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article imageOp-Ed: NHL Playoffs Western Conference Preview

article:322676:4::0
By Sean Fraser     Apr 9, 2012 in Sports
The Vancouver Canucks are once again at the top of the heap in the Western Conference. Do they have what it takes to get back to the finals, or will the riots start early?
#8 L.A. Kings (40-27-15) vs. #1 Vancouver Canucks (51-22-9)
It is obvious that Vancouver is simply the best team in the Western Conference, but this year they posted the best record in the NHL. The reason they were so good was due to their very consistent offense. The Canucks averaged almost 3 goals a game and eight of the top ten scorers on the team had +/- ratings over +10. They also have the best scoring tandem in hockey with the Sedin Brothers. Center Henrik Sedin led the team in points with 81 as well as assists (67). His brother Daniel was the top goal scorer with 30 goals.
L.A. has a pair of right wingers, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown, that scored 9 power play goals each, which made up the majority of their 17 percent power play success rate. Center Anze Kopiter led the team with 76 points (25 goals/51 assists) and had a +12 +/- rating. Their offensive output left much to be desired, as they averaged 2.29 goals a game.
Prediction: The Kings will have to play impressive defense to keep the Sedin Brothers from the net, but Vancouver simply has the better scoring lines. The Canucks will take this series in 6.
#7 San Jose Sharks (43-29-10) vs. #2 St. Louis Blues (49-22-11)
It's unfortunate for the Sharks to end up paired with the Blues in the playoffs as St. Louis swept them during their in-season series. The Blues posted the fourth best record in the league despite having a lean offense. Only two of their players scored more than 20 goals, and they averaged 16.7% on power plays.
San Jose seemed to adopt an interesting philosophy this season: shoot a lot. They averaged almost 34 shots a game. Center Logan Couture contributed 11 power play goals to the team's 21.1 percent power play success rate.
Prediction: If San Jose can outshoot the Blues and keep them in the penalty box, they have a chance to end St. Louis' domination over them. This would be a great time to get that monkey off their back. The Sharks squeak by in 7 games.
#6 Chicago Blackhawks (45-26-11) vs. #3 Phoenix Coyotes (42-27-13)
If there's one thing that could be said about the Coyotes is that they rarely lose a late game lead. Their .971 winning percentage after the second period is a testament to that. Right winger Radin Vrbata was their offensive powerhouse, scoring 35 goals including nine power play goals and 12 game winners. The biggest weakness for the Coyotes is their paltry power play offense, which was successful only 13.6 percent of the time.
The top five Blackhawk scorers notched over 20 goals each, including left winger Patrick Sharp who scored 33 goals, including 8 game winners, and posted a +28 +/- rating. They were just a tad bit better than Phoenix on power plays (15.2 percent). However, if the 'Hawks don't get ahead early, they tend to lose. They won only 41 percent of their games after trailing after the first period.
Prediction: Phoenix should plead with the refs to not put any Blackhawks in the sin bin because they're better off. Chicago must come out strong and get an early lead, and then rely on their defense if they want to move on. Chicago wins this series in six games.
#5 Detroit Red Wings (48-28-6) vs. #4 Nashville Predators (48-26-8)
Nashville doesn't score often, but when they do, it's on power plays. Only two players scored more than 20 goals, but they posted a 21.6 percent success rate going five on four. Part of their power play success came from defenseman Shea Weber who scored 10 power play goals. However, if those goals aren't scored in the first period, Nashville is statistically doomed. They only won 33 percent of their games trailing after the first period.
Detroit outscored their opponents nearly two to one during the season, and won 93 percent of their games after leading late. Right winger Johan Franzen was their most productive offensive weapon, scoring 29 goals which included 11 power play goals and 10 game winners, and posted a +23 +/- rating.
Prediction: Nashville needs to put the pressure on early and get ahead and rely on their defense late in the game. The Red Wings have to avoid the penalty box and make sure to have a very productive second period. This series is nearly a toss up, but the Red Wings should prevail in seven.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
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