It is that time of year again, the best time of the year. For the next eight or so weeks there will be hockey nearly every day, with a lot of double headers and hopefully a lot of thrilling games. Don't you just love this time of year? I know I do.
Washington Capitals (#1) vs. Montreal Canadiens (#8)
Although the season series usually doesn't result in similar results in the playoffs, the Habs played the Caps to a 2-2 season series tie. The Habs played the Caps very defensively, and didn't let them skate with speed through the neutral zone. There is no dought in anyones mind that the Habs will try to do the same again, but the question is will it be successful in the playoffs?
The Habs are a very small team, and cannot play the Capitals too physical. In fact, the Habs have seven players under six foot, and only one forward (Pouliot) over 6'2", and Pouliot isn't a physical player. The Capitals on the under hand only have three players under six foot, and five forwards over 6'2". The Capitals will be the more physical team, and they are the bigger and stronger team. The Habs wont be able to hit and push Ovechkin and Semin off the puck like Canada did in the Olympics.
As for offense, the Capitals have a huge advantage, as they have the best in all of hockey. The Capitals have seven players with over 20 goals, including a 40 and 50 goal scorer. The Habs only have three players with over 20 goals, and their top scorer, Gionta, had 28. The Habs finished 26th in the NHL in offense, and will relay heavily on their powerplay, like they did the majority of the season. In fact, this series has the number one (Washington) and number two powerplays in all of hockey, so instead of what team will have the most success on the powerplay, it is more likely to be which team will have the more successful penalty kill. Here is where Montreal may have the advantage, as they finished with a 83% penalty kill, while the Caps had a 78.8% penalty kill, good for 25th in the NHL.
So the key for the Caps winning is keeping Montreal off the powerplay, because although they struggle with offense, they have an explosive powerplay.
Both teams defense is similar in terms of stats. Montreal allows 2.66 GA/G, while Washington allows 2.77 GA/G. However, I give the advantage to Montreal here, because of the goaltending. Both defense cores are similar, and will be as long as Mike Green has a bounce back playoffs after his horrible playoffs last season. But in net the Habs have an advantage with Halak over Theodore. Although Theodore is a great first round goalie in his career (never lost a first round), he is still not as good as Halak. Halak had a .924 SV% this season, and 2.40 GAA, while Jose Theodore had a .911 SV% and 2.81 GAA. Halak never played the Caps this season, while Theodore played them once, when he came in for relief of Varlamov, and in the 37 minutes he played, he let in four goals on 25 shots. However, both these goalies have played great since the Olympic break, as Halak has had a .926 SV% and Theodore a .922 SV%. With Theodore's hot play of late, the Habs advantage in net is just a slim one.
When it all comes down to it, the Caps offense will just be too explosive for the Habs to handle, and the Habs are just too small to stop them. Caps win in five.
New Jersey Devils (#2) vs. Philadelphia Flyers (#7)
This is probably the last team any of the top seeds in the East wanted to face. The Flyers, many peoples preseason pick to win the Cup, struggled this season with chemistry and goaltending, but are hoping that every thing can come together for the playoffs.
The big matchup here is the goaltending. Boucher has been thrown into the fire this season after Emery and Leighton went down to injures. Boucher has started 26 game this season, and his record is far from impressive at 9-18-3. Boucher's save percentage is also less than impressive at .899. Brodeur may be the polar opposite of Boucher. Brodeur started this season as the clear starter for the Devils, and didn't have to prove anything to be named the starter. Brodeur has quietly gone along with a solid .916 SV%. But, Brodeur has struggled in the past few seasons in the playoffs, but he is hoping some extra rest sitting on the bench in the Olympics will help him get over the bump.
Lemaire has brought back the great defensive play in Josiey, as they have a great two-way game, and everyone (with maybe the exception of Kovalchuk) gets back on D, and they get back fast. The Devils finished the season allowing the fewest goals against per game. The Flyers on the other hand were middle of the pack finishing 15th in the league.
On the offense, the Flyers finished the regular season with an advantage with 2.83 goals per game, to the Devils 2.63. However, the Devils are hoping that the acquisition of Ilya Kovalchuk will payoff big time in the playoffs. Ilya had 27 points in 27 games for the Devils, but the Devils were hoping for more than 10 goals in those 27 games. The Devils also have elite forwards in Parise, and Zajac, and they hope that those three guys can carry the team. The Flyers getting Chris Pronger in the off-season was a big move, and it is time for Pronger to stepup for the Flyers and shut those three players down, and we all know he is capable of taking someone out of a series, both figurally and literally.
