Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
In this match up the Rangers have the better defense, special teams, goal differential and team save percentage, while the Thrashers have the better offense, team shot percentage, more PP opportunities and fewer times shorthanded. Just looking at these numbers it would seem to be very even, perhaps even favor the Rangers. The Thrashers do have the edge in the team shooting percentage which turned out to be the best predictor of series winners in my study of the last five playoff seasons.
A Deeper Look: However if we break down the regular season statistics more some interesting things emerge. The Rangers absolutely feasted on non-playoff teams average outscoring them by a total of 35 goals, but the Rangers were outscored by the other Eastern playoff teams by -15 goals. The Thrashers also feasted on non-playoff teams (+22) but fared slightly better against the other East playoff teams (-12).
The Rangers goaltenders put up a .915 SV% against non-playoff teams but this fell to .903 against the East qualifiers (Thrashers numbers showed no difference .904 and .904 respectively). The Rangers forwards had a torrid 10.3% shot percentage against non-playoff teams but just a 7.5% against the East playoff squads, while the Thrashers showed less of a drop off 10.4% and 9.8% respectively.
My playoff study found that Shot% (ATL), PP Opportunities (ATL-but just by 1) and GAA (NYR) were the three most important predictors. I give the Thrashers the edge because of their steady play against quality East opponents (though to be fair the Thrashers were terrible versus West playoff teams). Despite never appearing in the playoffs as a team, the Thrashers have more career playoff games among their likely starters.
|Category||ATL VS NHL||NYR VS NHL ||ADVANTAGE ||ATL VS EAST PLAYOFF TEAMS||NYR VS EAST PLAYOFF TEAMS|
|Goals For Avg.||2.91||2.84||ATL||2.81||2.40|
|Goal Against Avg.||2.94||2.57||NYR||3.19||2.78|
|Total Goal Differential||-2||+22||NYR||-12||-15|
|ST Goal Differential||+7||+27||NYR|
|ES Goal Differential||-9||-5||NYR|
|PP Opp Per Game||407||406||ATL|
Buffalo versus NY Islanders
Buffalo is the huge favorite as the top team in the East. They outscored their opponents by 60 goals this season and even if you look at their games versus East playoff clubs they outscored those teams by +14. Having said that Islanders fans do have some reason to hope because they have the stronger special teams and that is part of the recipe for upset victories.
A Deeper Look: The other cause for concern among Sabres fans is that the team has a fairly high Goals Against Average and a fairly low team SV%--this is a franchise that won by scoring loads of goals, while giving up a significant number themselves.
On the plus side for the Sabres is that they had terrific team Shooting % (12.3) and it remained very high even against other East Playoff teams (11.8). The Sabres also drew many more PP and faced many fewer PK situations than NYI. The playoff experience is nearly even. The giant wildcard is the Islander goaltending, they have to get a great performance to have a shot of winning this series.
|Category||BUF VS NHL||BUF VS NHL||ADVANTAGE||BUF VS EAST PLAYOFF |
|NYI VS EAST PLAYOFF |
|Goals For Avg.||3.63||2.93||BUF||3.47||2.63|
|Goal Against Avg.||2.90||2.87||NYI||3.03||3.05|
|Total Goal Differential||+60||+5||BUF||+14||-17|
|ST Goal Differential||+20||0||BUF|
|ES Goal Differential||+40||+5||BUF|
New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning
I think this series has the potential to be closer than most people expect (and I'm not saying that to please Lightning fans on SeSo). These two teams are almost mirror opposites of one another. The Devils are better at defense, killing penalties, goaltending and staying out of the penalty box. The Lightning are better at offense, the power play, shooting, and drawing penalties. Something has to give here.
A Deeper Look: The Devils were very consistent defensively, they allowed very few goals regardless of the quality of the team they were playing against. Tampa on the other hand was actually better defensively against the other eastern playoff teams (2.63 GA, .900 SV%) then against non-playoff teams (3.55 GAA, .873 SV%). If this pattern holds in the playoffs Tampa could make this a series.
Tampa also demonstrated a strong ability to finish off chances regardless of the quality of the opposition. The Devils had the weakest Shoot % of any Eastern playoff team, a bad sign based upon recent playoff history. On the other hand, the Devils may not need that many goals if Brodeur plays outstanding in goal.
|Category||NJD VS NHL ||TBL VS NHL ||ADVANTAGE||NJD VS EAST PLAYOFF |
|TBL VS EAST PLAYOFF |
|Goals For Avg.||2.51||2.96||TBL||2.35||2.84|
|Goal Against Avg.||2.35||3.16||NJD||2.30||2.63|
|Total Goal Differential||+13||-16||NJD||+2||+7|
|ST Goal Differential||+40||+28||NJD|
|ES Goal Differential||-27||-44||NJD|
|PP Opp Per Game||367||374||TBL|
Ottawa versus Pittsburgh
On paper the Senators are the favorite and have home ice advantage, but I think there are many reasons to think this will be another year where the Senators go home early. Ottawa has the advantage in offense, defense, PP%, PK % and SV% and Goal Differential as well as fewer times shorthanded. But Pittsburgh has the edge in two of three most important playoff series predictors: more PP Opportunities and a better shooting percentage.
A Deeper Look: The Senators have an advantage in SV% (.913) largely because they stoned non-playoff teams (.917) and against the East qualifiers they were just .905 and Pittsburgh was nearly the same at .902 so don't read too much into that Ottawa SV% advantage.
Both teams greatly outscored the opposition on special teams, but Pittsburgh struggled at even strength, if Ottawa can stay out of the box they greatly increase their odds of winning the series. If you think that playoff experience mattes don't pick PIT, roughly half their roster has never played in a single NHL playoff game. Personally, I think experience is overrated.
The Senators were even stronger offensively against Eastern playoff teams (3.63 GFA) then they were against non-playoff teams (3.58), only western playoff teams managed to shut down Ottawa's offense. Pittsburgh on the other hand torched non-playoff teams (3.92 GFA) but were more ordinary (2.78 goals per game) when taking on fellow East playoff qualifiers.
|Category||OTT VS NHL||PIT VS NHL||ADVANTAGE||OTT VS EAST PLAYOFF |
|PIT VS EAST PLAYOFF |
|Goals For Avg.||3.49||3.26||OTT||3.63||2.78|
|Goal Against Avg.||2.63||2.93||OTT||2.69||3.00|
|Total Goal Differential||+70||+27||OTT||+30||-9|
|ST Goal Differential||+40||+46||PIT|
|ES Goal Differential||+30||-19||OTT|
Next up: Western Conference Previews