2012 NHL Playoffs: Fear The Fin's St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks Series Prediction

ST. LOUIS - NOVEMBER 4: Andy McDonald #10 of the St. Louis Blues looks to keep the puck away from Dan Boyle #22 of the San Jose Sharks at the Scottrade Center on November 4 2010 in St. Louis Missouri. (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)

Thursday can't seem to come soon enough. But if you haven't had enough yet, we're going to bury you with some more numbers and opinions on this upcoming series. Here we've gathered to make our predictions about the series. We've included some of the same stats we used to analyze the other Western Conference series', although deployment was previously posted here by Neutral.

What's certainly rang true throughout this week is that the numbers may give us an idea of how this series will play out, but as team captain, Joe Thornton said himself, "Everybody has zeros on the board now and everybody starts fresh, I think that's the way you've got to look at it." Anything in any series can happen. That being said, we'll take a microscope to each aspect of the game to see how these two teams will battle it out, who may have the edge to take this series.

Glossary

Cumulative Fenwick Close%: The graphs below represent the cumulative Fenwick (EV shots and missed shots) percentage with the score tied at any time or within a goal in the first or second period for teams over the course

H2H EV Fenwick%: Head to head even strength fenwick%, which is the proportion of goals, shots, and misses at the opponent net.

H2H EV GD: Even strength goal differential, which is even strength goals for minus even strength goals against

SAF: Score Adjusted Fenwick: Fenwick% adjusted for score effects. This stat serves as a surrogate not only for posession, but also scoring chances. So far, it is the most accurate predictor of future wins.

5v4SF/60 or 4v5 SA/60: Shots for or against per 60min TOI. This represents the amount of shots generated on the power play. The numbers are presented as the number of shots generated for or against a team if they were on the PP or PK for the entire 60 minutes of the game.

Rank:represents the rank of that team or player in the category immediately to the left.

Corsi: CORSI is similar to plus-minus, but includes every type of shot. It is the number of goals, shots, misses and blocked shots directed at the oppositions net, minus those sent toward a player's own net. This is then put into a rate stat, showing the shot totals on average if a player would have played every miinute of a 60min game.

Corsi Rank: This is the player's Corsi rank as compared to all forwards or defense with over 30 games played.

Goals/Points: This is 5v5 goals and points only.

Stlsjsfenwick_medium

Matt Taylor: Plank made a comment a few weeks ago that if we were to go by my predictions, the Sharks would go 82-0 and have won three Cups over the last three years.

Guess you could say that I'm a bit of an optimist.

While I'm guilty of wearing the teal-tinted glasses that paint the Sharks as a better team than they are at times, it's not always sunshine and marshmallows for me. There's definitely a bit of doubt that popped into the noggin for this series, as St. Louis is by all measures an elite team. Still, there's plenty of kittens and rainbows that keep me from jumping off a cliff.

I'm trying to be as objective as I can be, because I know that over-optimism in San Jose has gotten me into trouble in the past; I picked them over Chicago in 6 and over Vancouver in 7, for reference. Part of it is that I'm more familiar with San Jose, catching all 82 of their games and getting a feel for what they're capable of while only watching a handful of non-Sharks matchups for the Blues.

When I look at this series, I hold on to a few glimmers of hope that have been highlighted by others on the site (great work from our stats guys this year). First, it's the fact that San Jose has better top-end talent than St. Louis. No question that the Sharks top-six has more skill and goal scoring ability than the Blues group. It's not even close.

Second, I don't think you can expect that Halak and Elliot are going to put up save percentages in the .930's during the series. They had great seasons but I just don't think they outplay Niemi significantly over the course of seven games, which they will need to do, because I think there's a big disparity in the scoring ability of both clubs.

Third is the fact that in the Sharks last three losses against the Blues, the Blues scored JUST ONE even strength goal. The rest were 5-3 tallies (3), a 5 on 4 goal and some empty netters. The games were closer than they appeared, and in the playoffs (when penalties are called much less frequently), I don't think the Sharks PK hurts them as significantly as it did in the regular season.

Lastly, you have to consider the fact that this Sharks team is much different than the one that the Blues beat up most of the year (with the exception of the last game). They added a bunch of pieces which improved their depth and speed, and also shored up their defensive game as a forward group. Also, having a healthy Martin Havlat makes this team entirely different, as their record with and without him suggests.

