Saturday, April 28, 2012

#254: Refer to post #253

---SSL Broadcast #91---

See the article below (the write-up for NHL Round 2) for this week's "blurb".

On the penultimate episode of Steeltown Sports Live:

- Overjoyed at the Steelers picking two offensive linemen

- Pirates, despite better batting average, still can't score.

- Penguins can't dig themselves out of deepest of holes.

- Power needs to beat someone other than Orlando.


Friday, April 27, 2012

#253: 2012 NHL Playoffs - Round 2

---Surprising First Round---

SOGD, we have a problem.

Incidentally, we also have a problem with SOGD + SV%.

For those who have no earthly clue what I'm talking about, I suggest reading this post.

The first round of action in the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs is concluded, and, based on the initial predictions, you could say that things, especially in the Eastern Conference, are well off from what I expected.

The skinny for those who like to skim and not read:

The new model for predicting series winners using SOGD (Shots On Goal Differential) offset by SV% (Save Percentage), the record was 4-4 (getting the St. Louis/San Jose series exactly).

Our old model, using SOGD alone, went 3-5 (with the Los Angeles/Vancouver prediction coming out exact).

The old model has now been struggling two years in a row, while the more advanced predictor has already lost one more series than it did all of last postseason.

If things don't go well the rest of the way, the NHL may indeed have found a way to counter SOGD, and a different statistic may have become a better predictor.

Let's not get too far ahead, though.

First, what happened in Round One? Were any of the expected trends bucked for those best-of-sevens?

Western Conference

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Los Angeles

The picks were:

Official Steeltown Sports pick (using SOGD and SV%): Kings in 7

Old model: LA in 5

The Kings were "unanimous" here, and they delivered. And it was mainly because of the goaltending they received from Jonathan Quick in games 2 and 3, where the Kings were outshot by at more than 20 shots per game (both Kings wins, regardless). Otherwise, this series may very well have gone longer. Vancouver's goaltending was actually slightly better than its season average. Both teams shot the puck during the series at a higher rate than their regular season averages. Quick was the difference in ending the series earlier.

#2 St. Louis vs. #7 San Jose

The picks were:

Official Steeltown Sports pick: St. Louis in 5.

Old Model: San Jose in 6.

Again, goaltending was the main story here, at least in the series' brevity. Brian Elliott came off the bench for an injured Jaroslav Halak in game two and didn't lose a contest. He posted a save percentage of .949 in 3.66 games. For the series, St. Louis had the better of the shot number, too. About 1.6 shots more per games. Not a vast difference, but San Jose was the 2nd-highest shooting team in the league in the regular season (33.8 Shots per game).

Former Stanley Cup champion (and current Shark) goaltender Antti Niemi performed slightly below the season average, helping the Blues take the most advantage of their slight shots sdvantage.

#3 Phoenix vs. #6 Chicago

The picks:

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Phoenix in 5.

SOGD only: Blackhawks in 5.

It's series like this one that convinced me to use the updated model. By all rights, Chicago should have run away with this series in 5. They pounded the Phoenix net with pucks, but Mike Smith denied the Blackhawks again and again and again.

Even more impressive is how he was able to stay composed as each game (except for #6) went into overtime in 5 straight games (the first time a series had gone to OT in each of the first five games in an NHL series since the 1951 Stanley Cup Final).

But the goaltending for Chicago, a bottom-5 showing throughout the regular season, caved to a 2nd-best-in-the-league Phoenix team.

#4 Nashville vs. #5 Detroit

The picks were:

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Detroit in 7.

SOGD alone: Wings sweep in 4.

While both predictions were wrong, the official one was "closer," if that can be said. Nashville's efficient 5-game elimination of Detroit was pretty much due to the play of its netminder (and recently announced Vezina Trophy nominee...which I expected in the last preview) Pekka Rinne. In both games 3 and 4 of the series - which were in Detroit - Rinne posted outstanding .976 and .953 save percentages, despite facing over 40 shots in each contest. Nashville never managed more than 26 in a game. Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard was apparently not up to the task.

Alexander Radulov, while not invisible, was not the force that some might have expected. This was a patient team effort spearheaded by its goaltender.

