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

The Peerless Prognosticator Brings You: Eastern Conference Round One Prognostos

Tonight the 2012 Stanley Cup tournament begins, and the cousins insisted on weighing in on the other series in the first round. First up, the Eastern Conference. Guys…take it away…

New York Rangers (1): 51-24-7, 109 points
Ottawa Senators (8): 41-31-10, 92 points

Cheerless: This is gonna be an “icky” series. Henrik…Gaborik…Derik (that’s Derek, cuz). They even have a Bickel. But here is why they will win… 2,419. That is how many hits they had this season. It’s a metaphor for their game. They don’t do any one thing too well (hits was the only thing they led the league in), but they work hard night in and night out. The Senators are going to be a smear on the windshield before this is over.

Fearless: Can’t hit what you can’t catch, cousin. And the Senators did beat the Rangers three out of four games, the last two by three-goal margins. This is a team that showed evidence lately of an ability to light things up. They laid eight goals on Pittsburgh and six on Winnipeg in consecutive games in the last week in March. And for all the talk of Erik Karlsson as a possible Norris Trophy winner, they got a return to elite scoring status from center Jason Spezza, who finished with his highest goals (34) and point (84) totals since 2007-2008.

Peerless: This series is the irresistible force (Ottawa’s speed and offense, fourth in the league) against the impenetrable object (the Rangers’ defense and especially goalie Henrik Lundqvist). We are going to find out if Erik Karlsson’s game translates well from the regular season to the playoffs. That is the fault line for this series. We’re betting it will not.

Rangers in six

Boston Bruins (2): 49-29-4, 102 points
Washington Capitals (7): 42-32-8, 92 points

Fearless: With all due respect to your prognostication, cousin, Boston is a team built for the playoffs – solid goaltending, sturdy defense, deep forwards, and a nasty streak. They were tested last spring with three seven-game series and passed their tests on the way to the Stanley Cup victory. The Caps? Well, what can I say. It is always a race to see which will fall first, the cherry blossoms off the trees or the Caps out of the playoffs. And this is not one of the Caps’ stronger teams.

Cheerless: 1998, cuz. That is the last time a champ repeated. There’s a reason for that. You spend nine months playing hockey, win a championship, do the whole media circuit thing, tour with the Cup, get just a couple of months off, and then do it again? It’s like trying to get to work on time after a late night out partying, and I know whereof I speak. And sure, Boston might have clinched the Northeast Division before New Years and coasted the rest of the way, but how easy is it to turn things on again?

Peerless: I haven’t heard anything here to make me change my mind about the prognosto, guys…

Capitals in six

Florida Panthers (3): 38-26-18, 94 points
New Jersey Devils (6): 48-28-6, 102 points

Cheerless: Shoot, I forgot the Devils played hockey this year. Ain’t heard spit about ‘em. They still have that Brodeur guy in goal, I s’pose. I’m tryin’ to figure out how they do it. They were 15th in offense, tied for eighth in defense, tied for 19th in 5-on-5. Their power play wasn’t that good (tied for 14th). They were just about the worst in the league in faceoffs (29th). But they won 48 games.

Fearless: This is the battle of the trick shot masters. The Devils won 12 games via the Gimmick (most in the league), and Florida earned 23 of their 94 standings points in Bettman’s Folly. What to make of this series, now that the freestyle competition has been taken off the program. Here is how Jersey wins… they deny opponents opportunities. Only St. Louis allowed fewer shots per game, and no team was better on the penalty kill. With that combination, Martin Brodeur did not have to be his hall-of-fame self (and he wasn’t; his 2.41 GAA and .908 save percentage ranked 16th and 34th, respectively, among qualifying goalies).

Peerless: Only three teams in the East had fewer wins in regulation plus overtime than Florida. Their weaknesses will be laid bare – they don’t score much (27th), their defense is middling (12th), their penalty killers aren’t very effective (25th), and while their power play is decent (7th), it plays right into the strength of the Devils. This series will not be close.

New Jersey in five

Pittsburgh Penguins (4): 51-25-6, 108 points
Philadelphia Flyers (5): 47-26-9, 103 points

Fearless: Why are we bothering? Pittsburgh can’t be stopped. They have the best player in the game. They have the second best player in the game. They have the best coach, the best general manager, the best arena, and for all we know the best press box spread in the NHL. Oh, the Flyers were 4-2 against the Penguins this year, you say? They scored 22 goals in six games against the vaunted Penguin defense and best goalie in the East not named “Lundqvist?” Marc-Andre Fleury was 1-3-1, 3.41, .872 against the Flyers? Surely that is a misprint.

Cheerless: One of the problems the Penguins have had is that when Sidney Crosby has been out of the lineup, Evgeni Malkin steps up in a big way, but when Crosby returns Malkin sort of steps back. That hasn’t been the case in the latest instance of Crosby returning from injury. Yeah, Crosby is 6-19-25, plus-8 in 14 games since returning for good from his concussion, but Malkin is 12-13-25, plus-6 in those 14 games, too. Two guys on an almost 150-point pace to finish the season? There isn’t a duo in the league close to the performance level of these two right now.

Peerless: This is the series in which the Flyers will miss Chris Pronger. On a team that has a years…no, decades-long reputation for nastiness and fearlessness, Pronger takes a back seat to no one who ever wore the orange and black. He is the perfect villain and would have been a good bet to neutralize some of that Penguin firepower if he was in the lineup and at the top of his game. But he is not, and Philadelphia just does not have enough on the back line, especially with Andrej Meszaros out and Nicklas Grossmann dinged up, to compete over a seven game series. The Flyers will go deep in the series because they have a knack against this team, but they will not come out on the back end as a winner.

Penguins in seven