2013 NHL Playoffs: Second Round Preview

2013 NHL Playoffs

For those who had not really watched the NHL Playoffs before, the first round is always something special. Last year it was marred with violence, this year it was comebacks. It’s always sad when it’s done because having 3-4 playoffs games every night is almost like Christmas every day, but now it’s time to move forward.

There are eight teams left and in two weeks, there will be four. I say this while trying to avoid being cliché but anything can happen in NHL playoffs and that’s what makes it so fun. So without rambling further, I am continuing my 2013 NHL Playoff Preview, this time it’s the Conference Semi-Finals, starting in the East.

2013 NHL Playoffs
Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby 87 receives congratulations from the bench after scoring a goal against the New York Islanders during the second period in game five of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at CONSOL Energy Center Charles LeClaire USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Penguins (1) vs Ottawa Senators (7)

Both had very different paths to get here. Ottawa relatively cruised through their first round matchup with Montréal, taking it in five games with their final win being a 6-1 drubbing. Pittsburgh, on the other hand, went through an “oh my God are we going to actually lose this” phase when the New York Islanders took them to game 6, losing the clincher in overtime.

Pittsburgh has already had a goalie change. After seeing Marc-André Fleury post a deplorable .895 even-strength save% (and that includes a shutout!), the Penguins have turned to Tomas Vokoun to carry them through their Cup run. Vokoun came in and stabilized things a bit, posting a shutout in his first game then the overtime win to clinch the series. When you see the revolving door that is Pittsburgh’s goaltending situation then look at Ottawa at the other end with Craig Anderson – who posted the NHL’s best SV% at .941 and goals against average at 1.69 in the regular season – that’s a distinct edge that goes to Ottawa.

Here’s one thing Pittsburgh didn’t do well in the first round besides save pucks; they didn’t possess it very well. None of the Penguins’ defensemen posted a positive On-Ice Corsi rating while Ottawa’s defensemen had a pretty solid first round against Montréal and that should worry Pittsburgh fans. Ottawa was about as good a possession team as the Islanders in the regular season and they have vastly superior goaltending. If there was a nightmare #7 seed to face in the playoffs, it’s Ottawa.

There are websites you can visit to look up advanced statistics. One of my favorites is NiceTimeOnIce, a website that brings all the advanced stats sites under one roof. You can look up how teams did in their regular season games. These were the Corsi winners in the three regular season games:

  • Game 1 (January 27) – Ottawa; +19 Corsi
  • Game 2 (February 13) – Ottawa; +16 Corsi
  • Game 3 (April 22) – Ottawa; +22 Corsi

That’s right, in the three regular season games (Ottawa still went 0-2-1 against them), Ottawa attempted, on average, 19 more shots at the Penguins at 5 on 5. The skill from Pittsburgh will probably win out but it’s going to be much closer than maybe some give it credit for. A good goalie can steal a series and that is certainly possible here.

My Prediction: Pittsburgh in 7 

2013 nhl playoffs
Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara 33 smiles after defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5 4 in overtime in game seven of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden Greg M Cooper USA TODAY Sports

Boston Bruins (4) vs New York Rangers (6)

Both teams that went seven games in their first round series will face off against each other in the second round. The series doesn’t start until Thursday so I don’t anticipate the extra games being too much of an issue (this round at least).

I’m really just going to gloss over the goaltending comparisons because there isn’t much of one. If you were to ask random NHL people who are two of the best goalies in the NHL, I’m quite confident Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask would top a lot of lists. They were both my among my personal Vezina Trophy nominees and both posted EVSV% numbers of .940 or better in the first round.

The defensemen are fairly close as well. Obviously the Rangers don’t have someone like Zdeno Chara, who is first among defensemen still remaining in the NHL playoffs in ice-time, but they do have great depth at the position with guys like Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh. With Boston having so many injury issues at the position – Dennis Seidenberg played 37 second in game 7 against Toronto and Andrew Ference missed the final two games of the series – I’m not sure that having Chara gives a distinct advantage here. Also, until Claude Julien learns to use his players right (Dougie Hamilton is being criminally under-utilized), it won’t matter if Chara plays 30 minutes a game or not.

While the edge up front in overall talent would go to Boston, I don’t see it as a distinct edge. Boston finished with .04 more goals/game in the regular season than the Rangers (a better sample size than the first round of playoffs).