Detroit had a shot advantage of nearly 9 more per game, but Rinne's .931 SV% vs. Howard's well-below season average of .883 proved to be Hockeytown's undoing.

Eastern Conference

#1 NY Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa

The predictions were:

Official Steeltown Sports pick: New York in 5.

SOGD alone: Rangers in 6.

Is it just me, or does it feel like the Rangers lost this series?

After a bold win by New York in Game One, jumping out to a 4-0 lead, neither team scored more than 3 after that (and only once scored the third goal in regulation...Rangers in Game 6).

Ottawa actually had the better of the shooting, which surprised me. Both teams had better than average goaltending (and when you're including Vezina candidate Henrik Lundqvist in that, that's saying something). Total save percentage was .937, and a little more than 60 total shots per game came to the nets.

The Rangers dug down when they had to, but most folks would look at this series and think that New York's stay in the playoffs might be shorter than most fans of the Blue hope.

#2 Boston vs. #7 Washington

The picks:

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Boston in 5.

SOGD only - Boston in 5.

Both predictions were equally wrong, as the defending champions bowed out.

And, really, the only reason they lost was due to an unexpected, and, admittedly, incalculable factor: 22-year old Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby.

With injuries to the top two netminders, Washington was forced to play Holtby - who responded by posting a .940 SV%, including a mind-blowing .958 SV% on the road!

The return of Mike Green and Nicklas Backstrom helped to a degree, but in a series where each game was decided by a single goal, Holtby was the true deciding factor.

As for it being predictable, his NHL career's sample size was too small. He'd played in just 21 NHL games. While he posted a none-too-shabby .924 SV% in those contests, that would hardly be enough to go by. His AHL SV% is a little below that. And playing on the other end of the ice from the reigning Stanley Cup-, Conn Smythe- and Vezina-trophy-winning goaltender? Well, as some Spanish speakers I know would say:


#3 Florida vs. #6 New Jersey

The picks:

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Florida in 6 (in overtime).

SOGD by itself: Devils in 6.

Of all the series I missed, and speaking strictly as a stats guy instead of a Penguins fan, this is the one that makes me cry inside the most.

Travis Zajac of the Devils ruined what was surely going to make me look like a prophet to some attractive puck bunny and I'd be all set.

And then, despite trailing 2-0 in the 3rd period in the deciding game, Florida teases me again by tying it, then losing it in DOUBLE OT.

I referenced in the last preview post about how the Devils were series favorites by a 1-to-2 margin. I think that anyone who took the Devils may have spent their winnings on antacids. Seriously, this was as even as a matchup as anyone could have wanted.

The Devils outshot the Panthers by an average of 4 shots per game, but Florida's save percentage was .05 higher. In the end, the Devils were just one goal (and a very late goal it was) better, ultimately outscoring Florida 18-17.

#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Philadelphia

The predictions were:

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Penguins in 7.

SOGD-only: Pens in 6.

Despite my disappointment that, for the second year in a row, the Pittsburgh Penguins did not play up to their statistics, particularly on the goaltending end, I am proud of some of my homer Penguin buddies.

These are the folks who get mad when anyone levels criticism at goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury...ever...then ignorantly spout off that those people should just stop watching hockey. I have to laugh, because some of those angry folk used to play hockey on some level.

The irony is thick.

But these same folks have found it acceptable, in this series, to say the Fleury was largely awful (outside a few good periods in games 4 and 5) - but so was everyone else.

Penguin fans will be haunted all off-season by the "ones that got away," namely Games 1 and 2 at home, where first period leads of 3-0 and 3-1 vanished and turned into losses. Then there was the embarrassment in Game 3 where the team came unglued and worried more about fighting than playing hockey (and notice how the fighting did not bring them a victory...). Then, when players got suspended, the team decided they would play hockey and win a couple of games before finally running completely out of gas in Game 6.

Still, I'm gonna give myself a couple of cookies here for some other predictions made about this series:

I predict three fights, but no brawls in a series that is destined to go the distance.

Ok. A third of a cookie here. According to the penalty minutes assigned, there were only three fights (all in Game 3). And there was certainly a brawl. And the series did not go the distance. Why did I bother writing this paragraph?

[T]here should be more than a couple high-scoring affairs. It will likely be the highest-scoring series in Round 1.