Wrapping up, the Sharks are going to split the opening series, win two at home and then finally seal the series in seven. And there will be cute cuddly puppies and cupcakes and a unicorn. Sharks in 7.

St. Louis Blues Vs. San Jose Sharks

Team H2H EV Fenick% H2H EV GD H2H Points SAF SAF Rank 5v4 SF/60 Rank 4v5 SA/60 Rank
S.J 0.561 -4 0 0.529 7 63.2 1 50.2 17
STL 0.439 4 8 0.546 3 50.3 9 43.4 6


SJS vs. STL Series Probabilities

SJS STL
Win a Game 0.47 0.53
Win the Series 0.43 0.57
Win in 4 0.05 0.08
Win in 5 0.10 0.15
Win in 6 0.14 0.18
Win in 7 0.14 0.16

The Neutral: I feel like I've been pretty down on the Sharks chances all week so I thought I'd look at some reasons San Jose can come out on top in this series. First of all, they own the best power play in the NHL by the shot metrics; they generate more shots (and almost certainly more scoring chances) per 60 minutes on the man advantage than any other team in the league, which obviously includes the Blues. This bodes well for the Sharks since, contrary to popular belief, power play opportunities actually tend to increase across the board in the first round of the playoffs. If call rates in the regular season are any indication, the Sharks are substantially more likely to earn a greater share of those power plays than the Blues - San Jose earned 54.5% of all power play opportunities in the games they played this season while the Blues earned just 48.9% of the power plays over their schedule. This is especially crucial because the tables are pretty much turned when looking at the teams' penalty killing ability.

As reader milanahalek mentioned a few days ago, although Alex Pietrangelo is probably the best defenseman in this series, the Sharks have more depth on the blueline than the Blues do even if St. Louis has had better results with their defense. I would gladly take Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Brent Burns and Dan Boyle over any non-Pietrangelo d-man on St. Louis. I also think the Sharks' likely third pairing of Jason Demers and Justin Braun brings more to the table than defensive disaster Kris Russell and the sturdy but one-dimensional Roman Polak.

For all the talk about the wizardry of Ken Hitchcock's system, I doubt he turned Jaroslav Halak into a true talent 0.938 SV% goaltender at even strength. One season of data (especially considering Halak appeared in only 46 games) just isn't enough to be confident whether a goaltender's talent has legitimately increased and/or his teammates have found a way to consistently suppress shot quality beyond the league norm or that it's just the variance gods at work. A better measure of a goalie's talent is his career EV SV% which is 0.925 for Halak. Know who else has a 0.925 career EV SV%? Antti Niemi. We could go on all day about Niemi's technical flaws but the guy can stop pucks and nothing else really matters when discussing goaltending. I don't see a significant difference in net between these two teams.

The Blues also struggled to put the puck in the net at even strength, much like the Sharks. Both teams averaged 2.25 goals per 60 minutes of 5v5. And with both clubs, their lack of scoring wasn't due to a lack of effort - San Jose and St. Louis ranked 2nd and 10th in the league, respectively in 5v5 shots per 60. So with low shooting percentages at evens being the primary reason these teams weren't offensive powerhouses this season, I thought it might be helpful to dig up four years worth of shooting percentage data for each team's top six forwards. Although there's still an element of randomness even over a four-year sample, it's going to be reasonably diminished and we can get a sense of the team's actual talent levels in order to gauge whether there's a difference in finishing ability between the two clubs:

Sharks v. Blues Top 6 Forward EV SH% 2008-2012

Player EV G EV S EV SH% Player EV G EV S EV SH%
David Backes 73 539 13.5% Joe Pavelski 64 669 9.6%
Alexander Steen 48 457 10.5% Patrick Marleau 88 602 14.6%
Chris Stewart 58 443 13.1% Ryane Clowe 55 505 10.9%
Patrik Berglund 51 398 12.8% Martin Havlat 55 479 11.5%
T.J. Oshie 45 365 12.3% Joe Thornton 49 433 11.3%
David Perron 44 277 15.9% Logan Couture 43 368 11.7%
St. Louis 319 2479 12.8% San Jose 354 3056 11.6%

While there isn't a significant difference in goaltending talent between the clubs, the Blues' group of key forwards appears to have been better at finishing their chances than the Sharks'. 1.2% doesn't seem like a huge difference but, on average, it would be worth around 2 goals over a 7-game series. Granted, banking on shooting percentage differences in small sample sizes is a fool's errand and this is far too primitive of an analysis to establish whether St. Louis has legitimately superior finishers but it's something to keep in mind.

