In every hockey game there are so many factors that can influence the end result. Those factors can make predicting the outcome of a playoff series challenging.
How did we do in Round 1?
We unanimously picked the Nashville Predators to defeat the Colorado Avalanche, but we had some differing opinions on series length. Only three of us (Beth, Scott, and me) predicted the series taking six games though.
Nine of us thought the Vegas Golden Knights would eliminate the Los Angeles Kings; nine of us also thought the San Jose Sharks would move past the Anaheim Ducks. None of us thought either team would sweep their first-round opponents.
Six of us thought the Toronto Maple Leafs first round series against the Boston Bruins would require all seven games. While five of us believed the Bruins would win this series, Mike was the only one that predicted it would take them the full series length.
We gave the Columbus Blue Jackets a slight edge to defeat the Washington Capitals (7-5 vote). Of the five that predicted the Capitals to move on, three of us said they would in six games (Mike, Beth, and Bryan).
As the playoffs progress, we’ll continue to revisit our selections, and make predictions as the next rounds of matchups are set.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Nashville Predators
In the Central Division, the Jets (52-20-10, 114 points, second in Central) will take on the Predators (53-18-11, 117 points, first in league). The Predators did show some weaknesses against the Avalanche in the first round, but ended the series in dominant fashion. The Jets met an injured Wild team, which helped their chances, but they were undoubtedly the better team from start to finish.
These teams matched up five times in the regular season, with the Predators going 3-1-1. Even though the Predators have an edge in their season series, their underlying numbers from the season are close.
At 5-on-5, the Predators took 51.52 percent of the shot share, while the Jets were just below that at 51.1 percent. The Predators had an edge in their shot generation (59.98 per 60 to 58.6 per 60), but the Jets suppressed more attempts taken against (55.18 Corsi against per 60 to 56.44 per 60). They were also close in terms of quality chances created; the Jets were expected to score 2.41 goals per 60, while the Predators 2.4 per 60. The Jets didn’t allow as many quality chances against (2.15 expected goals against per 60 to 2.31 per 60).
The Predators have an edge in goaltending as Pekka Rinne’s all situation save percentage (.927 to .924) and goals saved above average (24.62 to 18.98) exceeded Connor Hellebuyck’s, as did his 5-on-5 numbers (.937 save percentage to .931, 13.07 GSAA to 2.15).
In the first round, the Jets’ took an even higher percentage of the shot share at 5-on-5 (58.87 percent), while the Predators’ took 54.59 percent of the shots against the Avalanche. While their shot generation wasn’t too far apart, the Jets’ shot suppression in the first round was key, as they limited the Wild to a rate of 46.64 attempts against per 60, while the Predators allowed 55.04 per 60. The Predators created more quality chances and were expected to (and actually did) score more; the Jets were better at limiting chances, so they were expected to (and actually did) allow fewer goals.
Eight of us think the Predators will move on to the Western Conference Final for the second consecutive season, while four of us think the Jets move forward. Almost all of us think it’ll take at least six games either way.
San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights
The Sharks (45-27-10, 100 points, third in Pacific) will travel to Vegas to challenge the division-leading Golden Knights (51-24-7, 109 points). After both swept their first-round opponents, these two well-rested teams will battle in a Pacific Division matchup.
The Golden Knights went 3-0-1 in the regular season against the Sharks, and really exceeded all expectations this season. Even if their season series doesn’t reflect a close matchup, some of their underlying numbers indicate that it will be. At 5-on-5, the Golden Knights took 50.96 percent of the shot share this season, and the Sharks didn’t trail by much at 50.8 percent. While San Jose created more shot attempts than Vegas, the Golden Knights allowed fewer against. Similarly, the Sharks created more quality chances, but the Golden Knights were expected to allow fewer goals.
Marc-Andre Fleury was great for the Golden Knights when healthy, as he earned a 0.931 5-on-5 save percentage, and 8.21 GSAA. Martin Jones didn’t have his best season; in his 60 appearances his GSAA was a minus-5.25.
As for special teams, Golden Knights power play was more efficient during the regular season, but the Sharks’ penalty kill was the second best in the league (84.8 percent) while Vegas’ was 12th (81.4 percent).
In the playoffs so far (granted it’s a small, four game sample for each team), the Sharks have actually conceded more shots at 5-on-5 than they’ve taken (46.83 Corsi for percentage) and have allowed a high rate of shots against (66.15 per 60). The Golden Knights, on the other hand, took the majority of the shot attempts (51.69 percent) against the Kings.
Both teams had great goaltending in the first round. Jones is second in the league with a 0.979 5-on-5 save percentage and leads the league with a 5.38 GSAA. Fleury’s first with a 0.990 save percentage and second with a 4.61 GSAA. It’s unlikely either sustain this level of play though, and if that’s the case both defenses will have to step up and support their goaltenders.
The Sharks’ power play has been more effective in the playoffs at 30 percent, while the Golden Knights’ has only operated at 8.3 percent. Vegas’s 92.3 percent penalty kill leads the league and may be an advantage for them in this next series.
