NHL Qualifying Round Matchups - Eastern Conference (David Hess)
The NHL has decided to scrap the rest of the regular season and that means we will head right to the playoffs when the season restarts in late July. As we continue to inch closer to the restart of the NHL season, I will continue to preview the Qualifying Round of the playoffs.
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.
Chicago Blackhawks vs Edmonton Oilers
The Oilers come in at -160 to win the series while the Blackhawks are at +140.
A Look At The Blackhawks
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Blackhawks are 18th in scoring at 2.97 gpg, 13th in shots per game at 31.2, and 28th in powerplay conversions at 15.2%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 16th in goals allowed at 3.06 gpg, 31st in shots allowed at 35.1 spg, and 9th in penalty kill at 82.1%.
The Chicago Blackhawks played well down the stretch as they won five of their last seven games but prior to that, they were not playing well, having lost 9 of their previous 11 games. The offense for Chicago has been inconsistent all year but even more so down the stretch as they averaged 4.38 gpg in their last 13 wins, compared to putting up just 2.00 gpg in their last 13 losses. The Oilers have been a very average offensive team this year, so if the good Chicago offense shows up, then they have a chance of winning this series. Chicago would not have made the postseason this year had the NHL not expanded the playoffs to 24 teams. Chicago finished last in the Central Division and they are the 12th seed overall in the Western Conference. Leading the team in points has been Patrick Kane, who had 84 while Jonathan Toews was 2nd with 60 and Dominik Kubalik was 3rd with 46. Kane leads the team in goals with 33 while Kubalik is 2nd with 30 and Brandon Saad is 3rd with 21.
The Blackhawks finished 16th in the league in goals allowed this year and that is a huge improvement over last year, which saw them finish 30th. Corey Crawford was just 16-23 on the year but he had a decent 2.77 GAA while away from home he has gone 7-13 with a 2.85 GAA. In his career, he has gone 11-7 with a 2.47 GAA against the Oilers and he has gone 48-37 with a 2.28 GAA in 87 career postseason games. His playoff experience could be a factor in this series. Robin Lehner started the season with the Blackhawks but he is now suiting up for the Vegas Golden Knights. When he went to vegas, the Blackhawks got Malcolm Subban in return. He played one minute for Chicago this year and was 9-10 with a 3.18 GAA for the Golden Knights. In his career, he has gone 201 with a 2.69 GAA against the Oilers. He has no playoff experience.
A Look At The Oilers
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Blackhawks are 15th in scoring at 3.14 gpg, 29th in shots per game at 29.6, and 1st in powerplay conversions at 29.5%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 15th in goals allowed at 3.03 gpg, 20th in shots allowed at 30.2 spg, and 2nd in penalty kill at 84.4%.
The Edmonton Oilers had a solid start to the season overall and they led the Pacific division at times this year but they were very mediocre down the stretch while the Golden Knights were red-hot and that allowed them to overtake the Oilers in the division. Still, Edmonton finished 2nd in the Pacific with 8th points and they could be a dangerous team in the postseason. One reason that the Oilers have had success this year has been their special teams as they rank first in power-play conversions and 2nd in penalty kill. It will be interesting to watch Edmonton’s top-ranked power play against Chicago’s 9th ranked penalty kill. The winner of that battle could be the difference in this series. Edmonton has been very average in scoring this year and leading the way has been Leon Draisaitl, who had 110 points and 43 goals. Connor McDavid was well on his way to his 4th 100-point season in a row but he fell short with just 97. He had 34 goals on the year and has now scored 116 goals in the last three years. Draisaitl and McDavid are probably the most dangerous duo in the league.
The Oilers were an average offensive team this year and they were also average at the other end of the ice. Edmonton allowed more than three goals in regulation just three times over their last 16 games and they will hope that their play in the crease can continue now that we have reached the postseason. Mike Smith played in 39 games this year and he went 19-18 with a 2.95 GAA on the year, including 11-10 with a 2.84 GAA in all games away from home. In his career, he has gone 12-12 with a 3.10 GAA against the Blackhawks and Smith is 11-12 with a 2.17 GAA in the postseason. Mikko Koskinen played in 38 games this year and he went 18-16 with a 2.75 GAA overall, including 9-7 with a 2.23 GAA on the road. In his career, he has gone 1-0 with a 1.21 GAA against Chicago. Koskinen has no playoff experience still, we should see both goalies in this series.
Prediction: The Oilers are a solid favorite to win this series but I do not feel it will be that easy for them. The Blackhawks are average at both ends of the ice and so are the Oilers. Corey Crawford has plenty of playoff experience but Mike Smith has some as well. The difference in this series will come down to special teams. The Oilers have the top power-play unit in the league and they are 2nd in penalty kill. Chicago may be 9th in penalty kill but they are 28th in power-play conversions. The Blackhawks do not have a god power play and it will cost them in this series as they just will not be able to notch many cheap goals. The Oilers did not play all that well down the stretch but they are the better team in this one, especially witty the powerful duo of Draisaitl and McDavid running the show on offense. I will look for this series to go the distance with the oilers sneaking by and advancing to the next round.
