Professor MJ: 2017 NHL playoffs 2nd round series predictions




University Professor. PhD in stats. Proud dad of 2 boys.




The first round of the NHL playoffs provided plenty of drama: a total of 18 games went into overtime out of 42. In other words, 42.9% needed extra time which is huge! I don’t think many people picked the Predators to sweep the Blackhawks in four straight contests. Here is a fun fact: the number of games won by Nashville (4) was greater than the total number of goals scored by Chicago in the entire series (3). Unbelievable. Want more? Nashville’s goalie, Pekka Rinne, recorded 2 assists in the series which is as many as the Hawks’ leading scorer in the playoffs.

The Maple Leafs gave the Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals, all they could handle as all six games were decided by a single goal (5 games going to overtime). The only disappointment from round one may have been the fact that we didn’t get a single Game 7. That might change in the second round.

For those of you who didn’t read my first round series projections, here is a quick reminder of a couple of advanced metrics that I will be presenting throughout this report:

“Corsi tied”: Shots attempts FOR / (Shots attempts FOR + Shots attempts AGAINST). In other words, we are looking at the percentage of shots a team made on the opposing net relative to the total shot attempts made by both teams. Calculated when teams were playing 5-on-5 and the game was tied. So if a given team has a “Corsi tied” of 52%, it means out of all the shots that were attempted in their games, 52% came from them versus only 48% by their opponents. It tends to show whether a team controlled the puck more often than their opponents (a possession metric).

“5-on-5 Zone Start Pct”: Number of faceoffs in offensive zone / (Number of faceoffs in offensive zone + Number of faceoffs in defensive zone). From now on, let’s call it “5-on-5 ZS %”. For example, Arizona was the worst team with respect to this metric during the 2016-2017 season with a value of 43.58%. It means that if you omit all neutral zone faceoffs, 43.58% of the faceoffs occurred in the Coyotes offensive zone versus 56.42% of the faceoffs in their defensive zone. Not good.

All right, we are now ready to project each Quarterfinals series! Just for fun, here is each team’s rank in terms of regular season points: 1-Washington, 2-Pittsburgh, 6-Anaheim, 7-Edmonton, 9-NY Rangers, 10-St. Louis, 12-Ottawa and 16-Nashville. It seems pretty unfair to me that the top two teams (Washington and Pittsburgh) are already meeting in the second round of the postseason, and the next best two remaining teams are also facing each other (Anaheim and Edmonton).





Goal differential

Corsi tied

5-on-5 ZS %


50-21-11 (111 pts)


49.75% (16th)

52.85% (5th)


55-19-8 (118 pts)


53.85% (2nd)

52.46% (6th)


Series price: Penguins +128 vs Capitals -141 (decimal: Penguins 2.28 vs Capitals 1.71)

First round results:

  • Pittsburgh eliminated Columbus in 5 games (combined score: 21 to 13).
  • Washington eliminated Toronto in 6 games (combined score: 18 to 16).

This will definitely be the most talked about series. It is often viewed as the Crosby-Ovechkin battle, but it also features the top two teams from the regular season. Crosby and Ovechkin have faced each other in the playoffs twice before. Both times the Penguins came out on top (in 6 games last year, in 7 games in 2009). Both times Pittsburgh went on to win the Stanley Cup. But the Capitals have other plans this year.

The playoff format has not been kind to the Penguins: after facing the team that finished with the fourth most points in the regular season (Columbus), they now have to play the one that racked up the most points in the entire league. You could see that happening to a team barely making the playoffs and getting a wild card spot, but how does that happen to a team finishing with the 2nd most points?

The Penguins have been hit by the injury bug more often than not in 2016-17. They have missed several key players throughout the season, but found a way to keep playing at a high level. Matt Murray hurt himself in pregame warmups of Game 1 against Columbus, which led Marc-Andre Fleury to play the entire series. It does not appear like Murray is ready to be back yet: who knows if he’ll be able to be in net at some point during this series. Star defenceman Kris Letang is out for the entire postseason. Chris Kunitz told reporters he expects to be back in time for the first game of the series. The latest reports indicate Carl Hagelin may not be ready for Game 1 but that he is nearing a return. The only injury for Washington is D-man Karl Alzner: his status is unknown for Game 1.

