NHL Playoff Preview 2015: Round One

Phuck Philly

The Flyers will be watching from home. So will the Kings (won the Stanley Cup a year ago), Bruins (won the Presidents’ Trophy a year ago), and Colorado (won the Central with 112 points, and we can ignore the 46.9% Corsi For 5v5 Close because it’s so 2013-2014. On the other hand, the Jets, Canucks (despite, not because of, Ryan Miller), Islanders, Predators, and Flames (whose 46.2% CF 5v5 Close is even worse than Colorado’s was a year ago–though better than Colorado’s in 2014-2015) are all still alive. Welcome to the 2015 NHL playoffs.

My picks (part goaltending, part possession, part flip a caribou):

Western Conference

Anaheim/Winnipeg: The Ducks only outscored their opponents by 10 goals, worse than any Western playoff team and one non-playoff team (the Kings), but won the West thanks to a 33-1-7 record in one goal games. Ondrej Pavelec, ranked 28th among 30 active goalies in career save percentage (minimum 200 GP), will be the Jets starter and may be the best goalie in the series, with John Gibson (groin and/or upper body injury) and Frederik Andersen (.906 post-All Star break) question marks. Winnipeg in 6

St. Louis/Minnesota: Devan Dubnyk career: .914 in 231 games. Brian Elliott career: .912 in 281 games. Throw out some bad Oilers and Senators teams and we probably have two .920 goalies, one of whom has a longer track record (unless Jake Allen is the Blues’ Game 1 starter). A tough matchup, but I’ll take the depth of the Blues up front a.k.a. the Tarasenko factor. St. Louis in 6

Nashville/Chicago: Tossup (Chicago 54% CF 5v5% Close, Nashville 53.5%) plus Patrick Kane equals Blackhawks. Chicago in 6

Vancouver/Calgary: As I wrote in October: I also think Vancouver will have a goaltending controversy at some point this season (my money’s on Lack, though the Miller signing doesn’t bother me), and that Canucks-Flames games will continue to be eventful. Of course, I also wrote Despite Mark Giordano and some decent low-cost moves like Mason Raymond (offset by some horrible ones like Deryk Engelland), the Flames won’t only finish last in the Pacific but could be the worst team in the NHL. I was probably underrating Johnny Hockey. Calgary in 7

Eastern Conference

New York Rangers/Pittsburgh: Ehrhoff to wonder whether a healthy Penguins team would have managed Letang around the top spot in the East long enough Dupuis in a better matchup than the defending Eastern Conference champions. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, even with much better possession numbers (53.8% CF 5v5 Close vs. 49.8%), it won’t Maatta as long as King Henrik (.922, 2.24 in 92 career playoff games) is in net. Rangers in 7

Montreal/Ottawa: Carey Price (.919, 2.44, 34 shutouts in 435 career games, Vezina and Hart Trophies pending) vs. a 27-year old rookie with a .905 career save percentage in the AHL. It’s not that simple, but Montreal in 7.

Tampa Bay/Detroit: Ben Bishop career: .918, 2.37, 170 games. Petr Mrazek career: .920, 2.23, 40 games. Ben Bishop AHL: .913, 2.59, 175 games. Petr Mrazek AHL: .916, 2.33, 42 games. Bishop has the larger sample size in both cases–but Bishop also had to play 175 AHL games; Mrazek hasn’t and probably won’t. Mrazek has no NHL playoff experience, but thanks to a hand injury last January, neither does Bishop. (Mrazek does, however, have significant single-season AHL playoff experience.) Based on NHL track record, Bishop is the better goalie, and the other numbers (Fenwick Close, shooting percentage) tend to favor the Lightning, but the potential of Mrazek along with the usual Red Wing suspects of Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and now Tatar and Nyquist make me reluctant to count out Detroit (unlike October, of course, when I wrote: 23 years in the playoffs have to end at some point, and I think the odds are even it’s this year). Detroit in 6

New York Islanders/Washington: Despite ranking 23rd in SV% (.914), Jaroslav Halak now holds the Islanders’ single-season record for wins (38), breaking a record formerly held by Billy Smith, Rick DiPietro, and Chris “when was he an Islander?” Osgood, although if Halak’s season was overrated, so was Billy Smith. Halak has been a tremendous career playoff goalie (.923, 2.42 in 23 games), but he hasn’t played a playoff game since 2012, while his opponent Braden Holtby has been even better (.931, 2.04 in 21 games) and led the league in total minutes, games (73), and saves this past season. The difference between Holtby and Halak is enough to say Washington in 6.

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