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LONESTAR PUCK Round 1 Predictions 2019 Edition

2019-04-07

Good Evening DCHLers,

I'm coming at you hot and in a hurry because 1 week from now, GAME OF THRONES is BACK! And I'm going to need to rewatch all the seasons TONIGHT in order to be re-immersed in WESTEROS after a 2 year absence. Yes, I have 3 TVs and 2 Computers, so if I start now and have 5 episodes going at a time, I should be able to cover nearly 70 hours before I have to be somewhere at 1 pm tomorrow.

If that sounds extreme, try making the playoffs in the DCHL sometime. I don't mean, actually make the playoffs, that is sometimes driven by good or bad luck. I mean JUST TRY! And tell us beforehand that you are trying so we don't mistake your team as "still tanking on purpose" which is just about the most ridiculous thing since Sean Bean's impressive talent at dying on screen.

So without further adieu or delay, here are some of my picks (all of the 1st rounders) for our DCHL Playoffs. Congratulations if your team is named below. Rest assured I honor your achiement since I actually TRIED to make the playoffs this year. Good luck, and don't let the lead get away from you!

Boston vs. New Jersey- We’ve all heard about this guy named Jon Tavares. Some people even go so far as to call him JT for short and only Nathan Bon-Benard thinks the “J” stands for Jesus. The BRUINS deserved to make it this far for the first time in Nathan’s tenure as GM but the rookie of the post season will learn quickly just how much tougher the road gets. Lucky enough, he gets to work out his lines against another DCHL Rookie Playoff Contender in MARK STEFENELLI.

NEW JERSEY got significantly better after the acquisition of reporter LUCI FERR but something tells me she is not going to be a factor against the guy NATHAN refers to as Mr. Jesus! So who will be a factor against Nathan’s league best scoring asset? I’m looking at the combination of Travis Zajac and Adam Larsson to be New Jersey’s best hope. On the Defensive Ratings, Larsson boasts an impressive 85 DF rating while Zajac will face off against JT with an 81. The NJ Duo combine for a modest 141 shots blocked and 32 take-aways. I know these numbers will not blow anyone away but if New Jersey has any hope to shutting down TAVARES in this series, they will need to subtract him from the equation, and unfortunately, doing so may commit two of the DEVIL’S best players to cancel one.

On the other hand, if the DEVILS do balance out TAVARES, the BRUINS still have a lot of assets to make due. DEREK BRASSARD and JOSH ANDERSON combine for 156 points and 74 goals. So depending on how NATHAN manages his lines, he may force NEW JERSEY to answer the question: Who do you want to beat you?

Regardless of what NEW JERSEY says though, the BRUINS need to show us they are ready for the moment and the most important position in big time moments does have a clear advantage from the Puck’s perspective. BIG BEN BISHOP may not have the OVERALL rating but he has a 98 Size, 81 Experience, and 83 Leadership in the crease. The DEVILS need to put him in a position to save a game, if they can get him leads, BIG BEN will be the key factor in whether or not those leads stick.

The PUCK PICK: BOSTON in 7.

Carolina vs. New York Islanders- I will not lie, I am starting to feel bad for GILETTO. Not only did he lose a lot of ground in both the PRESIDENT’S TROPHY race and POWER RANKINGS toward the end of the regular season, he also got ripped incessantly by one of the most irrelevant teams of 2018-19. So what can the embattled CANES GM do to make this situation better? Well, he can’t kick out the inept peanut gallery troll that he let into the league, so the only other option is to get into the second round.

This is where things get tricky. FLAX has a team which boasts something like 12 x NHL STANLEY CUPS in his top 6 Forwards and in Goalie. His top 3 scoring wingers boast 240+ points and 90 goals. As a team the ISLANDERS boast a +272 at even strength. When you compare this to the CANES, it is hard to see the ISLANDERS as an 8 seed opponent. The CANES have more points across their top 4 scorers thanks to WAYNE SIM-MONDS (been waiting a long time to use that one). They also have ROBERTO LUONGO who may or may not be the greatest punchline in DCHL history if he get injured.

These teams are far from identical, CAROLINA has an edge down the middle offensively while FLAX is perilously balanced down the center depending on your thoughts of the SIM. Additionally one of the ISLE’s best wingers is a penalty risk with 56 DISCIPLINE rating so while NYI has the clear edge on the wing, it may be just as double edged as LUONGO’S age. This one is a tough call but when a brother is on the defensive by a GM who shot his own franchise in the face with a 12-gauge, I am answering the call for backup. Sorry Flax.

The PUCK Pick: CANES in 6.

