Jamie Baker reminds us every year in April that it's important to have a short memory. We're going to take that advice to heart as FTF collectively went 4-13 (!) in our first round predictions. This amazing performance was largely anchored by the superb performance of Snark, who is still sitting in the corner cry-eating his fourth helping of humble pie (/Snark I'm so full!). And so we wipe our collective memory clean of the first round and tackle the Sharkless Western Conference Semi Finals.
The media spin of the Western Conference Quarter Finals is in full swing. Portrayed as a changing of the guard; the old powers of DET, SJ, VAN, and CHI have been ousted by the new blood of STL, L.A, PHX, and NSH. This weaves a wonderful tale for fans, but may be more of a reflection of statistical variance than a true changing of the West's elite. Age may certainly have played a role in round 1 outcomes, but don't count out any of the four eliminated teams in years to come.
Yet, we turn the page on this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs and consider what's in store for the next couple of weeks. This post is so full of charts and stats it's bulging like your grandmas depends, and loaded up on the "expert" commentary you've come to survive on. Although the Sharks are out, there is still plenty of exciting hockey to be had. It's the time of year to pick your horse, and start bandwagoning (is that a word?) like a MF.
(2) St. Louis Blues vs. (7) Los Angeles Kings
STL vs LAK Head to Head and Regular Season Stats
|H2H EV Fen Tied||H2H Goals||H2H Points||SAF||SAF Rank||5v4 SF/60||Rank||4v5 SA/60||Rank|
Snark: This series will definitely be the most exciting series in the remaining playoffs. Both teams offer plenty of depth, which promises great hockey for 60 or more minutes, rather than only when the top lines are out. In addition both teams have excelled at controlling possesion this year. The significant difference between the 2 has been PDO and balance.
The Blues have earned their spot in the Western Conference Semi Finals. Not only do they have a deep roster, but they have balance in all aspects of the game. Both their PK and PP rank are within the top 10 by shot metrics. They know how to shut teams down with the lead, evidenced by their record low goals against, and can finish. What impressed me the most this past series against the Sharks was the play of Alex Pietrangelo, whoc by my vote was one of the most dominant defensmen this year.
But you can't ignore L.A either. They have constructed an equally deep roster. The only reason they didn't win the Pacific this year was a season that started with the one of the worst PDO stretches I've seen. What's more striking is that L.A took out the 2-time President Trophy winners in 5, without much help from Richards or Carter. If those guys can start finishing, I'm not sure anyone has a chance beating L.A.
I've decided I'm drinking the Blue Kool-Aid to the Stanley Cup Finals. Blues in 7
The Neutral: As far as I'm concerned, this is the Stanley Cup Finals, two rounds early. With the likes of Pittsburgh, Chicago, Boston and Detroit all out, these are the two strongest teams remaining in the playoffs and it's a shame that one of them won't even make it to the Conference Finals.
The two teams have somewhat similar makeups; both were among the league's elite at possession in the regular-season, both have received excellent goaltending this year and have coupled that with almost unparalleled shot suppression to give up very few goals and neither can finish all that well. The key for Los Angeles will be hoping that Jeff Carter heals quickly following a late-season injury. He was dressed for the entirety of the first round but wasn't much of a factor. The key for St. Louis will be using home-ice advantage to dictate matchups; they didn't have a lot of success on the road in the regular season and although they won both games in San Jose in the first round, they were dominated territorially at the Tank.
This should be a dogfight of a series and with how closely matched these teams are, it might as well be decided by a coinflip. I wouldn't be remotely surprised if Los Angeles takes this but with St. Louis just a hair better than the Kings in most relevant categories, and with them having home ice to boot, I'll go with Blues in 7.
Plank: As The Neutral said above, whoever wins this series is going to the Cup Finals and has a very good chance to win it all. I said that on Twitter five days ago too so you know it's gospel. Written in stone and all that.
Both teams are excellent puck possession teams who drive the play in the right direction and get outstanding goaltending from their respective goaltenders. Looking at their seedings it would seem like there's a gulf of space between their respective talent levels, but as Fenwick Close shows, both teams were in the top 5 at generating shots towards the opposing net and limiting shots towards their own. The primary difference this season has been Los Angeles has been battered by the shooting percentages and amassed one of their lowest conversion rates in recent memory. In general that's unsustainable, which leads to the conclusion that the team is one that probably deserved the "elite" status many crowned them with this offseason.
The thing is here, while the Kings do a lot of things really well, the Blues do all of those things just a little better. It's a very similar notion to the one we entered the Sharks-Blues series with.
Having said that, in a short series things very often come down to special teams differential and I like how the Kings match up against the Blues in that regard. It's going to be a dogfight, but I'm still riding high off the upset scenario we penned in the first round. Kings in 7.
