Monday, 9 April 2012

Western Conference Playoff Predictions

Round One

Vancouver Canucks (1)               VS.               Los Angeles Kings (8)                          

Depth Charts
Vancouver Canucks

Sedin
Sedin
Burrows
Raymond
Kesler
Booth
Higgins
Pahlsson
Hansen
Malhotra
Lapierre
Kassian
Scratches: Weise, Bitz, Reinprecht, Ebbett

Hamhuis
Bieksa
Edler
Salo
Ballard
Tanev
Scratches: Rome, Alberts

Luongo
Schneider


Los Angeles Kings 
Brown
Kopitar
Williams
King
Richards
Carter
Penner
Stoll
Lewis
Clifford
Fraser
Nolan
Scratches: Richardson
Scuderi
Doughty
Mitchell
Voynov
Martinez
Greene
Quick
Bernier

Analysis

How They Got Here
I'm sure The President Trophy Winner Canucks were hoping for an easier match up in the first round. This Kings - Canucks first round series is one of the toughest to predict and will be hard fought all the way to the end. By the same token, it will be one of the best to watch, along with the Penguins-Flyers series for impartial fans. The Kings began the year as favorites in the Pacific Division with the offseason acquisition of Mike Richards, joining an already young and talented team. Richards was meant to fill the hole at the #2 center spot and take some offensive pressure off of the team's leading scorer, Anze Kopitar. However, after a hot start Richards sustained a concussion and the team faltered. Upon his return, Richards struggled to put up many points, and the stellar goaltending of Jonathan Quick was needed to hold the Kings in playoff contention. To address their goal scoring woes, general manager Dean Lombardi acquired Jeff Carter from the Blue Jackets at the trade deadline. This seemed to be just what the doctor ordered for the Kings as they began to average around 4 goals/game and after being reunited with his close friend, Richards' play picked up down the stretch. Although they continued to battle for a playoff spot up until the last week of the regular season, the team has been playing its best hockey of the year of late by combining goal production with their already defensive-minded team and looks to finally be living up to their potential.

Vancouver was one win away from the Stanley Cup this year and will be looking to get there again this year. The team is largely the same, but has some added toughness with David Booth in their top 6 along with Pahlsson and Kassian filling out the bottom of the roster. The stars of the team - the Sedins and Luongo - will once again have to silence critics after the Sedins went a combined -8 in game 7 and Luongo posting a .850 sv%. Despite once again winning the President's Trophy as the regular season champions, this year the Canucks seem to have done it under the radar. The Sedin twins have had a down season after winning back to back Art Ross Trophies and many have said the team has been coasting and waiting for the real season to begin. A big loss to the Canucks is the uncertainty of Daniel Sedin's condition. If he is not ready for the first couple of games it might be too late.

Prediction
Like I said, this will be one of the closest series in the first round - but I am going to take the Kings in 7 games. Despite the large gap in points, the teams seem to be trending in different directions. The Kings have been playing in a playoff - like atmosphere since the trade deadline because of how close the Western Conference playoff race was. Richards is a playoff performer and is playing some of his best hockey of the year. Jonathon Quick is having a career year and the Kings should be able to use their grinding style to wear down and frustrate the highly offensive Canucks team. Drew Doughty will have to be a difference maker if the Kings are to win. If the Canucks do end up winning the series, it will also be in 7 games and with Corey Schneider between the pipes. 



St. Louis Blues (2)              VS.               San Jose Sharks (7)

Depth Charts
St. Louis

Perron
Backes
Oshie
McDonald
Berglund
Steen
D'Agostini
Arnott
Stewart
Sobotka
Nichol
Langenbrunner
Scratches: Schwartz, Reaves, Crombeen
Colaiacovo
Pietrangelo
Jackman
Shattenkirk
Russell
Polak
Scratches: Huskins, Cole

Halak
Elliott

San Jose
 
Marleau
Thornton
Pavelski
Clowe
Couture
Havlat
Winnik
Handzus
Wingels
Galiardi
Moore
Mitchell
Scratches: Desjardins, Ferriero, Winchester
Vlasic
Boyle
Murray
Burns
Braun
Demers
Scratches: White, Vandermeer

Niemi
Greiss


Analysis

How They Got Here
At the beginning of the year, a Blues-Sharks series would not have been unexpected. What is surprising is that St. Louis is the team with home ice. After a slow start, the Blues made a coaching change and brought in Ken Hitchcock. This move changed the Blues' entire season. With his emphasis on the defensive side of the puck, Hitchcock shot the Blues up the standings and helped them earn a team record 15 shutouts. Hitchcock has made the Blues one of the toughest teams to play against and they have a deep team with a combination of grit and skill up front. They are led on the back end by Alex Pietrangelo, enjoying a breakout year and taking the reigns as the #1 defenseman. Although Halak and Elliott have split time most of the year, Halak will get the nod as his last playoff appearance saw him single handedly lead the Canadiens to the Eastern Conference Finals.

San Jose has had a season of inconsistency - especially in net. They have underperformed for most the year, but in the last couple of they picked up their play and won the games they needed to. On paper, San Jose is one of the deepest teams in the league, with a nice mix of finesse and grit throughout. Dan Boyle has won a cup and will lead the team on defense, and the pressure will be off of often criticized Joe Thornton, with youngsters Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski providing playoff scoring depth. For me, the big question mark is in goal. Antii Niemi is a wildcard. Even during his cup winning year with Chicago, he had some shaky games. If Niemi can be good, but not great, the Sharks are dangerous.

Prediction
This will be another hard fought series, but I am taking the Sharks in 6. Although it is usually goaltending that separates close teams, in this case San Jose has way more experience and like Los Angeles, they have underperformed this year. The Blues will make every game tight, but falter in the end. However, this will be great experience for a young team and look for them to make a run in the near future. 

Phoenix Coyotes (3)                VS.                     Chicago Blackhawks (6)


Blackhawks in 6
 
Depth Charts


Nashville Predators (4)           VS.                    Detroit Red Wings (5)

Preds in 7

In depth analysis to come..