Philadelphia vs. New York Rangers- I never doubted we would see these two teams in the post season. I know at one point GM DAN PRIEUR had a public meltdown when he peed his pants in Times Square (it wasn’t even NEW YEARS EVE) but that seems like forever ago. The RANGERS mid-season collapse is still more recent than their mid-season dominance but they appear more consistent exiting the season. In baseball terms they aren’t entering the playoffs with the same “launch angle” as the PHILADELPHIA FLYERS though.

PHILLY was riding a long stretch of wins to a slightly disappointing loss to CAROLINA on Day 186. We all know because we all watched it with beaming eyes praying for the demise of the aforementioned MIKE GILETTO. Regardless, the FLYER lost the matchup in a 3-0 loss typical of last regular season games that matter. To the FLYERS’ credit, how can you really beat yourself up over a 3-0 loss when the arguably the next game you play matters exponentially more anyway? It wasn’t like the FLYERS were going to get a more favorable travel schedule or get to play TORONTO even, they would end up playing the ISLES who are playing out of their mind right now. So really, there is no harm in the loss given how the FLYERS were playing before that.

The big part of this matchup is, who WON’T be playing. Take a look at the RANGERS, they will miss both BRIAN BOYLE (they can make do without him) and NIKLAS HJALMARSSON in the first round (incredibly more important). However they go up against PHILLY who is without KRIS LETANG. There is no doubt that NYR is the benefactor of this matchup. Say what you want about HAMMER but LETANG is better in almost all situations, except when deciding who you would rather have hurt.

Coincidentally though, the FLYERS are also one of the worst Shot Blocking teams in the DCHL which gives NEW YORK some added benefit in the matchup. The key to the FLYERS success though is 1-5-3, these are their rankings in goals produced by period. If PHILLY is going to win this series, look for this stat to appear. Is it possible PHILLY succeeds or fails despite this stat? Sure, the playoffs offer a different sample population. However NEW YORK has 5-14-1 in these categories. So the “game within the game” goes beyond injuries but to see who gets the better part of the first 60 minute battle. If PHI holds 2 goals going into the 3rd, then the FLYERS should win that game, but if it is one goal or tied going into the 3rd, the RANGERS are primed for an upset.

The PUCK Pick: FLYERS in 6.

Toronto vs. Buffalo- I know a lot of teams like to take shots at TORONTO but CROVIE has not been the disappointment some chalk it up to being. Both players are above a PPG pace and the LEAFS have gotten everything except post season success out of the duo. The LEAF’s major problem isn’t that they are going into a fully healthy BUFFALO arena without 2 bottom pairing defensemen, the problem is just how shallow the LEAFS are that MARC METHOT and CARL GUNNARSON matter in this series.

I don’t care enough about this team to know when METHOT got hurt, but he has 94 Shot blocks and 25 take aways. Those turnovers matter even more when you give away the puck as much as TORONTO (341 times). To put this into perspective the turnover differential in the EAST is: -37 (NEW JERSEY), -81 (BUFFALO) -83 (BOSTON), -85 (PHILLY), -96 (Carolina), -127 (TORONTO), -129 (NEW YORK RANGERS), -181 (NEW YORK ISLANDERS). So with the exception of NEW JERSEY and NEW YORK, the turnover differential holds as a potential model to project post season success. If this is the case then I’m sad to say that TORONTO does not have a strong 1st round case. Since I did all the work to look it up, I’m rolling the dice with it.

The PUCK Pick: BUFFALO in 6.

Chicago vs. Nashville- We all know the BLACKHAWKS are an offensive JUGGERNAUT, they are tied for 2nd with Goals for. But I did not expect to see them leading the league in Goals allowed. Even if we added 20 goals to handicap the West Conference competition, the HAWKS would still be in or near the top ten in the league. Impressive considering the PRESIDENT’S TROPHY CHAMPION is recognized widely as a one dimensional team.

The PREDS don’t have much going for them in this series. As much as I’d love to say BOBROVSKY can be a difference maker, MARTIN JONES even has his number across the goalie stat categories. Another major key in this matchup is that CHICAGO has found the right matchups to make the most out of John Carlson who led the team in scoring. Rarely in the SIM world have we found such a consequential impact player from the BLUE LINE who not only contributes to a stingy defense but powers the 2nd most productive team in the league. As much as I’d like to write something in NASHVILLE’S favor, I just can’t see it. Is it possible their strengths are as visible as their GM? Maybe, but you’d have to show me to get me to believe it!

The PUCK Pick: CHICAGO in 4.

San Jose vs. Arizona- I already have gushed enough about SAN JOSE and secretly almost the entire league has at one point or another. So I’m not going to push the narrative the SHARKS are shoo ins for the CUP. Quite the contrary, this might be their toughest road to the CUP so far. Despite their outcome in last year’s playoffs (I’m sure you’ve heard about it by now). The SHARKS took a lot of steps throughout the year to reinvent their team. Mainstays like MCDAVID, MACKINNON, and EICHEL didn’t go anywhere but a lot of players did, which makes stat tracking a tricky endeavor.

