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Key Matchups-

This series will be a tale of two snipers. Jamie Benn had 41 goals and Vladimir Tarasenko had 40. Tarasenko is superior at 5-on-5 exceeding Benn in goals and points per 60 minutes while generating more shot attempts, but Benn gets more ice time leading to more production. Tarasenko hasn’t been great in his own end this season causing a cut of his minutes. Benn racked up 10 points in six games even without Tyler Seguin by his side. It will be an interesting showdown to watch.

St Louis Blues–

St. Louis pushed past the Blackhawks after three straight seasons of first-round exits, all after the Blues had dominant regular seasons. It will be important that they keep that momentum in Game 1 against the Stars to hold their momentum.

The Blues was league’s deepest, most versatile teams offensively. Vladimir Tarasenko’s goal scoring ability nearly cancels out the threat of Jamie Benn. The line of Jaden Schwartz, Tarasenko, and Jori Lehtera in the first round combined for 17 points in seven games, with Schwartz leading all scorers with seven points (three goals, four assists). Troy Brouwer brought size and experience as a Stanly Cup champion and center ,David Backes, will play an important part in the success of the team as the Blues run continues.

St. Louis has the defensive advantage and Alex Pietrangelo, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Jay Bouwmeester providing the blueline tremendous mobility. Pietrangelo  was tied for second on the Blues with six points (one goal, five assists). Rookie Colton Parayko provides size and a slapshot that no goalie wants to face. St. Louis does a better job suppressing shot attempts than Dallas. The Blues allowed a score-adjusted Corsi For per 60 of 50.5 this season, ninth in the NHL, whereas Dallas sat 16th at 51.8.

The power play went 5-for-18 (27.7 percent) against Chicago, but the penalty kill will have to be better than it was against the Blackhawks, who were 6-for-19 (31.5 percent) on the power play. The Blues have two strong power-play units. Tarasenko, Steen, Shattenkirk, Backes, and Schwartz make up the first; Pietrangelo, Parayko, Stastny, Brouwer, and Fabbri are the second group. Schwartz scored three of the Blues’ five power-play goals; while Tarasenko and Parayko had the others.

Brian Elliott delivered a .929 save percentage in the first round series and, after playing sloppy in Games 5 and 6, he stopped 31 of 33 shots in Game 7, and a high of 44 in Game 3.

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Dallas Stars-

The Stars are phenomenal at scoring goals and generateing chances, but they aren’t the greatest at stopping those against them. Benn is an elite player and will be the greatest asset to Dallas. Veterans Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp need to pick up the pace and find a way to use their experience to better the team. Second-line center Jason Spezza had nine points (four goals, five assists) and Sharp is at his best in the 3rd period and OT; he had three goals for the Stars in the first round. John Klingberg and Alex Goligoski have contributed by delivering offense from the back end.  In the first round Patrick Eaves contributed five points, Cody Eakin had four points, and Ales Hemsky, and rookie Mattias Janmark each had three.

Vernon Fiddler was gritty and made an impact on the faceoff for his team. Antoine Roussel helped his team by agitating the Wild and contributing a goal in the first round. Colton Sceviour was a playmaker against the Wild and Valeri Nichushkin added size and presence. They used a six-man core of Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Stephen Johns, John Klingberg, Johnny Oduya, and Kris Russell. Klingberg added three points in the series, in Games 5 and 6. Goligoski  and Oduya have both won the Stanley Cup: Goligoski with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2009 and Oduya with the Blackhawks in 2013 and 2015 adding big game experience to the Stars.

The Dallas power play was fourth in the regular season at 22.1 percent, and finished 4-for-19 (21.4 percent). Their penalty kill had a success rate of 82.3 percent during the regular season, and fell to 75.0 percent against Minnesota.

Goaltending duties were divided between Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi almost evenly during the regular season, but in the first round Lehtonen started four games and performed well, going 3-1 with a 2.27 goals-against average, .911 save percentage and one shutout. Niemi delivered mixed results in two starts against the Wild, going 1-1 with a 3.36 GAA and .870 save percentage.

Prediction: Blues in 5

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Read our analysis of the Blues and the Stars Round 1 matchups to learn more about these teams.

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Key Matchups-

Brent Burns and Shea Weber will be expected to light the lamp for their respective teams. Burns was number one among defensemen scoring 27 goals this season. He can move the puck in the offensive zone and is aggressive on the forecheck. He put 353 shots on net making him second in that aspect to Alex Ovechkin. Weber was fourth for goals and finished the season with 20 goals; his third time doing so. Burns is the superior offensive player while Weber has impressive shot suppression numbers, and has already been chosen to play for Team Canada’s World Cup squad.

