NHL Second Round Predictions -Eastern Conference

Despite going only 2 for 4 so far in the Eastern Conference, I still had a better record than most experts because of the three first round upsets. The only favourites that managed to win are the Pittsburgh Penguins who will host the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night.

For those of you that have been reading my blog over the past few weeks, you know that I often talk about points per game since March 1st. That statistic has been a great indicator of success over the past few years and has in fact been better than simply using the playoff seeds. Unfortunately, when it comes to this series, the Penguins and Canadiens were within 0.01 of each other in this category. I've mentioned before that the Penguins had an impressive record of 37-15-5 this season when Crosby, Malkin and Gonchar are in the lineup. The Canadiens top seven scorers however missed a combined total of 124 games. Moreover, Jaroslav Halak has a record of 26-13-5 this season which is still very impressive despite facing easier opponents. The Canadiens have a solid 30-19-7 record when they have at least 6 of the following 8 players in the lineup: Scott Gomez, Brian Gionta, Mike Cammalleri, Tomas Plekanec, Andrei Kostitsyn, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Halak. Much better than their 9-14-3 record when they are missing three or more of those players.

Despite finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference, the Montreal Canadiens have shown that they can compete with the best teams in the NHL. They have the hottest goaltender in the league and are facing a team that somewhat struggled against the Ottawa Senators. Prediction: Montreal Canadiens in 7 games

The other series, between the Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers, is one that no one expected. The Bruins led by goalie Tuukka Rask not only upset the Buffalo Sabres but were clearly the better team. The Flyers, on the other hand, looked good but I personally wasn't impressed by them or the Devils in that series. They've had no trouble all year long against the Devils and it was a great match-up for them but I'd be surprised if they can move on to the Eastern Conference Finals. They struggled down the stretch with only 0.95 points per game since the Olympic break and I still wouldn't trust Brian Boucher despite his stellar first round performance. The Boston Bruins will also welcome back Marc Savard into the lineup while the Philadelphia Flyers will be without Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and Ian Laperriere. I really don't see how the Flyers could defeat the Bruins in this series. Prediction: Boston Bruins in 5 games

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NHL - Canadiens Win - Second Round Schedule Released

Jaroslav Halak and the Montreal Canadiens were tremendous tonight as they defeated the Washington Capitals. I'll be back tomorrow with my second round Eastern Conference predictions but here are my Western Conference predictions. For now, here is the schedule for round 2 which kicks off Thursday night with the Red Wings and the Sharks.

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2010 EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
Pittsburgh Penguins vs Montreal Canadiens
Friday, April 30 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS, VERSUS
Sunday, May 2 at Pittsburgh, 2:00 p.m. NBC, CBC, RDS
Tuesday, May 4 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS, VERSUS
Thursday, May 6 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS, VERSUS
*Saturday, May 8 at Pittsburgh, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS, VERSUS
*Monday, May 10 at Montreal, 7:00 p.m. CBC, RDS, VERSUS
*Wednesday, May 12 at Pittsburgh, TBD CBC, RDS, VERSUS

Boston Bruins vs Philadelphia Flyers
Saturday, May 1 at Boston, 12:30 p.m. NBC, TSN
Monday, May 3 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Wednesday, May 5 at Philadelphia, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Friday, May 7 at Philadelphia, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
*Monday, May 10 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
*Wednesday, May 12 at Philadelphia, TBD TSN, VERSUS
*Friday, May 14 at Boston, 7:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS

2010 WESTERN CONFERENCE SEMIFINALS
San Jose Sharks vs Detroit Red Wings
Thursday, April 29 at San Jose, 9:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Sunday, May 2 at San Jose, 8:00 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Tuesday, May 4 at Detroit, 7:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
Thursday, May 6 at Detroit, 7:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
*Saturday, May 8 at San Jose, 10:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
*Monday, May 10 at Detroit, 7:30 p.m. TSN, VERSUS
*Wednesday, May 12 at San Jose, TBD TSN, VERSUS

