Saturday, May 17, 2014

NHL playoff predictions: Conference Finals edition

What have we learned from our projections of the second round of the playoffs?

1)  The Canadiens pulled off quite an upset. This is probably the first true upset of the playoffs. In the preview, I said, "If the Canadiens are to win this series, Carey Price will have to be amazing, and the Habs will need to win the special teams battle." Well, that is exactly what happened. Even though the Bruins were better at puck possession, Carey Price (.943 5v5 save %)  out-goalied Tuukka Rask (.929), and the Canadiens scored 7 power play goals compared to 3 for the Bruins. The Bruins were clearly the best team in the Eastern Conference, but now Milan Lucic will have to get his kicks by spearing pizza delivery guy in the nuts.

2) The Pens blew a 3-1 lead. Here's the thing: the situation isn't as bad as it seems. The Pens had better possession numbers in this series. Marc-Andre Fleury was good. However, Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant, especially in the final three games of the series. The Pens ran into a hot goaltender and some bad luck, and unfortunately gave up early goals. A lot is being made about Sidney Crosby's scoring woes, but he was a dominant possession player who ran into bad luck and a hot goalie. I fear we're going to see a lot of overreaction from Pens' ownership, but that's for another post. Bottom line: the Rangers had a better score-adjusted fenwick %, 5 on 5 save %, and penalty kill % than the Pens all season. Make no mistake: the Pens had a 3-1 lead and should have finished the series. But the Rangers are probably the better team. In the first round projection, I said, "The Rangers are a darkhorse; don't be surprised to see them go deep in the playoffs.

3) The Kings had more trouble with the Ducks than I thought they would. Losing defensemen Willie Mitchell and  Robin Regehr to injuries hurt the Kings, and the emergence of John Gibson really boosted the Ducks. The Kings are the better team, and likely the best team remaining in the playoffs.

4) The Wild had a solid showing against the Blackhawks, but it wasn't enough. The Hawks are a really solid team.

Speaking of the Blackhawks, I've commented on how the model may be underestimating their chances, Well, I think I figured out why: I use 5 on 5 team save percentage as a predictor in the model as a way to measure goaltending. The numbers are easily available, and they seem to be a good measure. There are some cases where this isn't true. For example, the St. Louis Blues acquired Ryan Miller at the trade deadline this season. The save percentage I used in the model was based on a lot more Jaroslav Halak (40 games) and Brian Elliott (31 games) than Ryan Miller (19 games). So the number in the model probably didn't reflect the true goalie situation. The Blackhawks are similarly affected. They had the worst 5 on 5 save % (.914) of  any playoff team. It was because their backup goalies were awful. Corey Crawford was fine (.925), but the Hawks backups played 30 games and pooped this out: Antti Raanta (25 games, .896), Nikolai Khabibulin (4 games, .833), Kent Simpson (1 game, .714).  So the Hawks goalie numbers are skewed by the terrible performance of their backups. In the future, I may need to use the numbers of the anticipated starting goalie for each team.

Ok, now onto the conference finals predictions. Keep in mind that the third round projections don't take into account how the teams played in the first and second rounds. So, we're assuming that a team's performance  is independent of its performance in rounds 1 and 2.

Montreal Canadiens vs. New York Rangers
Both teams are playing their best hockey right now. Henrik Lundqvist was brilliant toward the end of their series against the Pens. Carey Price was equally good. The Rangers are the better possession team, but will playing two 7 game series, including 4 elimination games, affect them? This should be a great series.
68% chance of a Rangers victory.
32% chance of a Canadiens victory.

Chicago Blackhawks vs. Los Angeles Kings
These were the two best possession teams in the NHL. This is going to be some great hockey. Like the Rangers, the Kings have played two 7 game series. They've faced elimination six times. Will it affect them going forward? The Blackhawks know how to close out a series, so the Kings can't count on making another dramatic comeback.
77% chance of a Kings victory.
23% chance of a Blackhawks victory.

Now, just for fun, I ran the model using the regular season 5v5 save percentages for the four starting goalies for these teams. The Rangers become more modest favorites (60/40) and the Kings also become more modest favorites (62/38). I also ran Cup winning simulations based on both team and starting goalie 5v5 save percentage. The Blackhawks' chances improve more than two-fold using starting goalie numbers.

Updated Stanley Cup probabilities

team 5v5 save %

starting goalie 5v5 save %
Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles Kings
New York Rangers
New York Rangers
Montreal Canadiens
Chicago Blackhawks
Chicago Blackhawks
Montreal Canadiens

1 comment:

Nilesh said...

Updated simulations using 5v5 save % for starting goalie to reflect Carey Price's injury.