Not exactly Flame related (well maybe a little), but here’s some thoughts bumping around my head as the first round kicks off tonight.
– Thanks to the lock-out shortened season, there are surprisingly lousy teams who made the cut this year. Toronto is the top of the list – they have absolutely abysmal underlying numbers, their bench boss is half mad, and I can’t imagine Nazem Kadri is going to continue to lead the league in PDO forever. He’s a quality youngster, but he’s not the next Crosby.
If the Bruins don’t win that one in 4 or 5, I’ll be very surprised.
– Speaking of Crosby, I wrote something today at the SNEWS that discusses why they may be more vulnerable than most people think heading into round one versus the Islanders. Short version: terrible possession rates down the stretch which probably only has a bit to do with injuries to the stars. The rest is likely roster construction. As a result, if Crosby/Malkin can’t stay healthy, the Pens are a middling team at best, and perhaps worse than that.
Of course, it’s good news for the franchise if the Pens bow out in the first round because it would improve the seeding of their first rounder, which the Flames own. On the other hand, a lot of folks are also cheering for Jarome to go the distance.
– The Islanders probably aren’t getting a lot of love, but they could very well upset the PIT. The first line of Tavares and Moulson is legit while Frans Nielsen heads up the support unit. Grabner, Okposo, Boyes mean the stars aren’t doing it alone while the blueline isn’t half bad with Hamonic, Streit, Visnovsky and the under-appreciated Andrew MacDonald.
The Islanders finished with a fenwick close rate of 52.01%, good for 11th best in the league – better than Vancouver (51.68) and, yes, the Penguins (49.87%). Check to see if hell has frozen over, because the Islanders are actually a pretty good team.
– The Blues/Kings series is going to be a war and unfortunately one of the best overall clubs in the league is going to exit the first round. For those wondering who I favor, it’s the Kings (who have the best possession stats in the league again), but not enough to put any money down. The Blues had a weird season wtih up-and-down goaltending and don’t possess any true superstars, but they are solid top-to-bottom.
– The Wild, Capitals and Ducks are the other pretenders with the Leafs in the first round. Anything can happen in 7 games of course, so don’t bet your mortgage against them, but they all made it thanks to a spike in percentages and little else. The Caps, Ducks and Leafs, for instance, finished with worse score close possession rates than the the Flames, and Calgary tried to lose down the stretch.
The Wild are more middling than terrible, but they are facing a juggernaut in Chicago, so…
– Detroit is the 7th seed but a favorite versus Anaheim to start. Someone is going to get good value laying money on the Red Wings.
– Flip a coin for the Canucks and Sharks. Not a lot to seperate the two clubs – neither is a heavy hitter in the realm of the Hawks or Kings, but neither is a pretender in the post-season either.
– The Ottawa Senators is another good darkhorse pick now that Erik Karlsson is back. I was skeptical about the kid after his spike in offense last year, but he looks legitimately elite. He swings the play in the Sens direction by a large degree, so is one of the few high impact single skaters who can tip the scales in his club’s favor.
Not that MTL is going to roll over. After being awful last year, they are a full value playoff squad this year. They have their own high-end blueliner in PK Subban too. Maybe the Flames should have offer-sheated him instead.
– Speaking of good value, take the Rags over the Capitals. Ovechkin has been red hot for WAS this year, but it’s percentages driven. He stopped driving play consistently a few years ago and his shot rate (while still good) is nowhere near what it was at his peak. The Rangers, on the other hand, control play pretty well this season and couldn’t buy a goal for whatever until recently. Plus, Lundqvist.
If I was forced to pick, here are my winners in the first round:
DET over ANA (6)
CHI over MIN (5)
SJS over VAN (7)
LAK over STL (7)
OTT over MTL (6)
NYI over PIT (7)
NYR over WAS (6)
BOS over TOR (4)