Chicago Blackhawks vs Vancouver Canucks
Saturday, May 1 at Chicago, 8:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
Monday, May 3 at Chicago, 9:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
Wednesday, May 5 at Vancouver, 9:30 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
Friday, May 7 at Vancouver, 9:30 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
*Sunday, May 9 at Chicago, 8:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
*Tuesday, May 11 at Vancouver, 9:30 p.m. CBC, VERSUS
*Thursday, May 13 at Chicago, 8:00 p.m. CBC, VERSUS

NHL Second Round Predictions - Western Conference

The Detroit Red Wings destroyed the Phoenix Coyotes last night and will now face the San Jose Sharks in the second round. You can look back at my first round predictions but I am currently 5 for 7 including my accurate prediction of the Bruins over the Sabres. Not a spectacular record but not too bad considering the were two upsets in the first round and I was right on one of the two I predicted.

So far, teams with an advantage of 0.25 in points per game after March 1st are 2-1 and the last one will depend on the Washington Capitals tonight. Over the last four years they are now 16-3. For the second round, the Detroit Red Wings have an 0.42 advantage over the San Jose Sharks while the Vancouver Canucks have an 0.10 edge over the Chicago Blackhawks.

In my first round predictions article, I also mentioned that at least 15 of the 16 conference finalists in the past four years had a number of things in common. Based on those factors I determined that the four teams who had a chance to make it to the conference finals were: Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks. The Vancouver Canucks were not in that group because they did not have 41 points on the road but they still had 40 so I don't think we can put much weight on this.

The other statistic that is important to look at is goaltenting. Everyone knows it takes a hot goaltender to make it far into the playoffs so in the first round I looked at team's save percentage since March 1st. The Red Wings, Blackhawks, Canucks and Sharks all had weaker goaltending after March 1st than in the rest of the season. Roberto Luongo was by far the weakest of the group in the first round in terms of save percentage and is the only goaltender who can be considered to be on a cold streak.

Last week, I also wrote an article about the length of the first round series and found that teams who played a 7-game series in the first round were 9-20 against teams who played 5 or 6 games series. This would normally give the edge to the San Jose Sharks over the Detroit Red Wings but considering that game seven wasn't very close and that the Coyotes are a much better team than the Avalanche, I don't think it matters much.

One statistic that I didn't mention in my first round analysis is the head to head record in the regular season. The teams with the better head to head record are 4-0 this year so far so I thought I'd look back at last year to see if it's something worth considering. In the first round last year, teams with a better head to head record went 5-1 but only 2-2 in the following rounds. In the 2008 Playoffs, it was 5-3 in the first round and only 2-3 in the following rounds. In other words it probably doesn't mean a whole lot after the first round so I won't consider it.

With all of that said, the Detroit Red Wings should have no problem against the San Jose Sharks while the Canucks and Blackhawks series should be very tight. The Red Wings have been much better in the past two months, despite having to play a game seven in the first round. As for the other series, the statistics probably give a small edge to the Blackhawks but my heart is with the Canucks and I would be surprised if Luongo didn't play a great series. Either way I think it will go to seven games.

Here are my predictions:
Detroit Red Wings in 5 games
Vancouver Canucks in 7 games

Check back tomorrow to see my second round predictions for the Eastern Conference.

NHL embarrasses itself once again

Over the past few months, the NHL has made some strange decisions regarding suspensions, has once again given strange instructions to its referees for the playoffs and now has made strange decisions with video replay.

Video replay was a great addition in the NHL just like it was a great one in the NFL but you need to understand your own rules in order to do it properly. First off, let's take a look at the disallowed goal for "kicking the puck" by Daniel Sedin of the Vancouver Canucks:





Unfortunately I can't find a video of the Nick Foligno goal so I'll focus on the Sedin goal. Now, let's take a look at the DVD that the NHL sent to the teams regarding the kicking the puck rule (fast forward to 53 seconds):



Just to have a little fun now, let's take a look at Mike Murphy's explanation:


I quote Mike Murphy from the video above:
"It had to be propelled some way and we felt it was the skate in not a distinct kicking motion but a kicking motion that made it move back the other way

I now quote rule 49.2 of the NHL rulebook:
"A puck that deflects into the net off an attacking player’s skate who does not use a distinct kicking motion is a legitimate goal."

