Thursday, May 01, 2014

Second Round Preview, By The Pool Numbers

There is no rest for the wicked in these playoffs, as the Canadiens will go to Boston to open their second round series against the Bruins on Thursday night. The benefit of the divisional playoff match-up, as this was decided long before we had Game Sevens in the opening round.

These two teams were heavy favourites in the opening round of the playoffs, but now they go into the second round with a lot on the line.  The Bruins, by pool selections, are favourites in this series, out-representing the Habs, 138-104.  No matter which team gets the boot, there will be a lot of players removed from the pool active roster in a hurry.

The most popular player in this series was Boston keeper, Tuukka Rask, who accounted for 32 selections and holds a giant margin over his counterpart on the other side, Carey Price, who was only taken seven times.  The most popular Canadiens player is David Desharnais in Box 18, who topped his counterpart, Reilly Smith, 18-0.

Rask and Price were also the leaders in pool scoring through the first round, as Rask finished with 4 wins, a shutout and an assist for 11 points, while Price only had the 4 wins for 8 points.  Between the two teams, seven players each had 5 points in the pool, so offense will be a tipping point, I would believe.

The early game on Friday night will see the second Eastern Conference Semi-Final or the Metropolitan Division Final, as it were, with the Pittsburgh Penguins playing host to the New York Rangers.

Both teams are coming off some tough opening round match-ups, the Penguins taking six games to dispatch the Blue Jackets, while the Rangers forced the Flyers out in seven last night.  I don't think there will be any concern about knowing what it will take to make it through to the next round.

By virtue of the selection numbers in this match-up, the Penguins hold a sizeable stake in the hockey pool, as they favour the Rangers, 130-71 in picks.  The Penguins, with their plethora of firepower, are generally a hockey pool favourite, but they haven't been as dominating the results as many would hope they would and the Rangers could pose a significant problem for them moving forward.

The favourite player in this series is Box 13's Sidney Crosby, who leads this series with 21 selections.  The Penguins were also popular with Chris Kunitz (18 picks), Evgeni Malkin & Paul Martin (15), Brooks Orpik (14), James Neal (11) and Brandon Sutter (10).  On the Rangers side, Mats Zuccarello (14) and Marc Staal (11) were the most notable players taken this year.

As for scoring, there was a 5-way tie for the lead going into this series with 8 points, as Evgeni Malkin, Matt Niskanen, Paul Martin, Henrik Lundqvist and Marc-Andre Fleury all lead the way.  That's four Penguins and one Rangers player on the list, so there is a heavy offensive tilt towards the higher seeded team.

There were a couple of injury notes for the Penguins through the first round, as defenseman Brooks Orpik sat out the last two games with an undisclosed injury. There has been no injury updates since the series against the Jackets finished up, so his status is still unclear, likely doubtful. Forward Brandon Sutter didn't finish Game Six on the weekend, but he is believed to be okay for Game One on Friday.

The later game on Friday still may have you scratching your head wondering what to expect out of the series between the Minnnesota Wild and Chicago Blackhawks.  The Wild surprised just about everyone with their upset of the Colorado Avalanche and now they get the chance to upset the current holders of the Stanley Cup.  The Blackhawks didn't exactly have a cake walk against the St. Louis Blues, but they certainly will have their hands full with the Wild, despite not knowing who they'll have in net.

The Wild have already eliminated one heavy favourite in the playoffs already and they'll have to get through another one, if they have any idea of glory going forward.  The Blackhawks hold a 125-12 selection difference, so there are some high expectations that this series shouldn't last very long.  Just ask the Avalanche how that idea worked out for them.

The most popular player in this series is Patrick Kane, who was taken 18 times in Box 1, while Jonathan Toews (15), Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp, Duncan Keith and Corey Crawford (14) were also quite popular.  The Minnesota Wild don't have a combined number of picks greater than any of the popular Hawks players.  How is that for astounding?  The most popular Wild players are Matt Cooke, Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon... all with two picks each.

Between the two teams, Zach Parise is the player that leads the series (on the sheet) in scoring with 11 points, but he wasn't taken at all, so his presence is somewhat moot to the pool.  Both Toews and Crawford, both popular players this year, finished their series with 10 points each for the Blackhawks and will likely be instrumental going forward.

Goaltending is somewhat of a concern for the Wild, as their number one guy, Darcy Kuemper left Game Seven against the Avalanche with an injury, forcing pool goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to come in and register the win.  Bryzgalov was taken once, so it is worth mentioning... the Wild haven't announced their plans for netminding against the Blackhawks yet.  Of course, for pool purposes, there is some hope that Bryzgalov gets the nod, but we'll have to see.

The most popular Wild forward on the selection sheet this year, Matt Cooke, still has three games left to serve on his current suspension, which he received for his knee-on-knee hit of the Avalanche's Tyson Barrie.  Cooke, taken twice, has 1 assist in three games already in these playoffs and may be a key component to the Wild's success against a very physical Blackhawks team.

Finally, on the West Coast, the series between the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks will start on Saturday night, as the late game, giving the Kings players some added rest after making some history against the San Jose Sharks this week.  The Ducks likely won't mind the rest after dispatching the Dallas Stars in their opening round match-up.

This series has a reasonably close number of picks from either side, as the Ducks hold a 109-87 edge in selections, as the Kings were in the midst of a big split between themselves and the Sharks in the opening round.  The Ducks would be considered the favourite here, but much like the Rangers/Penguins series, I think there is a real chance for an upset here.

Winning the popularity contest in this series is another Box 1 forward, as Ryan Getzlaf took 17 selections.  Corey Perry & Saku Koivu came in with 16 picks, while Mathieu Perreault came in with 11 in Box 6.  For the Kings, Drew Doughty (14) and Slava Voynov (10) were blueline leaders and Jonathan Quick (13) was the crease leader in this series.

Anze Kopitar, taken five times, leads the teams in this series in pool scoring with 11 points, followed by his keeper, Quick, with 10 points.  The Ducks leaders, Getzlaf & Perry, finished their opening round series with 7 points each.

The Ducks also have a bit of a goaltending conundrum to figure out before Saturday, as Jonas Hiller, the Box 12 goalie, has been the back-up in the early round of the playoffs, but came in relief to win Game Six against Dallas and push his team through to the second round.  Will the Ducks go back to Fredrik Andersen?  Six teams in the pool hope not.

Ducks Box 11 defenseman Sami Vatanen did not figure into the playoff plans of his coach, Bruce Boudreau, thus far and has been in the AHL for most of the playoffs thus far.  Barring a few injuries, there may not be any plan to have him in soon, which is a real disappointment to the 12 teams that picked him in the pool.  Those are the breaks though, which is too bad.

Those are our second round match-ups and if all the favourites go through, we'll have the Penguins & Bruins and the Blackhawks & Ducks in the Conference Finals, but if you wanted to throw in an underdog in there, I'm sure we're all going to be entertained.  The pool will have its ups and downs as we go through, but it looks like we should have a hell of a run to the finish now.  Stay tuned to the blog!

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