Ding ding ding ding!

For the Penguins part, a lot of bad defense (which had been their staple through most of the regular season...seemingly starting to come unglued when Sidney Crosby came back...don't know if those two events are connected), atrocious goaltending, and the inability to skate with the Flyers in the 3rd period led to their humiliating 2012 doom.

The Flyers, though, showed determination and the innate ability to accurately use a timeout. Overall, the battle may have been won with Peter Laviolette outcoaching Dan Bylsma.

Now, let's review the SOGD of the playoff teams who remain (and I have to hurry because, as I type this, the second round begins in about two hours):

Eastern Conference
1. NY Rangers +0.7 (.920)
5. Philadelphia +3.8 (.903)
6. New Jersey +0.7 (.907)
7. Washington -2.2 (.909)

Western Conference
2. St. Louis +3.9 (.929)
3. Phoenix -2.0 (.925)
4. Nashville -3.2 (.919)
8. Los Angeles +3.2 (.924)

Three of the eight quarter-finalists are in the negative SOGD department, and two play each other, so there will be at least one in the final four who will try to be the 3rd team since 1990 to win a championship in the negative.

Also, on a trivial note, one of each seed has survived: 1, 5, 6, and 7 in the East, 2, 3, 4, and 8 in the West.

Western Conference

#2 St. Louis vs. #8 Los Angeles

This should be a fantastic series.

The Kings have already slain the President's Trophy Goliath in Vancouver, they have a couple of Stanley Cup Final veterans, and they have a Vezina Trophy nominee in net.

The Blues have methodically come from obscurity into the limelight by way of solid SOGD approach, and a couple of solid goaltenders that they acquired from previous playoff teams.

Neither team has ever won a Stanley Cup, so that should add a little "heart" into this series.

Official Steeltown Sports pick (using SOGD and SV%): Blues in 7

Old model: Blues in 7.


#3 Phoenix vs. #4 Nashville

This is our battle of SOGD-negative teams (sounds like a blood type).

On the surface, it looks like Nashville has a couple more goal scorers and the better goaltender. Not only that, but they made a couple of trade deadline acquisitions.

We probably wouldn't be talking about that, though, if not for Pekka Rinne.

Phoenix spreads the scoring around, and folks seem to forget that they won their very competitive division.

Goalie to blink first probably loses, because of these teams is used to being outshot. When both teams are in the negative, the results aren't quite as predictable. That said, this postseason hasn't been predictable, either.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Phoenix in 6.

SOGD only indicates Coyotes in 6.

(Another match.)

Eastern Conference

#1 NY Rangers vs. #7 Washington

Ovechkin vs. Lundqvist is probably the selling point of this series. And maybe a bit of "rematch" factor here as the last two times the Rangers made the playoffs, it was the Capitals, as a higher seed, who eliminated them.

Still, my eyes will be on young Holtby. If he struggles, it's possible that we could see a return to the net for, most likely Michel Neuwirth first, and possible the more injured Tomas Vokoun.

The Playoffs are a different animal. Some goalies rise, some fall. Holtby has begun his rise against the defending Stanley Cup Champions. Now let's see how he does vs. the Conference's top seed.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: New York in 6.

SOGD alone has Rangers in 6.

(I'm not doing this on purpose)

#5 Philadelphia vs. #6 New Jersey

This should be the most dynamite of this round's four series. They're the only divisional rivals this go-around, their home arenas are less than two hours apart (traffic notwithstanding). Philadelphia has a slight edge in the season series, going 3-2-1 against the Devils (getting 7 points vs. New Jersey's 6).

It will also be a testament to whether a well-rested team (Philly) with a week between games has the advantage over a team on just two days of rest.

As usual, I break it down in numbers.

Devils goaltender Martin Brodeur is on his way out of the league (probably just has one more fair year left in a Hall of Fame career) and his stats have been subpar for him. The key to a New Jersey win will be maintaining what was a conference-best lowest shots per game against average.

However, there's too much firepower on this very motivated Flyers team. The Devils may find themselves on the wrong side of a series that they just won themselves.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Flyers in 7 (in overtime).

SOGD by itself: Flyers in 6.

