2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Western Conference Preview

2016StanleyCupPlayoffs_West

It’s the best time of the year again! With the playoff match-ups all set, it’s time to take a look at each series and who has the advantage. For two days, I’ll be covering both conferences leading up to the first day of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Today, it’s the Western Conference.

San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

San Jose Sharks Los Angeles Kings Advantage
237 GF 223 GF Sharks
2.89 GF/GP 2.72 GF/GP Sharks
207 GA 192 GA Kings
2.52 GA/GP 2.34 GA/GP Kings
+31 +30 Sharks
55.5 CF60 62.1 CF60 Kings
51.9 CA60 48.1 CA60 Kings
50.3% FO 49.9% FO Sharks
22.5% PP (3rd in the League) 20.0% PP (8th in the League) Sharks
80.5% PK (21st in the League) 81.4% PK (15th in the League) Kings

Overall Advantage: Sharks

Prediction: San Jose in 7

Analysis:

This series is almost too close to call. Sharks fans will always remember the reverse sweep by the L.A. Kings in round 1 two years ago, in which the Sharks gave up a 3-0 series lead and lost it 4-3. I know there are going to be fans out there who are probably asking themselves “well, what makes this year’s Sharks team so special?”. Considering all the previous playoff disappointments, that’s a valid concern. However, just look at the acquisitions that Doug Wilson has gotten, bringing in Paul Martin, Joonas Donskoi, Joel Ward, as well as both Martin Jones and James Reimer.

Despite their overall record at home, this is a much different team than that of 2014. They have a new captain in Joe Pavelski. Joe Thornton’s been playing the best hockey of his career, and Tomas Hertl for the most part has been thriving on that top line. The addition of Joonas Donskoi to the line-up as well as Dainius Zubrus has enabled the Sharks to have a deeper team down the middle. At this point, my only concern is the Sharks’ penalty kill, which has NOT been good of late. Of course, the other problem that would be detrimental to the Sharks is if they lose a top-4 defenseman to injury again, especially Marc-Eduoard Vlasic who’s been a staple on defense while also showing a bit of offensive upside. He’s the best that the Sharks have in terms of a good solid shutdown defenseman. As for the goaltending department, I think the Sharks have probably the best goalie tandem they’ve seen since Evgeni Nabokov played in net for them. Jones has proven to be a bonafide starter for them, and Reimer is a more-than-solid upgrade as the back-up.

As for the Kings, they’ve lost a few key players either to Free Agency or off-ice troubles. Mike Richards is gone. Jarrett Stoll is gone, now with the Minnesota Wild. Slava Voynov is gone and back in his home country of Russia. Last but not least, Mr. Game 7 himself Justin Williams opted for Free Agency and is with the Washington Capitals. So, it’s safe to say that the L.A. Kings line-up has taken quite a bit of a hit. Sure, you can still argue that they have one of the most underrated forwards in the League in Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter as well as Norris Trophy candidate defenseman Drew Doughty. They also have Milan Lucic to bring in more physicality and production to fit their system, and even a bit of agitation.

You can also argue that some of their young forwards can do damage on offense, as well as the acquisition of Vincent Lecavalier, who’s been a Shark killer so far. But that’s all they really have. Furthermore, this was the same team that everyone saw leading the Pacific Division and said they were going to win it by a landslide, but in the end they went through some bumps and patches and eventually couldn’t get over their season-ending rough patch that lead to them losing the division title to Anaheim. They had a 3-0 lead against the Winnipeg Jets, a team that struggled to make the playoffs this year, and blew it in a shootout. So, while this still is an offensively and defensively talented roster, this is by no means easy for the Kings.

One player to for sure keep an eye on for the Kings is Jonathan Quick, as he’s had another great year, finishing with a record of 40-23-5, a .918 SV%, 2.22 GAA, and 5 shutouts. This year, I think he’s once again in the mix for the top goalies in the NHL for the Vezina Trophy should likely be a finalist. He’s just really calm in net and is square to the puck, and that’s all you ask for a goalie to make saves. He’s obviously had success against the Sharks, so look for him to try to make a difference in this series as well.