It's certainly not a vast disparity if there even is one and, at least at even strength, the series should come down to who can control possession for longer and thereby generate more opportunities to score. Unfortunately, the evidence points to that team being St. Louis. While I think this will be a tightly contested series and the Sharks have an edge on special teams that they'll be able to use to prolong the series, I have to pick Blues in six.

But I'd love nothing more than to be proven wrong.


St. Louis Blues Forwards

NAME TEAM TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Corsi On Corsi Rank PDO Off Zone Start % Goals Points
ALEXANDERSTEEN STL 14.19 0.64 21.7 23.69 1 1045 52.6 12 22
DAVIDPERRON STL 14.24 0.827 -3.7 2.81 145 1034 47.3 14 28
T.J.OSHIE STL 14.57 1.094 1 7.21 84 1008 45.9 15 36
PATRIKBERGLUND STL 13.35 0.717 -6.8 1.75 164 1002 48.6 17 31
DAVIDBACKES STL 15.05 1.158 5.6 10.45 48 1009 46 14 34
JAMIELANGENBRUNNER STL 12.59 0.011 7.6 13 31 997 55.4 6 24
JASONARNOTT STL 11.55 -0.634 3.9 9.45 55 1024 60.3 11 20
CHRISSTEWART STL 13.23 0.299 -9.7 -0.11 200 1002 57.5 11 25
MATTD'AGOSTINI STL 11.86 -0.011 2.4 10.3 51 1023 54.8 4 12
VLADIMIRSOBOTKA STL 12.72 0.585 0.1 5.75 103 1010 48.8 4 15
CHRISPORTER STL 10.13 -0.858 -1.2 2.77 146 986 65 4 7
SCOTTNICHOL STL 7.54 -1.22 -4.3 3.28 138 975 48 3 7
RYANREAVES STL 6.48 -1.382 -0.5 7.86 76 993 62 3 4
BRANDONCROMBEEN STL 8.26 -0.741 -0.6 4.36 121 980 51.7 1 3


St. Louis Blues Defense

NAME TEAM TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Corsi On Corsi Rank PDO Off Zone Start % Goals Points
KEVINSHATTENKIRK STL 15.87 0.013 4.4 9.57 23 1014 54.4 3 21
ALEXPIETRANGELO STL 17.54 0.721 7.8 11.31 13 1005 52.8 5 21
KRISRUSSELL STL 14.21 -0.672 -1.6 4.15 60 1016 55.9 5 10
BARRETJACKMAN STL 16.46 0.463 -2.3 4.95 50 1018 46.2 1 13
CARLOCOLAIACOVO STL 15.88 0.792 3.6 8.39 31 1003 50 1 10
ROMANPOLAK STL 15.83 0.07 -11.2 -0.54 108 997 49.6 0 11

Snark SD: After compiling all the numbers, these two teams look a lot closer on paper than I originally thought. We can't just assume that the thumping the sharks took on the score sheetagainst the blues during the regular season doesn't mean anything, but with only 4 games played between the two teams during the regular season, we're not exactly working with a robust sample. I also included probabilities based on the SAF, similar to the numbers I posted during the regular season.

Looking down the Corsi of forwards for the blues shows how talented as group they are. Steen has captured the top Corsi forward this year, which speaks volumes about his game, but I think a key player for the blues all year long has been David Backes. He faces some of the toughest competition for the blues, is tied for the lowest zone% and still drives play in the right direction. He's an ironman who has played all 82 games both this and last season, and has potted 55 goals and 116 over those 2 years, the most of any player to wear the blue note. I don't think the blues have as much depth in defense as they do in their forwards, but Pietrangelo and Jackman have done very well as their top pair. Their game has really rounded into form under Hitchcock's system. Suffocation is the best word I can think of to describe their team mentality, and it has worked in spades for the Blues this year.