Interestingly enough, both systems agree on a winner in all 4 cases, and they have agreed 9 out of 12 times on a winner through two rounds.

Unfortunately, the track record hasn't been so good. At least, not so far.


Now, I have to revise the picture going all the way to the end.

Last time, through all the projected winners, I had the Bruins repeating at the expense of the Blues.

Now, according to the SOGD+SV% model, the Rangers will win the Cup over the Blues in 6.

Come back again in a couple weeks the second round post-mortem/round three preview.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

#252: Attack or Protect?

---SSL Broadcast #90---

The Pittsburgh Steelers are widely expected to choose a linebacker with their first pick (24th overall) in the NFL Draft on Thursday.

For some time, I've been advocating drafting an impact offensive lineman to help center Marquis Pouncey and, by extension, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Still, it looks like Dont'a Hightower from Alabama is destined to be the man they take.

There is no "one right answer" for the NFL draft most of the time. Even the Indianapolis Colts could find that they overestimated Andrew Luck, who they have informed they will pick with the first overall choice this year.

I suppose the question that the Steelers face is whether they prefer to protect their franchise quarterback, or have a better chance to attack the opposing quarterback.

With various injuries and aging veterans, the Steeler pass rush, while occasionally effective, seems to completely stall against the better offensive lines. With injuries and such, outside linebackers Lamarr Woodley and James Harrison had off years. Replacing James Farrior on the inside with Hightower might give the Steelers a bit more push in the middle, which could make opposing offenses have to decide which poison to pick.

Still, I remember vividly thinking that the Steelers season was over during their home game against the Cleveland Browns last year, when Roethlisberger had his foot twisted under him. A constant barrage, year after year, almost always seems to have #7 in less-than-pristine condition when the playoff time comes around. That, of course, is the time of year when the Steelers would need him most.

I would still prefer that the black and gold select an offensive lineman, like Peter Konz from Wisconsin, if he's still on the board. If the defense is a little weaker as a result, and it allows more points to score, a healthy Big Ben can get those points back a bit easier.

Imagine Ben having a consistent pocket or a controlled breakdown to get the defense to overpursue for a change. I can only imagine the magic that Roethlisberger could work under those conditions.

Hightower, while he sounds like he could slip right in immediately and make an impact, is not the highest need in this draft.

On the latest episode:

- Fleury could gain confidence from Game 5 performance (especially 3rd period).

- Pirates couldn't hit a beach ball right now.

- Power sets all-time record comeback in Arena Football.

- An important announcement about the future of the show.


Saturday, April 14, 2012

#251: Very Small Ball

---SSL Broadcast #89---

Eleven runs in seven games.

I don't think that this kind of output even qualifies as "anemia," as that would be an insult to anemia.

The Pittsburgh Pirates, in this young season, are dead last in just about every offensive category (including runs). Last in Batting Average (.178), On Base Percentage (.216), Slugging Percentage (.260), and Walks (they've drawn only 7).

If not for the (once again) surprising starting pitching - which is currently ranked 4th best in baseball with a 2.70 ERA - this team might not even have a win to show for it.

Consider that the Philadelphia Flyers of the NHL have scored 12 goals in two games in a sport that's generally lower scoring than baseball. It might be apples-to-oranges for the most part, but it's still some measure of perspective.

Pedro Alvarez, who is in his boom-or-bust third season, is 1-for-16 (at least that "1" was a homer), with TEN strikeouts. The man who is supposed to blossom into a power hitter that opposing pitchers fear is threatening to go into the night without so much as a whimper. It is almost to the point where an Alvarez at-bat does not contain any suspense.

Andrew McCutchen, who leads all Pirate position players with a .360 batting average, has still failed at times to come up in the clutch. He was responsible for a walk-off win last Sunday, but he also grounded into a double play in the season opener that killed an early threat against Roy Halladay, and he grounded out to end that game, too. However, it is good that he's getting put in that situation repeatedly. That should pay dividends down the stretch.

Neil Walker is hitting .048 so far.

One hopes it's only because the Pirates have faced very strong pitching to begin the season, and not because this is a taste of the 155 games to come.

On the latest episode:

- Flyers resiliency overcoming flash-start Penguins.