Arizona Coyotes vs Nashville Predators
The Preds come in at -135 to win the series while the Coyotes are at +115.
A Look At The Coyotes
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Coyotes are 23rd in scoring at 2.71 gpg, 14th in shots per game at 31.7, and 18th in powerplay conversions at 19.2%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 3rd in goals allowed at 2.61 gpg, 23rd in shots allowed at 32.4 spg, and 5th in penalty kill at 82.7%.
The Arizona Coyotes were looking pretty good for much of the year but they did not play all that well down the stretch. Still, Arizona will be in the playoffs, thanks to the expanded format. Arizona is four games under .500 for the year, but they have gone nine games under .500 over their last 25 games. The mark over that stretch is just 8-17. The offense has been their issue this year as they just don’t have a tone of scoring options. They did add Taylor Hall from New Jersey during the season and he has 10 goals in 35 games for the Coyotes so far. Leading the team in goals has been Conor Garland, who has 22 while Christian Dvorak is 2nd with 18. Leading the team in points has been Nick Schmaltz with 45 while Clayton Keller is 2nd with 44. There is just not a lot of punch to this offense and we do note that they averaged just 2.48 gpg over their last 25 games, which includes averaging just 1.71 gpg in the 17 losses over that stretch. Arizona needs its offense to show up or this could be a very short series.
At the other end of the ice is where the coyotes have excelled this year as they come in at 3rd in the league in goals allowed per game and that is despite the fact that they are 23rd in shots allowed. The Coyotes have gotten great play in the crease so far with Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta. Let’s start with Kuemper, who has played in 29 games this year and has gone 16-13 with a 2.22 GAA on the year, including 10-5 with a 2.10 GAA on the road. He had a .928 save percentage on the year. In his career, he has gone 5-3 with a 2.39 GAA against the Predators and Darcy has gone 3-1 with a 2.13 GAA in nine playoff games. Antti Raanta went just 15-17 on the year but with a solid 2.63 GAA in 33 games played, including 5-11 with a 3.19 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 2-4 with a 2.77 GAA against Nashville and he is 0-1 with a 2.56 GAA in three games in the postseason. If the offense doesn’t show up, then the onus will be on these two goalies to lead the team to the next round.
A Look At The Predators
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Predators are 16th in scoring at 3.07 gpg, 5th in shots per game at 33.1, and 25th in powerplay conversions at 17.3%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 20th in goals allowed at 3.10 gpg, 16th in shots allowed at 31.3 spg, and 29th in penalty kill at 76.1%.
A lot more was expected of the Nashville Predators than a 5th place finish in the Central Division but we note that they did play a bit better down the stretch. Nashville won their final three games before the pause and they went a solid 13-8 over their final 21 games. They were building some momentum and Nashville now has to hope that the pause didn’t curb it too much. The offense hasn’t been as good as the last couple of years and while they did play well down the stretch, Nashville did average just 2.62 gpg over their final 21 games. With those kinds of offensive numbers and with the way that Arizona has struggled to score, we could be looking at a very low scoring series. Leading the team in points has been Roman Josi with 65 while Filip Forsberg had 48 and Matt Duchene had 42. Forsberg led the team in goals with 21 while Nick Bonino and Chris Smith each had had 18. Can the Preds crack that tough Arizona goaltending in this series? We shall see.
As I showed above, the predators struggled to score down the stretch, despite going 13-8 in their final 21 games. The goaltending has been below average this year overall but it has been their play in the crease that carried them down the stretch. In their final 19 games, the Preds allowed just 2.57 gpg, while posting two shut outs in their final three games. The time in the crease has been pretty much evenly split between Juuse Saros and Pekka Rinne. Saros went 17-16 with a 2.70 GAA in 40 games, including 10-9 with a 2.92 GAA on the road. In his career, he has gone 0-1 with a 4.03 GAA against the Coyotes. Saros has played in seven playoff games and is 0-0 with a 1.67 GAA in those games. Rinne has gone 18-18 with a 3.17 GAA in 36 games this year, including 8-7 with a 2.99 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 20-11 with a 2.05 GAA against the Coyotes and he is 45-44 with a 2.49 GAA in the postseason. Saros has the better numbers this year but Rinne has plenty of playoff experience so I would look for both goalies to get time in this series.