The COYOTES did not make many HUGE splashes this year either only moving 7 transactions. However they did bring in COREY PERRY and TOREY KRUG. While PERRY is a much maligned contract, the YOTES were able to sneak 62 points out of him in 57 games. While PERRY was never destined to be a league leading scorer starting in DETROIT, he was one of the most valuable assets on the market if a team could fix his cap hit. ARIZONA clearly took a chance on that cap hit and to TREVOR SIFTON’s credit, I think this was the move that made the most difference for him. We knew ARIZONA was going to need big years out of KUZNETSOV, KANE, and BARKOV, but I find it hard to believe ARIZONA makes the playoffs without COREY PERRY. They definitely won’t advance further unless COREY has some big games in this series.

The PUCK Pick: SAN JOSE in 6.

Calgary vs. Edmonton- The Battle of Alberta in real life has to be the most forgiving travel matchup in the league. I think I saw in a Hockey Night in Canada broadcast that CALGARY and EDMONTON have the most brutal travel schedules every year. Factoring that into the equation with their various GMs in the NHL and you can see how those franchises have it slightly harder on the organization front than most. However in SIM land, EDMONTON has maintained playoff regular status. CALGARY also returns after a one year hiatus. So how will this battle go?

Everyone’s eyes will be on EHLERS and SHEIFFELE but my eyes will be on the defenses. FACT: You cannot hit the net if someone stops the puck with their body. It is one of the few scientific things I actually know. The problem is that it takes a lot of toughness to absorb the kinetic energy of a rubber puck traveling at speeds from 80-100+ MPH. But these teams have that toughness as emphasized with matching 808 Shot Blocks on the year.

So for this matchup, the key stat that poked out was SHOT PERCENTAGE and EDMONTON wins that battle. CALGARY doesn’t put a lot of points up to begin with but even with home ice, EDMONTON is one of their worst draws. EHLERS boasts a near 20% shot percentage while everyone else is around 15%+ and on CALGARY their top SHT% among likely shooters is 16.9. I’m not saying the FLAMES are iced, but I think the OILERS take this.

The PUCK Pick: EDMONTON in 7.

Minnesota vs. Winnipeg- I have the highest respect for JAKE “Mr. PLAYOFFS” GUENTZAL. The guy is a total gamer! Even in the NHL he shows there is still such a thing as being CLUTCH in the age of advanced stats and player metrics. Last year in the DCHL, GUENTZAL did everything you would expect from him in real life, he SHOWED UP! But he wasn’t alone. NAZEEM KADRI dragged himself along for a ride and in the digital universe we all seek to dominate, KADRI showed how the slightest of assets can be big time performers in the SIM! We all know of the WAYNE SIMMONDS anomaly but at least GUENTZAL and SIMMONDS had at least 2 more minutes ATOI than KADRI in the NHL last year.

This year the JETS go into the PLAYOFFS with the same two big time players but aided more by CALDER favorite BROCK BOESER. At first glance it is easy to ask the question: “How is this season, not a disappointment in WINNIPEG?” since they could not win their division. My take on this is their offensive drop off is pretty steep. Boeser (113 pts), Kadri (104 pts), and Guentzal (76 pts) are clear respectable assets but then the next set of production comes from 6 players ranging from 52-56 points on the year. I just don’t see those numbers holding a division down, especially when that division was won by the President’s Trophy holder. However, that consistency could be insurmountable in the post season for performance. For example, in a playoff format with less games, the density of point production could drive wins and knowing you have 6 options at a .634-.682 PPG rating is at the very least reliable. It just won’t win regular season team categories in many cases.

This prediction is going like most of the year, that is, until MINNESOTA crashed the party. They got 29 of their 46 wins at home. Additionally, they proved to be competent on the road winning 17 of those contests as well. WINNIPEG clearly won the regular season series 4-1 but  the games were hardly blowouts with the only 3 goal win going to the WILD coincidentally. The clearest metric for success for both teams is playing with the lead.

The WILD have the offensive power to run away with games, their 4th worst scorer has 87 points. They just haven’t had the slower but more consistent output as WINNIPEG in their matchups. Even on WINNIPEG’S Ice the trend that undid MINNESOTA was putting up a very big number in the second only to enter the 3rd tied. The WILD MUST MAKE THEIR BIG PERIODS WINNING ONES instead of tying ones if they want a round 1 win. Unfortunately for JAKE and NAZEM though, they aren’t the cavalry this time, they are the ones who need an impact player to show up.

The PUCK Pick: WINNIPEG in 6.