Washington did not lose any of the 4 meetings with Pittsburgh in regulation: they beat them 7-1 and 5-2, while they lost a couple of games in extra time (3-2 and 7-6). It adds up to a combined score of 20 to 13 in favor of the Caps. As you can see, Washington scored plenty of goals in those contests (5 goals per game, on average). That should be cause for concern for Pens fans, especially with Fleury in net whose numbers (3.02 GAA and a 0.909 save percentage) have been significantly worse than Murray’s (2.41 GAA and a 0.923 save percentage).

Both teams have a great offense: they finished 1st and 3rd in goals scored this season. The big difference comes from the defensive aspect of the game, where Washington allowed the fewest goals in the league while Pittsburgh finished 17th in that category. The Caps’ defensive corps is deeper and they have a big advantage in net with Braden Holtby who is definitely the superior goalie.

Some people may argue that the Capitals will be more tired following their difficult first round matchup with Toronto. But you could also see it as a good preparation for the next step. In normal conditions I believe the line would favor Washington more, but each team’s reputation (Pittsburgh = winners, Washington = losers) has probably had an impact and is offering value to bettors.

FINAL PICK: I’m betting Washington -141 to win in 6 games. I believe they do get past the second round for the first time since 1998.





Goal differential

Corsi tied

5-on-5 ZS %


48-28-6 (102 pts)


47.39% (27th)

48.68% (21st)


44-28-10 (98 pts)


48.07% (24th)

51.68% (9th)


Series price: Rangers -141 vs Senators +128 (decimal: Rangers 1.71 vs Senators 2.28)

First round results:

  • New York eliminated Montreal in 6 games (combined score: 14 to 11).
  • Ottawa eliminated Boston in 6 games (combined score: 15 to 13).

For the second straight series, the Ottawa Senators hold home-ice advantage and yet they are established as underdogs by bookmakers. And once again, I am picking them to advance.

The Sens have won 2 of the 3 meetings with the Rangers this year, despite playing one more on the road. From an injury standpoint, neither team is missing a key player. However, it was revealed that star defenceman Erik Karlsson has been playing with two fractures in his left heel for about a month. It has not shown on the ice thus far in the postseason because he has simply been amazing (6 assists in 6 games and an unbelievable 30 minutes of average time on ice).

Both teams finished surprisingly low in terms of “Corsi tied” (New York 27th, Ottawa 24th), which indicates they did not possess the puck very often compared to their opponents. Ottawa is the only team that qualified for the postseason despite showing a negative goal differential.

The Sens won an identical number of games on the road and at home in the regular season, while the Rangers’ struggles at home and successes on the road have been well documented. The best road team in the NHL continued doing well in such circumstances in the first round as they were able to win 2 games out of 3 in a very loud Bell Centre (the only loss occurring in overtime after Tomas Plekanec tied the game with 18 seconds left in the third period, so they could have gone unbeaten in road games).

A lot had been said about Henrik Lundqvist’s problems when playing in Montreal. He certainly got a monkey off his back after playing very well in the first round. However, I do trust Craig Anderson more. He held a 2.28 GAA and a 0.926 save percentage this season, compared to a 2.74 GAA and a 0.910 save percentage for “The King”. Both goalies are 35 years old, but Anderson started only 40 games versus 57 for Lundqvist. Fatigue might come into play.

FINAL PICK: I’m betting Ottawa +128 to win the series. It won’t be easy, but I expect Guy Boucher’s squad to finish off the Rangers at home in a seventh game.






Goal differential

Corsi tied

5-on-5 ZS %


47-26-9 (103 pts)


49.63% (17th)

50.88% (10th)


46-23-13 (105 pts)


50.24% (13th)

48.34% (25th)


Series price: Oilers +104 vs Ducks -115 (decimal: Oilers 2.04 vs Ducks 1.87)

First round results:

  • Edmonton eliminated San Jose in 6 games (combined score: 12 to 14 – yes, a 7-0 loss will screw up your goal differential!).
  • Anaheim eliminated Calgary in 4 games (combined score: 14 to 9).