Prediction: This will be a case where I feel the break will help the Coyotes while the pause will disrupt the momentum that the Preds had. That’s right, I will be going with the Coyotes in this series. They are a young team that is also very talented and I feel that they have a huge edge in the crease in this series. Yes, Pekka Rinne has plenty of playoff experience, but he has been off all year and Juuse saros does not have a lot of postseason experience. The Preds have the edge on offense, but it is not a huge edge while Arizona has a big edge in special teams, especially on the penalty kill where they are 5th while the 29th in that category. There will be no home-ice advantage in this one and that should help the dog here. This should be an exciting low-scoring series that the Coyotes will take in five games.
Minnesota Wild vs Vancouver Canucks
The Canucks are listed at -130 while the Wild come in at +110.
A Look At The Wild
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Minnesota comes in ranked 12th in scoring at 3.16 gpg, 25th in shots per game at 30.1, and 10th in powerplay conversions at 21.3%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 24th in goals allowed at 3.14 gpg, 11th in shots allowed at 30.7 spg, and 25th in penalty kill at 77.2%.
The Minnesota Wild were 35-34 on the year and they finished in 6th place in the Central Division with 77 points. It was not a great season for them but still, they have done enough to reach the postseason and they will take on a Vancouver team that they were 2-1 against during the regular season. Minnesota did play well right before the break as they won eight of their final 11 games. The offense has been a little above average for much of the year but even better of late as they averaged a solid 4.25 gpg over their final eight games. The Wild scored three or more goals in each of those eight games and they could have some similar success in this series against a Vancouver team that was not great in the crease this year. Eight players scored 11 or more goals for the Wild this year, led by Zach Parise, who had 25, while Kevin Fiala was 2nd with 23 and 3rd was Eric Staal with 19. Leading the team in points was Fiala with 54 while 2nd was Ryan Suter with 48 and 3rd was Staal with 47.
Minnesota’s problems this year came at the other end of the ice where they were 24th in the league in goals allowed. They allowed 11 goals in their final two games but also allowed just 22 goals in their previous nine games. Alex Stalock has not been the problem as he has gone 20-15 with a 2.67 GAA on the year, but he did struggle away from home, going 8-9 with a 3.13 GAA. In his career, he has gone 1-1 with a 2.00 GAA against the Canucks and 1-1 with a 1.82 GAA in four career postseason games. Devan Dubnyk did not have a great year, going 12-17 with a 3.35 GAA overall, including 6-8 with a 3.58 GAA on the road. In his career, he has gone 14-15 with a 2.54 GAA against the Canucks and 8-18 with a 2.72 GAA in 26 playoff games. I would expect Stalock to get the bulk of the playing time in this series.
A Look At The Canucks
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: Vancouver comes in ranked 8th in scoring at 3.25 gpg, 18th in shots per game at 31.2, and 4th in powerplay conversions at 23.7%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 21st in goals allowed at 3.10 gpg, 28th in shots allowed at 33.3 spg, and 16th in penalty kill at 80.5%.
The Vancouver Canucks will break a four-year absence from the playoffs this year. They went 36-33 on the year and finished in 4th place in the Pacific Division with 78 points. That is just one more point than the Wild had this year. Vancouver did finish in 7th place in the Western Conference overall but had the season not halted, there is a good chance they could have missed out on the postseason. The Canucks did not play well down the stretch as they won just six of their final 17 games. The offense was feast or famine down the stretch as Vancouver averaged a solid 5.33 gpg in their final six wins, compared to hanging up just 1.91 gpg over their final 11 losses. They will need their good offense to show up in this series. Vancouver has five players on their team with at least 21 goals, so they have some scorers. Leading the team has been led by JT Miller and Elias Pettersson, who both have 27 goals while 2nd is Bo Horvat with 21. Tyler Toffoli has 24 on the year but just 6 with the Canucks. He started the year with the Kings. Leading the team in points was Miller with 72 while Pettersson had 66.
Vancouver was not great on the other end of the ice, especially down the stretch as they allowed 3.63 gpg over their final 11 games. That is not good and they will be facing a decent offensive team in this series. Jacob Markstrom is the top guy in the crease after going 23-20 with a 2.75 GAA in 43 games played, including 10-11 with a 3.04 GAA on the road. In his career, he has gone 1-2 with a 2.63 GAA against the Wild. He has no playoff experience. Thatcher Demko will back up Markstrom and he has gone 13-12 with a 3.06 GAA on the year, including 4-8 with a 3.30 GAA in games away from home. Demko has no playoff experience and he has never faced the Wild. Will no playoff experience in the crease help or hurt the Canucks? We shall see.
Prediction: The Canucks have no experience in the crease, but let’s take a look at Minnesota goalies for a moment. Alex Stalock has just four games of playoff experience while Devan Dubnyk is 8-18 in his career in the postseason. It’s kind of a wash between the goalies. Markstrom vs Stalock should be a good battle to watch. The Canucks have the edge on offense and they have the edge on special teams as you can see by the numbers above. Vancouver did not play all that well down the stretch but I feel that the break will help them. They have more scorers and will get some revenge from having lost two of three to the Wild during the regular season. Expect the Canucks to win this series in five games.