Right...

Thanks for clearing things up for us Mr Murphy and thanks to Mr Bettman for (as always) agreeing with every single decision his people make.

What makes the NFL so great is that when the referees make a mistake, they admit it, the NFL admits it and they try to make a change to make sure the mistake doesn't happen again.

What does the NHL do? Support the initial decision to make sure that if there is another close call, like the Foligno goal, it is also disallowed and that another mistake is made.

Does the length of a series matter?

Most of us counted out the Philadelphia Flyers before the playoffs started. They had struggled in the past few weeks because of injuries to goaltenders Ray Emery and Michael Leighton. No one trusted Brian Boucher entering the playoffs but he has a 0.940 save percentage so far and is a big reason why the Flyers defeated the New Jersey Devils in 5.

The Boston Bruins were pretty heavy underdogs before the series started, and although some thought they could upset the Buffalo Sabres, not many thought they'd have a chance to do it in five.

The Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are impressing a lot of people and have all forced at least a game six. Is that good or bad news for the Sharks, Blackhawks, Canucks and Red Wings?

You might have no idea where I'm going with all that but there is something behind it. I decided to look at some statistics over the past 22 seasons to see if the length of first round series means anything for the second round. Here are the second round records for each first round series length:


 

W

L

4 games

11

13

5 games

20

18

6 games

38

29

7 games

19

28

As strange as it may seem, the famous cliché that a team is better prepared because they faced adversity early in the playoffs is in fact true. However, if they went to a game seven, they're in trouble because they're tired. Teams that win their series in six games are the teams that have by far the best record for the second round.

A 38-29 record is pretty nice for teams that won in six games but many of those losses may have been when two teams that won in six were facing each other. I therefore decided to look at all the records individually to better show the importance of first round series length:


 

4 games

5 games

6 games

7 games

4 games

0 - 0

2 - 2

8 - 8

1 - 3

5 games

2 - 2

4 - 4

6 - 8

8 - 4

6 games

8 - 8

8 - 6

10 - 10

12 - 5

7 games

3 - 1

4 - 8

5 - 12

7 - 7

None of the first round series will end in four so we can ignore the first column and first row of that chart for this year. As you can see, teams that win a game seven in round one are 9-20 against teams that won in five or six. That's a pretty surprising disadvantage for teams that are forced to play a game seven.

To come back to my initial points, the Flyers don't have a better chance to beat the Capitals (or Penguins) in round two because they won in five and if the Bruins win in five, they won't have a better chance of winning in round two. The games that will be more important than you think are all the sixth games in the Western Conference. A win in game six not only means you move on to round two but also means your chances of going to the conference finals could be twice as good.

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NHL - What happened to the Selke Trophy?

The Frank J. Selke Trophy has supposedly been awarded to the forward who "best excels in the defensive aspects of the game" since the 1977-78 season. Bob Gainey was the first recipient of that trophy when he had only 31 points in 66 games and was the 14th best scorer on the Monreal Canadiens. Gainey also won the next three Selke Trophies, never finishing amongst the top eight scorers on the Canadiens.

In more recent years, the trophy has been awarded to Pavel Datsyuk twice (97 points both times) and Rod Brind'Amour twice (70 and 82 points). In years before that, players like Jere Lehtinen, Mike Peca, John Madden and Kris Draper all won the award. They all deserved the award except they all seemed to win it in seasons where they had their best goal production or where they scored a few shorthanded goals.

The reason I'm mentioning all this is that the three nominees for the 2009-10 Selke Trophy are:
-Pavel Datsyuk: 27 goals and 43 assists, leading scorer on the Detroit Red Wings.
-Ryan Kesler: 25 goals and 50 assists, 3rd leading scorer on the Vancouver Canucks.
-Jordan Staal: 21 goals and 28 assists, 4th leading scorer on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

I know all three of these players are very good defensively and are amongst the best two-way forwards in the NHL but are they the ones who "best excel in the defensive aspects of the game"?