St. Louis Blues Top 5 Round 1 Skaters By Win Probability Added
Snark: We all saw how this series played out. Berglund and McDonald found the net in numerous games, which often decided the game. In addition Bergland, McDonald, and Steen were never on the ice for a goal that significantly jepordized the Blues' chance of winning the game.
The Neutral: He doesn't show up on this list but Alex Pietrangelo was a beast in the first round. He's been St. Louis' best defenseman all season and was tasked with the responsibility of drawing Joe Thornton for much of the series and was one of the few Blues to win that matchup.
St. Louis Blues Bottom 5 Round 1 Skaters By Win Probability Added
Snark: Given the talent he showed throughout the year, and not to mention a Selke finalist nod, I thought Backes would have a much stronger series. JT and co would murder him with their Corsi knife as Backes gave up 23 shots per 60. I wish I could offer a score effects objection, but the truth is that Backes was largely outplayed. I fully expect him to be back in full force in this next series vs. LA.
The Neutral: St. Louis probably shouldn't count on Andy McDonald's 30% 5v4 on-ice SH% sustaining through this series - they'll need to find ways to generate even-strength offense at a greater clip than they did against the Sharks and they'll need to do it against a better defensive team (not to mention a superior goaltender). That's where Backes comes in - luckily, he and his linemates were great at generating EV chances in the first round and with average luck, those should turn into goals versus L.A.
Los Angeles Kings Top 5 Round 1 Skaters By Win Probability Added
Snark: Oh Captain my Captain. When your captain is leading the way in the playoffs, good things are probably happening. That 's certainly the case for LA, as their stars, Brown, Doughty, and Kopitar, all had great play against VAN (Well Doughty had the 4th worst CORSI, so it wasn't that great, but atleast he was on the ice for some important goals!) It's great how Martinez keeps popping up everywhere, isn;t he a little treat for LA. I've been really impressed with his development. He's still heavily sheltered, but so are the Sedins.
The Neutral: Call it sacrilege but I love watching Kopitar play and sincerely believe he's a top 5 center in the world right now. Although they didn't make this list for obvious reasons, the Kings' fourth line of Brad Richardson, Colin Fraser and Jordan Nolan were surprisingly phenomenal against Vancouver. Los Angeles averaged 30 more shot attempts than the Canucks for every 60 minutes Nolan was on the ice in the first round. While they'll face a more talented bottom six in St. Louis (there's no Zack Kassian to feast on there), look for them to make a difference and maybe even end up on the scoresheet.
Los Angeles Kings Bottom 5 Round 1 Skaters By Win Probability Added
Snark: I'm really surprised to see Clifford and Greene on the list here! No, not really. Those punks are worthless. What is a surprise is Carter and Richards. Neither had a great series by WPA or advanced metrics, and LA will need them to get going to beat STL.
The Neutral: As I mentioned above, getting Carter back to 100% is critical for L.A. and hopefully for them, the one-week break between series helped that cause. For the second straight series, the top-end talent is not on St. Louis' side. We'll see if it makes a difference this time.
(3) Phoenix Coyotes vs. (4) Nashville Predators
PHX vs. NSH Head to Head and Regular Season Stats
|H2H EV Fen Tied||H2H Goals||H2H Points||SAF||SAF Rank||5v4 SF/60||Rank||4v5 SA/60||Rank|
Snark: Given my prediction of the NSH-DET series you can guess how I felt about NSH. And while I still feel NSH has survived on a giant PDO raft, they surprised me in this last series with Detroit. I was expecting a blow out. But NSH matched up really well against DET. Thanks to the guys at C&B, we can take a look at not only the possession metrics of that series, but also the scoring chances. NSH in that series held water with DET posting 80 scoring chances to DET's 83, the winged wheel out-chanced at EV however, 62-54. I still don't feel as though NSH can perpetually inflate their PDO for the entire playoffs, and expect a young PHX team to end NSH's unparalleled run. PHX in 6.
The Neutral: As Snark notes, the Predators surprisingly held their own against an extremely strong Red Wings team (at least if you exclude the two games at the Joe) and flat-out dominated Detroit in every facet of Game 5. They'll be facing a middle-of-the-pack possession team in the Coyotes in a battle between two goaltenders who have played an enormous role in getting their teams to this point. Rinne's 0.944 SV% and Smith's 0.950 through the first round are both spectacular but also numbers that we shouldn't expect them to sustain going forward.
Like the other Western Semifinal matchup, this is an extremely difficult one to call. The Coyotes were a substantially better EV goal differential team in the regular season (and that's with a lower PDO than Nashville enjoyed) but their special teams, especially their PP, are bad jokes. There's also ample evidence that Rinne is a much more talented goalie than Smith so the odds are probably in favor of Nashville experiencing less of a regression in their goaltending results than Phoenix. As much as I usually side with the better possession team, there are enough other factors at play here where Nashville has the clear edge (not to mention, the Preds were a very good Fenwick Tied team after adding Radulov and played the Red Wings evenly in terms of scoring chances) that I'll pick Predators in 7 although I don't think either of these teams has a prayer in the Conference Finals.
