2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference Preview
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 Eastern Conference.
Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Detroit Red Wings
|Tampa Bay Lightning||Detroit Red Wings||Advantage|
|224 GF||209 GF||Lightning|
|2.73 GF/GP||2.55 GF/GP||Lightning|
|198 GA||219 GA||Lightning|
|2.41 GA/GP||2.67 GA/GP||Lightning|
|55.6 CF60||52.9 CF60||Lightning|
|50.9 CA60||49.3 CA60||Wings|
|50.5% FO||50.2% FO||Lightning|
|15.8% PP (28th in the League)||18.8% PP (13thin the League)||Wings|
|84.0% PK (7th in the League)||81.5% PK (14th in the League)||Lightning|
Overall Advantage: Lightning
Prediction: Lightning in 5
One year later in this Stanley Cup Playoff rematch, the Tampa Bay Lightning still dominate just about every statistical category there is. This is a team that’s been to the Stanley Cup Finals, and I think at the very least they’ll have enough to get past the first round. However, they are battling injuries right now. Steven Stamkos is out for 1-3 months with a blood clot issue. Anton Stralman is out indefinitely with a broken leg. Tyler Johnson is nursing an upper body, and the list goes on. However, the good news for Lightning fans is that just a day ago, Tampa Bay’s beat writer Bryan Burns wrote that most of their roster was in attendance for their first playoff practice session. That included Victor Hedman (upper body), Ryan Callahan (lower body), and Nikita Kucherov (undisclosed).
Could Hedman, Callahan, and Kucherov be in for Game 1 of this series on Wednesday night? That remains to be seen. However, it is likely that one or more of the aforementioned players will draw into the line-up against the Detroit Red Wings.
The player they can’t have injured in the playoffs, though, is Ben Bishop who was a big reason why the Lightning finished strong. Bishop finished the 2015-16 regular season with a League-best 2.06 GAA and tied goalie John Grahame from 2003-04 season for the franchise record for GAA in a single season. Bishop is big in net at 6′ 7″. He’s square to the puck, and when you have a goalie like him who can make the saves with ease, it definitely bolsters the team’s confidence offensively.
On the Red Wings side of things, it looks pretty iffy for them. This is a team that’s struggled all season, and there was doubt that their streak of consecutive playoff appearances would come to an end at 24. Well, fortunately for them, they had the Ottawa Senators to thank for making it 25 straight. Unfortunately for them, the fact that they couldn’t play well enough consistently is an issue.
Aside from their issues in net with Jimmy Howard, their defense as a whole is a problem. Their captain, Henrik Zetterberg, finished the regular season as a -15. Niklas Kronwall, a team-worst -21. Justin Abdelkader was a -16. Those are all really bad numbers. Now, usually, I wouldn’t look too much into the plus-minuses since they’re frowned upon by many. But when you have minus stats that bad, the alarm’s got to go off.
Offensively, I think this Red Wings team is going to try to take advantage of a Lightning team without Stamkos, but they won’t make it. This Lightning team is too deep and too talented. As I’ve said, they’ve been there, and unless Bishop has an off night, it’s going to be hard to get one past the big goaltender.
New York Islanders vs. Florida Panthers
|New York Islanders||Florida Panthers||Advantage|
|227 GF||232 GF||Panthers|
|2.77 GF/GP||2.83 GF/GP||Panthers|
|211 GA||200 GA||Panthers|
|2.57 GA/GP||2.44 GA/GP||Panthers|
|54.9 CF60||48.0 CF60||Islanders|
|56.0 CA60||50.6 CA60||Panthers|
|50.9% FO||50.8% FO||Islanders|
|18.3% PP (17th in the League)||16.9% PP (23rd in the League)||Islanders|
|84.5% PK (4th in the League)||79.5% PK (24th in the League)||Islanders|
Overall Advantage: Panthers
Prediction: Panthers in 6
The Panthers had not gone to the playoffs since 2012 when they lost in the first round, and have not been in the Stanley Cup Finals since the 1995-96 season when they lost against the Colorado Avalanche. Despite the plethora of youth, I feel like this team is going to get past the first round. They have enough offensive depth to move forward. Their leading scorer, Alexsander Barkov, finished with 28 goals on the season. The ageless wonder, Jaromir Jagr, finished second in team scoring with 27 goals, but lead the team in points with 66.
They also have a pretty good defense with Aaron Ekblad, Brian Campbell and Alex Petrovic. Ekblad finished the 2015-16 campaign with a +18. Campbell had a team-leading +31, and Petrovic a +17.
Of course, in net, they have Roberto Luongo as a starter with a .922 SV%, 2.35 GAA, and 4 shutouts. Al Montoya finished the regular season with a record of 12-7-3 and a .919 SV% and 2.18 GAA.
The Islanders do have more playoff experience than the Florida Panthers. However, they are currently battling injuries. Per Rotoworld, goalie Jaroslav Halak will mess the entire first round to a groin injury. He has been skating, however, according to Isles head coach Jack Capuano he’s still a long way to go. That means per a tweet by Brian Compton, the Deputy Managing Editor of NHL.com, Thomas Greiss will be in for Game 1. Greiss and Jean-Francois Berube will rotate throughout the series.