San Jose Sharks–

Coach Peter DeBoer prefers to roll four lines, keeping his forwards fresh. In Round 1 the top line dominated scoring seven of its 16 goals. All forwards averaged a minimum of 11 minutes of ice time per game except Tommy Wingels who is second among forwards with 11 shots on goal and averaged 9:49 per game. The Sharks’ Joes Pavelski and Joe Thornton made an impressive showing in the first round. Pavelski scored five goals in five games, with two coming on the power play and one standing as a game winner. Thornton had a goal and two assists, and was one of the most solid players on the ice. Logan Couture, Joonas Donskoi, and Patrick Marleau, were an offensive powerhouse trio against the Kings. Joel Ward had four assists and made his presence known alone the walls. Center Chris Tierney and left wing Matt Nieto also made contributions.

Brent Burns has been a force to be reckoned with the past two seasons, and it’s going to be a battle for the Predators’ defense to keep him at bay while trying to hold off Pavelski and Thornton. Burns lead the Sharks with eight points in the first round. Paul Martin was Burns’ partner in Round 1and his adept play allowed for Burns to thrive. Marc-Edouard Vlasic made his contribution averaging 23:12 of ice time per game and leading the Sharks with 18 blocked shots.

The Sharks are a team of playmakers who proved how important puck possession and seizing scoring opportunities is during their matchup with the Kings and the past season. For every 60 minutes played at 5-on-5, the Sharks generated about 13 chances from the slot and allowed less than 10 against per 60 minutes. Against the Kings the Sharks were able to average 13 chances per 60 minutes at 5-on-5 in the first round.

The Sharks goaltending has something to be desired. Martin Jones isn’t the caliber of goalie you hope to see in the playoffs. His .912 save percentage was right in the middle of the pack for goaltenders in the first round. He’ll need to be better against the Predators for the team to win the series, and if he is the Sharks could be back in the Western Conference final for the first time since 2011.

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Nashville Predators-

The Predators are a defense dominant team with Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, and Mattias Ekholm. In Round 1 Weber and Josi combined for two goals and eight points, playing nearly half of each game and played a crucial role in shutting down Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. In Round Two, they’ll be tasked with slowing down Joe Pavelski, Joe Thornton, and Brent Burns. Josi averaged 27:16 of ice time and 33.6 shifts per game. His average shift length was 48 seconds. Fourth-line center Paul Gaustad brought a physical presence in the first round. Gaustad has been proven effective in the faceoff circle; he won 55.4 percent of his faceoffs against the Ducks and had a 54.1 winning percentage in the defensive zone. Nashville finished the regular season tied for the most points in the NHL by defensemen.

Nashville’s penalty kill faced the league’s best power play in Round One and only allowed four power play goals against in 25 attempts. That made for the sixth-best penalty kill in Round 1 against the Ducks. Nashville’s penalty kill is going to be utilized against San Jose who drew the fifth-most power plays in the regular season and had the league’s third-ranked power play. Nashville’s power play struggled in the first round, going 1-for-26.

Nashville offensive production is lacking compared to San Jose’s. The Sharks could win with forward depth if the Preds forwards can’t get the puck to the back of the net, but there is hope for the offense with Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg, and James Neal, but it’ll be crucial that they are better than they were in Round 1.

Pekka Rinne had issues in the first five games. In Game 7 Rinne played a solidly and saved the Predators by making 36 saves, allowing one goal, on a power play. Rinne finished the series with 2.45 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

Prediction: Sharks in 6

Follow us on Twitter @TristinHuntamer and @BandBHockey

Read our analysis of the Predators and the Sharks Round 1 matchups to learn more about these teams.

Key Matchup-

The obvious matchup to keep your eyes on is between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. I don’t think many people have forgotten the 2009 Eastern Conference Semifinals where in Game 2 both players had hattricks. They were the first players from opposite teams to do so in a playoff game in 13 years, since Trevor Linden (Vancouver Canucks) and Joe Sakic (Colorado Avalanche) in 1996. It has only happened four times in NHL history, and it hasn’t happened since. Crosby has said “We drove each other in that game.” and Ovechkin has said “That’s two leaders showing up.” about it, and that’s why I for one love when the best players play the best at their best; it pushes the game to a level beyond. Ovechkin had eight goals and 14 points in the series; Crosby had eight goals and 13 points, and the Penguins went on to defeat the Detroit Red Wings in the 2009 Stanley Cup Final.