The Flyers on the other hand want a group effort to provide offense, and want a high scoring series. The Flyers offense didn't produce like many thought it would in the regular season, but it can strike at any time, with the likes of Carter, Richards, Gange, and Briere.
As for as special teams, the Flyers have the advantage in both aspects. So a big key for the Devils is to play 5on5, where they have a clear advantage. However, I think the Devils will win this series in 7.
Buffalo Sabres (#3) vs. Boston Bruins (#6)
This will be the most defensive, lowest scoring series of them all. The Bruins won the season series 4-2, but it is to be noted that Ryan Miller did not play in two of Buffalo's losses.
The key matchup is goaltending, and you should witness some great goaltending. Rask posted a 1.97 GAA and .931 SV%, while Miller posted a .929 SV% and a 2.22 GAA. Although Rask appears to have better numbers, he did do it in 24 less appearances. Both goalies had great success against the other team, as Rask was 4-1-0 against the Sabres this season with a 1.43 GAA and .954 SV%, and Miller was 2-0-2 with a .947 SV%, and a 1.71 GAA.
I think we can all agree that goaltending wont be an issue for either team, so lets take offense. The Bruins finished last in the entire league in offense, and only had one player with over 20 goals, and that was Sturm with 22. The player on the Bruins with the most points was Bergeron with 52. The Sabres on the other hand finished 9th in goals per game, and have three players to score more goals than Boston's leading scorer, and four players on the Sabres have more points than Bergeron. Vanek is also red hot, scoring 4 goals in the last game of the season, Sabres' fans have their figures crossed that he will continue to score, and when he is on, he is one of the best snipers in hockey.
Neither team has an elite powerplay, as both have struggled. On the penalty kill, they are number two (Buffalo) and three in the league. Don't expect too many powerplay goals either. The only real advantage Boston has over Buffalo is the faceoffs, where Boston finished 2nd, and Buffalo finished 23rd.
Both teams are great defensively, but the Sabres' have a clear advantage in offense, and that is why the Sabres will win in 7 games.
Pittsburgh Penguins (#4) vs. Ottawa Senators (#5)
Upset alert! Upset alert! The Pens and Senators finished the season series tied.
The Pens have struggled against good teams. Currently against teams that are in the playoffs they are, 18-20-1. The Sens on the other hand are 24-17-4 against teams that are currently sitting in a playoff position. The Pens haven't been able to play at an elite level against elite teams.
The Pens are also going into the playoffs playing not too good. In their last ten they are 4-4-2, compared to the Sens going 7-2-1. Not to mention goaltending, the most important position in hockey. Fleury has a .905 SV%, and a 2.65 GAA. Brian Elliot has a .909 SV%, and a 2.57 GAA. However, in the last 3 months, Fleury has had a SV% below .900, and since the Olympic Break, he has an .897 SV%! Oh yeah, Elliot in two starts against the Pens has a .930 SV% this season. The Pens finished 20th in the league in goals against, while the Sens finished slightly better at 18th.
The Pens though still have a great offense, finishing 5th in the league in goals per game. The Sens finished 15th in goals per game. The Sens are going to need Anton Volchenkov and Chris Phillips to shutdown Sidney Crosby, the man that scored more goals on goalies than any other player, and finished second in the league in points. Volchenkov and Phillips are up to the task though, as they are great shotblockers (no one has more blocked shots than Volchenkov over the last five season) and play a real physical game. Not to mention that Volchenkov is looking for a big playoffs to help him get a big contract. Sutton will also have to play a big role to help shutdown the Pens secondary scoring, while rookie Erik Karlsson will have to fill Kuba's (injured) shoes as the powerplay QB.
The Sens also have a
ton of hot scorers, like Spezza who since January has played 30 games
and has scored 18 goals and has 38 points, and 14 points in his last eight games. Spezza is one of four players that will suit up for the Sens with 20+ goals. The Pens are going to need someone to step up to stop the Senators, as they lost their shutdown pair from last years Stanley Cup winning team, and no one on the Pens has stepped up to fill their shoes against the elite forwards of the league.
As for special teams, both teams are pretty even. The Pens finished 19th on the powerplay, while the Sens where 0.3% worst and finished 21st. On the PK, they finished 4th (Ottawa) and 5th in the Eastern Conference, with a 0.2% difference in the PK.
The Sens have just quietly flown under the radar this season, and after a slow start they have played terrific. I feel if the Sens can steal a game in Pittsburgh, they will win this series. Sens in 6.
Thats all for the East, please comment.