Western Conference Playoff Preview

The Oilers are out.  They're toast, they're done, they're finished.  Sheldon Souray may be playing games in the media but the Oilers are all out of hockey games.  And in a strange way everyone feels a bit relieved.  That's right Oiler fans, now we can go back to actually enjoying NHL hockey!  Or as Ben sometimes likes to say, PLAYOFFS!

As some of you know I've tried to make a habit of counting scoring chances for the Colorado Avalanche this season.  That trend may continue in the playoffs, but it may not; the final decision belongs to you, my dear (I think I've been writing too many "gospels") C+B readers!  The question is simple: which series would you most like to follow closely for the next couple of weeks?  Whichever one (and maybe two) gets the most votes will be the series (uh...yep, still series) featured here at The Copper and Blue.  If you need some help deciding, after the jump I'll preview each of the series in the Western Conference with the Eastern Conference previews popping up later on this morning.

Before I begin I'll explain what you'll see below (but before that, I'll give a big thanks to Vic Ferrari for scraping the data and making it publicly available).  For each series I've created three tables with some statistics that I like to use when measuring team play.  The first table is a breakdown of the out-shooting results for each team on the season, both in terms of Shots (on goal) percentage and Corsi percentage, both overall and with the score tied (the "score tied" results limit the effect of "playing to the score").  A percentage of 50% would mean the team took 50% of all shots taken by both teams 5-on-5 (so that's league average). Since we're looking at playoff teams, anything lower than 50% is pretty bad.  On the other side, anything approaching 60% is very good.  The second table is the percentages on the season, both shooting percentage and save percentage, both overall and with the score tied.  I'm open to both of these things involving some skill but any really good numbers are probably good luck as much as anything else.  The final table will have EV save percentage numbers for the starting goalies, both this season's number and the number the posted over the last four seasons (which is probably a better indication of his true skill level).  It will also include the special teams goal differential of each team from this season and... my favourite ex-Oiler on each team.  The team with the advantage in each category will be highlighted in green, the team with the disadvantage in red.  After the data, I'll talk a bit about each series.

#1 San Jose Sharks v. #8 Colorado Avalanche

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As I said in the introduction, I watched a lot of Colorado Avalanche games this season and this team really isn't very good.  After a spectacular 10-1-2 start the team has gone 33-29-7 which is decidedly uninspiring, especially when you know that they played 37 games at home and only 32 on the road in that time.  The Avalanche were fantastic in October - they just haven't been any good since.  This series also puts the best face-off team in the league (SJ's 55.6%) against the second worst (Col's 47.7%) which will only make that disparity on special teams look even larger.  The Sharks, for their part, don't have a lot of depth and their out-shooting record is only good (not great).  They're not as good as they were last season and they rely heavily on their big three forwards to do most of their outscoring at EV (and on the PP). But in this series that one line should be plenty.  The Avs only advantage is in goal where Craig Anderson's .931 EV save percentage over the last four seasons shines. I believe he's the real deal, his struggles since the Olympic break be damned.  But it's not enough.  I'll take the Sharks in 5 (before they get dumped in the second round).

#2 Chicago Blackhawks v. #7 Nashville Predators

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The Chicago Blackhawks are a great team with some terrible goaltending.  This isn't exactly news but the fact are the facts.  I do find it interesting that the Chicago goalies have been much better with the score tied than they have been otherwise.  That might mean that the Blackhawks are doing a better job of defending when they have the lead but more likely (in my opinion) the Hawks goalies are just having more pucks hit them in this situation.  This is combined with a higher shooting percentage with the score tied which, again, is probably more luck than it is skill.  These two factors together enable the Hawks to play with the lead more than they "deserve" which is a pretty big advantage.  In the playoffs they'll be playing better teams and if the timely goaltending (and scoring) doesn't show up, this team is awfully vulnerable to a goalie blowing it for them.  For the goalie in the last column I used Huet since we don't really have much data for Niemi going back a few years anyway.  But it doesn't much matter, whichever goalie starts is a big step down from Rinne.  If Stan Bowman had gotten this team a goalie they would look unbeatable.  I actually can't believe he didn't do it.  At any rate, I very much doubt the Predators - and their absolutely atrocious special teams - are going to be the team to take advantage but I do have the Hawks going out in the second round.  In this series I'll take the Hawks in fiv... four.  One game for Grebs.

#3 Vancouver Canucks v. #6 Los Angeles Kings

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The Canucks are a really interesting crew.  Overall, Henrik Sedin has a Corsi% of 55.8% which is pretty darn dominant, though given the context of his ice time (not the toughest competition and downright easy zone starts) it's about what you'd expect.  But when the score is tied that Corsi% falls all the way to 50.9%.  That's a huge drop!  His brother shows similar numbers too, so it's not like he just got rocked when Daniel was out.  Ryan Kesler, the anchor on the Canucks' other top line, doesn't see a similar drop.  He's just damn good.  The Kings, for their part, have some depth at forward with enough men to fill at least two quality lines including old friends Ryan Smyth and Jarret Stoll.  If I were the Kings I would be trying my best to get Kopitar-Sedin and Handzus/Stoll-Kesler.  Past that the Kings' depth guys should be able to win the war.  A lot of the Canucks' success at EV is superior percentages and I'm not a believer in the Canucks' as 9% shooters. On the back-end Drew Doughty is just fantastic and Rob Scuderi is a nice shut-down option while for the Canucks' Willie Mitchell is out.  The goaltending and special teams are big advantages for the Canucks.  No way to talk around that one... but I hate the Canucks.  I really want to pick the Kings - they have as many 2006 Oilers as the current Oilers for heaven's sake, including Mr. Heart and Soul himself!  So I'm picking the only team to lose at home to the Oilers since Christmas - and they did it twice - to beat the Canucks in seven games.  And then they'll beat San Jose.  Goilers!

#4 Phoenix Coyotes v. #5 Detroit Red Wings

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Why can't Detroit be playing Vancouver in the first round!  It makes me so angry.  At any rate, Jimmy Howard isn't bad but that "Last 4 years" stat is more or less just this season and he's been Deslauriers-esque in the AHL before that.  It may look like the Wings have much better goaltending than the Blackhawks but I'm not so convinced that's true.  In other words, advantage to Phoenix in net.  The problem is everywhere else.  Nick Lidstrom continues to be awesome.  His Corsi rate is the best on the team even though he plays the toughest competition and the most difficult starting positions.  He's their best penalty killer.  He's good on the power play.  He's a machine and he will chew up whichever poor Phoenix line he's matched against.  Especially since his "help" up front (Zetterberg or Datsyuk or Franzen) is likely to be a lot better than what the Coyotes are throwing over the boards (Wolski or Doan or... Vrbata). The Red Wings are just a better team at EV and the difference on special teams is as wide as it looks in the chart.  I believe the Coyotes are "for real" in the sense that I think they could beat a bunch of the teams in this Conference but, unfortunately for them, they managed to draw the Red Wings.  I've got the Wings in six in this series and going all the way to the SCF.  But I sure as hell won't be cheering for them.  Todd Bertuzzi lifting the Cup this year after Matt Cooke "fulfilled the dream" a year ago would be too much "Canuck" for this Oiler fan to endure.  Did I mention I hate the Canucks.

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