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Cullen: Second-round shot/save percentage forecasts

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Scott Cullen
5/1/2014 12:41:13 PM
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Each round of the playoffs, I like to forecast the round simply by using shots on goal and goaltender save percentage to come up with a baseline for the series.

It offers no assurances and doesn't apply any context, like, for example, taking injuries into account. Last year, this method forecasted the first round at a 7-1 clip; this year it was 5-3, with losses on Columbus, Colorado and San Jose. In the first two cases, their strong goaltending led to a calculated advantage, but it can be difficult for goaltending superiority to take effect over much larger samples, let alone seven games. As for the Sharks, they were in a virtual toss-up situation with the Kings, favoured by the smallest of margins.

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, as well as through the first round of the playoffs, and splitting the difference.

So, for example, Boston had 32.1 shots on goal per game and Montreal has allowed 28.6 shots on goal per game; the average of those two numbers, 30.35 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.

So, let's see how the numbers shake out for Round Two:

Team SF SA Goaltender SV% Expected GF/Series
Boston 32.1 29.3 Tuukka Rask 0.933 15.93
Montreal 30.9 28.6 Carey Price 0.925 14.12

Verdict: The Bruins are favoured, with a slightly better shot differential and slightly better goaltending, and it's simple enough that way. But when the Habs and Bruins meet in the playoffs, strange things can happen. Higher-seeded Canadiens teams have been bounced by lower-seeded Bruins teams and vice versa. Between these two incarnations of the Canadiens and Bruins is a wonderful contrast in styles as the Bruins are more physically-imposing while the Canadiens are a smaller, skilled group.

While some teams (including the Red Wings in Round One) avoid getting into confrontations with the Bruins, the Canadiens haven't always taken that approach, and it not only makes for entertaining hockey, it adds some variability to the process. Furthermore, if the Canadiens can keep Tuukka Rask off his game (his .908 save percentage vs. Montreal is his lowest vs. teams that he's faced at least 10 times in his career), then that could help close the calculated gap between the teams.

Team SF SA Goaltender SV% Expected GF/Series
Pittsburgh 30.4 29.1 Marc-Andre Fleury 0.915 16.66
N.Y. Rangers 33.1 29.1 Henrik Lundqvist 0.920 18.50

Verdict: The Penguins were forecasted to lose -- or, more accurately, score fewer goals -- against Columbus, but here they are in the second round, looking at a similar forecast, against a team with a better shot differential and better goaltending.

The Penguins are healthier than they've been for most of the season, which helps, and they have elite forwards that can shake results. The Rangers could control play and it wouldn't take a Henrik Lundqvist collapse to see the Penguins get through. All it might take is Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin going off for a few games. Heck, they managed to get past Columbus with contributions from a lot more than Crosby and Malkin. Defencemen Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen led the Penguins with eight points, Brandon Sutter added five and Beau Bennett chipped in four.

In my playoff picks, I had the Penguins going past the Rangers and it's on the expectation that, at some point, the Penguins' elite players will bury more of their chances, though that also requires some faith in Marc-Andre Fleury and that hasn't been a safe feeling for the Penguins in the playoffs for quite some time.

Team SF SA Goaltender SV% Expected GF/Series
Anaheim 31.0 28.8 Frederik Andersen 0.918 17.26
Los Angeles 31.6 27.0 Jonathan Quick 0.915 17.33
Anaheim 31.0 28.8 Jonas Hiller 0.912 17.26
Los Angeles 31.6 27.0 Jonathan Quick 0.915 18.60

Verdict: I presume that the Ducks are going back to rookie Frederik Andersen, even after he was pulled twice against Dallas in the first round (but I included calculations for Hiller anyway). This is another really close series in which the Kings get slightly favoured because they have superior shot differential.

The Ducks have exceeded more advanced possession metrics all year, in part because they have been insanely fortunate when it comes to shooting in close games. Oh, and here too. That isn't the kind of thing that seems possible to repeat over time but, it worked enough to take down Dallas in the first round, so it wouldn't come as a shock if they can do it against Los Angeles.

Team SF SA Goaltender SV% Expected GF/Series
Chicago 32.9 27.8 Corey Crawford 0.919 18.15
Minnesota 27.2 27.4 Darcy Kuemper 0.914 15.59
Chicago 32.9 27.8 Corey Crawford 0.919 20.05
Minnesota 27.2 27.4 Ilya Bryzgalov 0.905 15.59

Verdict: Again, a presumption that the Wild will have Darcy Kuemper to start the series, despite leaving Game Seven against Colorado with an injury. If the Wild are really rolling with Ilya Bryzgalov, then the forecast will be unfavourable, just as it was in the first round, but if Kuemper is in, he offers a slightly better chance.

No matter who is in net for the Wild, though, they will have their hands full, because they are facing a team that generates a whole lot more shots than their opponents. So long as Corey Crawford is decent, and there aren't any major injuries, then the Blackhawks will warrant their status as prohibitive favourites.

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.

Henrik Lundqvist (Photo: Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)

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(Photo: Scott Levy/NHLI via Getty Images)
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