For the last couple years, I've started taking a relatively simple mathematical look at each series, using shots on goal and goaltender save percentages to determine which team might be expected to win the series.
Since I'm the first one to emphasize that overall statistics (or standings) are not necessarily representative of the current value for a team, especially with respect to injuries, these statistics merely provide a baseline for the series, perhaps providing an idea what a team needs to do in order to emerge victorious.
In some cases, teams will simply need to keep doing what they've been doing throughout the regular season; in others, they might need better goaltending, or fewer shots against, or more shots for -- just something -- to provide better expected results in a seven-game series.
In last year's projections, for example, the Los Angeles Kings were picked to win three of their four playoff rounds, pretty nice for an eighth seed. Of course, the only team that was favoured to beat them, St. Louis, didn't get near the level of goaltending from Brian Elliott that he had provided in the regular season, on the way to a relatively easy four-game sweep for the eventual Stanley Cup champions.
The expected goals for each team in the series are determined by taking each team's shots for and against over the course of the season and splitting the difference.
So, for example, Boston had 32.4 shots on goal per game and Toronto allowed 32.3 shots on goal per game; the average of those two numbers, 32.35 shots, is the number that is then multiplied by (1 - the opposing goaltenders' save percentage) to determine an expected goals per game for the Bruins.
Finally, the number is multiplied by seven to indicate an expected goal total for a seven-game series. There's no guarantee that scoring more goals in a series will result in winning four games first, but the odds certainly favour the team that scores more.
Verdict: It's little surprise that the Blackhawks should be considered heavy favourites against Minnesota, with virtually all metrics favouring the Blackhawks. If the Wild are going to pull off the upset, they will need their top defence tandem of Ryan Suter and rookie Jonas Brodin to limit the Blackhawks' chances as much as possible, generate more chances than usual for their own offence and hope that they can win the goaltending battle. Given what the Blackhawks have accomplished this season, that'a a tall order.
Verdict: The percentages have played well for the Ducks this year, it's how a team ranking 16th in shot differential sits fifth in goal differential after a 48-game season. Can they keep it going? Since starting the season 22-3-4, the Ducks are 8-9-2, so regression may already be catching up to them. At the same time, the Red Wings own a better shot differential and have been getting goaltending from Jimmy Howard that is every bit as good as what Viktor Fasth and Jonas Hiller have provided for Anaheim so, while it projects as a close series, the edge goes to Detroit.
Verdict: The series forecasts as a close one, provided that Cory Schneider is indeed ready to play for Game 1. If he's not, a series with Roberto Luongo in goal would not be expected to be as close. (As you can see above, I ran the numbers for a Luongo series too and the forecasted results swing more decisively to San Jose.) What Vancouver has working in their favour is that they played much of the season without an injured Ryan Kesler and Derek Roy, acquired in a trade from Dallas, and that pair will have to be significant contributors if the Canucks are going to move on.
Verdict: Despite one of the best shot differentials in the league (plus-4.80 per game, ranking third), the defending-champion Los Angeles Kings are candidates to be bounced in the first round because goaltender Jonathan Quick has the lowest save percentage of any starting goalie in the playoffs. If the Kings' opposition was a team with top-tier goaltending, then the projection might be lopsided, but St. Louis has had their own goaltending issues this year. Brian Elliott has come on strong late in the year, with a .948 save percentage in April, but his overall numbers on the season aren't great, so this series, between two of the best groups of skaters (St. Louis' shot differential, plus-3.60, ranks sixth) with questionable goaltending figures to be one of the best in the first round.
Verdict: As great as the Penguins have been this season, their overall shot differential hasn't been great, but overall numbers don't take into account injuries to Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang (among others), each of whom missed more than a dozen games, nor does it take into account roster additions like Brenden Morrow and Jarome Iginla that should make the current Penguins better than those shot differentials suggest. Nevertheless, the fact that the Islanders had a better shot differential does give them some hope, even as a decided underdog. If they can win the goaltending battle and, given Marc-Andre Fleury's performance in last year's playoffs that's not out of the question, then the Islanders might at least have a fighting chance.
Verdict: There isn't a greater disparity in starting goaltenders than in this series. Carey Price hasn't been bad all season long, but his 3.49 goals against average and .876 save percentage in April brought his overall numbers way down and he's matched up against Ottawa's Craig Anderson, who missed time due to injury. Anderson was off to a ridiculous start (.952 save percentage) before he got hurt and hasn't been able to stay at that unsustainable level, but his .917 save percentage since coming back from injury is still above average. In any case, the Canadiens will need Price to revert to his more reliable previous form and if that balances out the goaltending, then Montreal's superior possession numbers could prove to be the difference. One more factor to consider: the return of Senators defenceman Erik Karlsson ought to improve Ottawa's shot differential (the Senators have a plus-3.1 shot differential with Karlsson in the lineup).
Verdict: As well as the Capitals have played this season, coming on impressively after a slow start, their shot differential (minus-4.20) is second-worst among playoff teams and they match up against a Rangers team that has strong possession numbers. What the Capitals do have working for them is a lights-out power play, clicking at a league-best 26.8% this season, so if they can keep filling it up with the man advantage, that could counteract the raw shot totals but, in a short series, who knows if the power play will be firing, especially against one of the game's top goalies?
Verdict: With the league's worst shot differential, the Toronto Maple Leafs have a major uphill climb, particularly when facing off against a Bruins team that, even though they've slumped late in the season, ranks fourth (plus-3.80) in shot differential. While James Reimer has been terrific for Toronto this season, he doesn't provide an advantage head-to-head with Boston's Tuukka Rask. Toronto has been scoring on a league-best 11.5% of their shots and they'll need that kind of finishing if they are going to upend the Bruins.
Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy Sports on Facebook.