Even though we're already a game deep in five of the eight first-round matchups, I wanted to share a few of my notes about each series that popped up during my research.
Washington improved its possession numbers and power-play percentage down the stretch, so with Braden Holtby's .943 save percentage over the past two postseasons, the Captials are scary. This has the look of a five-game series, but even that may be optimistic, and especially since the Toronto's penalty kill hasn't been as strong down the stretch.
Columbus struggled to prevent high-danger scoring chances and relied on Sergei Bobrovsky to the point that his numbers have become unsustainable. It's possible he maintains his strong play long enough to hold Columbus in the series, though. However, with the Blue Jackets' power play in shambles since the All-Star break, it's difficult to envision them keeping up with Pittsburgh's offensive attack.
Most advanced metrics highlight a clear mismatch, as the Habs have played a sound possession game while limiting high-danger scoring chances all season, and the Rangers have been the exact opposite. It has the look of a open-and-shut case in that regard. Still, a throwback run from Henrik Lundqvist could be more than enough for the Rangers to outscore Montreal.
There were a couple glaring mismatches here. Boston has been one of the best possession clubs in the league for a number of years, and Ottawa entered with the second-worst Corsi For percentage at five-on-five among all playoff teams. Additionally, the Bruins' power play went wild in the second half and converted at a league-best 28.9 percent, and Ottawa killed penalties at just 71.4 percent after March 1. Obviously, you have to keep Torey Krug's lower-body injury in mind, but there could be a few huge obstacles to overcome for Ottawa to advance.
It's difficult to discount Chicago after pacing the Western Conference and posting a 20-7-5 second-half record. Still, Nashville is absolutely stingy, plays a sound possession game and probably has a deeper lineup top to bottom. So, does the veteran star power of the Blackhawks get the job done another year, or do the Predators accomplish an upset. Nashville backers (ME) should be concerned that Chicago began to generate more high-danger scoring chances down the stretch and likely have positive regression ahead with the man advantage.
Minnesota went on an absolute slide despite allowing under seven high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes from March 1 through the end of the season and sporting a five-on-five Corsi For percentage of 55.43. That has to be next to impossible, so counting on statistical correction alone would have to push you toward Minnesota. Nothing against the Blues, but they might also have negative regression ahead.
There is plenty to like about Calgary, but the Flames might have already peaked, and Anaheim just took both games of an April home-and-home series. Additionally, the experience of Ryan Getzlaf, Ryan Kesler and Antoine Vermette up the middle presents matchup nightmares. The Ducks also closed out the year with an impressive 14-2-3 run.
With Connor McDavid scorching hot down the stretch, and Joe Thornton (knee) and Logan Couture (face) potentially playing at less than 100 percent (or not at all), it should prove tough to slow down McDavid. San Jose has the playoff experience, but Edmonton also capped off the season with a 13-4-1 run. The Sharks also struggled to kill penalties down the stretch with a 78.2 PK percentage, which should also prove to be a significant advantage for Edmonton.
Elias Lindholm's 45 points this season were a career-high mark, but a slow start (seven points through 23 games) and underwhelming finish (two assists through seven games) hide a dominant 38-game stretch where the 22-year-old Swede piled up nine goals and 25 assists.
Carolina has an impressive young core that plays an excellent possession game, so the setting is ripe for Lindholm to take another step forward. He's been a strong possession player the past three seasons, including sporting the fourth best Corsi For percentage among all players under the age of 23 with at least 200 games.
His 6.7 shooting percentage over the past two seasons is unsustainably low, but with a career 8.5 mark, there might not be significant improvement ahead. Still, with Lindholm entering his prime, natural growth and statistical correction could align and propel him in the neighbourhood of 20 tallies.
Lindholm will likely remain a better asset in points-only formats, but the pedigree is there, and he's flashed an ability to move the needle in the goals and shots columns, too. A run at 50 points is in the cards.
I had my final playoff pool Wednesday night, which was obviously not an ideal time considering games started just before we finished. It's a 23-team, points-only pool, and we select 10 players. Here's my club picking fifth overall:
At a couple points I had considered steering away from the Caps or Ducks, but diluting your exposure hasn't proven to be a winning approach in the past with so many teams. I was also just a handful of picks away from landing worthwhile talents each timeit looked like a viable option to veer in another direction.
It's also important to reinforce your strengths because you don't want an opponent to mitigate any advantage of having early-round picks go deep into the spring. After all, without three rounds (and likely four) from Washington or Anaheim, I'm toast anyway.
I'm really curious to see if selecting Lindholm over Sami Vatanen pays off, too. Where would you have gone?
Before moving to some quick-hit notes on Wednesday's game, I was super disappointed to see that Stephanie (@myregularface) deleted her Twitter account. Hopefully it's just a temporary deactivation because her contributions to the game and the enjoyment of it is significant.
I missed a few of the early goals tonight, and my first thought was to check her Twitter feed and catch her gifs of them, which usually include multiple angles.
My hope is that NHL.com — or another outlet — inked her to a deal to provide the content for them.
It was surprising to see Ottawa win the five-on-five possession battle against Boston, and the two clubs split the scoring chances and high-danger chances 50-50 evenly. As is the case in most of these games, the margin of victory was slim.
Considering Bobby Ryan is the highest-paid Senator, it's concerning for his long-term outlook that he played the fourth-fewest minutes of any forward. His goal showed both skill and determination, but it was just his second tally through his past 13 games dating back to Feb. 19.
It also seemed fitting that Brad Marchand scored the game-winning tally considering his monster season and accolades both in the playoffs and internationally. How many wingers are you taking over him next fall? His cross-category production is elite, and Marchand ranked fifth in the ESPN Player Rater and second in Yahoo's default rankings.
The Columbus-Pittsburgh game wasn't as enticing to watch with the Pegnuins holding a convincing lead when I was ready to tune in. For the statistical recaps, it's pretty clear that Pittsburgh weathered a first-period storm from Columbus, and then the Penguins dominated the second period.
Matt Murray being a late scratch is obviously a concern, but it's exactly why Pittsburgh was so steadfast to keep Marc-Andre Fleury around. If Murray's injury is significant, it could have an impact, but the downgrade from Murray to Fleury is unlikely to cost the Penguins a game, let alone a series.
It's ridiculous that the NHL cannot stagger its games for a more enjoyable viewing experience. Having multiple games going at the same time is one thing during the regular season, but it's both ridiculously and avoidable during the playoffs. Even a half-hour window between each game would make a difference. I don't need to see every minute of every game, but there is nothing worse than intermissions lining up in multiple games.
The fact that Alex Galchenyuk played with fourth-line talents and received just 13:52 of ice time is an absolute joke, and the Canadiens deserve to lose another three straight games for utilizing their best young player in a depth role.
Watching Montreal struggle to generate any pressure with the goalie pulled was even more satisfying. A number of my box pools will be finished if the Rangers advance, but it would be a sacrifice worth enduring if Galchenyuk was freed from the absurdity of his exile to the depths of the lineup for good.
Both of the Western Conference games are currently in overtime, so we'll leave those until tomorrow.
Thanks for checking in, Dobberheads.
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