One player who has never really been considered as a Selke candidate is Jay McClement of the St. Louis Blues. McClement led all forwards with 3:44 of shorthanded time on ice per game, 21 seconds ahead of Todd Marchant who came in 2nd and 24 seconds ahead of Jordan Staal in 3rd. The Blues, Ducks and Penguins all committed about the same number of minor penalties but McClement was used more than the other two. You might argue that there is much more talent on the Penguins than the Blues but the Blues led the league in penalty kill with 86.8% while the Penguins were ninth.

Moreover, Jay McClement was one of only four regular forwards with the Blues who did not have a negative +/- and the leader was his line-mate Alex Steen. Basically, you have a forward who is amongst the best on his team in +/-, leads the NHL in shorthanded time on ice and is on the top penalty kill in the NHL but who isn't even being considered for the best defensive forward award. It seems that the only reason this is the case is because he has only 29 points in 82 games.

In my opinion, Ryan Kesler will win the award this season, and he deserves it, but it's unfortunate that it would be because he had his best offensive season and not because of his defensive play.

NHL Playoffs Refereeing

Refereeing in every sport has always been criticized and probably always will be, but it is particularly the case in the NHL. Hockey is one of the toughest sports to referee but many things lead me to believe that the NHL referees can be good, they just don't want to be or someone isn't letting them be good.

In last year's NHL Playoffs, here was an average of 7.9 power play opportunities per game, a small drop from the 8.3 in the regular season. This season, there has actually been a small increase with 7.9 power play opportunities per game as opposed to only 7.4 during the regular season. These numbers seem to indicate that referees aren't any different in the NHL Playoffs but most would agree that it's not the case. The playoffs are much more intense than the regular season and players commit more infractions, but the number of power play opportunities remains the same.

A better statistic to illustrate my point is to look at power play opportunities earned in the third period as opposed to the rest of the game. So far in the playoffs, there have been 1,240 minutes of hockey played and 440 of those have been in the third period and in overtime, which is equal to about 35.5%. In those 1,240 minutes, there have been 157 power play opportunities but only 46 of them came in the third period and in overtime, which is equal to only 29.3%. I realize that it is a relatively small sample size but it is pretty remarkable that there have been 17% fewer power play opportunities in the third period and overtime than in the first two periods. It is especially interesting considering that all the games so far have been very close ones so there should be at least as penalties later in games. A number of these power play opportunities also came in the last 45 seconds when there was either a two-goal difference or when a team would do anything to prevent a goal so the difference should be even bigger.

Why is it that there are more penalties called in the first and second periods than in the third period? NHL referees are the best at what they do and they see a lot of things that others wouldn't, but for some reason, they call fewer penalties later in games. One has to believe that the instructions are coming from somewhere up top.

Referees will always miss some calls and make some bad ones but it's unacceptable that the general trends are:
-Same number of penalties in the playoffs when the play is much more intense and there should be more penalties.
-Fewer penalties in the third period and overtime than in the first two periods.

It somewhat makes sense that the NHL doesn't want a game to be decided on a borderline call, but, because of that, games are often decided either on missed calls or on automatic calls: too many men on the ice, delay of game for shooting the puck over the board, slashing and breaking the stick or high stick with blood.

As much as I love NHL playoff hockey and as exciting as it is to watch, the NHL would be a much more respected league if it fixed a few things in its game and this is one of them. Everyone knows it, pretty much everyone agrees with it, but the NHL doesn't want to do anything about it.


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The Kessel Trade

There's been a lot of talk about the Phil Kessel trade in the last few days with the Boston Bruins locking up the second pick overall in the 2010 NHL Draft. In that trade, the Bruins also received a second round pick in 2010 and a first round pick in 2011.

