage) remains dead even at 7-7 (old model is 6-8).

The only prediction that can really be "touted" here is that, once again, the Stanley Cup winner will have had a positive SOGD (the last "threat" to that prediction, Phoenix, went down relatively quickly).

We have a #6 seed hosting a #8 seed when the Stanley Cup Final opens tonight in front of 2,412 fans at the Prudential Center.

First, what happened in the third round:

Western Conference

#3 Phoenix vs. #8 Los Angeles

The new system said Kings in 6.

The old one said Kings in a sweep.

It landed right in the middle with a 5-game victory for Los Angeles.

I'd almost have to argue that the old system was closer. If not for a very impressive Game Four performance by Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith, this could have been done as quickly as L.A.'s last series vs. the Blues.

The Kings peppered Phoenix to the tune of 14 more shots per game (on average). In this league, you cannot repeatedly take this kind of punishment and expect to win. It can happen, but a goaltender can realistically only steal you one series like this. They can't win you 16 games.

Kudos to Mike Smith for a valiant effort. His team lost by more than 2 goals only once (and the one 2-goal loss was made so because of an empty net at the end).

Eastern Conference

#1 NY Rangers vs. #6 New Jersey

Official pick was New York in 6.

Other system had New York in 7.

The Devils rallied to win 3 straight after falling into a 2-1 hole against the Rangers. I'm not even entirely sure how they managed to do it.

For the series, the Rangers only outshot the Devils by 8. Total. Not per game. Total. And, the Devils lost a 3-0 game where they outshot New York by 14. So, I am at a little bit of a loss to explain this one.

The stats tell me that Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist was a bit of a goat. If the Devils scored, they won (New York's 2 wins were by virtue of shutout). There was also, apparently, some questionable officiating. Whether that's true or not, Steeltown Sports' motto is: "Champions Overcome."

Who would have thought that the Devils' toughest matchup through three rounds would have been the Florida Panthers, who took them to double overtime in the deciding Game 7?

Now, let's review the regular season SOGD and SV% of the Finalists:

Eastern Conference
6. New Jersey +0.7 (.907)

Western Conference
8. Los Angeles +3.2 (.924)

By now, this alone should tell you who is probably going to win it all.

Stanley Cup Final

#6 New Jersey vs. #8 Los Angeles

If you're looking at this from L.A.'s point of view, some might think this will be another cakewalk series. And why not? The Kings have lost all of 2 games this postseason, vanquishing #1 seed Vancouver, #2 seed St. Louis, and #3 seed Phoenix in short order.

Now here comes a #6?

Stats aside, this series does have a bit of intrigue.

Both the Devils and Kings started rebuilding at about the same time, and in three seasons, they've made it to the ultimate stage.

New Jersey is looking to send legendary netminder Martin Brodeur out a winner (if they win, Brodeur will almost certainly retire). After plenty of punishment, the deal that brought Ilya Kovulchuk from Atlanta to the Garden State is bearing fruit. Travis Zajac (the player who helped end my "Florida in 6 (in Overtime)" prediction has rebounded from what was thought to be a season-ending injury.

The Kings, meanwhile, have a few players who have been close to hockey's Holy Grail (Mike Richards, Jeff Carter) but never drank from it. A superstar who's hungry (Anze Kopitar), and a defenseman who has won it all and was signed for big bucks by Los Angeles to do what he's done (Rob Scuderi).

The Kings have been very good at outshooting their opponents. The Devils can be very good at shutting teams down, at least to the point of limiting them to poor quality chances. The post-lockout rules have made it difficult to completely re-realize the hated neutral zone trap.

In goal, you have a first-ballot Hall of Famer (whom I've mentioned), and a "quick"ly rising star (and Vezina Trophy candidate) in Jonathan Quick.

And, of course, we have the New Jersey DEVILS vs. the City of ANGELS.

(Well played, Mayans. Well, played.)

So, will the Kings be crowned? Or will the Devils reign?

Official Steeltown Sports pick: LA in 6.

SOGD only indicates Kings in 5.

Both systems have had the same projected winner in 12 out of 15 series this year. I have a feeling that will not be a normal thing going forward.


"Hey, Mike," you might be thinking. "This blog is called 'Steeltown Sports,' but you haven't had a Pittsburgh-related blurb since your chart-topping radio show was on. What gives?"

Well, thanks for asking.

Truth is, if you've read this thing with any regularity, you know most of my thoughts on the Pirates (who are the only team really in season right now) always boil down to "Bob Nutting doesn't care to spend money to win as long as people keep coming to the ball park."

There isn't even a dead horse left to whip.


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