Sunday, May 17, 2009

Your Peerless Prognostos for the Western Conference Final -- Detroit (2) vs. Chicago (4)

And now, for the western half of the finals…

Why Detroit can’t lose…

Experience. Coming into these playoffs, the Chicago Blackhawks who have skated thus far in the post season had a total of 197 games of playoff experience among them, and 64 of that came from Samuel Pahlsson – a late season pick-up from Anaheim. For the Red Wings, defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom came in with 214 games of experience… himself. Of the 22 skaters for the Red Wings thus far in the playoffs, six had more than 100 games of playoff experience coming into this year's tournament (Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Brian Rafalski, Kirk Martby, Kris Draper, Chris Chelios).

Why Detroit can’t win…

Chicago has no fear of the Red Wings. They fought them to a draw in six regular season games (2-2-2) and won the last two contests of the season. And, there is the matter of the grueling seven-game series the Wings played against Anaheim, perhaps the most physical team in the final eight. If Chicago – a younger, high-octane team – can steal a win out of Detroit from the first two games, it might be just the crack the Blackhawks can exploit. Chicago certainly poses a different set of challenges for a team that had goaltending issues in the regular season – they can score goals (3.17/game in the regular season, 4th in the league). Chris Osgood wasn’t facing the 1984 Edmonton Oilers in the first two rounds. Anaheim finished 14th in scoring, Columbus finished 21st.

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

Johan Franzen

Franzen scored more points against only one team (St. Louis) than he did against the Blackhawks in the regular season (3-2-5) in six games. He is the leading scorer for the Red Wings so far in the playoffs (8-7-15 in 11 games). He has the sort of size that can pose problems for the Blackhawks down the middle, and he has the hands to finish. He has points in 10 of 11 playoff games thus far. He hasn’t gone more than two consecutive games without a point since early January.

Why Chicago can’t lose…

No worries. They weren’t supposed to get this far, even as a fourth seed. And now, they get to skate. The first two rounds – against Calgary and Vancouver – were probably more physical than anything the Red Wings are likely to throw at them. And, the Blackhawks lit up two goaltenders that, on paper, are far higher in class than what they’ll face in Chris Osgood. 19 goals against Miikka Kipprsoff (3.52 GAA) and 21 against Roberto Luongo (also a 3.52 GAA). The Blackhawks can score with anybody.

Why Chicago can’t win…

They can’t score if they don’t have the puck. Detroit has allowed the third fewest shots on goal in the playoffs (27.5). Chicago is second, you say? Well, yes, they are. But what favors Detroit here is how they got to their number. Their shot differential of +12.7 is, by far, the best of any team advancing this far. This sort of thing has the effect of choking the life out of an opponent. In the last two seasons, the Red Wings have played nine games past Game 4 in a series. They are 6-3 in those games. Do the Blackhawks have the stuff to last?

The Peerless’ Player to Ponder

Nikolai Khabibulin

Among the goalies playing in the final eight, Khabibulin has the worst save percentage (.896, the only sub-.900 in the group). Good thing Chicago has allowed the second fewest shots on goal per game. Detroit will test Khabibulin in ways that Calgary and Vancouver didn’t. He had a superb save percentage against the Red Wings in three games this year (.932), but the Blackhawks allowed him to face 133 Red Wing shots in those games (39.7 shots-per-60 minutes). If Detroit is getting those kinds of shot totals in this series, it could spell doom for the Blackhawks, unless Khabibulin steps up his shot-blocking production.

In the end…

The young and the old – the Red Wings were the oldest team in the final eight, the Blackhawks were the youngest. Guess the questions are, “are the Blackhawks too young?” and “are the Red Wings too old?” Well, we don’t think it will come down to that. The common thread between these teams is that both have done very good jobs at masking otherwise pedestrian performances in goal, given the settings (yeah, Chris Osgood has a .921 save percentage, but we’re not thinking Columbus or Anaheim are offensive juggernauts, either). Both have managed to do it by their parsimonious allocation of opponents' shot opportunities. But Detroit’s result is more a product of the style of play they impose on games – keeping the puck and overwhelming teams with their own shot volumes (40.2/game is by far the highest total in the final eight).

This argues for Detroit being able to cobble together four wins faster as a product of the comfort level and consistency they have in playing the style they play. They will be better able to impose a style on games, even if the Blackhawks want to play an up-tempo pace of their own.

Detroit in 6


Mark Bonatucci said...

No argument with your analysis but I'm still rooting for the Blackhawks. After the Capitals, they are one of the other most exciting teams to watch in the NHL.

One caveat - if for any reason they put Huet in goal. I will be rooting for Detroit to light him up. I feel he "diss'ed" us last season, and that's something I won't forget for a while.

Unknown said...

Great analysis.

This series has the potential to be every bit as exciting as the Pens/Caps series (save for game 7), however, as a neurotic Wings fan, I hope it doesn't go to a seventh game.

It will be very interesting to see how the Hawks young guns deal with the Wing's forwards defensive prowess. It is far and away the best in the league, and it is what has made them so successful. I truly believe that Zetterberg and Datsyuk are the two most complete players in the league, and, if nothing else, this series will be a wonderful learning experience for Toews and Kane, making them really scary next year.

Not a team I'd like to meet in the 2010 playoffs, much how I feel about the Pens, should the Wings meet them again this year.

Great blog, by the way. I always enjoy it.