Winnipeg Jets vs Calgary Flames
The Flames are listed at -120 while the Jets come in at +100.
A Look At The Jets
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Jets come in ranked 17th in scoring at 3.00 gpg, 17th in shots per game at 31.3, and 15th in powerplay conversions at 20.5%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 10th in goals allowed at 2.83 gpg, 25th in shots allowed at 32.6 spg, and 22nd in penalty kill at 77.6%.
The Winnipeg Jets had a very mediocre season as they finished at 37-34 and in 4th place in the Central Division with 80 points. They were 14 points out of first. The Jets did play much better down the stretch as they won their final four games in a row and went 11-6 over their final 17. This will be their 3rd year in a row in the playoffs. Winnipeg has been known as an offensive team the last few years but that was not the case this year as they finished 17th in scoring. Winnipeg had finished 7th or better in scoring in each of the last three seasons, so finishing 17th this year is a bit of a shock. They will need the offense to be much better in the playoffs or they could be ousted in the first round, just like last year. Leading the team in goals has been Kyle Connor with 38 while 2nd is Mark Scheifele with 29 and 3rd is Patrik Laine with 28. They did have five players with at least 22 goals but just two other players with 10 or more. Leading the team in points has been Scheifele and Connor, who both have 73 while 2nd is Blake Wheeler with 65.
As I stated above, the Jets really played well down the stretch and a big reason for that was their play in the crease. Winnipeg was 10th in goals allowed this year, giving up 2.83 gpg but they were even better down the stretch, allowing just 2.10 gpg over their final 20 games. If they can duplicate that kind of play, then the Jets could surprise in the postseason. Connor Hellebuyck is the guy they will rely on after going 31-26 with a 2.57 GAA on the year including 13-12 with a 2.75 GAA away from home. He had six shutouts this year. In his career, he has gone 5-2 with a 1.97 GAA against the Flames and 11-12 with a 2.44 GAA in the playoffs. Backing him up will be Laurent Brossoit, who went 6-8 with a 3.28 GAA on the year, including 4-5 with a 3.12 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 2-1 with a 3.59 GAA against the Flames. Brossoit has one game of playoff experience and he allowed two goals in 27 minutes in the game, which came as a member of the Oilers.
A Look At The Flames
Regular Season Stats & Rankings: The Flames come in ranked 20th in scoring at 2.91 gpg, 15th in shots per game at 31.6, and 11th in powerplay conversions at 21.2%. On the defensive end of the ice, they finished at 17th in goals allowed at 3.06 gpg, 24th in shots allowed at 32.4 spg, and 8th in penalty kill at 82.1%.
The Calgary Flames went 36-34 on the year while finishing in 3rd place in the Pacific Division with 79 points. They were 8th in the Western Conference overall and it will be their 4th time in the last six years that they have been in the postseason. Calgary hopes for a better showing than their last two, which ended in the first round. The offense has not been great this year and they scored just three goals exact in each of their last 6 games. The offense will need to step up here but it will not be all that easy as the Jets have been a solid team in the crease this year. Calgary has six players with at least 16 goals but no one else with more than 10. Elias Lindholm leads the team with 29 while Matthew Tkachuk is 2nd with 23 and Sean Monahan is 3rd with 22. Tkachuk leads the team in points with 61 while Johnny Gaudreau is 2nd with 58 and Lindholm is 3rd with 54.
The Flames finished last year at 9th in the league in goals allowed but they slipped to 17th this year. They did play a bit better down the stretch, allowing just 2.63 gpg over their final eight games. David Rittich is the main guy and he went 24-23 with a 2.97 GAA on the year, including 15-13 with a 2.81 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 2-1 with a 1.97 GAA against the Jets but he does have no playoff experience. Backing him up will be Cam Talbot, who went 12-11 with a 2.63 GAA overall, including 5-4 with a 2.06 GAA away from home. In his career, he has gone 6-5 with a 3.10 GAA against the Jets and he is 7-7 with a 2.48 GAA in the postseason. The Flames have had their struggles on offense this year, so the goaltending will need to step up.
Prediction: Neither team had great seasons this year and that should make for an exciting series. The Flames did play pretty well down the stretch but I still feel that the Jets are the play here. They also got their act together down the stretch and Winnipeg has a big edge in the Crease with Hellebyuck over Rittich. Winnipeg allowed just 2.10 gpg over their final 20 games this year and I feel that it will be their play in the crease that gives them the edge here. Winnipeg has struggled to score at times but they also have an edge on offense. I feel that after the break, the Winnipeg offense will really wake up. This series should go the distance and it will be the Jets that come out on top in five games.