The Golden Knights have continued to show that they’re greater than the sum of their parts, so the majority of us predict them to win this series by a vote of 7-5.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Washington Capitals
The Penguins (47-29-6, 100 points, second in Metropolitan) and Capitals (49-26-7, 105 points, first in Metropolitan) will meet for the third straight year in the playoffs. It’s a battle of two of the NHL’s best players in Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. The Penguins’ depth will need to step up as they will start the series without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin.
The Capitals went 2-2-0 against the Penguins during the regular season. Despite Washington finishing higher in the standings, their underlying numbers didn’t rank as highly. The Penguins earned more than 52 percent of the 5-on-5 shot share throughout the regular season (fifth in the league); they were fifth in shot generation and allowed the sixth lowest rate of shot attempts against. The Capitals favored shot quality over quantity, hence their 47.99 Corsi for percentage; their shot share and rate of shot attempts for and against all were in the bottom half of the league this season. Even though they prioritize shot quality, their 2.26 expected goals for per 60 was still in the bottom half of the league as well; their 2.56 expected goals against per 60 was the fourth highest.
Matt Murray’s regular season was limited to 49 games for the second season in a row, and struggled at times when he was healthy. Capitals’ starter Braden Holtby also had a rough regular season, enough so that he didn’t even start the playoffs for the Capitals after earning a minus-2.72 5-on-5 GSAA. Philipp Grubauer instead assumed the role as starter after playing well to end the season. Since returning to the starter’s net in the playoffs, Holtby’s numbers have exceeded Murray’s in the first round.
In the first round, the Capitals took just under 50 percent of the shot attempts, while the Penguins took more than 51 percent in their series. The Capitals generated a higher rate of shot attempts (58.17 per 60 to the Penguins’ 54.89 per 60), but they allowed a higher rate of attempts against (60 per 60, to the Penguins’ 51.43 per 60).
While the Penguins led the league with their 26.2 percent power play during the regular season, the Capitals lead in the playoffs (33.3 percent). The Capitals had an edge on the penalty kill during the regular season, but the Penguins have so far in the postseason.
We’re split 6-6 on this series. If the Capitals take it, we think it takes seven games, but those in favor of the Penguins are leaning towards a six-game series.
Boston Bruins vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
In the Atlantic Division, the Bruins (50-20-12, 112 points, second in Atlantic) will face off against the Lightning (54-23-5, 113 points, first in the Atlantic).
The Lightning went 1-3-0 against the Bruins this season, with their only win coming at home in April. Although, it’s worth noting that they were swept by the Devils in their regular season series this year before eliminating them in the quarterfinals.
Through the 82-game season, the Bruins were second in the league with a 53.66 Corsi for percentage, while the Lightning finished seventh (51.62 percent). The Lightning generated a higher shot rate for, but allowed more shot attempts against; Bruins were just ahead of them in both their expected goals for and against.
Both have a dynamic group of players, with star power on both sides of the ice. In Tampa Bay, there’s Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Victor Hedman highlighting their group. And in Boston, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak have been an excellent trio both in the regular season and playoffs.
With players like that, it’s no surprise that their power plays were successful during the regular season; the Lightning finished just ahead of the Bruins in third. As for the penalty kill, the Bruins have a clear advantage after finishing third in the regular season, while the Lightning’s 76.1 percent was 28th in the league. The addition of Ryan McDonagh does help their penalty killing, and overall their play in their own zone which was an area that needed improving this season.
Prior to the Bruins’ Game 7 matchup against the Leafs, they were controlling just over 52 percent of the shot share through their six playoffs games, while the Lightning took 53.58 percent of the shot attempts against the Devils. The Bruins have generated shots at a higher rate, but the Lightning have actually been far better at suppressing shot attempts against (50.22 per 60 to 57.94 per 60). When considering shot quality, the Lightning have been better on both sides of the ice, as they’re expected to score more and allow fewer against; the Bruins have actually scored goals at a higher rate, while the Lightning have allowed fewer against.
While Andrei Vasilevskiy doesn’t have the playoff experience of Tuukka Rask in net, he’s a key player in this series for the Lightning. His .931 5-on-5 save percentage was higher than Rask’s .925, as was his 3.51 GSAA compared to Rask’s 2.8. Rask though, did have a higher all situation GSAA (7.49 to minus-1.97), and the Bruins’ strong penalty killing may be the difference-maker there. So far in the playoffs, Vasilevskiy’s play has earned higher markings in all situations and at 5-on-5.
This series between the Bruins and Lightning is bound to be close. Each team has star players, great forward depth, and defensive depth. It’s all about how they utilize that depth and make adjustments along the way, as both are dangerous teams that can make the other pay for their mistakes. While we think this series will be close, 11 of us believe the Lightning will advance to the Eastern Conference Final, and half of us think it’ll require the series going all seven games.
*5v5 data via Corsica.hockey