We’ve just hit my favorite part of the Stanley Cup playoffs, the conference finals. We’re down to only four deserving teams and it’s now possible to watch every game left without ending up in a divorce.
The real question, as always, is who will win. Here is my Eastern Conference prediction, and I’ll try to post for the West in the next 24 hours.
This has to be the most karma-laden series to be played in a long, long time. Either Lady Luck has decided to entertain two partners, or one of these teams is about to melt down Dennis Green style.
The Flyers have not only come back from being down 3-0, but they staged a phenomenal comeback in game 7 when down by 3 goals. That’s the first 0-3 comeback since the ’75 Islanders and deserves a ton of praise.
The Canadiens have been out-shot, out-chanced, out-Corsi’d and out-Fenwick’d all postseason and yet have ridden a hot goaltender and two hot scorers past the two best teams in the conference. Just take a peak at my thoughts on the Caps-Habs series if you want a better explanation.
So which one has reached the end of the Lady Luck lovefest?
To start with, I should clarify what I mean by "luck". Many in the advanced stat camp refer to "luck" for those items that represent variation from a player or team’s average performance. I typically will credit this to a "hot streak", being "zoned in" or "off his game" in the case of a poor performance. We’re talking about the same thing. If Halak has proven to be a 92.5% shot-stopper, he is unlikely to sustain the 93.3% clip he’s on right now. I’m not saying he’s lucky, but he’s currently playing better than his typical performance. At some point he will likely play closer to his career average. This is no different that Marc-Andre Fleury saving only 89.1% of shots in this year’s playoffs, compared to his career 90.6% mark. We just tend to recognize these hot or cold streaks more during the playoffs than in a month like November, so we anoint many players as "clutch" or as a "choker" without realizing that it’s standard fluctuation in their performance. I’m rambling, so let’s move on.
The Canadiens have a -15.5 Fenwick per 60 minutes (F/60) so far in the playoffs with Halak in net, measured at Even Strength (ES). Being down 15 shot attempts per 60 minutes is NOT a recipe for success.
The Flyers are -6.9 F/60 which isn’t exactly positive either. Neither team is really possession-driven, but the edge goes to the Flyers.
Both teams are scoring at similar rates on the power play and have similar penalty killing prowess as well. It may come down to individual performances that tip the balance.
As for individuals that could step up, Montreal does not have a single player with a positive Corsi so far in the playoffs, while the Flyers only have 4.
Given his extremely low PDO to this point in the playoffs, coupled with great Corsi numbers, I could see this being James Van Riemsdyk’s series to shine. He’s been generating shots, but lacking goals at a suspicious rate given his level of talent. On top of that, Laviolette has started JVR in the offensive zone 66.7% of the time!
Conversely, I wouldn’t be surprised if Mike Cammalleri fell off his extreme goal-scoring pace. His PDO is a whopping 1076, meaning is outperforming based on very high shooting percentage that is likely unsustainable. Cammy also has a miniscule 37.4% offensive zone start percentage.
In the end, I’m picking the Flyers to win the series since I believe the Canadiens have to come back to earth at some point. It’s difficult for the Habs to have such a shot deficit and continue to pray your goalie outperforms all historical benchmarks. If they regress back to their mean performance, at least I can shout "They are who we thought they were!" at the TV.