After a marathon game on day one, here are the keys to the four series kicking off Wednesday (excluding Boston-Carolina that was included here).
Will John Carlson play?
New York is one of the strongest teams in the league at limiting the chances that the other team can create offensively, depending on that to keep them in the game. John Carlson is capable of being the difference maker that allows the Capitals to overcome that structure, but he's a game-time decision currently. Carlson led the league in points by a defenseman, and that's even more unique because he doesn't have a ton of chances created on the rush - he's been extremely effective at generating opportunities inside the zone.
While that will be important to Washington being able to generate enough offense, Carlson hasn't been great defensively this season. If he's not at 100%, he could also be the difference in New York finding more opportunities.
Washington's Special Teams Advantage
Neither team's Power Play was great this year, with the Capitals at 17th and Islanders 24th in PP%. I can't see New York overcoming that in this series with the strength of Washington's PK, which ranked 6th in the league. The Islanders were average on the PK and if the Capitals can find a way to use their talent on the power play that could be the difference in this series.
Can Barzal Create Enough for New York?
The Islanders win games by playing structured defense that limits the opportunities in their own end, but they still need to find someone who can create chances the other way - Matthew Barzal is the most likely player to do that. Barzal is elite at zone exits and entries, and has turned those into chances; the Islanders need his linemates to start turning some of those into goals, and it won't hurt if he finds more chances to do it himself.
What Wins Out Between Stars/Talent and Depth/Structure
Washington has the better top-end talent in this series, and those players tend to outperform what gets captured by advanced stats. Unfortunately, they tend to do that while struggling on the defensive end. Meanwhile, the Islanders focus on a consistent structure across all of their lines, even if they lack the same type of talent on their top lines. The series will come down to whether the Islanders can limit opportunities and then turn defense into offense, or if the Capitals are able to dominate in the offensive zone and use their elite finishing to turn it into an offensive series.
My Prediction: Capitals in 6
Can Arizona Limit Chances on the Rush?
Colorado is possibly the best team in the NHL at generating chances on the rush, which is one of the reasons they consistently outperform their xG. Meanwhile, Arizona is strong defensively by forcing the chances to come from the outside. The only way Arizona will be able to do that is if they can somehow find a way to stop Colorado from being able to use their speed to get out on the rush.
Where will Arizona Find Offense?
Arizona has some well-known names in Hall, Kessel, and Ekman-Larsson, but none of those names have really lived up to their reputations this season. On top of that, Colorado is one of the best defensive teams in the NHL and has an elite second line that can shut them down. Arizona is going to need to their other lines, and in particular Conor Garland and Clayton Keller, to step up and create the offense.
Will Kuemper be Able to Steal It?
Arizona's only chance in this series is for Kuemper to steal it for them. He kept them in games after slow starts in the qualifying round, and was a big part in the Coyotes posting the fourth best save percentage in the league. He'll need to be even stronger with the type of offense Colorado can create, and would need to be the best player in the series for Arizona to win.
My Prediction: Colorado in 4
Which Carey Price Will Montreal Get?
Carey Price wasn't the Carey Price of old this season, and because of that I doubted his ability before the qualifiers to steal a series. He proved me wrong, saving 5.5 goals more than expected. He was nowhere near that level in the regular season, and the story of the series could be which version shows up. The regular season version gives Montreal no chance, while his form from last week is enough to steal this series.
Can Philadelphia Find Its Power Play?
There's not much to be concerned about for the Flyers, with a strong second-half of the season and running through the Round Robin. The one concern could be the power play - the Flyers PP was dominant during their run in the second-half, but didn't generate a goal in the Round Robin. Against a team can match them in possession (Montreal ranked 2nd in Corsi), an improvement on the power play would make the series much more comfortable for Philadelphia.
Can Montreal Continue to Get Offense from Their Defensemen?
Shea Weber and Jeff Petry were great against the Penguins, shutting down Crosby and Malkin while providing two goals each. If those two and Price can combine to limit the Flyers' scoring, any contribution on the offensive end could swing the series in Montreal's favor.
My Prediction: Flyers in 6
Which Team Imposes Their Syle
More so than any other series in this round, this is an extremely intriguing matchup of styles. The Blues like to slow the game down to limit goals in their own end, and then depend on strong finishing to get the goals they need on the other end. The Canucks like to play a more high-flying game that generates a ton of chances, but also gives up a lot of opportunities on the rush. The Blues have enough talent to compete with the Canucks' style, but if they're able to slow things down it's hard to see Vancouver competing.
Markstrom vs Binnington
Most models prefer Binnington over Markstrom, but in general those don't account for the number of opportunities on the rush that the Canucks allow. Markstrom has been excellent this season, and outperforming the Stanley Cup winner on the other end is his chance to prove it to a larger audience.
O'Reilly vs Pettersson
Elias Pettersson is the best player in the series, and the most likely Canuck to be able to generate chances at even-strenght. It's very likely that Ryan O'Reilly will be matched up with him whenever St. Louis is able. This matchup could end up being even, and then Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser need to make themselves the difference in this series.
Which Team Can Get Power Play Goals?
This series matches up two of the top-five power plays in the league, against two very average penalty kills. There might be plenty of power play goals scored by both teams, but it's easy to see a scenario where Quinn Hughes and Elias Pettersson create the power play chances that eliminate the defending champions.
My Prediction: Canucks in 7
All stats from Natural Stat Trick of NHL.com