Brian Burke has said a number of times over the past few days that he would still make this trade right now. To me, it seems a little far-fetched to be saying that when you could have had the number two overall pick in the NHL Draft. I'll be the first one to say that prospects and picks are often overrated but in this case, I don't think they are. Let's take a look at the list of forwards selected in the first two picks of the NHL Draft from 1997 to 2008 and their statistics in the 2009-2010 season:


 

GP

G

A

P

P/GP

Alex Ovechkin 

60

44

52

96

1.60

Daniel Sedin 

49

17

47

64

1.31

Sidney Crosby 

67

45

41

86

1.28

Joe Thornton 

66

17

62

79

1.20

Steven Stamkos 

67

42

38

80

1.19

Ilya Kovalchuk 

60

35

34

69

1.15

Patrick Kane 

66

26

49

75

1.14

Evgeni Malkin 

61

23

46

69

1.13

Dany Heatley 

66

36

36

72

1.09

Patrick Marleau 

66

40

30

70

1.06

Eric Staal 

55

21

33

54

0.98

Vincent Lecavalier 

67

19

41

60

0.90

Rick Nash 

66

28

29

57

0.86

Jason Spezza 

46

15

22

37

0.80

Bobby Ryan 

67

28

24

52

0.78

Jordan Staal 

68

19

26

45

0.66

James Van Riemsdyk 

63

14

19

33

0.52

David Legwand 

68

10

24

34

0.50

Patrik Stefan 

0

0

0

0

0.00

In 2009-2010, Phil Kessel recorded 55 points in 70 games which is equal to 0.79 points per game. Kessel would therefore rank 15th out of 19 on that list. If we look at the names near the bottom of that list, Jordan Staal and James Van Riemsdyk are both younger than Kessel and most would argue that they will be as good or better than Kessel in a couple of years. In other words, of all the top two forwards chosen since 1997, Phil Kessel is better than only two (Legwand and Stefan) and pretty similar to three others (Bobby Ryan, Jordan Staal and James Van Riemsdyk).

If Hall or Seguin turns out to be like one of those three players, Boston would still get the edge because of the additional picks that they received in the trade. The Toronto Maple Leafs therefore have about an 11% chance (2 out of 19) of winning this trade. You can even assume that John Tavares will be better than Phil Kessel if you want and make it an even 10%.

I'm not saying it's a bad trade, because if the Leafs had finished in 25th or better they probably would have gotten the edge. In all honesty, if I was Brian Burke, I probably would have made this trade when he made it, but there's no way I'd do it now knowing what we know.

NHL - Wins Against Playoff Teams

Every game matters in the NHL, whether it's against the first place Capitals or the last place Oilers, but in the playoffs, it's only about the 16 best teams. Moreover, some teams may have boosted their regular season record by playing in a weak division so I thought it would be interesting to see which playoff teams have the best record against other playoff teams.

The other thing I did is give a half win and a half loss for every game that went to overtime or shootout. The reason I did that is that there's no shootout or 4 on 4 hockey in the playoffs so it doesn't make sense to include them. I split them evenly because, if two teams are even after 60 minutes, they should have an equal chance of winning the game in overtime and I can't just remove that game from the statistics. Here are the results I got:


 

W

L

Win %

Washington Capitals

23

15

60.5%

Vancouver Canucks

24

16

60.0%

Detroit Red Wings

25.5

17.5

59.3%

New Jersey Devils

24.5

17.5

58.3%

San Jose Sharks

25

18

58.1%

Chicago Blackhawks

23.5

18.5

56.0%

Ottawa Senators

22.5

20.5

52.3%

Buffalo Sabres

22.5

22.5

50.0%

Phoenix Coyotes

20

21

48.8%

Los Angeles Kings

19.5

21.5

47.6%

Pittsburgh Penguins

18

23

43.9%

Colorado Avalanche

16.5

21.5

43.4%

Nashville Predators

17.5

23.5

42.7%

Montreal Canadiens

17.5

25.5

40.7%

Philadelphia Flyers

16.5

24.5

40.2%

Boston Bruins

17

27

38.6%

Make what you want of this, they're only statistics but it's a little worrisome to see the Pittsburgh Penguins at 43.9%. The Vancouver Canucks are also a team that you can't underestimate as they are number one in the Western Conference in these standings.