I see the difference coming on special teams. Both squads are known for tough, “in-your-face” hockey and consequently more penalties (although not so much this year with the Rangers), which means power-plays and penalty kills will become important. This will be a lot of 2-1 type of hockey, meaning the difference could come with a man advantage. Both teams rank outside the top-10 of 16 teams for power-play efficiency in the playoffs and both teams are outside the top-8 in penalty killing. Both teams had pretty bad power-plays in the regular season, too, so it will come down to execution. The team that has better special teams will win this series.

My Prediction: Boston in 6 

2013 nhl playoffs
Chicago Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford 50 reaches for the puck against the Minnesota Wild during the second period in game five of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the United Center Mandatory Credit Rob Grabowski USA TODAY Sports

Western Conference 

Chicago Blackhawks (1) vs Detroit Red Wings (7)

This is a matchup I am very much looking forward too. Both franchises have won a Stanley Cup in the last five years, they are division rivals for the last time thanks to Conference realignment and they are both Original Six teams. It doesn’t get much better than that.

Detroit was among the best teams in the West this year, they just couldn’t score – their team shooting percentage at 5v5 was the same as New Jersey’s. Jimmy Howard , who I had my doubts about, had a pretty good season and Pavel Datsyuk had an MVP-calibre season. They had a hard-fought seven game series with the Anaheim Ducks but in the end, the team with the numbers on their side usually wins out.

That’s not to take away anything from what Chicago accomplished. They were the best regular season team and quite handily dispatched of their first round opponent, the Minnesota Wild, in five games and outscored them 17-7 in the process.

If you want to know what to expect in this series, here you go: three of the four games they faced each other in the regular season went to overtime. These are two good possession teams who both finished in the top-5 in goals against/game in the regular season. Their respective power-plays finished within 2% efficiency of each other and while Chicago had the better penalty kill, it’s not a huge advantage.

If you want to check NiceTimeOnIce again, you’ll see that Chicago outplayed Detroit in two games this year, Detroit outplayed Chicago once and one game it was dead-even. I expect this series to be the same. With two possession teams like this, you will see alternating stretches of 3-4 minutes at a time mostly spent in one end. The team that bends and doesn’t break (some much for not being cliché) stands a good chance to win.

This will be a series of secondary scoring. If guys like Marian Hossa and Patrick Sharp can produce at a higher rate than guys like Johan Franzen and Gustav Nyquist, Chicago should take the series. One way or another, this is the series I’m most looking forward to in the second round.

My Prediction: Chicago in 7 

2013 nhl playoffs
Los Angeles Kings center Tyler Toffoli 73 and St Louis Blues defenseman Jordan Leopold 33 battle for the puck in the first period of game six of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the Staples Center Jayne Kamin Oncea USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Kings (5) vs San Jose Sharks (6)

For the first time in their last six playoff series, the Los Angeles Kings will have home-ice advantage. While it wasn’t a big deal last year, it could be a big deal in this series. The Kings (4) and the Sharks (2) combined for 6 regulation losses in 48 total home games this year. That home ice could prove to be the difference.

The paths in the first round were very divergent. The Kings played, in my opinion, the best hockey series in the first round against St. Louis, taking the hard-fought square-off in six games. The Sharks, on the other hand, dispatched of the Vancouver Canucks quite handily in the only first-round sweep. But a Battle: California series promises to be a great match-up.

Like the Red Wings, the Sharks were among the best teams in the West this year. What makes the difference between San Jose and Detroit is the secondary talent. Instead of relying on rookies like Nyquist and Damien Brunner, the Sharks have Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski. The Sharks also have a Vezina nominee in Antti Niemi in net, a guy who carried them at different parts this year.

Back to my home-ice point, in the final two meetings of the regular season, the home team won the game and the home time posted a positive Corsi rating. Over the four-game regular season series, the home team won all four games and all but one game were one-goal games.

In a series of two good teams that are so equal in skill, it can frequently come down to match-ups. Notably, I’ll be looking out for Dan Boyle vs. the Anze Kopitar/Jeff Carter pairing. In the final game of the regular season, Boyle played about 44% of the time against those two, leading to a minus Corsi rating for Kopitar (Boyle would too in the rest of his minutes). If San Jose can shut down the top-end talent of Los Angeles and force guys like Mike Richards and Dustin Penner to outplay guys like Couture and Pavelski, then San Jose stands a good of success.

My Prediction: Los Angeles in 6

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Michael Clifford
Michael Clifford was born and raised in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada and is a graduate of the Unviersity of New Brunswick. He writes about fantasy hockey and baseball for XNSports and FantasyTrade411.com. He can be reached on Twitter @SlimCliffy for any fantasy hockey questions. !function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?'http':'https';if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+'://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js';fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, 'script', 'twitter-wjs');