I’m doing a series of playoff previews with Gabe Desjardins, Sunny Mehta and Olivier Bouchard. You may notice that the playoffs have already started but, due to a series of events beyond my control, I’m posting my previews over the weekend. C’est la vie (what with a guy who lives in the bayou, Desjardins and Olivier, I assume I need to bring some french.)
You have to feel for Predators’ fans. This is their fifth appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs and, for the fifth time in a row, they’ve gotten stuck facing a powerhouse in the first round. The Preds’ playoff history consists of a pair of 4-2 series losses to the Red Wings and a pair of 4-1 series losses to the Sharks. This time will be different in that it is the Blackhawks on the other side of the ice but (in all likelihood) the same in that at the end of the day, the Preds are going to suffer a swift elimination.
Historically, the Predators have been a team that’s achieved success by excelling at the percentages at even strength as opposed to through possession. The Predators teams that ran into the Sharks and Wings ran into teams that were dominant in terms of their corsi numbers, something that they couldn’t handle.
This is the best Predators’ team I’ve ever made note of in terms of not getting outshot. Behindthenet.ca has them as having outshot at 5v5 this year, something that I don’t recall them having done in the time for which the data is available. They had about 52% of the Fenwick events with the scored tied, an indication that they were controlling the play. Unfortunately for them, the Blackhawks were the NHL’s most dominant team this year in the Fenwicks. They had about 59% of the Fenwick events in their games, which is a pretty significant amount. My readership is largely Oilers fans I’d guess so, to put it into perspective, the opposition had a Fenwick percentage of about 59% when Jason Strudwick was on the ice this year. Too much of this series will likely be spent in Nashville’s end of the ice than is good for the Predators.
Judging by the head to head data on timeonice.com, the Hawks lines broke down as follows for Game 1 of the series. The numbers below each player are his Corsi ratios for the season. It’s very unusual to see a team ice an entire forward corps that has ratios north of 50% and it illustrates what makes Chicago so good at even strength – they have an awful lot of guys who can play the game at ES and they’re very difficult to match up against. The only Hawk to have a negative ES+/- per 60 this year was John Madden.
Chicago differs from a lot of the elite teams this way. I went through the lines that were used in the most recent playoff games and put together a chart with the average Corsi ratings for each line (designated 1, 2, 3 and 4 by their TOI). The chart is here; I’ve put a summary of how each team’s 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines differed from the playoff team average in the table to the right of this post. As you can see, Chicago ran the table.
As an aside, this is interesting to me from the perspective of an Oilers fan watching the team rebuild. There’s a lot of talk about the Chicago, Washington and Pittsburgh models. I don’t think that those models are all that similar. Chicago’s built a team that’s just dominant from top to bottom in terms of possession. Their stars that they’ve drafted up front aren’t as impressive as the stars who’ve been drafted by the Penguins and by the Capitals if you go by the boxcars, but they’ve built a team that strikes me as being considerably deeper than the Caps and the Pens.
The Washington/Pittsburgh model is probably easier to follow – it’s hard to screw up with Malkin and Crosby or Ovechkin and Semin – but the Chicago model probably results in a better team over time.
It’s hard to come up with any reason to think that the Predators will be able to hang with the Hawks at even strength. Nashville has an apparent edge in net but I’m not particularly wild about Pekka Rinne and regression works both ways – Chicago’s goaltending probably isn’t as bad as it’s looked this year. I see a big edge for the Hawks at ES.
There isn’t a great deal to choose from between these teams on the power play. Both teams are probably better than their results this season – they both had low PP shooting percentages (Nashville moreso than Chicago) and their shooting numbers are fairly close.
While it might seem that Chicago has a big edge on the PK, I’m not sold. Their penalty killing success arose out of scoring a ton of shorthanded goals and posting a ridiculous save percentage (hilariously, Chicago’s 5v4 save percentage is almost as good as their 5v5 save percentage). Neither of those are a solid base on which to hope for continued results going forward.
Chicago has had the advantage of allowing fewer shots, although in a short series, this is going to be pretty meaningless. If the series were to go seven games, Chicago would, based on seasonal averages, expect to spend about 36 minutes killing penalties to Nashville’s 32 minutes. The difference in shooting rate just isn’t going to matter. I see the special teams as being a wash.
The Hawks are a great team top to bottom at even strength. It’ll be the difference in this series, as I expect that they’re going to win in 6 games. Nashville can console themselves with the knowledge that they lost to a different powerhouse this time, while cursing themselves for not winning one more game with Detroit, which might have permitted them to avoid their fate.