NHL Qualifying Round Matchups - Eastern Conference (David Hess)
The re-start of the NHL season is a few days away and it will start with the playoffs, as the rest of the regular season has been scrapped. We know the matchups for the qualifying round of the playoffs and I will be taking a look at each one of the next week to 10 days.
The NHL playoffs will have 24 teams in it with the 16 of those teams playing in eight best-of-five Qualifying round matchups. The Top four teams in each conference will then square off against each other in a round-robin style format to determine the seeding of those four teams. The four teams from the West that win their Qualifying Matchup will face the top four teams in that conference and the same for the East. The Western Conference playoffs will take play in one hub city and the Eastern Conference will do the same. The hub cities have not yet been announced.
Montreal Canadians vs Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are favored at -240 to win this series while the Habs come in at +200.
A Look At The Montreal Canadiens
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Montreal is 19th in scoring at 2.93 gpg, 2nd in shots per game at 34.1, and 22nd in powerplay conversions at 17.7%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 19th in goals allowed at 3.10 gpg, 13th in shots allowed at 31.1 spg, and 19th in penalty kill at 78.7%.
If this was a regular playoff scenario, the Canadiens would not be in it as they are 12th in the Eastern Conference with 71 points. The Habs are hoping that the break will have done them some good as they were playing very badly before the pause started. Montreal will come into this series having lost three in a row and 10 of their last 14. The offense was a big issue over that stretch as the Habs averaged 1.8 gpg in their last 10 losses, compared to 4.3 gpg in their last four wins. Montreal will need their offense to be on point in this one as the penguins have a very good offense that averaged 3.20 gpg this year. The Habs scored just three goals in their two losses to the Penguins in the regular season, compared to four goals in their one win.
Carey Price is the number one goalie for the Habs and he went 27-31 with a 2.79 GAA on the year, including 15-12 with a 2.66 GAA away from home. In his career, Price has gone 25-31 with a 2.53 GAA in the playoffs and he is 13-19 with a 2.95 GAA against the Penguins. Backing up Price will be Charlie Lindgren, who went 2-4 with a 3.33 GAA this year. He has no playoff experience. Leading the team in points is Tomas Tatar with 61 while Phillip Danault is 2nd with 47 and Max Domi is 3rd with 44. Leading the team in goals has been Tatar and Brendan Gallagher, who each have 22 while Domi is 2nd with 17.
A Look At The Pittsburgh Penguins
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Pittsburgh is 10th in scoring at 3.20 gpg, 12th in shots per game at 31.9, and 6th in powerplay conversions at 19.9%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 12th in goals allowed at 2.84 gpg, 6th in shots allowed at 29.7 spg, and 10th in penalty kill at 82.1%.
The Pittsburgh Penguins finished 5th in the Eastern Conference with 86 points but they were not playing all that well right before the pandemic hit. Pittsburgh entered the break having lost eight of their last 11 games and just like the Habs, it was their offense that did them in over that stretch. The Penguins scored a total of 12 goals in their final eight losses, compared to hanging up 16 goals in their final three wins. The Penguins have been a very solid offensive team overall this year, despite the fact that Sidney Crosby has missed 28 games and Jake Guentzel has missed 30. Crosby went into the break healthy, while Guentzel has not played since December 30th. He is expected back for the playoffs. The offense should be far better with both Crosby and Guentzel on the ice at the same time.
In the crease for the Penguins, will be Matt Murray, who went 20-16 with a 2.87 GAA on the year, including 10-10 with a 2.98 GAA in his games away from home. Murray has been solid in the postseason in his career, going 28-19 with a 2.16 GAA in 48 games played but we do note that he was 0-4 with a 3.02 GAA in the postseason last year. He has gone 4-1 with a 2.19 GAA in his career against the Habs. Backing up Murray will be Tristan Jarry, who played in 33 games this year and went 20-13 with a 2.43 GAA in those games, including 7-7 with a 2.66 GAA away from home. Jarry has no playoff experience and he is 2-1 with a 2.34 GAA against the Habs in his career. Leading the team in points was Evgeni Malkin with 74 while Brian Rust had 56 and Crosby had 47. Rust led the team in goals with 27 while Malkin was 2nd with 25 and both Guentzel and Jason Zucker each had 20 to place 3rd.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are a pretty solid favorite in this series and I will be going with them to win it and move on. Both teams struggled down the stretch before the break but the Pens are still the better overall team in this match. They have a better offense, especially with the return of Jake Guentzel and that should be the difference in this series. Carey Price has plenty of playoff experience but he has not had a ton of success while Matt Murray has and I will also look for Murray to bounce back from a horrid showing in last year’s postseason which saw him go 0-4. It all sets up perfectly for the Penguins to take this series in four games.