The mindset that these two have isn’t focused on each other, but instead they both have a team focus and a drive to win no matter who their opponents are. They are willing to put everything on the ice for their respective teams to win, and that includes a drive to outplay everyone on the opposing team including each other. These two men may be the most competitive in the league and their intensity is explosive whenever they face each other.

Ovechkin and Crosby have both won the Hart, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophies. Crosby has 938 points in 707 regular-season games. Ovechkin has 525 goals in 839 games. Crosby is all around skilled and consistent in how he plays; while Ovechkin is all about scoring goals and he does it with flare. Crosby has been the stronger player offensively this season, especially after Mike Sullivan took over on December 13th. If we just look at 5-on-5 play for the entire 2015-16 season, Crosby had 18 goals and 51 points in 1,209:47 of ice time, while Ovechkin had 27 goals and 40 points in 1,184:10 of ice time. Ovechkin scored 50 percent more goals while Crosby had more than 150 percent more assists. In terms of primary assists, Crosby is ahead 21-2. The amount of shots Crosby set up bridges the scoring gap between the two players. The Capitals outplayed their opponents 1,222 shot attempts to 1,074 when Ovechkin was on the ice, while the Penguins have a narrow edge of 1,290 to 1,077 with Crosby. Crosby is tied with teammates Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel, and the Capitals’ John Carlson, for the playoff lead with five power-play points. Ovechkin has three power-play points. In the regular season Ovechkin and Crosby both had 24 power-play points. The only difference between their power play points is that Ovechkin contributes by scoring, while Crosby sets them up. Ovechkin is the more physical player with 225 hits ranked second on the Capitals in the regular season, behind Tom Wilson’s 253. Crosby had 90 hits, which ranked No. 8 on the Penguins. Crosby has the more established big-game reputation, having won the Stanley Cup in 2009, and the gold medal at the 2010 and 2014 Winter Olympics. These are two phenomenal players and it’s difficult to decide who has the edge, but I will give it to Sidney Crosby with his playmaking abilities and skills as an all-around player. But I will also say that I don’t believe he would have that edge if he were still playing under Mike Johnston and not Sullivan. I don’t believe either that this matchup would be taking place if the Penguins were still coached by Johnston.

Pittsburgh Penguins –

There were moments that the Penguins were outshot in Round 1 by the Rangers and that should not be ignored, but in five games, the Penguins averaged more than four goals per game which is the most of any team in the first round, and not an easy task against Henrik Lundqvist. Pittsburgh had five forwards average at least one point per game in its five-game first round series. Crosby led Pittsburgh with eight points (three goals, five assists). After missing Game 1 of the series, Evgeni Malkin returned from recovering from an upper body injury and racked up seven points, including two goals and two assists in Game 4. His first two games weren’t his best, but he picked up the pace in the final two. The Penguins’ third line of Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel, and Carl Hagelin combined for 12 points (four goals, eight assists); while the fourth line of Matt Cullen, Tom Kuhnhackl, and Bryan Rust contributed three points apiece. Patric Hornqvist had five points, including a hattrick in Game 1 against the Rangers, and he is a key component of the Penguins power play with his ability to tip pucks and screen the goalie. Pittsburgh’s star players are a match for those of the Capitals, but a key factor is the team mentality and that the Penguins’ chemistry, skill, and speed that all complement each other.

Pittsburgh scored on eight of 21 power-play opportunities against the New York Rangers in the first round. They scored at least one power-play goal in every game, including two in Game 2 and three in Game 4. The Pens penalty kill was 17-for-19. The Rangers scored a 5-on-3 power-play goal in Game 1, and a late power-play goal in Game 5. The Penguins power play unit will have a challenge against the Capitals whose penalty kill in the first round against the Flyers was 23-for-24.

The Penguins have a healthy and efficient defense with plenty of depth. Kris Letang’s five points led Pittsburgh’s defensemen against New York, and his 51.87 shot attempts percentage, and average of 27:17 of ice time were the highest on the Penguins. Olli Maatta had difficulties being effective early on against New York, but played better as the series progressed and averaged 18:27 of ice time. Trevor Daley averaged 22:41 of ice time, and had three assists in the first round and his partner, Brian Dumoulin who is one of the Penguins’ best skaters. Completing the Pittsburgh defense, Ben Lovejoy and Ian Cole lead the Pittsburgh defensemen in shorthanded time on ice.

Marc-Andre Fleury will not be in the crease in Game 1 as he is still suffering from concussion symptoms. Matt Murray will be the likely choice to start the round. He took over playoff goaltending duty in the final three games against the Rangers after missing the first two with an upper-body injury. He allowed four goals on 89 shots for a 1.33 GAA and .955 save percentage. He had a 31-save shutout in Game 4, and made 38 saves in a 6-3 win in Game 5. Jeff Zatkoff has also proven himself by making 35 saves in a 5-2 win in Game 1 against the Rangers, and will likely be Murray’s backup in Game 1.