Edmonton’s young guns were able to eliminate the defending Western Conference champions, the San Jose Sharks, in six games. They overcame a horrible 7-0 loss in Game 4 by winning the next two contests to close out the series. David Desharnais’ overtime winner in Game 5 was a pivotal moment for them.

A lot has been said about the Oilers’ lack of playoff experience. That did not prevent them from sending San Jose home. They are now facing another team with quite a bit of postseason experience: the Ducks are in the big dance for the fifth straight year.

The season series was pretty even between these two teams: the Oilers won 3 out of 5, but two of those wins came in extra time. Prior to this year, the Ducks had won 4 consecutive matches versus Edmonton.

As mentioned in my first round analysis, I picked the Oilers despite being worried about the fatigue factor regarding goalie Cam Talbot, who started 7 more games than any other goalie in the league for a grand total of 73. As the Oilers get deeper in the playoffs, that becomes an even bigger source of concern.

There are no key injuries to report for Edmonton, while Anaheim may welcome its best defenceman Cam Fowler for Game 1 (if not, he is expected to be back in the lineup very soon). As for Sami Vatanen, his status is unclear but all signs point towards him playing very soon.

Ryan Getzlaf is on a tear: he has 39 points over the last 29 games. As expected, Connor McDavid led his team with 4 points in its first round series. Surprisingly, the Oilers have only scored an average of 2 goals per game in their series against the Sharks. That’s not good news considering Anaheim allowed the fourth fewest goals in the regular season.

If you include the four-game sweep against Calgary, the Ducks are on an amazing roll: they are now 15-0-3 over their past 18 games. The Oilers have also been doing great by winning 16 of their last 20 matches, including the playoffs.

Anaheim will need to figure out its penalty kill pretty soon after allowing 6 goals in 16 opportunities against the Flames, especially against Edmonton which ranked 5th on the power play this season.

FINAL PICK: These teams are very evenly matched, so it’s hard not to pick this series to reach the limit. I’m going to go with Anaheim to win in seven games. Jakob Silfverberg scores the game winner in the decisive game. How is that for a prediction?





Goal differential

Corsi tied

5-on-5 ZS %


41-29-12 (94 pts)


49.58% (18th)

50.08% (14th)


46-29-7 (99 pts)


51.83% (6th)

48.34% (24th)


Series price: Predators -121 vs Blues +110 (decimal: Predators 1.83 vs Blues 2.10)

First round results:

  • Nashville eliminated Chicago in 4 games (combined score: 13 to 3).
  • Louis eliminated Minnesota in 5 games (combined score: 11 to 8).

Both teams stunned the hockey world in the first round. Which one will make it to the Western Conference finals?

My first round preview mentioned the Predators might have the best top 4 defencemen in the league with Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. They did an outstanding job in the Chicago series, along with goalie Pekka Rinne, by allowing a meager three goals in four games to the 9th best offense in the NHL. Ryan Johansen and Filip Forsberg led the way offensively with 6 and 5 points, respectively. Meanwhile, Viktor Arvidsson finished the series with an incredible +8 rating. Nashville did not close out the regular season very well by winning only two of their last 7 contests, but it looks like they’ve flipped the playoff switch.

Who is going to stop the Blues? If you include playoff games, they are now 19-2-2 over their last 23 games. Since March 5th, Jake Allen has been in a zone: he has stopped 594 of the 628 shots fired at him for a 0.946 save percentage, along with a 1.67 goals against average. The Blues will need more offensively from star Vladimir Tarasenko who was limited to just one goal and two assists in the first round’s five games.

Nashville took 3 games out of the 5 meetings with St. Louis this season. Interestingly, neither game ended with a one-goal deficit.

FINAL PICK: I’m picking the Predators to win in six games against the Blues. They are pretty evenly matched offensively, but I give an edge to Nashville with respect to blueliners and goalie. I admire what Jake Allen has done, but keep in mind he had a very rough start to the season and Pekka Rinne’s overall career gives me more confidence in him.

Thanks a lot for reading and good luck with your plays!

Professor MJ