Previewing the NHL Qualifying Round

The Qualifying Round of the NHL playoffs kicks off tomorrow, with four best-of-five series in each conference to determine the final playoff teams. With the long layoff going into these games and quick series it’s almost impossible to predict what will happen, but here’s what the stats say to look out for in each matchup.

All shot and scoring stats mentioned are at 5v5. A link to descriptions of some of these stats is here.

Eastern Conference

Rangers vs Carolina

Season Series: Rangers 4-0

Keys to the Series/Story of the Stats:

1.) Quantity of Chances vs Finishing

Carolina has been exceptional this year at generating shots and scoring changes; they rank 3rd in shots per game, 2nd in shots against, 6th in expected goals, 4th in scoring chances, and 6th in high-danger scoring chances. The Rangers in comparison rank 19th, 30th, 26th, 26th, and 26th in those categories. Despite that, the Rangers are 10th in 5v5 scoring% compared to Carolina’s 12th.

The story behind those numbers can be seen in PDO, where Carolina ranks 24th and the Rangers rank 6th. Both teams have high-end shooters, but the depth within the Rangers has given them a shooting percentage almost a point higher than Carolina’s. The save percentage difference will depend on the goaltending matchup – as a team the Rangers have outperformed Carolina, but James Reimer performed well with a .914 save percentage. Igor Shesterkin bested that with a .932 if he is the Rangers choice, but that was in limited action. Henrik Lundqvist performed worse in his starts with a .905. Both teams’ choice will impact this key heavily and could determine who I expect to come out on top.

2.) Special Teams

Carolina was strong on both sides of special teams, ranking 8th on the power play and 4th on the penalty kill. The Rangers rode Panarin to ranking 7th on the power play, but struggled and ranked 23rd on the penalty kill. If the Rangers have the advantage 5 on 5, the Hurricanes may need to find goals on the power play to compete.

3.) Regulation Performance

During the year, the Rangers got 84% of their wins in regulation, and 97% in either regulation or overtime. The Hurricanes got only 71% of theirs in regulation and had 13% come in shootouts. As I discussed previously, this is an indicator that the Rangers are better positioned for postseason success.

My Prediction – Rangers in 5

Florida vs Islanders

Season Series – Islanders 3-0

Keys to the Series/Story of the Stats:

1.) Inverse Styles

The percentage based advanced stats for these two teams are very similar, but they get there in opposite ways. The Islanders significantly limit the other team’s opportunities, smothering them on defense. Meanwhile, the Panthers have the stronger offense and generate the 7th most shots in the league. Neither team’s stats point to much success moving forward, but to win this series the Panthers need their offense to dominate the battle in New York’s end (unless the layoff has improved their goaltending).

2.) Shot Volume vs Shot Quality

This is an interesting matchup between some of the advanced stats. The Islanders are very poor in Corsi and Fenwick, ranking 29th and 30th in those shot-based stats. However, they rank 18th in high-danger chance%. The Panthers are average in shot volume, but rank 28th in high-danger %. For playoff success, I believe the high-danger chances point to better success, but this series will be a good test of that.

My Prediction – Islanders in 4

Montreal vs Pittsburgh

Season Series: Penguins 2-1

Keys to the Series/Story of the Stats:

1.) Is Carey Price the key?

Much of the discussion around this series has been about whether Carey Price can steal it for the Canadiens. However, the stats don’t back him up as being able to do that at this stage in his career. Price had only a .909 save percentage this season, and the offense didn’t help by ranking 25th in shooting percentage. All of that added up to a team with the second best xG ranking only ranking 13th in actual 5v5 scoring. Price is a key, but it’s more a matter of if he can just be average enough to allow the scoring chances to make a difference for the offense.

2.) Special Teams

The Canadiens ranked 22nd on the power play and 19th on the penalty kill; evidence points to needing at least one of these to be in the top ten to provide playoff success. The Canadiens don’t have evidence that they can outperform enough at 5v5 to offset this if the trends continue.

My Prediction – Penguins in 3

Columbus vs Toronto

Season Series – Tied at 1

Keys to the Series/Story of the Stats

1.) Maple Leafs Power Play

These teams have very similar stats 5v5, though Toronto has a small advantage in most. Where Toronto has the biggest advantage is on the power play, ranking 5th compared to 27th for the Blue Jackets. That should make the difference in a series where 5v5 play should be fairly even.

My Prediction – Maple Leafs in 5

Western Conference

Chicago vs Edmonton

Season Series: Chicago 2-1

Keys to the Series/Story of the Stats

1.) Will Chicago regret letting Robin Lehner go?

These teams have very similar stats and makeup – Edmonton has more high-end talent and scoring, but Chicago still has Patrick Kane. Both teams end up being very top-heavy and below average at 5v5. The one stat that is different is PDO, where Chicago ranks 6th and Edmonton is 19th. The problem for Chicago is that Edmonton’s is dropped by their goaltending besides Koskinen, and Chicago’s was buoyed by Robin Lehner. Corey Crawford is still solid, but Chicago may regret not having the goaltending that’s capable of stealing the series.

2.) Edmonton’s Spectacular Special Teams

Edmonton was great on both sides of special teams this year, ranking 1st on the power play and 2nd on the penalty kill. That will be the difference in this series.

My Prediction – Edmonton in 4

Winnipeg vs Calgary

Season Series: Jets 1-0

Keys to the Series/Story of the Stats

1.) Can Hellebuyck Save the Jets

The Jets have been awful at generating and preventing high-danger chances this year, with the worst differential in the league. They haven’t been punished because of the strong goaltending of Hellebuyck and excellence in converting opportunities. With this in mind, the series will ultimately come down to if Hellebuyck can keep up his strong season. I’m betting that he can.

My Prediction – Winnipeg in 4

Arizona vs Nashville

Season Series: Tied at 1

Keys to the Series/Story of the Stats

1.) Coyotes’ Goaltending

Even more so than the Jets, Arizona depended on their goaltending for success this season. Darcy Kuemper had the third best save percentage in the league – if he is able to recapture that form, he could carry Arizona past this round.

2.) Taylor Hall

The reason Arizona was even more dependent on goaltending than the Jets is because they couldn’t turn limited chances into at least average offense. The Coyotes created the 22nd more goals in the league. It will be up to Hall to prove that acquiring him was the right move to change that.

3.) Nashville’s Special Teams

Unlike Edmonton, Nashville has been very poor on both sides of special teams, ranking 24th in power play and 28th on the penalty kill. Both of those will need to improve for the Predators to have any chance. The team has generated a high shot volume all season, but has average scoring due to a lack of high danger opportunities. That formula won’t work with Arizona’s goaltending.

My Prediction: Arizona in 4

Minnesota vs Vancouver

Season Series: Minnesota 2-1

Keys to the Series/Story of the Stats

1.) Minnesota’s High-Danger Chances

The Wild are average in generating shots, with Corsi and Fenwick percentages that both rank 17th in the league. However, they are great at controlling where those shots come from, with the best high-danger chance differential in the league. They leverage those chances appropriately as well, leading to the 5th best PDO in the league and 7th best 5v5 scoring ratio. It’s also worth noting that Jason Zucker was not a key driver of this before being traded, so his loss may be overstated by some.

2.) Special Teams vs 5 on 5

Minnesota is dominant at 5v5 as mentioned. The Canucks have only been 20th best in the league at 5v5, but accompany that with the 4th best power play in the NHL. Typically 5v5 play is the better indicator of post-season success, but the Canucks will be hoping they can be an exception.

My Prediction – Wild in 5


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