With the Western Conference previewed earlier this morning, we'll now turn our attention to the Eastern Conference and I'll admit up front that I just haven't seen all that many games between Eastern Conference teams this year. I mean, it's obvious that they mostly suck compared to the West, I just haven't seen it. But that could change! I'll be counting scoring chances for (at least) one series in the first round based on the vote of C+B readers. To vote, head on down to the poll in the Western Conference preview below. 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. After the jump I'll preview each of the series in the Eastern Conference.
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 Washington Capitals v. #8 Montreal Canadiens
Gabe Desjardins had an article earlier this week that pointed out the fact that the Washington Capitals have been riding some pretty incredible percentages. Jose Theodore is playing well above his four-year average and the Caps team shooting percentage is off the charts. There is also a pretty significant difference between the Caps with Ovechkin on the ice (Corsi% of 57.5%) and the Caps with Ovechkin on the bench (Corsi% of 50.6%). The strategy, then, is to stop Ovechkin. Now, that's no easy task but the Caps will eventually be playing teams that can do it. I still think they're the best team in the East because of their goal differential against playoff teams. I also think that they have the best chance to win the Stanley Cup because there are more good teams out West (they're my pick to win the Cup) but I expect them to be an underdog against whoever they play in the Cup final. The Canadiens? Well, they suck real hard. I do like that they play Marc-Andre Bergeron at forward though. That should keep him from plowing someone into Jaroslav Halak (whose four year numbers are very good). Caps in four.
#2 New Jersey Devils v. #7 Philadelphia Flyers
This series is close everywhere except in goal. The Philadelphia Flyers have underachieved relative to expectations all season and yet I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them beat the Devils. They actually do pretty well in terms of possession at EV and despite their reputation for taking way too many penalties they have a positive goal differential on special teams. But man, that goaltending. Brian Boucher's level this season matches up well with what he's done over the last four years and it isn't pretty. The Devils aren't great so Philadelphia could win but I'm betting that the lack of goaltender gets them again. The Devils are also an old team with eleven regulars 31 or older. As Martin Brodeur saw at these Olympics, you don't always get another chance. I think the Devils pull this one out in seven but ultimately lose in the Eastern final.
#3 Buffalo Sabres v. #6 Boston Bruins
The percentages are a tricky beast. Last year the Bruins shot 8.5% with the score tied and 9.0% overall at EV. This year... not so much. They've actually done a better job of outshooting than they did a year ago and outclass the Sabres by a fair margin in this area. Tyler Myers should definitely win the Calder this season. Outscoring against tough opposition isn't easy to do, but to do it as a rookie is damned impressive. Frankly, that vote shouldn't be close. That said, Zdeno Chara is basically the adult version and should be able to contain whatever the Sabres throw at him (even a Raffi Torres elbow). With Marc Savard out because of douchebaggery the Bruins will rely on some lesser forwards to get the job done. I'm a big believer in Claude Julien though. He always provides his teams with a system that helps give them a chance (and the fans a chance to doze off; I'm a big disbeliever in Claude Julien's ability to produce exciting NHL hockey). The goaltending number points in Boston's favour though the four-year sample for Tuukka Rask isn't exactly large. Ryan Miller is a good goalie, but nothing more, though he's been made to look better by a good Olympics and a hefty PK save percentage. I really do love Mike Grier... so it pains me to say it... but... Boston in six before bowing out in round two.
#4 Pittsburgh Penguins v. #5 Ottawa Senators
Here we have two goalies with worse numbers than Brian Boucher. Yikes. For Pittsburgh, at least Fleury has a track record you can point to and say that he's probably better than he's performed this season. Brian Elliott? Not so much. And beyond the goaltending, Pittsburgh is just flat-out better. They've got six solid defenders, they're three deep at center and with Kunitz, Ponikarovsky, Guerin and Kennedy they've even got some solid options on the wing. This isn't your 2006-07 Carolina Hurricanes people, these guys won the Cup for a reason. The only thing that makes me nervous is how poorly the Penguins have played against good teams. The outshooting results are good but it's hard to know how much of that is because of score effects. When trailing (in the third period or by more than one in the first or second period) the Penguins are fantastic, outshooting teams 396-292 at EV (57.6%). A huge portion of their time trailing will be against these good teams (because they constantly lose to them) so that outshooting advantage they have on good teams doesn't impress me too much. The thing is, the Senators aren't that good. Penguins advance in five here but fall to the Devils in round two.