Coaching has been an important facet of why the Penguins are in this position. They were floundering under the guidance of Mike Johnston, and when Mike Sullivan took over the position it truly showed what a difference a coach can make. Sullivan wasn’t a complete stranger to this team as he knew Sheary, Rust, Kuhnhackl, and Murray from their three months together with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League. He earned the respect of the whole team by asking them to play a fast paced game which is conducive to their skill and preference, and he seems to have an open dialog with the players allowing for them to thrive rather than be dictated. Under his mentorship the Penguins were 33-16-5 in their final 54 games of the regular season.

Washington Capitals-

The Flyers were expected to be a fairly easy matchup for the Capitals, but Washington’s offensive machine seemed to have some issues during the first round. If it weren’t for Nicklas Backstrom’s Game 6 goal, the Capitals could have been pushed to seven games against the Flyers. Pittsburgh is going to be a more difficult team to beat than Philadelphia, so it will be important that the Caps produce more offensively. The Capitals only allowed six goals against in a six-game series with the spectacular talent of Braden Holtby and the Washington defense holding their ground. One of the Capitals greatest strengths is their power play boasting the fifth best power play in the league during the regular season. The Capitals scored on eight power plays of 27 against the Philadelphia Flyers in Round 1. Ovechkin scored two power-play goals. In Game 5, Ovechkin had eight shots on goal and eight hits. The two-way dominating Nicklas Backstrom had seven points (two goals, five assists). There were moments against the Flyers that Ovechkin and Backstrom couldn’t make anything happen, and the third and fourth lines weren’t helping matters in those moments. It will be crucial that the third and fourth lines start producing more in this series.

John Carlson scored three power-play goals in the first round and led Washington defensemen with six points (five on the power play) and averaged 24:58 of ice time. Matt Niskanen averaged 25:32 on the ice, while Karl Alzner averaged 22:43 minutes. Top penalty-killer, Brooks Orpik, was injured in Game 3 and it’s unclear when or if he’ll make an appearance in the second round.

The Flyers weren’t much of a test for Braden Holtby only scoring six goals in the first round against him. Five were against Holtby and one was into an empty net. The Capitals’ netminder had two shutouts, 2-0 in Game 1 and 1-0 in Game 6. Holtby leads NHL goaltenders remaining in the playoffs with a 0.84 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.

The Washington penalty kill was a key component to their success. Out of 23 tries, the Flyers scored only once on the power play. The Capitals went 5-for-9 on the power play in a 6-1 win in Game 3 and were 8-for-27 with the man-advantage in the series.

Prediction: Penguins in 6

Follow us on Twitter @TristinHuntamer and @BandBHockey

Read our analysis of the Capitals and the Penguins Round 1 matchups to learn more about these teams.

Key Matchup-

Ryan Suter is one of the league’s best defensemen, but Jamie Benn has had the edge every time the two have met on the ice over the past five years. But it’s how they play with their respective partners; Benn with Tyler Seguin and Suter with Jared Spurgeon that will make it interesting. These players are good standing alone, but their partners compliment them and will create an interesting matchup to watch.

Minnesota Wild-

Winning Formula: 

Devan Dubnyk has continued to be a stone wall in the net and the Wild have tremendous forward depth. Mikko Koivu, Mikael Granlund, Erik Haula, and Charlie Coyle are some names of players on this team that have produced consistently. Ryan Suter leads Jared Spurgeon, Jonas Brodin and Mathew Dumba on the blueline. Nino Niederreitier had three goals in the 2014 playoffs and four more in 2015. Three of his seven post-season goals were game winners. On a team that severely falters in possession, Niederreitier’s score-adjusted Corsi mark of 55.6 put him 10.3 percent above his teammates, giving him the best relative Corsi number in the NHL.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less:

Zach Parise, Jason Pominville, and Thomas Vanek have not been producing as well as they should have been offensively this past season, and now Parise and Vanek are out indefinitely. The Wild’s penalty kill ranks low in the league and they have a hit or miss power play. They are not a puck possession team and that does not bode well for them as Corsi stats have had an impact in recent Stanley Cup final history.

