Friday, May 11, 2007

The Peerless Brings You . . . The Prognostos for the Conference Finals

Eastern Finals --

Buffalo Sabres (1) – Ottawa Senators (4)

Season Series: Buffalo 3-5-0/Ottawa 5-2-1
Series Theme: Someone has to win this thing…
Fun Fact: Ottawa and Buffalo are the highest scoring teams thus far in the playoffs (goals-per-game)

Buffalo is heralded as the standard-bearer for the Nu NHL. They are lauded as having come out of the lockout as the team best prepared to take advantage of the new rules and new tight rein on infractions. They are speedy, skilled, and balanced. If they lack a true “franchise” player, they have more depth than any team left. They have a young, improving goaltender. They reached the conference final last year and do so again this year. They were the pick of many (including yours truly) to make the Stanley Cup final this year.

On the other hand, Ottawa is (and here is a delicious irony) the “throwback” team – one with a top-end top line – Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza, and Dany Heatley (who represent three of the top four scorers in this tournament) – and some grit in guys like Mike Fisher, Chris Neil, and Anton Volchenkov. Ray (no, really...Ray) Emery has been, if not spectacular, consistent and steady in goal. He’s allowed three or fewer goals in nine of the 12 games he’s played thus far (including the game 1 win last night).

Here is your fun stat to watch . . . both teams are undefeated when scoring first (Buffalo, 4-0; Ottawa, 7-0).

Ottawa has been a higher scoring team, has been a better defensive team, has a better winning percentage, has a better power play, has a better penalty kill, has had an ability to jump on clubs early (outscoring clubs 11-7 in the first period), then stand on their throats (outscoring them 14-6 in the second, and 13-9 in the third). Ottawa has peaked at the right time; there is nothing that really points to a Sabre win here. Still, The Peerless picked the Sabres in October, and he’s dancing with who brung him . . .

Buffalo in seven.


Western Finals –

Detroit Red Wings (1) – Anaheim Ducks (2)
Season Series: Anaheim 2-2-0/Detroit 2-2-0
Series Theme: “Style vs. Stomp”
Fun Fact: Anaheim and Detroit are the stingiest defenses thus far in the playoffs (goals-per-game)

Here is where this series is headed . . . Ottawa has scored 38 goals in 11 games so far. Anaheim and Detroit have allowed a combined 36 in 22 games . . . first to two wins.

Each team achieves their defensive prowess using very different methods. Detroit essentially plays keep away with the puck . . . hard to score if Detroit is always spinning and cycling in your zone. They simply do not allow you to play with the puck long enough to shoot (a playoff low 22.8 shots allowed per game). On the other hand, Anaheim does it with perhaps the top two defenders in the game, certainly the playoffs, in Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger (with all due respect to Nicklas Lidstrom, who is the gold standard for two-way defensemen). However, the scary part (if you’re a Red Wing fan) is that while Ilya Bryzgalov played very well in opening the tournament for the Duck, Jean-Sebastien Giguere has been sick in his efficiency . . . 5-1, 1.28, .952 in seven games. True, that was compiled against a couple of offense-challenged clubs in Vancouver and Minnesota, but Giguere hasn’t yet allowed more than two goals in a game, and two of those games went more than 80 minutes.

Only one forward between these teams is in the top-15 in scoring, and he might be the key to the entire proceedings – Pavel Datsyuk. He’s had a hand in more than a third of the Red Wings’ scoring (11 points, 31 total goals for Detroit). He’s scored in six contests so far . . . the Red Wings have won every one. Detroit is 2-4 when Datsyuk is held off the score sheet.

Anaheim is closer to the “old NHL” style club than any of the four left. They can beat you or beat you up, and the latter is not merely a function of their ability to drop the gloves (they led the league – by far – in fighting majors this season). They are a large club – while their centers tend to the light side, their wingers and defensemen are space-eaters.

This is almost like a classic boxing match – the dancer against the bruiser. Hockey being a hard game (and the fact that The Peerless picked Anaheim to win it all this year), the nod goes to the Ducks . . .

Anaheim in six.

Stuff for the Discerning Fan