- Steelers make some signings.

- Power facing, essentially, its last chance to right the season.

- If you didn't want to read my last post due to length, I reveal who I picked in all the NHL series.


Tuesday, April 10, 2012

#250: 2012 NHL Playoff Preview

---Starring our Favorite Statistic---

It's that time of year again when I post a lengthy, statistically-based preview of each round of the Stanley Cup playoffs and try to determine winners series by series (and take a stab at the overall winner).

It's a post that people will see because some Google search will bring them here in 2016.

Anyway, for those who have followed this blog that past few years, I set the table using a statistic called "Shots on Goal Differential," called "SOGD" hereafter.

Up until last year, using this aggregate alone had been good enough to be Vegas-accurate (better than 60%).

In 2010, it did seem like there were some chinks in the armor, as a hot goalie named Jaroslav Halak upended both the high-powered Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins, despite getting barraged non-stop.

So, in 2011, I introduced another statistic into the equation, one that most hockey fans are familiar with: Save percentage (hereafter "SV%").

Last year, I ran a concurrent experiment, basing my picks off of SOGD alone, then putting a secondary pick (but not the "official" one), below it for comparison's sake. It turned out that SOGD alone had a 7-8 record, while the experiment went an astonishing 12-3.

This year, we're going to follow both again, only this time, the SOGD+SV% will bring us our official picks.

For those of you just joining us: SOGD is calculated by taking the average number of shots a team takes, then subtracting the average number of shots surrendered.

Below is how each team finished the regular season in their respective conferences. Next to each team is its season-long SOGD. Next to the playoff teams only, in parentheses, is the save percentage of each team, which will be used as a tiebreaker if the SOGD are comparable.

Eastern Conference
1. NY Rangers +0.7 (.920)
2. Boston +2.6 (.918)
3. Florida -0.9 (.914)
4. Pittsburgh +6.5 (.903)
5. Philadelphia +3.8 (.903)
6. New Jersey +0.7 (.907)
7. Washington -2.2 (.909)
8. Ottawa -0.6 (.910)
9. Buffalo -2.1
10. Tampa Bay -3.3
11. Winnipeg even
12. Carolina -0.9
13. Toronto -2.2
14. NY Islanders -2.6
15. Montreal -1.4

Western Conference
1. Vancouver +0.7 (.924)
2. St. Louis +3.9 (.929)
3. Phoenix -2.0 (.925)
4. Nashville -3.2 (.919)
5. Detroit +5.2 (.910)
6. Chicago +2.9 (.901)
7. San Jose +5.3 (.912)
8. Los Angeles +3.2 (.924)
9. Calgary -3.3
10. Dallas -2.6
11. Colorado +1.9
12. Minnesota -4.8
13. Anaheim -0.9
14. Edmonton -4.0
15. Columbus -1.0

A couple of notes vs. last year's numbers:

The New York Rangers are just a tad better in both categories this year, yet they were the 8th seed last year.

The Boston Bruins (who won it all last year) have a better SOGD by 1 full shot, as well as a team SV% that is .05 better.

The runners-up, though, the Vancouver Canucks, are a little worse in both categories, despite managing to win the President's Cup Trophy again.

Now, looking at the playoff teams, we can usually write off the teams in the negative as having a chance to win the Cup. A series, maybe two, yes. But not the whole thing.

Remember, only two teams since 1990 have won the Stanley Cup with a negative SOGD, and both teams had some pretty remarkable happenings mid-season. The 1990-1991 Penguins (acquired face-off man Ron Francis and fearsome defenseman Ulf Samuelsson at the trade deadline...not enough to push the season average into the positive), and the 2008-2009 Penguins (switched coaches - and therefore changed to a Shots-on-Goal system - with only two months to go in the regular season).

Still, with the addition of Alexander Radulov in Nashville very late in the season, and the return of Nicklas Backstrom (whose first name is actually "Lars," interestingly enough) and Mike Green to Washington from injuries, those two teams might bear some watching.

Western Conference

#1 Vancouver vs. #8 Los Angeles

I think some out there expect the moxie of the team that has the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo has the edge, especially since they came oh-so-close last year (two chances to close out the series with a win).

