Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Peerless Prognosticator Brings You: Western Conference Round One Prognostos

Not satisfied with having provided their take on the Eastern Conference playoff matchups, the cousins want to try their prognosticating chops on the West…

Vancouver Canucks (1): 51-22-9, 111 points
Los Angeles Kings (8): 40-27-15, 95 points

Fearless: The most hotly contested battle in this series might be between the goaltenders. Oh, not between the Kings’ Jonathan Quick and the Vancouver netminder, but between the Canucks’ Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider. Schneider might be the best goalie in the league not currently a number one and is almost certainly better than a lot of guys who are number one netminders. He had a better goals against average than Luongo (1.96 to 2.41), a better save percentage (.937 to .919), and he did it facing rubber more frequently (30.93 shots per 60 minutes to 29.92 for Luongo). If the Canucks falter early, here is where the first change might be made.

Cheerless: It’s not like the Canucks are healthy up front, either. Daniel Sedin is out for the first round, at least, due to a concussion suffered after being hit with an elbow by Chicago’s Duncan Keith on March 21st. And while Henrik Sedin is certainly a top-notch player, his ability to play off his twin brother is spooky. Who knows whether this will have an effect in a playoff setting? As for the Kings, they don’t score (29th in goals/game), their power play is “meh" (tied for 16th), and they’re below the water line at 5-on-5 (0.98, tied for 16th). What they do have is Jonathan Quick in goal – 2nd in goals against, fifth in save percentage, tops in shutouts, and one of only four goalies to have played in more than 4,000 minutes this season. He is the rock on which the Kings’ season has been built. He will have to be at least that good to give Los Angeles a chance.

Peerless: Los Angeles has not escaped the first round of the playoffs since 2001. Vancouver is the defending Conference representative in the Stanley Cup finals. That matters. That and the fact that only three Kings have scored more than ten goals this season as a member of the team (Jeff Carter has 21, six of them with Los Angeles, but he has been out since March 28th with an ankle injury). The Kings just do not have many ways to manufacture offense, and while Quick has a career 1.98 goals against average against the Canucks and a .929 save percentage, he is also 5-8-1. That’s the problem in a nutshell.

Vancouver in 6

St. Louis Blues (2): 49-22-11, 109 points
San Jose Sharks (7): 43-29-10, 96 points

Cheerless: The most surprising team west of the Mississippi River takes on the most disappointing. I half expect San Jose to change their colors to red, white and blue…they could be the Caps with better beaches. You wonder why they have been so blah this season. They are good at 5-on-5 (1.10, ninth in the league), power play (21.1 percent, second), they outshoot their opponents by a wide margin (5.2 shots per game). What’s the problem? Well, their penalty killing sucks on buckwheat. They are the worst team in the league at 76.9 percent (psst…cuz, Columbus is worse. “Psst” back at ya…Columbus ain’t an NHL team).

Fearless: Back in early November the Blues were muddling along, pretty much alternating wins and losses. When it got to be 6-7-0, they made a change and brought in Ken Hitchcock to coach them. He only finished up 43-15-11. Think he will be a Jack Adams Award finalist? And he did it in typical Hitchcockian fashion, by choking the life out of the other team’s offense. The Blues allowed 1.89 goals a game. They had the second best 5-on-5 record (1.34 goals scored for every one they gave up). No team allowed fewer shots a game. You play the Blues, bring a lunch. You’re in for a lot of hard work to get any chances. Of course, having a goalie (Brian Elliott) with a goals against of 1.56, a save percentage of .940, and nine shutouts in only 38 games played didn’t hurt, either.

Peerless: This comes down to the same issue for the Sharks that has plagued the Caps – commitment. Commitment for each shift, for 60 minutes, for seven games, for as long as it takes to get the job done. Because St. Louis is going to bring the same suffocating effort every single night. Is San Jose up to the task of matching that effort? Here is a hint… St. Louis won all four games against the Sharks this season by a combined 11-3 margin. Three goals in four games? This is not going to end well for San Jose.

