Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Kings-Canucks Playoff Preview Part IV: Predictions!

Handshakes
Los Angeles: Upset City?
Despite the Canucks capturing their second consecutive President’s Trophy; they play in the worst division in the NHL.  The Northwest Division is the only division in hockey featuring one playoff team.  With Daniel Sedin unlikely to play Game 1, the Canucks potent offense doesn’t look nearly as impressive.  Canucks fans will turn to the final nine games of the season in which Vancouver went 8-1 without Daniel to prove that they’ve got enough depth.  I’d argue that eight of those nine games came against non-playoff opponents.  The only playoff opponent? A 1-0 victory over Los Angeles where Luongo stood on his head and stopped 40 shots.

Make no mistake about it: the Kings offense has struggled to score all season long up until the last month of the season.  The Kings believe they have a real shot to upset Vancouver.  And they should be confident that they’ve got a chance to take down the top team in the regular season.

The Kings and Canucks battled each other as close as two teams could during the regular season.  Two one-goal games and another decided by a shootout.  Quick & Luongo were both spectacular in net; both with save percentages hovering around .940.  The difference in this series will be the little things: faceoffs, matchups, special teams, etc.

In four games, the Kings and Canucks split faceoffs right down the middle.  L.A. won 49.8% of the draws while Vancouver won 50.2%.  Kesler was absolute dynamite winning 67% of his faceoffs (51/29) while Henrik Sedin wasn’t nearly as impressive at 43.7% (28/36).  Kopitar performed well at 57.7% (44/35) while Richards struggled for L.A. 44.7% (21/26).

A key matchup to keep an eye on will be how often Alain Vigneault is able to get his checking line of Higgins-Pahlsson-Hansen out against the Kings top two lines.  If that line is effective, it could take some pressure off Ryan Kesler’s second line and open the ice up to create offense.

Finally, special teams.  The Kings took 327 minor penalties this year, 6th most in the NHL.  Vancouver took 325, 8th most.  Vancouver took 41 major penalties (not including fighting majors).  The Kings took 35.  Vancouver’s PP was impressive for most of the season, scoring on 19.8% of their chances (4th).  But without Daniel Sedin, the PP has struggled.  They’re 2-for-35 in their past nine games.  The Kings still can not afford to give Vancouver opportunities to get their PP back on track.

Los Angeles was successful at a 16.9% clip(17th).  Both teams were equally impressive on the penalty kill.  L.A. at 87% (4th) while Vancouver was at 86% (6th).  Six of the 15 goals scored between the two teams in four matchups were on the man-advantage; three goals each.  Neither team can afford to be short-handed.

Finally.  If I haven’t tried to convince you that these teams are a lot closer than people think.  ESPN has developed a Playoff Power Meter formula.  A formula that helps: “find teams that most resemble Stanley Cup champions” based on important stats, benchmarks, and point system.  It basically looks at eight different statistical categories: record vs. playoff teams, goals scored, shots allowed, etc. and assigns benchmarks and different point values to each of the eight categories.  Both the Kings & Canucks finished 4th and 5th in the rankings with 29 points (Detroit led with 37). Vancouver played the least amount of games against playoff opponents than anyone. 

One last stat: The Kings record vs. other Western Conference playoff teams: 20-10-6 (.555 winning%).  The Canucks record vs. other Western Conference playoff teams: 16-8-5 (.552%).  Their record against each other in the regular season: 2-2.  Goaltending.  Even.  Forwards.  Even.  Defense.  Even.  I’d be shocked if this series doesn’t go the distance.  Tipping point: Is it Sedin or Carter that come back sooner and closer to 100%?  KINGS IN SEVEN.

Roberto Luongo & Jonathan Quick
Bobby Lu to Quick: "Great series, Jon.  Best of luck in round 2."
Quick to Bobby Lu: "Thanks.  If you hurry...you can still play for Canada at the World Championships."

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