Others include Anders Lee (leg) who is out indefinitely, Brian Strait (upper body), Jean-Francois Berube (lower body), Travis Hamonic (knee), and Mikhail Grabovski (upper body) who are all day-to-day. So the big question will be which of the rest of the injured players will make the line-up and who won’t.
Injuries aside, I expect that John Tavares will be leading his team offensively, as he scored a team-leading 33 goals in the regular season. With the Anders Lee injury, Brock Nelson will have to step up in his place. While Nelson’s consistency has been an issue at times, he still scored 26 goals on the season. So, should he continue to light the lamp in the first round, that could help determine whether or not the Isles will advance to round 2.
In the end, statistically the Panthers have the edge, and while the Isles do have more playoff experience, my gut instinct tells me to pick the underdog in this one.
New York Rangers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
|New York Rangers||Pittsburgh Penguins||Advantage|
|233 GF||241 GF||Penguins|
|2.84 GF/GP||2.94 GF/GP||Penguins|
|215 GA||199 GA||Penguins|
|2.62 GA/GP||2.43 GA/GP||Penguins|
|57.9 CF60||51.4 CF60||Rangers|
|52.0 CA60||57.1 CA60||Rangers|
|49.2% FO||50.2% FO||Penguins|
|18.6% PP (14th in the League)||18.4 PP (16th in the League)||Rangers|
|78.2% PK (26th in the League)||84.4% PK (5th in the League)||Penguins|
Overall Advantage: Penguins
Prediction: Penguins in 6
The Penguins have a decided advantage in this match-up. You’re talking about a team with two of the biggest superstars in the line-up, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and even if Malkin’s still injured you still have Crosby, who had a great second half of the season. This team has the speed to go after any team in the League. Their second line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel has been lighting it up, combining for 12 points in their last 5 games. The one uncertainty for them would be in net. Can Marc-Andre Fleury play in Game 1? He’s been out with a concussion but he has been practicing and hopes to be the man in between the pipes for Pittsburgh. The other option would be Matt Murray, who sustained a head injury at the end of the season. However, if Murray can’t play, the worst case scenario would be Jeff Zatkoff.
Speaking of stopping pucks in net, the Rangers have the one person to save their bacon almost every time things start to fall apart for them. Ladies and gentlemen, the King of New York, Henrik Lundqvist. This season, he finished with a .920 SV%, 2.48 GAA, and 4 shutouts. This is the guy who can really steal games for the New York Rangers when nothing goes right for them. Up front, however, the Rangers need Ryan McDonagh to be their guy, their captain and leader for this team. Unfortunately, according to head coach Alain Vigneault, McDonagh will have to sit out Game 1 with a hand injury he sustained on April 4th. He’s considered day-to-day.
All-in-all, I think Pittsburgh is just a faster team. It shows in their play on the ice, and the stats tilt heavily in their favor. This is a strong puck possession team, and when you can possess the puck so much, you have offense on your side, and in their case they have more than enough weapons to get past the New York Rangers. I honestly don’t think just the work of Lundqvist in net is going to help the Rangers beat the Penguins.
Washington Capitals vs. Philadelphia Flyers
|Washington Capitals||Philadelphia Flyers||Advantage|
|248 GF||211 GF||Capitals|
|3.02 GF/GP||2.57 GF/GP||Capitals|
|191 GA||210 GA||Capitals|
|2.33 GA/GP||2.56 GA/GP||Capitals|
|56.1 CF60||57.6 CF60||Flyers|
|53.9 CA60||56.2 CA60||Flyers|
|49.6% FO||51.0% FO||Flyers|
|21.9% PP (5th in the League)||18.9% PP (11th in the League)||Capitals|
|85.2% PK (2nd in the League)||80.5% PK (20th in the League)||Capitals|
Overall Advantage: Capitals
Prediction: Capitals in 6
The Washington Capitals faced little to no adversity in the regular season, clinching the President Trophy for first in the League with a record of 56-18-8. While statistically speaking, the Capitals do have the upper-hand against the Philadelphia Flyers, they need to be careful and not let their guard down. Consistency will definitely be a factor, as the Flyers won’t go down without a fight. In fact, I expect them to go all out against the Capitals in the wake of their late owner and founder Ed Snider’s passing. While Holtby has looked a bit shaky in the final couple weeks of the regular season. there’s no doubt that the undisputed Vezina winner will be able to out duel Michael Neuvirth or Steve Mason in net at the other end. Holtby finished the regular season with a .922 SV%, 2.20 GAA, and 3 shutouts.
For the Flyers, defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere was fantastic in his rookie campaign. netting 17 goals and is 5th among all NHL rookies with 46 points, just two behind up-and-coming League superstar Connor McDavid. Wayne Simmonds also had a good year, with 32 goals and 28 assists.
In the end, however, there’s no beating Alexander Ovechkin. In fact, the only way the Caps might lose this series is if Ovi and/or Nicklas Backstrom go down with injuries. Otherwise, the Capitals just have too much depth. They have T.J. Oshie. They have Justin Williams, or Mr. Game 7. To me, there’s no question that the Capitals are going to beat the Flyers and advance to round 2.
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