New York Rangers vs Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes are favored to win the series at -135 while the Rangers are dogs of +115.
A Look At The Rangers
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Rangers are 5th in scoring at 3.33 gpg, 20th in shots per game at 31.1, and 7th in powerplay conversions at 22.9%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 23rd in goals allowed at 3.14 gpg, 30th in shots allowed at 34.0 spg, and 23rd in penalty kill at 77.4%.
Thanks to the break and the expanded playoff system, the New York Rangers are in the playoffs. New York finished in 11th place in the Eastern Conference with 79 points. New York did have a stretch where they went 9-1 down the stretch but they did enter the pause having gone 2-5 in their finals seven games. As you can see above, the offense has not been the issue for the Rangers this year and despite going just 2-5 in their last seven games they still averaged 3.14 gpg over that stretch. In their previous 10 games, the Rangers put up a healthy 3.80 gpg. This is a team that can beat you with their offense, but it may not be all that easy here against a Carolina team that has been solid in the crease this year. Leading the team in points has been Artemi Panarin, who had 95 while Mika Zibanejad was 2nd with 75 and Ryan Strome was 3rd with 59. Leading the team in goals has been Zibanejad with 41 while Panarin is 2nd with 32 and Chris Kreider is 3rd with 24.
The problem for the Rangers this year has been in the crease as they have allowed far too many goals. It starts with a defense that has allowed the 2nd most shots per game in the league. Alexandar Georgiev played in 34 games this year and he went 17-16 with a 3.04 GAA in those games, including 13-6 with a 2.88 GAA away from home. He has gone 1-1 with a 5.07 GAA against the Hurricanes in his career. Georgiev has no playoff experience. Henrik Lundqvist has plenty of playoff experience, which I will get to in a moment. He played in 30 games this year and went 10-15 with a 3.16 GAA in those games, including 2-9 with a 3.32 GAA on the road. In his career, he has gone 61-65 with a 2.28 GAA in 128 playoff games and 33-13 with a 2.00 GAA in 46 career starts against the Hurricanes.
A Look At The Hurricanes
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Hurricanes are 11th in scoring at 3.19 gpg, 3rd in shots per game at 33.3, and 8th in powerplay conversions at 22.3%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 11th in goals allowed at 2.84 gpg, 2nd in shots allowed at 29.3 spg, and 4th in penalty kill at 84.0%.
The Hurricanes had a solid season this year as they finished 6th in the Eastern Conference with 81 points. The break may have saved them though as they have just a two-point lead over the Rangers and they were tied with the Blue Jackets, who were in the 9th spot. Had the season finished in full, the Hurricanes could have very well missed the postseason. They did win their final three games before the pause but they did go 8-12 in their previous 20 games. The offense has been hit or miss down the stretch as the Canes have averaged 4.60 gpg in their last 10 wins while averaging just 1.83 gpg in their last 12 losses. Carolina will need to find their offense in this series and the Rangers can score a lot. Leading their attack in points this year has been Sebastian Aho with 66 while Teuvo Teravainen is 2nd with 63 and Andrei Svechnikov is 3rd with 61. Aho leads the team in goals with 38 while 2nd is Svechnikov with 24 and 3rd is Martin Necas with 16.
The Hurricanes have been solid at the other end of the Ice and they are 2nd in the league in shots allowed per game. They will need the defense to step up against a very solid new York offense in this one. Petr Mrazek is the lead goalie and he was 21-18 with a 2.69 GAA in 40 games overall, including 6-10 with a 2.99 GAA on the road. In his career, he has gone 3-4 with a 3.03 GAA against the Rangers and 4-6 with a 1.88 GAA in the postseason. Backing him up will be James Reimer, who was 14-8 with a 2.66 GAA in 25 games overall, including 10-4 with a 2.71 GAA away from home. Reimer has gone 5-4 with a 3.54 GAA against the Rangers and 3-4 with a 2.87 GAA in the postseason.
This should be a good series between a couple of teams that had their moments this year. The Hurricanes are the better overall team and a big reason for that is their big edge on the defensive end of the ice. They are 2nd in the league in shots allowed per game while the Rangers are 30th and Carolina has the overall better goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist has great numbers in his career against the Hurricanes, but he has struggled overall this year and may not even be in there a lot as Alexandar Georgiev has had more playing time this year than he has. I will be looking for the Hurricanes to win this series in five games. I will also be looking for this to be a high scoring series. Both offenses have played well this year while both Ranger goalies have struggled and Mrazek has a 3.03 GAA against New York in his career and Reimer has a 3.54 GAA in his career against them. Take the Canes to win a high-scoring series.
