As the Stanley Cup Playoffs progress, the pressure rises. Every little factor isn’t just influential on a single game, but a series and ultimately a team’s entire season. Balancing the influence of all of the factors that influence the end result of a hockey game — let alone a playoff series — in this environment is a challenging task.
How did we do in Round 2?
All but one of us had the Tampa Bay Lightning advancing to the Eastern Conference Final after playing the Boston Bruins. However, Beth was the only one to predict a five-game elimination for the Bruins.
We were split 6-6 on who would win the Metropolitan Division series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. Of the six of us who chose the Capitals, only Miika thought they’d move forward in six games; the rest of us were split between five and seven games.
In the Western Conference, a slight majority of us predicted that the Vegas Golden Knights would defeat the San Jose Sharks. Eight of us thought it would be a six game series one way or another; five of those eight (Joe, Jack, Tom, Bryan, and Scott) had the Golden Knights winning in six.
Lastly, in the Central Division showdown between the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets, we were split 8-4 in favor of Nashville. Seven of us saw this series going the full length, but only Kevin and Pat predicted the Jets moving forward after seven games.
Conference Final Predictions
As the playoffs progress, we’ll continue to revisit our selections, and make predictions for the upcoming matchups. This round, it’ll be the Washington Capitals vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning competing in the Eastern Conference Final, and the Winnipeg Jets vs. the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final.
Washington Capitals vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Capitals (49-26-7, 105 points, first in Metropolitan) after starting with an 0-2 deficit vs. the Columbus Blue Jackets in the quarterfinals, won the series in six games. They moved on to take on the reigning back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins in the semifinals. For the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era, they’re moving on to the Eastern Conference Final.
The Lightning (54-23-5, 113 points, first in the Atlantic) eliminated the New Jersey Devils in five games to qualify to the second round, where they faced-off against the Boston Bruins. It once again took the Lightning only five games to oust their opponent. They lost Game 1, but came back by winning the next four consecutive games.
Both teams finished the regular season at the top of their divisions. The Lightning’s 5-on-5 play helped them get there, as their 51.52 percent Corsi was seventh in the league. Because of their ability to create quality chances, they were expected to score almost 53 percent of the goals.
The Capitals on the other hand, focused on shot quality, not quantity, only taking just under 48 percent of the shot share. Despite their focus on shot quality, they weren’t expected to score at an impressive rate either; even worse was their 2.56 expected goals against per 60 that was the fourth worst in the league.
One of the Bolts’ flaws was their play in their own zone, but the acquisition of Ryan McDonagh at the trade deadline addressed that by giving Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman defensive support and improving their penalty kill that ranked 28th in the league during the regular season. The Capitals’ penalty kill, on the other hand, was 15th in the league.
Having offensive weapons like Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Brayden Point helped the Lightning have an advantage while on the power play, which operated at the third-highest 23 percent. They aren’t the only team with offensive weapons, as the Capitals boast Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and Evgeny Kutznetsov; their power play trailed the Tampa’s at 22.5 percent, which ranked seventh.
In net, the Lightning are back-stopped by Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has had a career year. In Washington, Braden Holtby’s the starter, but some inconsistencies to end the regular season led to Philip Grubauer assuming the role, and starting in the playoffs.
So far in the 2018 playoffs, Tampa Bay has played 10 games. In that time, they’ve accumulated the best 5-on-5 Corsi for percentage (54.33) of all 16 teams that have skated in the postseason. Their shot suppression that’s translated to a rate of 49.2 per 60, is what stands out and also leads the league. They’re also expected to almost 60 percent of the goals at 5-on-5, and again, it’s how they’ve limited chances against that’s highlighted their play (1.52 expected goals against per 60).
The Capitals’ shot share has been better so far this postseason at 49.71 percent. Both their shot generation and suppression though, have been just above league average. But they are expected to score a slight majority of the goals, and have undoubtedly lessened th rate of quality of the chances allowed.
In the postseason, both the Capitals and Lightning have had success on the power play, but the Capitals’ efficiency gives them a slight edge, as does their shot generation on the man advantage. However, the Lightning are expected to score goals at a higher rate based on the quality of chances they’ve created.
On the other side of the ice, the Capitals have an edge on the penalty that’s operated at 79.1 percent (to the Lightning’s 74.2 percent), and their underlying have been better so far as well.
After returning to the starter’s net for Game 3 of the first round, Holtby’s been a key player for the Capitals. His 3.67 goals saved above average is ahead of Vasilevskiy’s .73, but his .936 save percentage trails Vasilevskiy’s .944.