The most consistent player for the Sharks all year has been Pavelski, and his tenacity has driven much of the success of this team. As we have documented extensively, he is counted on to take the Sharks toughest competition, and score key goals. As is the case every year, the team that often wins the series is the team with the better top line, and the Sharks are going to need to count on that if they can get past the Blues. There is no denying this year's teamis not the same as last years, who lead the league in Fenwick Close%, and I think a lot of that has to do with a decline in a number of players. Boyle, Mitchell, Handzus, Havlat, Clowe, and Murray collectively had a bad year compared to their career averages, which hurt the team as a whole. Those player's will need to regain the strength of years past in order for San Jose to make any sort of run at the cup this year. Boyle's case is interesting in that he has been progressively given more ice time and increased defensive responsibilitythrough his years with the sharks. This has significantly impacted his ability to punish opponents offensively. The addition of Burns in the offseason was supposed to relieve Boyle of some of the tough minutes, but I think we've all learned that it may take a couple years for Burns to become the all-star the Sharks expect him to be. Personally, I think this team still has a lot of depth, especially with the deadline additions, even if some player's haven't shown that this year. The core of the team has remained the same over the past few seasons, that same core that has gone to the Western Conference Finals twice in a row.

All in all, this series is going to come down to who can win the neutral zone battle. Sharks in 7.


San Jose Sharks Forwards

NAME TEAM TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Corsi On Corsi Rank PDO Off Zone Start % Goals Points
JOETHORNTON S.J 15.37 1.497 14.9 14.9 22 1010 49.9 13 51
JOEPAVELSKI S.J 15.27 1.633 11.1 12.32 35 1010 48.6 21 40
LOGANCOUTURE S.J 14.15 1.048 10.6 12.08 37 988 56.2 18 36
PATRICKMARLEAU S.J 15.19 1.497 8.1 10.22 52 999 54.5 20 38
MARTINHAVLAT S.J 14.32 0.51 0.4 0.54 189 1032 55 2 15
RYANECLOWE S.J 15.03 0.79 2.2 5.99 97 988 57.2 13 29
MICHALHANDZUS S.J 11.77 -0.364 -20.5 -9.96 345 992 46.8 5 19
ANDREWDESJARDINS S.J 8.69 -0.645 -2.3 3.18 141 993 49.4 4 16
TORREYMITCHELL S.J 11.56 0.282 -7.7 -0.48 208 983 48.1 9 19
BRADWINCHESTER S.J 7.63 -1.286 -5.3 0.82 180 968 54.8 6 10
DOMINICMOORE S.J 12.7 0.657 -6.4 -5.8 287 970 42.3 3 19
TOMMYWINGELS S.J 12.76 0.381 9 12.54 34 978 53.9 3 8
T.J.GALIARDI S.J 11.34 -0.042 -4.8 -0.38 207 982 46.7 8 14
BENNFERRIERO S.J 11.5 0.301 -3.3 0.6 186 996 49.8 7 7
DANIELWINNIK S.J 13.7 0.383 3.9 4.8 111 972 46.6 6 20


San Jose Sharks Defense

NAME TEAM TOI/60 Corsi Rel QoC Corsi Relative Corsi On Corsi Rank PDO Off Zone Start % Goals Points
DANBOYLE S.J 19.26 1.199 1.7 5.54 46 998 54.2 4 29
BRENTBURNS S.J 17.3 0.747 8 9.93 22 1003 56.4 6 21
MARC-EDOUARDVLASIC S.J 19.49 1.085 2.1 5.89 43 1001 47.4 3 18
JASONDEMERS S.J 14.29 -0.454 -7.9 0.88 90 979 55.2 2 8
JUSTINBRAUN S.J 13.9 -0.312 8.3 8.57 30 982 46.8 1 7
COLINWHITE S.J 12.99 -0.076 -5.6 1.45 85 984 49.7 1 4
DOUGLASMURRAY S.J 16.01 0.755 -16.2 -7.93 178 1008 47.3 0 4

Jason Plank: The Sharks have to hold on to what they've got. Because it doesn't make a difference if they have the Fenwick advantage or not. They've got each other, and that's a lot, to go glove-- they'll give it a shot.

Whoah, they're not even halfway there, but whoah-ho, the experts all say they're living on a prayer. If they stick to the gameplan they'll make it I swear. Whoah-ho, growing facial hair.

Sharks in 3. Book it.

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