St. Louis in five

Phoenix Coyotes (3): 42-27-13, 97 points
Chicago Blackhawks (6): 45-26-11, 101 points

Fearless: What to make of the Blackhawks. This is a team that had a nine-game losing streak (0-8-1) as recently as February, yet has had winning streaks of four and five games since then. They come into the playoffs having alternated consecutive losses, consecutive wins and then consecutive losses before ending the season with a Gimmick win over Detroit. They score a lot (sixth in goals/game), but they are leaky, too (22nd in goals against). Neither their power play (tied for 25th) nor penalty killing (27th) is very good, and their five-on-five play is middle-of-the-road (1.01, tied for 13th). What they have – and what they might have to rely on – is the whole “we’ve been here before” vibe.

Cheerless: Phoenix is the kid that sits in the front of the class, never once taking his eyes off the blackboard, pencil in hand, scribbling notes, and raising his hand whenever there is a question. He’s the one the teacher can reliably count on to give the right answer when every other kid is trying to avoid eye contact. I hate them kids. The Coyotes are a good five-on-five team (ranked eighth) and an excellent penalty killing team (eighth, too). All consistent with the Dave Tippett school of hockey. It is a team that does not do a lot to beat themselves, and they just happen to have the hottest goalie on the planet right now in Mike Smith – 7-0-2 in his last nine appearances with a 1.30 GAA, a .964 save percentage, and three shutouts.

Peerless: This one comes down to “flair” versus “fundamentals.” But which team has which? Chicago’s offensive flair or the spellbinding flair of Phoenix’ Mike Smith in goal? The Coyotes’ “system” approach to the game or the Blackhawks fundamentally sound players such as Jonathan Toews (provided he can shake off the effects of a concussion that has had him out since February 19th) and Duncan Keith. Toews is the beating heart of the Blackhawks, but Chicago has gone 13-5-4 in his absence. They just have too many weapons. Then again, the Coyotes are 3-1-0 against Chicago this season, having won the last three meetings. This might not be the most competitive series in the bunch, but it is among the most intriguing.

Chicago in seven

Nashville Predators (4): 48-26-8, 104 points
Detroit Red Wings (5): 48-28-6, 102 points

Cheerless: The difference between these teams is razor thin. If the Red Wings had not stubbed their toe and left three points on the table in their last two games, they might be enjoying the home ice advantage in this series. As it is, Nashville seems to be everyone’s hot pick to face the Penguins in the Stanley Cup final. And it isn’t a bad pick to make. They’re not the offense starved bunch they have been a lot of the time in recent years. They were eighth – right behind Detroit – in scoring. And they are good defensively, too, tied for seventh in goals allowed – right behind Detroit (see a pattern?). The wild card is going to be Alexander Radulov, who joined the Predators from Russia for the last nine games of the season (3-4-7). In a tantalizing glimpse of what might come, he had a goal and an assist in his only game against the Wings this season. It’s not a fluke. He has eight goals in 16 career games against Detroit.

Fearless: So let’s see… Detroit scores more goals, allows fewer goals. They are the best five-on-five team in the league. They outshoot their opponents by 5.2 shots a game, testimony to their ability to control the puck. What could go wrong? Well, this… the Red Wings have not won a game in regulation against a playoff-eligible team in more than a month, March 9th, a 4-3 win against Los Angeles (their only win in regulation against a playoff-eligible team since February 19th). Since then they are 4-7-3, with regulation wins over woeful Carolina and Columbus, and a pair of Gimmick wins over Florida and St. Louis.

Peerless: As alluded to by Fearless, Detroit is 3-8-4 in games against playoff-eligible teams since February 19th, and two of those wins came via the trick shot competition. Two of the losses (both in regulation) came against the Predators. Detroit certainly has the experience in games played at this time of year, but the Predators have accumulated a fair amount of experience, too. Add to the fact that they have three of the top performers in the game at what might be the most important positions in the post season – defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber, and goalie Pekka Rinne – and the Red Wings drew what might be the worst possible opponent for the first round.

Predators in five

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