As impressive as the Capitals’ accomplishments are so far this postseason, most of us are still leaning towards the Lightning (10-3) – especially if the Capitals have to move forward without Backstrom. And of the 10 of us that are predicting a win for the Lightning, six of us think it’ll take six games for them to move on to the Stanley Cup Final.
Winnipeg Jets vs. Vegas Golden Knights
The Golden Knights (51-24-7, 109 points, first in Pacific) have been the surprise of the season, and as the playoffs have progressed, they’ve only built on that. After sweeping the Los Angeles Kings, they defeated the San Jose Sharks in six games.
The Jets (52-20-10, 114 points, second in Central) defeated the Minnesota Wild in five games, before battling the Nashville Predators. It took seven games in one of the most exciting series of the playoffs, but now they’ll compete in the franchise’s first ever Conference Final.
So how do these teams stack up?
During the regular season, at 5-on-5, the Golden Knights took a slight majority of the shot share (50.96 percent) and were expected to score a slight majority of the goals; they actually scored 52.78 percent of the goals. The Jets, on the other hand, were slightly ahead with a 51.5 percent Corsi for, and because of the quality of the chances they generated, they were expected to score 52.79 percent of the goals. The rate in which the Jets generated and limited shots, scoring chances, and goals all exceeded the Golden Knights during the regular season.
The Jets also had an edge in terms of special teams during the regular season, with a power play that finished fifth in the league (to the Golden Knights’ 11th) and penalty kill that was ninth (Vegas was 12th).
As for the goaltending, Marc-Andre Fleury’s season was shortened by injury, but when healthy, he stopped 93.07% of the shots he faced 5-on-5 and recorded a 2.15 GSAA. Connor Hellebuyck’s season in Winnipeg though, was enough for a Vezina nomination because he stopped 93.14% of the 5-on-5 shots fired his way, while racking up an impressive 8.21 GSAA.
At the deadline, Winnipeg deepened their already impressive forward depth (that includes Patrik Laine, Nikolaj Ehlers, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, and Kyle Connor) with the addition of Paul Stastny. To support their dominant first line of William Karlsson, Reilly Smith, and Jonathan Marchessault, Vegas added Tomas Tatar and Ryan Reeves at the deadline – although both have spent more time out of the lineup than it in this postseason.
Through the 10 Golden Knights’ postseason games, they’ve taken 51.47 percent of the shot share and have been expected to score 53.57 percent of the goals. Impressively, the Golden Knights have actually scored 69.23 percent of the goals, mainly because of the outstanding goaltending of Fleury; they’ve only allowed goals at a rate of one per 60.
In terms of Corsi for, the Jets’ 53.68 percent has the edge. They also are expected to score a higher percentage of the goals share (55.16 percent); while they’ve exceeded that (56.1 percent goals for), the Golden Knights clearly surpass them. Offensively, the Jets’ have taken more shots, quality chances, and scored goals at a higher rate than the Golden Knights, but Vegas’s limited more quality chances and allowed goals against at lower rate.
While the Jets’ power play has clicked more than the Golden Knights’ (operating at 22.6 percent to 17.5), they’ve generated shots at a higher rate and were expected to score more based on their chances. Of the teams that made the playoffs, Golden Knights’ penalty kill (85 percent) is second only to the Kings’, while the Jets’ (75 percent) ranks 10th – however, the Jets have superior underlying numbers.
Hellebuyck’s played well for the Jets (.934 5-on-5 save percentage, 2.42 GSAA), but Fleury has been incredible as the Golden Knights’ backbone (.965 5-on-5 save percentage, 8.98 GSAA). If he continues playing at this level, Vegas has a major edge in net, but it’s not clear if it’s sustainable for him to continue this high caliber of play – especially against a team with as much offensive upside as the Jets. Fleury is riding high now, but as he’s shown in the past, it is possible for him to be equally bad at a moment’s notice.
*All Jets’ playoff data collected prior to Game 7
The Golden Knights have proven to be greater than the sum of their parts all season. The Jets, on the other hand, have developed into a strong contender after years of falling short. The Golden Knights have proven to be greater than the sum of their parts all season. The Jets, on the other hand, have developed into a strong contender after years of falling short.
Both teams are competing in their first Conference Final and are one step closer to competing for the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history. It is uncharted territory for both teams, and Game 1 will be like nothing either team has experienced to date.
As magical of a season as it’s been in Vegas, we think Winnipeg’s victorious and advances.
*Data via Corsica.hockey