Dallas Stars-

Winning Formula:  

The Stars lead the NHL in goals per game, generate the third-most shots on goal per game, and rank second in score-adjusted Corsi For per 60 minutes. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are a powerhouse duo. Seguin puts numbers on the board while Benn is one of the league’s top power forwards. Jason Spezza has proven himself as a power play specialist and second-line center. John Klingberg has come into his own this year and really shown what an asset he can be both adding to the score and moving the puck.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less: 

The Stars defense has something to be desired even with Johnny Oduya on the blueline. They allowed the most goals per game among the teams in the first round of these playoffs. Their defense does have great mobility, but it’s not enough. They need to play a heavier and more physical defensive game to survive to the next round. Antti Niemi was brought in to share goaltending duties with Kari Lehtonen. Although it seems like a good idea to have a pair of goalies switching off and staying fresh the past six of the last seven Stanley Cup champions won with one goalie in the net earning all 16 wins.

 

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Key Matchup-

Nicklas Backstrom vs Claude Giroux; could there be a more well rounded matchup? Nicklas Backstrom is second in assists-per-game with 0.73 while Claude Giroux is fifth with 0.69. Both do the most damage while on power plays. The two players are first and second in PP assists over the last five seasons. Backstrom has a bit of  scoring edge on 5-on-5 and Giroux having a small advantage in possession, but their numbers are so close that it’s impossible to see who will edge out who. It’s rare to see such an even match.

Washington Capitals-

Winning Formula: 

Alex Ovechkin may be the leader by he has a great team to lead. He has a solid defense behind him and the crease is safe. Barry Trotz has brought structure and strategy to this team from the bench. Stanley Cup veterans Justin Williams and Mike Richards bring experience and confidence. Evgeny Kuznetsov doesn’t seem as if he can be stopped. The Caps have one of the best offenses in the league, a stone wall defense, and are solid on the power play and the penalty kill. This team is the favorite for the cup based on the past season’s performance.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less:  

The defense is usually strong, but sometimes they let things slip through the cracks. It’s rare, but in the second half of the season it was becoming more often. The playoffs are more pressure and harder play. Those mistakes cannot be made or they will pay for them.

Considering advanced stats, in particular Corsi, the Caps need to improve their faceoff and puck possession. In recent Stanley Cup history the champs have had strong numbers in the Corsi metric, and if the Tampa Bay Lightning doesn’t get knocked out before the Eastern Conference Final Washington will not be able to stack up of changes aren’t made.

Philadelphia Flyers-

Winning Formula:

The flyers had a strong end to the regular season. Younger memebers of the team Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier, and  Shayne Gostisbehere have had a stellar year. Gostisbehere has been a revelation since he joined the team producing more than anyone could have expected. Claude Giroux has lead the team in dominating faceoffs which will certainly benefit them against the Capitals.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less: 

The Flyers lack in defense compared to other teams putting far too much pressure on Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth. They get far too many penalties and their penalty kill isn’t good enough to handle it. Radko Gudas may play for the Flyers, but his tendency for making questionable and dangerous hits could make him a thorn in his own teams side.

Predictions: Capitals in 5

Follow us on Twitter @TristinHuntamer and @BandBHockey

Key Matchup-

Young Aleksander Barkov has made big moves this season and he will be matched up against elite John Tavares. Tavares has beat Barkov in possession while Barkov has narrowly beat out Tavares in scoring. It will be interesting seeing these two centers go up against each other again.

Florida Panthers-

Winning Formula: 

The Panthers get on the board quickly and takes any opportunity they can to score. The team’s highest point of the past season was an impressive twelve game winning streak with racked up 25 goals on their part. Roberto Luongo will also play a big park in any success as he returns to form in the crease.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less:  

The Panthers tend to score early, but cannot always sustain that momentum. They are going into these playoffs with a negative scoring differential in the third period and were just 1-6 in overtime games. In past playoffs OT has been a regular occurrence so that does not bode with for the Panthers unless they can keep the same momentum from start to finish.

NY Islanders-

Winning Formula:

The Islanders play one of the most physical games in the NHL. They are brutal on the teams they face and Cal Clutterbuck, Casey Cizikas and Matt Martin lead the bashing from the fourth line. The Isles surprisingly have one of the least penalized teams in the league and a superb penalty kill. They have a balanced team where everyone makes a contribution which is vital in a playoff run.

How to Lose the Series in 7 Games or Less: 

John Tavares has struggled this last season to produce compared to past seasons. The team is average compared to others in terms of puck possession. Goaltender Jaroslav Halak is out with a lower body injury and if he returns it is questioned if he could play at the same caliber as before he was injured right off the bat. Thomas Greiss is in backup, but the playoffs have a way of breaking even the best goalies, and Greiss has not made more than 25 appearances in an NHL season until this one.

Prediction: Panthers in 6

Follow us on Twitter @TristinHuntamer and @BandBHockey