All-in-all, this is definitely going to be a close one that’ll go down to the wire. However, I think the Sharks will finally beat the Kings after failing to do so for two playoff years (2012, 2014).

 

Anaheim Ducks vs. Nashville Predators

 

Anaheim Ducks Nashville Predators Advantage
215 GF 224 GF Predators
2.62 GF/GP 2.73 GF/GP Predators
188 GA 213 GA Ducks
2.29 GA/GP 2.60 GA/GP Ducks
+26 +13 Ducks
56.2 CF60 56.1 CF60 Ducks
51.1 CA60 50.8 CA60 Predators
51.4% FO 49.7% FO Ducks
23.1% PP (1st in the League) 19.7% PP (10th in the League) Ducks
87.2% PK (1st in the League) 81.2% PK (16th in the League) Ducks

Overall Advantage: Ducks

Prediction: Anaheim in 7

Analysis:

This is another series that I feel like is going to be close, despite what the stats say. The Anaheim Ducks were off to a surprisingly bad start at the beginning of the regular seasons, when they ranked dead last in offensive production. However, they picked it up and went on an outstanding stretch* to close in with the Sharks in the top-3. Of course, with LA missing their glorious opportunity against the Jets to close out a 3-0 lead with a win and clinch the division title, the Ducks did just that and won against the President’s Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, by a score of 2-0. So, this is still a very capable Anaheim Ducks team that the Predators are going to deal with.

The big match-up in this series will depth scoring. The Predators have a great top-six unit, with Calle Jarnkrok, Ryan Johansen (no. 1 center), and James Neal on the top line and Filip Forsberg (leading scorer with 33 goals), Mike Ribeiro, and Craig Smith on the second line. Johansen was acquired in a trade that sent defenseman Seth Jones to the Columbus Blue Jackets. However, their bottom-six is weaker than the Ducks’. Colin Wilson alone had only 6 goals and finished with 24 points on the season, Mike Fisher with 23, and Arvidsson with 16. That totals to 63 points, only 27 of them were goals. That’s only the third line. Compare that to the Ducks’ third line of Andrew Cogliano, Ryan Kesler, and Jakub Silfverberg.

In the goaltending department for Nashville, Pekka Rinne has had a bit of an off-year. After an outstanding year last season, Rinne finished the 2015-16 campaign with a record of 34-21-10, a .908 SV%, 2.48 GAA, and 4 shutouts. In 6 games played, back-up goalie Carter Hutton posted a 7-5-4 record, a .918 SV%, and 2.33 GAA as well as 2 shutouts. Small sample size, I know, but while Rinne is the undisputed number one starter and as a better record, I feel like Hutton has been the better goalie on the ice. Who would start for Nashville in Game 1? Knowing the Predators, I’m going to say Rinne gets the nod, but he needs to be better if Nashville is going to have a chance to win this series.

That said, the Anaheim Ducks have the advantage in net. Even with the uncertainty of whether to start Frederik Andersen or John Gibson in Game 1, I’d be comfortable with either. When you look at the numbers, however, Gibson does have the better numbers; 40 games played, .920 SV%, 2.07 GAA, and 4 shutouts. Andersen has the better record of 22-9-7. Save percentage is slightly lower at .919, and goals-against average at 2.30 with 3 shutouts. Overall though, both goalies have split almost half the games. Both goalies have little playoff experience. The Ducks relied on Andersen throughout the 2015 playoffs. The last time Gibson was in the playoffs for the Ducks was back in 2014. But, if I were head coach Bruce Boudreau, I’d go for Frederik Andersen, just because he does have more playoff games in hand.

The one thing that could be detrimental for the Ducks is the David Perron injury, who has been week-to-week with a shoulder injury since March 20th. However, the good news for Anaheim is that he is expected to return for the playoff sometime during round. It just won’t be Game 1. Another piece of good news for Ducks fans is that there only three other players (Kevin Bieksa, Rickard Rakell, and Brandon Pirri) injured, and they’re all day-to-day, which means it can’t be long until they join the Ducks’ line-up.