Florida Panthers vs New York Islanders
The Islanders are favored to win the series at -120 while the Panthers come in at -100.
A Look At The Florida Panthers
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Panthers are 6th in scoring at 3.30 gpg, 7th in shots per game at 32.7, and 12th in powerplay conversions at 21.2%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 29th in goals allowed at 3.25 gpg, 22nd in shots allowed at 32.3 spg, and 20th in penalty kill at 78.5%.
The Florida panthers were clearly saved by the pause as they were not playing all that well down the stretch and they finished three points out of the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference. Still, because of the expanded playoffs, the Panthers are now apart of the postseason. Florida did look good after rattling off six wins from January 9th to the 21st but they went just 7-13 over their final 20 games to knock themselves out of the top eight in the East. The offense had been a beast for much of the year but it really struggled down the stretch as the Panthers averaged just 2.40 gpg over their final 20 games. Despite that. They still finished 6th in the league in scoring. Getting their offense back on track in this series may not be that easy as the Islanders have been stingy in the crease this year. Jonathan Huberdeau led the team in points with 78 while Aleksander Barkov was 2nd with 62 and Mike Hoffman was 3rd with 59. Leading the team in goals was Hoffman with 29 while Evgenii Dadonov had 25 and Huberdeau had 23.
The crease is where the panthers really struggled as they were near the bottom of the league in goals allowed per game this year. They did allow just 10 total goals over their final five games but still went 2-3 over that stretch. Sergei Bobrovsky is the top guy in the crease and he went 23-22 with a 3.23 GAA on the year, including 11-13 with a 3.29 GAA on the road. His GAA overall this year was the highest in his career and it was the first time in the last eight years that he posted one over 2.75. Bobrovsky has gone 16-10 with a 2.10 GAA in his career against the Islanders and he is 11-16 with a 3.03 GAA in the playoffs. Chris Driedger will back up Bobrovsky and he has gone 7-3 with a 2.05 GAA on the year. He has never faced the Islanders and he has no playoff experience.
A Look At The New York Islanders
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Islanders are 22nd in scoring at 2.78 gpg, 28th in shots per game at 29.7, and 24th in powerplay conversions at 17.3%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 9th in goals allowed at 2.79 gpg, 15th in shots allowed at 31.2 spg, and 15th in penalty kill at 80.7%.
It was not pretty at all for the New York Islanders down the stretch as they lost 11 of their final 13 games, including their last seven in a row. As I said, it was not pretty. Despite that, the Islanders finished in 7th place in the Eastern Conference with 80 points. Had the pause not happened and the teams would have finished the regular season, the Islanders could have very well missed the playoffs. They are hoping that the break has rejuvenated them enough to at least get past the Panthers and into the real playoffs. The offense was their major issue down the stretch as the Islanders averaged just 2.00 gpg over their final 13 games. They were shutout three times over that stretch. New York could be playing the perfect team as far as getting their offense back on track and they will need their offense to show up as the Panthers do know how to score. Leading the team in points was Mathew Barzal, who had 60 while Brock Nelson was 2nd with 54 and Anders Lee and Josh Bailey were both 3rd with 43. Jean-Gabriel Pageau and Nelson led the team in goals with 26 while 2nd was Lee with 20.
The bread and butter of this New York team is their play at the other end of the Ice. Last year, they finished 1st in goals allowed, and this year they were 9th. You wouldn’t know it by the way they finished the season, allowing an average of 4.14 gpg over their final seven games. This team does not have a good enough offense to overcome bad goaltending, so they need their goalies to show up in this series. Semyon Varlamov is the number one guy and he went 19-20 with a 2.62 GAA on the year, including 8-10 with a 2.36 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 8-4 with a 2.65 GAA against the Panthers and he is 10-9 with a 2.49 GAA in the postseason. Thomas Greiss will back up Varlamov and he has gone 16-13 with a 2.74 GAA on the year. In his career, he has gone 5-3 with a 2.10 GAA against the Panthers and he is 5-6 with a 2.49 GAA in the playoffs.
This is a tough one to call, especially with how both teams finished the season. The Florida Panthers have a good offense but they can’t stop teams from scoring and Sergei Bobrovsky does have a 3.03 GAA in his career in the postseason. The Islanders can’t score but they have been very solid in the crease for much of the year and Varlamov does have a 2.49 GAA in the postseason in his career. I have to feel that the New York offense will be able to get on track against the weaker goaltending of the Panthers. Florida did struggle to score down the stretch and New York is 9th in the league in goals allowed. The break should benefit the Islanders a bit more as they take this series in five games.
