It’s quite the common refrain you hear this time of year in the NHL.
(Read following generic cliché with Canadian broadcaster accent please)
“This is so the team you don’t want to face in the playoffs if they get in”
Generally, this has been used when discussing the Los Angeles Kings and their playoff chances. The defending champs are the late bloomer nobody wants a piece of.
Is this because they’ve won two of the last three Stanley Cups? Is it because they have ‘the goaltender nobody wants to face’ In Jonathan Quick? There’s actually a lot of factors.
There are a few teams that could win in the first round over teams with a higher seed, and we wouldn’t in any way be surprised. So Nashville, St. Louis, Anaheim … or maybe even Montreal or the Rangers, you could be screwed by playing awesome the whole year and having a crummy match up in April.
We take a look at the top playoff bubble teams and why they could be a load for some of the top seeds in the upcoming postseason.
1. Los Angeles Kings (88 points, one point out of Pacific 3)
This is so clear and obvious simply because they’re the defending champs. But there’s more to the Kings and why they could very well win their first round match up in the Western Conference.
The NHL’s enhanced stats website says the Kings are third in shot attempts percentage close, which is a nice determining factor in making the playoffs. It means that when the Kings are within one goal or tied in the third period, they ratchet it up a notch to 54.27 percent, which puts them third in the league behind Detroit and Tampa.
Los Angeles also leads the NHL with a 649 shot attempts differential according to the NHL’s enhanced stats site. This means … the Kings are one of the top groups as far as possessing the puck in the league. This is the same as 2013-14 or 2011-12, both years Log Angeles won the Stanley Cup, both years they led the league in this category per the NHL.
Also, the Kings have a bevy of talented players such as the aforementioned Quick, defenseman Drew Doughty and forward Anze Kopitar. If Los Angeles sneaks into the postseason there are really good odds they will win their first round match up.
2. Winnipeg Jets (90 points, Wild Card 2, Western Conference)
Winnipeg, like Los Angeles, is another big, mobile group that holds onto the puck and does it quite well – especially for a team that’s on the playoff edge at the moment.
In Winnipeg’s Sunday game against the Chicago Blackhawks, the Jets lined up a squad that was 6-foot-2 and weighed 206 pounds on average. Their opponents were about 6-foot-1 and weighed 198 pounds according to the game notes.
Per Puckalytics, Winnipeg’s CF% 5-on-5 ranks eighth in the NHL at 52.5, which again shows a solid ability to drive the play, regardless of its tenuous position in the standings.
Size? Check. Stronger than usual puck possession for a playoff squeaker? Check. They’re not great in goal between Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec (who has been better of late), but I would not want to go up against these guys for seven games in a first round series. You will get bruised.
3. Boston Bruins (89 points Wild Card 2, Eastern Conference)
So you’re the Rangers or the Canadiens. You’re cruising through the end of the regular season. Resting guys on the odd night, winning about as much as you’re losing and then … boom. You win the top seed in the Eastern Conference. Your hard work has paid off to some degree with home ice throughout the east playoffs and … the Boston Bruins in the first round. Ugh.
We know, this is not the same Bruins that won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and made the Cup Final in 2013. They don’t have the same depth. They lack a certain – bite perhaps? But it would still blow to have to deal with Boston in Round One.
As normal stats go, they’re not horrible defensively, allowing 2.46 goals per-game to rank 11th in the NHL. Granted they’re not great offensively either, but who needs goal scoring in the playoffs?
Boston ranks 11th in the NHL in SAT differential at plus-238, which is actually better than the Rangers or Montreal. Their shot attempts percentage close ranks sixth in the NHL at 52.73.
And from a 5-on-5 perspective, they rank 10th in the NHL in CF% per Puckalytics. Also they have ‘Stanley Cup experience’ for what it’s worth. Will they win a first round series against Montreal or New York? Probably not. But they’d probably be a tougher out than say Ottawa or Florida.
THE TEAM YOU WANT TO FACE
Calgary Flames (89 points, Pacific 3)
The Flames keep winning in spite of meager puck possession numbers. They’re the third worst 5-on-5 team in the NHL per Puckalytics’ CF% numbers.
And on the NHL’s enhanced stat site, they’re worse than the Toronto Maple Leafs in SAT differential.
Calgary’s meh ability to hold onto the puck will likely catch up to them in a playoff situation.
They’re a bit on the smallish side at an average height/weight of 6-foot, 193 pounds.
Also, from a traditional stats/eyeball test standpoint, I’ll take Karri Ramo (.912 save percentage) or Jonas Hiller (.914 save percentage) in the first round of the playoffs as an opponent over Quick.
And their best player, Mark Giordano, is out the rest of the year. If I’m a top team in the Western Conference, this is the group I want to play.
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