Overall, I think this is going to be a pretty close series, but in the end the Ducks’ offense is going to be too much for the Predators to handle.

Dallas Stars vs. Minnesota Wild

Dallas Stars Minnesota Wild Advantage
265 GF 213 GF Dallas
3.23 GF/GP 2.60 GF/GP Dallas
228 GA 204 GA Dallas
2.78 GA/GP 2.49 GA/GP Minnesota
+37 +10 Dallas
61.3 CF60 50.4 CF60 Dallas
55.4 CA60 54.9 CA60 Minnesota
50.7% FO 52.4% FO Minnesota
22.1% PP (4th in the League) 18.5% PP (15th in the League) Dallas
82.3% PK (10th in the League) 77.9% PK (27 in the League) Dallas

Overall Advantage: Dallas

Prediction: Dallas in 5

Analysis:

This is the only series of all the Western Conference match-ups that isn’t going to be close. Both teams are pretty bad defensively, especially Dallas which has one of the worst defenses in the NHL. However, that being said, the scoreboard is the ultimate decider as to who wins the series and who doesn’t. That’s where Dallas has the clear advantage, as Minnesota has struggled more times than not this past regular season to find consistency in their offensive touch. Obviously, Dallas has one of the best offensive duos in the NHL in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but they also have Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp chipping in. If you’re a Minnesota fan, you have to hope that Zach Parise — when he comes back from injury — can lead the way for the Wild so that others can score more as well. Otherwise, Dallas is going to run away with this series.

 

St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks

St. Louis Blues Chicago Blackhawks Advantage
219 GF 234 GF Chicago
2.67 GF/GP 2.85 GF/GP Chicago
197 GA 207 GA St. Louis
2.67 GA/GP 2.85 GA/GP St. Louis
+23 +26 Chicago
55.5 CF60 53.9 CF60 St. Louis
51.2 CA60 55.3 CA60 St. Louis
51.4% FO 49.3% FO St. Louis
21.5% PP (6th in the League) 22.6% PP (2nd in the League) Chicago
85.1% PK (3rd in the League) 80.3% PK (22nd in the League) St. Louis

Overall Advantage: St. Louis

Prediction: Chicago in 7

Analysis:

Another tight series, it’s no question that these two rivals are going to go down to the wire after all those years of being playoff opponents. These two teams, like LA and San Jose, do not like each other, so I expect it to be a hard-hitting affair. Obviously the Chicago Blackhawks have succeeded in the past and have gotten to where they are now being the defending champions. We all know their leaders and their players (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Artemi Panarin, Marian Hossa, just to name a few). However, this St. Louis Blues team won’t go away quietly either. They have star players who can rise the occasion, like Vladimir Tarasenko. Paul Statsny has also had a pretty good year too with St. Louis.

One important thing to look at for this series is the goaltending match-up. With both Jake Allen and Brian Elliott ready for Game 1, we look at their numbers in the regular season: .920 SV%, 2.35 GAA, and 6 shutouts for Allen, and .930 SV%, 2.07 GAA, and 4 shutouts. In term of postseason stats, in his starts for his past two playoff years (2012, 2015), Allen posted a .904 SV%, while Elliott has a lifetime SV% of .897. Obviously, great in the regular season, but not in the playoffs. That’s where Corey Crawford has the advantage for the Chicago Blackhawks, paired with back-up Scott Darling.

We look at the defense, which is where St. Louis has the advantage on blue line depth, not to mention the Blackhawks are going to be missing Duncan Keith for Game 1 as he’s still serving out his suspension which makes the first game of this playoff series a must-win for the Blues especially on home ice.

Finally, fatigue will also be a factor, as Chicago has played almost four times the amount of playoff games as St. Louis has in the past three years.

This is going to be a hard grinder, a fought playoff series. I think the Chicago Blackhawks are, as always, going to come out as winners in round 1. I think they just have too much talent, and so much organizational depth. It’s going to be too much for St. Louis to handle as the series goes on.

Be sure to check back on Ice Nation UK for the Eastern Conference playoff preview!

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