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Monday, June 17, 2024
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NHL Playoffs Preview


The Western Conference has been unbelievably competitive this year and it should have come as no surprise to anyone that the final spot could not be decided until the last possible game of the season. Overall, the talent in the West, this season, has trumped almost everything that the East has put forth. Now that all of the seeds are set, let's take a look at the first-round matchups.

No. 1 Vancouver Canucks vs. No. 8 Chicago Blackhawks

The President's Trophy winners (Vancouver Canucks) are downright scary this year.

The Canucks are number one in the league in both offense and defense. They are No. 1 in the NHL for goals scored, with 258, and No. 1 in goals allowed, with 180. Their power play is the most efficient on the continent, with a 24.3 percent success rate and their penalty kill is tied for second-best.

Goaltender Roberto Luongo is in the top five for every major statistic among starting goalies, topped by only Boston's Tim Thomas in many.

The combination of twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin is the most potent combination since Ottawa's first line from the middle of the last decade. Each brother is ranked in the top four in the league for points. Daniel is the undisputed offensive champion with 104 points; his brother Henrik tops the league with 75 assists.

There is no weak spot in the Canucks' game. None. God help anyone who gets in between them and the Cup.

The Blackhawks only barely made the playoffs this season after winning the Stanley Cup last year. If Dallas had beaten Minnesota, these next few paragraphs would look a lot different.

Chicago is very good offensively. The team has scored the fourth most goals in the league, 252. Each member of the team's first line leads the team in a different scoring category. Patrick Sharp has the most goals with 34; and Patrick Kane gets the assists, 46; and Jonathon Toews has the most points, 76.

If the Hawks want to succeed in the playoffs, however, they will need to find a way to kill penalties. The team's penalty kill squad is 25th in the league with a 79.2 percent success rate.

Sadly, taking the Blackhawks' opponent into account, none of this will matter. Seeing as these two teams have the longest distance to travel in the opening round of the playoffs, the only way that Chicago will win a game will be if Vancouver's plane is delayed in the middle of nowhere and they don't show up at the arena.

Prediction: Canucks in four

No. 2 San Jose Sharks vs. Los Angeles Kings

The Sharks are an all-around efficient team, but they don't do anything exceptionally well. Their offense and defense are both good, but there is nothing that really sticks out about them, except that they win.

The team is fourth-best in the West in both offense and defense with 243 goals scored and 208 allowed. Its greatest strength, however, is the power play. The Sharks are No. 2 in the league in power play efficiency, trailing only the Canucks for production.

While there is nothing flashy about the Sharks, there is also nothing terribly wrong with them. They do have a poor penalty kill, ranked 24th in the league, but beside that, there is not much weakness in the team. This is, of course, only if you neglect the fact that San Jose has always been that team that performs very well in the regular season and then collapses in the playoffs.

The Kings are a defensive powerhouse. Drew Doughty and Jack Johnson lead the team's back men and the group as a whole has held opponents to the third-lowest goal total in the West. Goaltender Jonathon Quick is sixth in the league with his goals against average of 2.24, but his save percentage, although still very good at .918, is not as impressive. This is because, thanks to the defense, he has faced the least shots among Western Conference playoff goalies that played the entire season.

As good as the team's defense might be, its offense is downright atrocious. The Kings are the lowest in the playoffs with their 209 goals on the season. Anze Kopitar leads the team in points, but his 73 points are only tied for 18th in the league. As he is currently listed as day-to-day with a broken ankle, the Kings could be in more trouble than they can handle.

Prediction: Sharks in six

No. 3 Detroit Red Wings vs. No. 6 Phoenix Coyotes

The name of the Red Wings' game is offense. The team from the Motor City is No. 2 in the league for goals scored and fifth in the league for power play efficiency.

Henrik Zetterberg is in the top 10 in the league for both assists and points. There is not one main goal scorer for the team; however, as team goals leader, Johan Franzen has only 28 and is followed closely by teammates Dany Cleary with 26, Zetterberg with 24, and Pavel Datsyuk with 23.

Behind the front line, however, Detroit is incredibly vulnerable. The 237 goals allowed by the Red Wings are the worst of any playoff team.

Goaltender Jimmy Howard is the worst goalie in the playoffs. His goals against average of 2.79 is the third-worst of all starting goalies in the league and his save percentage of .908 is likewise near the bottom of the rankings. Much of this failure is a result of his level of skill, but he does not get much protection from his defenders as he has faced the ninth-most shots out of any netminder.

To make things worse for Detroit, the team will be without Zetterberg for at least the first game of the series as he has ruled himself out with a leg injury.

Phoenix is probably the most average overall team in the playoffs. While there is nothing particularly bad about the Coyotes, they do not excel in any aspect of the game. They are 14th in goals scored and 13th in goals allowed. There is no player that stands out on offense.

Shane Doan is the team's points and goals leader, but he is not very far ahead of his teammates. Doan has 20 goals on the season, but seven other players have scored at least 16. The defense has allowed the third-most shots on goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, but Brygalov has been able to prevent goals from being scored.

Phoenix's special teams are horrible. The power play is only successful 15.9 percent of the time and its 78.4 percent in the penalty kill is the worst in the playoffs. If the Coyotes can maintain their composure and not commit too many penalties, this will be a nonissue.

Prediction: Coyotes in seven

No. 4 Anaheim Ducks vs. No. 5 Nashville Predators

The Ducks are a bit of an anomaly when you compare player stats to team stats. This is because they have a group of players that will produce heavily and then the rest of the roster does not.

Anaheim has four players in the top 25 in the league for points, including goals champion Corey Perry, but the team is only ranked 11th in goals scored.

The Ducks have scored the fourth-most goals on the power play despite having the 10th-least opportunities.

Goalie Jonas Hiller missed some time this season with an injury, but he was still able to post the league's fifth-highest save percentage with .924. At the same time, he is 17th in goals against average.

The poor goals against average is because Anaheim touts a defense that is fourth-worst in the league for shots allowed. If the Ducks want to win, they will need their lower lines to step up and their defense to shut down opponent's shooters.

Nashville is Anaheim's polar opposite. The Predators have one of the best defenses in the league, allowing the third-least goals throughout the season and possessing a penalty kill percentage of 84.9 percent.

A lot of this is because of goalie Pekka Rinne who is in the top three for both goals against and save percentage.

There is not much offense in Nashville, however, as the Predators are ranked 22nd in the league for goals scored at full strength and 26th when on the power play.

This is going to be a classic matchup of great offense versus great defense, but seeing how each team is very weak in one half of its game, we may also finally find out what happens when a very stoppable force meets a very movable object.

Prediction: Ducks in six




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