Columbus Blue Jackets vs Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs are favored to win the series at -165 while the Blue Jackets come in at +145.
A Look At the Blue Jackets
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Blue Jackets are 28th in scoring at 2.57 gpg, 8th in shots per game at 32.5, and 27th in powerplay conversions at 16.4%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 4th in goals allowed at 2.61 gpg, 7th in shots allowed at 29.9 spg, and 12th in penalty kill at 81.7%.
The Blue Jackets were clearly saved by the bell or the pause as the case may be. This is a team that finished 9th in the Eastern Conference and had the regular season played out to the full, they could have missed the postseason. Columbus was not out of it when the season stopped but they were heading in the wrong direction, having lost 12 of their final 15 games. The offense has been a mess all year and they averaged just 2.18 gpg over their final 17 games. That is well below the 2.57 gpg that the Jackets have averaged for the year. The offense will need to play much better here as they are taking on a high-scoring team. Leading the team in points has been Pierre-Luc Dubois with 49 while Gustav Nyqvist is 2nd with 42 and Zach Werenski is 3rd with 41. Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the team in goals with 21 while Werenski is 2nd with 20 and Dubois is 3rd with 18.
From January 11th to February 7th, the Blue Jackets won nine of 10 games and they allowed a total of 11 goals over that stretch, posting five shutouts in the process. In their final 15 games of the season, they allowed 3.33 gpg in going 3-12. Columbus needs to get their goaltending back on track in this one but it will not be easy against the talented offense of the Leafs. Joonas Korpisalo played in 37 games this year and he was 19-19 with a 2.60 GAA on the year, including 6-7 with a 2.73 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 5-3 with a 2.87 GAA against the Maple Leafs. We could see more of Elvis Merzlikins after he played in 33 games this year. The rookie went 13-17 with a 2.35 GAA on the year overall, including 6-11 with a 2.91 GAA on the road. He has never faced the Leafs. Neither goalie has played in the playoffs in their careers.
A Look At The Toronto Maple Leafs
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Blue Jackets are 3rd in scoring at 3.39 gpg, 6th in shots per game at 32.9, and 6th in powerplay conversions at 23.1%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 26th in goals allowed at 3.17 gpg, 19th in shots allowed at 31.9 spg, and 21st in penalty kill at 77.7%.
This was supposed to be the year of the Maple Leafs. They have been building up their team over the last few years and this was supposed to be the year that they became a series threat in the Eastern Conference. It didn’t happen as planned as Toronto finished the regular season in 8th place in the East. Toronto did not have a strong finish to the season as they were just 8-10 over their final 18 games. The offense has led them all season but it did not show up a whole lot in their last 4 games as they scored a total of just five goals over that stretch. Toronto scored a total of 13 in their last seven losses, compared to hanging up 31 goals over their last eight wins. If this offense gets going again then they could make this a short series over the punchless Blue Jackets. Auston Matthews led the team in goals with 47 and he has now scored at least 34 goals in each of his first four seasons in the league. 2nd in goals was William Nylander, who had 31 while 3rd was John Tavares with 26. Matthews led the team in points with 80 while Mitchel Marner had 67 and Tavares had 60.
The problem for the Leafs this year was their play in the crease as they ranked 26th in the league in goals allowed. It has led to many high scoring games for the Leafs and we note that their games went 39-29-2 to the Over. Frederik Anderson had a solid season for the Leafs this year as he went 29-20 with a 2.85 GAA in 52 games this year, including 16-7 with a 2.65 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 6-5 with a 2.79 GAA against the Blue Jackets and he has gone 17-9 with a 2.34 GAA during the postseason. Toronto ran into problems this year when Michael Hutchinson came in as he was 4-10 with a 3.66 GAA in 15 games played. The good news is that Hutchinson is now with Colorado and the Leafs have added Jason Campbell, who went 3-3 with a 2.63 GAA for them. Campbell has no playoff experience and he has gone 1-1 with a 1.99 GAA against the Blue Jackets in his career.
The Columbus Blue Jackets really had a rough end to their regular season but we do note that it was over three months since they last played. Still, this is a team that has very little in the way of offense and no experience in the crease when it comes to postseason play. The Toronto Maple Leafs did not have the regular season that many expected them to have but they are still the much better team in this series. They have a far better offense and Frederik Andersen is 17-9 with 2.34 GAA in his career in the postseason. Toronto will use the long break to rejuvenate themselves for what should be a nice playoff run. They are just too talented to lose to the Blue Jackets in this series. I see the Maple Leafs winning the series 3-1.