Round 2 Predictions by the Numbers

The first round of the NHL playoffs provided plenty of drama with a total of 18 of the 42 games going into overtime. In other words, 42.9% needed extra time.

I don’t think many people picked the Predators to sweep the Blackhawks in four straight contests. Here is a fun fact: the number of games won by Nashville (four) was greater than the total number of goals scored by Chicago in the entire series (three). Unbelievable. Want more?

Nashville’s goalie, Pekka Rinne, recorded two assists in the series which is as many as the Hawks’ leading scorer in the playoffs.

Pekka Rinne of the Nashville Predators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The Toronto Maple Leafs gave the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, all they could handle as all six games were decided by a single goal (five games going to overtime). The only disappointment from round one may have been the fact that we didn’t get a single Game 7. That might change in the second round.

As a statistician, it is natural that I introduce a couple of advanced metrics. Don’t worry — nothing super complicated. Throughout this write-up, I will mention two such statistics:

“Corsi Tied”

Shots attempts FOR / (Shots attempts FOR + Shots attempts AGAINST). In other words, we are looking at the percentage of shots a team made on the opposing net relative to the total shot attempts made by both teams. Calculated when teams were playing 5-on-5 and the game was tied. So if a given team has a “Corsi tied” of 52%, it means out of all the shots that were attempted in their games, 52% came from them versus only 48% by their opponents. It tends to show whether a team controlled the puck more often than their opponents (a possession metric).

“5-on-5 Zone Start Pct”

Number of faceoffs in offensive zone / (Number of faceoffs in offensive zone + Number of faceoffs in defensive zone). From now on, let’s call it “5-on-5 ZS %”. For example, Arizona was the worst team with respect to this metric during the 2016-17 season with a value of 43.58%. It means that if you omit all neutral zone faceoffs, 43.58% of the faceoffs occurred in the Coyotes offensive zone versus 56.42% of the faceoffs in their defensive zone. Not good.

All right, we are now ready to project each Quarterfinals series! Just for fun, here is each team’s rank in terms of regular season points: 1-Washington, 2-Pittsburgh, 6-Anaheim, 7-Edmonton, 9-NY Rangers, 10-St. Louis, 12-Ottawa and 16-Nashville. It seems pretty unfair to me that the top two teams (Washington and Pittsburgh) are already meeting in the second round of the postseason, and the next best two remaining teams are also facing each other (Anaheim and Edmonton).

Pittsburgh Penguins vs Washington Capitals

Record Goal differential Corsi tied 5-on-5 ZS %
Penguins 50-21-11 (111 pts) +48 49.75% (16th) 52.85% (5th)
Capitals 55-19-8 (118 pts) +81 53.85% (2nd) 52.46% (6th)

First Round Results

  • Pittsburgh eliminated Columbus in 5 games (combined score: 21 to 13).
  • Washington eliminated Toronto in 6 games (combined score: 18 to 16).

This will definitely be the most talked about series. It is often viewed as the Crosby-Ovechkin battle, but it also features the top two teams from the regular season. Crosby and Ovechkin have faced each other in the playoffs twice before. Both times the Penguins came out on top (in six games last year and in seven games in 2009). Both times Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup. But the Capitals have other plans this year.

The playoff format has not been kind to the Penguins: after facing the team that finished with the fourth most points in the regular season (Columbus), they now have to play the one that racked up the most points in the entire league. You could see that happening to a team barely making the playoffs and getting a wild card spot, but how does that happen to a team finishing with the second most points?

The Penguins have been hit by the injury bug more often than not in 2016-17. They have missed several key players throughout the season, but found a way to keep playing at a high level.

Matt Murray hurt himself in the pregame warmup of Game 1 against Columbus, which led Marc-Andre Fleury to play the entire series. It does not appear like Murray is ready to be back yet: who knows if he’ll be able to be in net at some point during this series.

Star defenceman Kris Letang is out for the entire postseason. Chris Kunitz told reporters he expects to be back in time for the first game of the series. The latest reports indicate Carl Hagelin may not be ready for Game 1 but that he is nearing a return. The only injury for Washington is D-man Karl Alzner: his status is unknown for Game 1.

(Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports)

Washington did not lose any of the four meetings with Pittsburgh in regulation: they beat them 7-1 and 5-2, while they lost a couple of games in extra time (3-2 and 7-6). It adds up to a combined score of 20 to 13 in favor of the Caps.

As you can see, Washington scored plenty of goals in those contests (five goals per game, on average). That should be cause for concern for Pens fans, especially with Fleury in net whose numbers (3.02 GAA and a 0.909 save percentage) have been significantly worse than Murray’s (2.41 GAA and a 0.923 save percentage).

Both teams have a great offense: they finished first and third in goals scored this season. The big difference comes from the defensive aspect of the game, where Washington allowed the fewest goals in the league while Pittsburgh finished 17th in that category. The Caps’ defensive corps is deeper and they have a big advantage in net with Braden Holtby who is definitely the superior goalie.

Some people may argue that the Capitals will be more tired following their difficult first round matchup with Toronto. But you could also see it as a good preparation for the next step.

Final Pick

I’m taking Washington to win in six games. I believe they do get past the second round for the first time since 1998.

New York Rangers vs Ottawa Senators

Record Goal differential Corsi tied 5-on-5 ZS %
Rangers 48-28-6 (102 pts) +36 47.39% (27th) 48.68% (21st)
Senators 44-28-10 (98 pts) -2 48.07% (24th) 51.68% (9th)

First Round Results

  • New York eliminated Montreal in six games (combined score: 14 to 11).
  • Ottawa eliminated Boston in six games (combined score: 15 to 13).

For the second straight series, the Ottawa Senators hold home-ice advantage and yet they are established as underdogs by bookmakers. And once again, I am picking them to advance.

The Sens have won two of the three meetings with the Rangers this year, despite playing one more on the road. From an injury standpoint, neither team is missing a key player. However, it was revealed that star defenceman Erik Karlsson has been playing with two fractures in his left heel for about a month. It has not shown on the ice thus far in the postseason because he has simply been amazing (six assists in six games and an unbelievable 30 minutes of average time on ice).

Erik Karlsson
Erik Karlsson of the Ottawa Senators (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Both teams finished surprisingly low in terms of “Corsi tied” (New York 27th and Ottawa 24th), which indicates they did not possess the puck very often compared to their opponents. Ottawa is the only team that qualified for the postseason despite showing a negative goal differential.

The Sens won an identical number of games on the road and at home in the regular season, while the Rangers’ struggles at home and successes on the road have been well documented. The best road team in the NHL continued doing well in such circumstances in the first round as they were able to win two games out of three in a very loud Bell Centre — the only loss occurring in overtime after Tomas Plekanec tied the game with 18 seconds left in the third period, so they could have gone unbeaten in road games.

A lot had been said about Henrik Lundqvist’s problems when playing in Montreal. He certainly got a monkey off his back after playing very well in the first round. However, I do trust Craig Anderson more. He held a 2.28 GAA and a 0.926 save percentage this season, compared to a 2.74 GAA and a 0.910 save percentage for “The King”. Both goalies are 35-years old, but Anderson started only 40 games versus 57 for Lundqvist. Fatigue might come into play.

Final Pick

I’m picking Ottawa to win the series. It won’t be easy, but I expect Guy Boucher’s squad to finish off the Rangers at home in a seventh game.

Edmonton Oilers vs Anaheim Ducks

Record Goal differential Corsi tied 5-on-5 ZS %
Oilers 47-26-9 (103 pts) +35 49.63% (17th) 50.88% (10th)
Ducks 46-23-13 (105 pts) +23 50.24% (13th) 48.34% (25th)

First Round Results

  • Edmonton eliminated San Jose in six games (combined score: 12 to 14 – yes, a 7-0 loss will screw up your goal differential!).
  • Anaheim eliminated Calgary in four games (combined score: 14 to 9).