Plank: As the sole predictor of Nashville's first round victory in round one on FTF I guess I'm a little biased towards Nashville's Pekka Rinne. His ability to carry a team through prolonged stretches of territorial disadvantage is readily apparent, and while statistical regression is something that has almost universal applicability to players who buck the trend, I think Rinne has the potential to be meeting Tim Thomas (career years on the north end of 35 years old) in the realm of statistical outliers.
Furthermore, I think that the scoring chance data Snark mentioned above is an indicator that systems can play a role in the shot quantity vs. quality argument. Despite being nearly buried by the total shot numbers, Nashville held their own against Detroit by the chances. That's with score effects playing a large role as the Predators typically led games in the third period. Furthermore, Detroit has always been a low shot quality team-- they prefer to fire pucks on net from anywhere on the ice, capitalizing on rebounds, deflections, and the ensuing chaos of a loose puck to generate their goals. The reason we throw that out over the course of a season is because things tend to approach some type of normalcy over 82 games, but in a short series it's extremely relevant.
Both teams have excellent coaching, and you have to tip your cap to the Coyotes for everything that they've done over the last three seasons in the midst of ownership troubles, but I think a Nashville team with Radulov is too much for Phoenix to overcome. Predators in 6.
Phoenix Coyotes Top 5 Round 1 Skaters By Win Probability Added
Snark: If you had to look up who Mikkel Boedker is, don't feel bad, I didn't know who he was either. But he had a hell of a series against Detroit, posting 2 OT goals, 4 points, while not surrendering any significant goals while on the ice. Yandle also solidified his presence as a force from the blue line.
The Neutral: Derek Morris is a waste of a roster spot and belongs in the ECHL at this point. The guy is honestly one of the most worthless defensemen in the league, on the level of Jack Johnson or Brett Lebda. He rode a ridiculous first-round PDO onto this list but if Tippett was watching the games, he should bench Morris in favor of Schlemko. Or really anyone with a pulse who can skate backwards.
Phoenix Coyotes Bottom 5 Round 1 Skaters By Win Probability Added
The Neutral: I'm kind of shocked to see Brule on this list after he led the Coyotes in Corsi against Chicago and also scored a ridiculous, 1214 PDO-driven 5.39 EV P/60 in that series. Both teams have terrific, underrated top lines that can really drive play and finish their chances to boot. With Doan and Vermette, though, I think the Coyotes have the superior second line and it'll be interesting to see how that plays out on both sides of the puck.
Smashville Predators Top 5 Round 1 Skaters By Win Probability Added
The Neutral: Corey of the excellent Shutdown Line blog tracked chances for the Predators/Wings series and his totals track pretty closely with the WPA numbers, at least for Nashville's forward corps. The Preds' outstanding top line of Legwand, Radulov and terrific youngster Bourque all finished 55% or higher in EV chances while logging heavy minutes against the Zetterberg line for Detroit.
Snark: Everyone knew that Radulov would be a key addition that NSH would need to compete in the second season, and true to form he's delivered. Radulov led the Preds in points (5), while chipping in a goal. What's also striking here is NSH's top 5 players have a 0 WPA-, a true testament to their defensive system.
Smashville Predators Bottom 5 Round 1 Skaters By Win Probability Added
The Neutral: Fun fact: Paul Gaustad started 82.4% of his non-neutral 5v5 shifts in the defensive zone against Detroit and finished with a positive Relative Corsi rating. That's a deadline deal done right. Meanwhile, the Erat/Fisher/Kostitsyn line were deployed in the same uber-tough situations they were used in during the regular season and, just like in the regular season, were completely annihilated.
WPA: Win Probability Added. Similar to what you might see on fangraphs. If we construct a markov chain model, splitting the game into specific game states by time, score, etc. we can calculate the average amount an average team would win given a game state. For example, If an average team A is playing an average team B and is leading by a goal with 10 minutes left in the 3rd, they would win 84.6 out of 100 trials (84.6%). If the teams were tied, both teams would win 50 out of 100 (50%) of the time. Thus we can subtract the difference between the two states to arrive at the value of scoring a goal with 10 minutes remaining in the 3rd. WPA is the sum of all changes in win probability while a skater is on the ice. (This model doesn't account for home/away advantage, or change in win probability due to time on the ice without a score change) WPA can give us a good look at which skaters did the most damage in a series, while others took it in the teeth, although wildly unrepeatable.
Cumulative Corsi: Corsi is the plus-minus of all goals, shots, missed shots, and blocked shots. Instead of re-setting the counter to 0 after every game, I let it run for the entire series, giving us the total cumulative Corsi differential.
Cumulative Goal Differential: This can be thought of as a team-wide plus-minus. Goal differential refers to goals for subtracted by goals against. Again, instead of reverting to 0 after every game, I kept the goal differential running for the entire series.