As we move into the second round of this year’s playoffs, we’re bound to hear one verb a lot in the Western Conference: grind. You commentators better whip out your thesauruses now, because this Western Semi-Final features some of the most defensively oppressive teams in the league.
I sincerely hope everyone enjoyed the Penguins and Flyers imitation of lacrosse games in round one, because you might not see another goal for awhile, if you’re watching the west.
Let’s consider some statistics on each of our final four teams:
#2 St. Louis:
First during the NHL’s regular season in Goals Allowed per Game at only 1.89.
21st in the league in Goals Scored per Game with just 2.51
#8 Los Angeles:
Second in the NHL in Goals Against with 2.07 allowed per game over the regular season.
2.29 Goals Scored per Game. Good enough for second-worst in the NHL. That’s right. Second-worst regular season offense to the second round of the playoffs.
Forget the seeding in this match-up. It’s not second seed versus eighth seed. This is a battle between the number one and two defences (and two of the worst offences) in the NHL. The only thing that can be definitively said about this series is that it will be tight.
Neither team possesses much of an edge in goaltending. The Blues can play either Brian Elliott or Jaroslav Halak, and both will be stellar. The King’s, meanwhile, have Jonathan Quick, a Vezina candidate and criminal mastermind who is responsible for stealing their first round series against the Canucks.
As for offense, LA has some star power in Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, Mike Richards, and Dustin Brown, but St. Louis has the only two players in this series who are in the top ten in playoff scoring, with Andy McDonald and Patrik Berglund, who have eight and seven points, respectively.
So what it really comes down to, both offensively and defensively, is whichever of these two hard-working teams… works hardest.
My prediction: St. Louis takes the series in 6 games, and wins at least one game by a score of 0.5-0 when the referees decide, in the 8th overtime period, that a puck stopped on the goal line should count as half a goal, and that they’d like to get home in time to see their children grow up.
Fifth in Goals Allowed during the regular season with 2.37 allowed per game.
18th in offense with 2.56 Goals per Game.
Tenth in Goals Against with a whopping 2.50 allowed per game.
An impressive eighth in goal scoring, at 2.83 Goals per Game. The clear offensive juggernaut of the Western Conference Semi-Finals.
Once again, trying to pick a favourite in this series based on goaltending is pointless. Pekka Rinne is a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, and the Chicago Blackhawks are still arguing that the league forgot to put a net in Phoenix’s end of the rink after Mike Smith finished their first round series with a 1.81 GAA and a .953 Save %.
Offensively, picking a winner is easier. But I have a feeling that if I was to ask by show of hands who knew that Ray Whitney was the highest scoring player on both teams during the regular season I’d get a crowd of full pockets. The 39 year-old finished tied for 9th in the regular season with 77 points, but had only a goal and two assists in the first round.
Nashville famously beefed up their tenth-best offense by convincing Alexander Radulov to emigrate from the KHL shortly after the trade deadline. Radulov had five points in five games against Detroit in the first round, but his elite talents suggest he is capable of much more. The Predators will likely continue to score by committee, as they did all season long, but having a game-breaker like Radulov in the line-up gives them an added edge over the Coyotes.
Unless the game goes to overtime, and then we can assume Mikkel Boedker will find a way to get the puck in the net.
With Raffi Torres serving out a life sentence in Rikers for his hit on Marian Hossa, Nashville’s top defensemen can breathe easy. No Torres means that the Predators have a clear advantage in size and physicality from the likes of Shea Weber, Paul Gaustad, Jordin Tootoo, and, when healthy, Hal Gill.
My prediction: Nashville in 7 games.
If one thing is clear about the second round, its that the excitement in the Western Conference is not likely to come in the form of crazy dangles, and highlight reel goals. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t expect excitement. It’s going to be a battle. And I wouldn’t be surprised if there aren’t a few casualties before its all over.
Written by Roy Heron.