However, I think some folks forget about some of the playoff veterans who are on the Kings who might be even more hungry (a couple of former Philadelphia Flyers who were on the Cup-losing team two seasons ago, for example) to make their mark in the City of Angels.

Both the new stats model and the SOGD-only model favor Los Angeles here, however. Goaltending appears to be a wash, and L.A. shoots more. I also think they're used to playing in tighter games. The last couple of regular season contests that they let slip past them at the hands of the Sharks might also give them a bit of an intangible edge. That said, it actually looks like the Kings drew the weaker opponent than the Sharks.

Official Steeltown Sports pick (using SOGD and SV%): Kings in 7

Old model: LA in 5

(Note: Last year, the two models agreed on the winner six times. In those six series, the team chosen to advance was 5-1 - lone exception was the Lightning over Penguins)

#2 St. Louis vs. #7 San Jose

Raw vs. experience. Too bad that a lot of that "experience" has a certain lean toward failure.

Seriously, both teams are capable of outshooting the other, but the Blues have the best overall goaltending in the West...and this year, especially, that's saying something. In the Eastern Conference, only the Rangers have a team SV% at or above .920, and five teams in the East are at or below .910. Four Western teams are over the .920 mark and only two are at or below .910.

San Jose is close to that low-water mark, though, and that might be their undoing.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: St. Louis in 5.

SOGD-only says San Jose in 6.

#3 Phoenix vs. #6 Chicago

How can the Coyotes follow up their first-ever division title? Maybe with their first-ever postseason series win?

Looking at a pretty disparate SOGD in favor of Chicago, you'd think not. But Phoenix has been getting lights-out goaltending and the Blackhawks are a bit beat up.

Original Six fans may not like the result of this one, unless they're from Detroit.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Phoenix in 5.

SOGD only indicates Blackhawks in 5.

#4 Nashville vs. #5 Detroit

The #4 vs #5 series in both conferences are the only ones that feature divisional rivals for opponents. Both should be incredible series.

The Predators are looking to build off their first visit to the second round last year, but first, they have to go through perennial powerhouse Detroit.

Folks are touting that home ice means something here, but it really doesn't. These teams are as familiar with each other's houses that it will be negligible.

Detroit shoots the pants off its opponents more often than not, while Nashville relies on Pekka Rinne (who should once again be getting a Vezina nomination) to bail them out.

Detroit is good at beating goalies they can overwhelm.

We're going to find out, too, how good Alexander Radulov will make this team.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Detroit in 7.

SOGD alone says the Wings sweep in 4.

Eastern Conference

#1 NY Rangers vs. #8 Ottawa

Sadly, it looks like this year's opening round of the playoffs won't reach the excitement of last season's. Six of the eight opening round series in 2011 went at least 6 games.

Granted, in this year's Western Conference predictions, I have two going the distance, but we'd need all four match-ups on this side to go at least 6 to have a chance to match it. I won't.

This series has some pretty good hype to it because the Senators can bring the firepower. However, King Henrik Lundqvist has been the steadiest goalie in the East this year.

On the flip side, Ottawa's firepower surrenders a lot of firepower on the other end. Give me New York's shooters.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: New York in 5.

SOGD alone has Rangers in 6.

#2 Boston vs. #7 Washington

The defending champions have seemed to sputter a bit down the stretch. The Washington Capitals with the return of a couple key players from injury, and their star, Alexander Ovechkin, seeming to return to something resembling form, a good many people are talking upset.

Those pundits need to remember that the Capitals are a bit thin at goalie, and the Bruins shoot the puck, on average, a little over 32 times per game. It does seem to be the case sometimes that a team will pick up a less-experienced goaltender, but these are the playoffs. Get ready for another relative stinker here.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Boston in 5.

SOGD only - Boston in 5.

(Interesting...our first perfect match so far...)

#3 Florida vs. #6 New Jersey

This is the other series where folks are predicting an upset across the board (one sportsbook has the Devils as a 1-to-2 series favorite...that means bet $100 to win $50).

And why not? The Devils, while not the juggernaut they were earlier this millennium, certainly have the experience on their side, whereas Florida is making their first appearance in 12 years.