Edmonton’s young guns were able to eliminate the defending Western Conference champions, the San Jose Sharks, in six games. They overcame a horrible 7-0 loss in Game 4 by winning the next two contests to close out the series. David Desharnais’ overtime winner in Game 5 was a pivotal moment for them.

A lot has been said about the Oilers’ lack of playoff experience. That did not prevent them from sending San Jose home. They are now facing another team with quite a bit of postseason experience. The Ducks are in the big dance for the fifth straight year.

The season series was pretty even between these two teams — the Oilers won three out of five, but two of those wins came in extra time. Prior to this year, the Ducks had won four consecutive matches versus Edmonton.

I picked the Oilers in the previous round despite being worried about the fatigue factor regarding goalie Cam Talbot, who started seven more games than any other goalie in the league for a grand total of 73. As the Oilers get deeper in the playoffs, that becomes an even bigger source of concern.

Cam Fowler, NHL, Anaheim Ducks
Cam Fowler of the Anaheim Ducks (Charles LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports)

There are no key injuries to report for Edmonton, while Anaheim may welcome its best defenceman Cam Fowler for Game 1 (if not, he is expected to be back in the lineup very soon). As for Sami Vatanen, his status is unclear but all signs point towards him playing very soon.

Ryan Getzlaf is on a tear — he has 39 points over the last 29 games. As expected, Connor McDavid led his team with four points in its first round series. Surprisingly, the Oilers have only scored an average of 2.0 goals per game in their series against the Sharks. That’s not good news considering Anaheim allowed the fourth fewest goals in the regular season.

If you include the four-game sweep against Calgary, the Ducks are on an amazing roll — they are now 15-0-3 over their past 18 games. The Oilers have also been doing great by winning 16 of their last 20 matches, including the playoffs.

Anaheim will need to figure out its penalty kill pretty soon after allowing six goals in 16 opportunities against the Flames, especially against Edmonton which ranked fifth on the power play this season.

Final Pick

These teams are very evenly matched, so it’s hard not to pick this series to reach the limit. I’m going to go with Anaheim to win in seven games. Jakob Silfverberg scores the game winner in the decisive game. How is that for a prediction?

Nashville Predators vs St. Louis Blues

Record Goal differential Corsi tied 5-on-5 ZS %
Predators 41-29-12 (94 pts) +16 49.58% (18th) 50.08% (14th)
Blues 46-29-7 (99 pts) +17 51.83% (6th) 48.34% (24th)

First Round Results

  • Nashville eliminated Chicago in four games (combined score: 13 to 3).
  • St. Louis eliminated Minnesota in five games (combined score: 11 to 8).

Both teams stunned the hockey world in the first round. Which one will make it to the Western Conference finals?

Filip Forsberg (Christopher Hanewinckel / USA TODAY Sports)

The Predators might have the best top four defencemen in the league with Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. They did an outstanding job in the Chicago series, along with goalie Pekka Rinne, by allowing a meager three goals in four games to the ninth best offense in the NHL. Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg led the way offensively with six and five points, respectively. Meanwhile, Viktor Arvidsson finished the series with an incredible plus-eight rating. Nashville did not close out the regular season very well by winning only two of their last seven contests, but it looks like they’ve flipped the playoff switch.

Who is going to stop the Blues? If you include playoff games, they are now 19-2-2 over their last 23 games. Since March 5, Jake Allen has been in a zone: he has stopped 594 of the 628 shots fired at him for a 0.946 save percentage, along with a 1.67 goals against average. The Blues will need more offensively from star Vladimir Tarasenko who was limited to just one goal and two assists in the first round’s five games.

Nashville took three games out of the five meetings with St. Louis this season. Interestingly, neither game ended with a one-goal deficit.

Final Pick

I’m picking the Predators to win in six games against the Blues. They are pretty evenly matched offensively, but I give an edge to Nashville with respect to blueliners and goalie. I admire what Jake Allen has done, but keep in mind he had a very rough start to the season and Pekka Rinne’s overall career gives me more confidence in him.