But this is why I look more at stats than any kind of pedigree. And this series is one of the more interesting to me. The new model actually favors Florida here in 6 games (in OT), because New Jersey's goaltending, despite giving up the fewest shots per game of any team in the playoff field, have a pretty lackluster save percentage.

If you're going to bet on any team to win the first round, plop a few bucks on Florida at +165.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Florida in 6 (in overtime).

SOGD by itself: Devils in 6.

#4 Pittsburgh vs #5 Philadelphia


That's what everyone is both expecting and wanting to see when these two Keystone State rivals get it on.

They'll get it, too, but probably not too much in the way of fighting. I predict three fights, but no brawls in a series that is destined to go the distance.

Both teams have had issues this season with stability in net (both have ended the year with the same SV%), and these two squads have the best SOGDs in the East. So, there should be more than a couple high-scoring affairs. It will likely be the highest-scoring series in Round 1.

The Pens were rolling until recently, but they recovered enough to salt home ice advantage away in the first round, and rescue their home building from the Flyers in the regular season finale.

And this series will determine who had the superior offseason. Did the Penguins really miss out on a chance to sign old friend Jaromir Jagr? Were they correct in letting Stanley Cup hero Max Talbot go elsewhere (ultimately to Philly) while they picked up Steve Sullivan? Were the Flyers wise to cut ties with Mike Richards and Jeff Carter to welcome Ilya Bryzgalov?

So many subplots make it easy to overlook that this is a game of numbers. It certainly makes it more fun, anyway.

Official Steeltown Sports pick: Penguins in 7. (that sounds familiar...)

SOGD-only predicts a 6-game Penguins victory.

(Last year, it was backwards - the SOGD-only had the Pens in 7, but the combined stats had Pens in 6 over the Lightning. And, as I mentioned before, it was the one time when the two systems agreed on a winner, but got the winner wrong...)

For those keeping score at home, the two systems have picked the same winner 5 out of 8 times (Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, Boston, and Pittsburgh).


If all of the above would hold true, and the 2nd and 3rd rounds would play out according to the combined statistic, it actually looks like the Boston Bruins would repeat as champions in 6 games over the Blues. (The Bruins would beat the Rangers, and the Blues would beat Phoenix in their respective conference finals.)

That Phoenix-to-make-the-Conference-Finals thing, though makes me doubt.

Visit again for the second round preview, and, by all means, feel free to comment constructively and/or give your predictions.

Saturday, April 07, 2012

#249: Pots and Kettles

---SSL Broadcast #88---

In the NHL, it's all over but the whining.

I'm not talking about the fact that both the Eastern and Western Conference playoff seedings could break a number of different ways with only one more day left in the regular season, although that should make for interesting watching (I almost hope Phoenix loses to Minnesota in overtime tonight so that the the Los Angeles/San Jose game has immense implications).

Two of the previous three Pittsburgh Penguins' opponents have gone and given "irony" a fresh new look and sound.

First, Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette accused Pens head coach Dan Bylsma as being "gutless" sending the fourth line out on the ice to send a message in a game already decided. This after throwing a tantrum on his bench, then pseudo-threatening to cross over to the Penguin bench to accomplish...what? A prima donna production? You betcha. Pretty gutless in his own right.

Then, on Thursday night, New York Rangers head coach John Tortorella, rightfully cheesed about a knee-on-knee hit levelled by Pens defenseman Brooks Orpik on Derek Stepan, decided to call out star forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as "whiners," instead. What are you really complaining about, John, when you bring up two players not involved? That you have a hard time beating a fully-tooled Pens team? Yup.

And then he doubles down by calling the entire organization "arrogant." All while sporting the snootiest look I couldn't even duplicate. The cold irony is so thick, you could skate on it.

Crosby's completely frank reaction interview, devoid of "innocence," referring to the comments by Tortorella and others as "garbage" was the perfect response. No whining. Just facts. The implicit message - finish it on the ice. The Flyers did. The Rangers did not.

Now all three teams have a chance to claim the Stanley Cup, and no amount of whining is going to put a puck in the back of the net.

On the latest episode:

- How does the Stanley Cup playoff picture look? And the Pens/Flyers?

- Pirates offense looks spookily familiar.

- Power loses three in a row.

- Steelers cut ties with one more high-ish profile player.