2016 Eastern Conference Semifinals Preview

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Kathy Willens/Associated Press

New York Islanders vs. Tampa Bay

Way for me to give a lot of discredit to the Islanders in my first round preview from a couple weeks ago! I knew their series against the Panthers would be a tight series, but I was not sure how well Thomas Greiss would be against a much more experienced Roberto Luongo. To top it all off, having the middle six forward group scrambled due to the losses of Mikhail Grabovski and Anders Lee definitely seemed to pose a challenge in comparison to Florida’s loss of Vicent Trochek.

While the latter ended up happening because of the shellacking the second line took from Florida’s top line, Alan Quine proved not to be that much of a slouch after all on the Islanders third line. In fact, only John Tavares and Kyle Okposo had a better series than Quine in terms of war-on-ice’s score-adjusted Corsi plus-minus of +3.1. However, there in lies the problem with where the Islanders are headed.

Only four players had a positive shot attempt plus-minus in the Florida series. Fortunately, New York ended up getting five goals out of their power play and Greiss’ 94.4-percent save percentage carried them through to the next round. The question now will be whether or not Greiss’ save percentage can last and whether or not New York can pull the same feat against a much better opponent in Tampa Bay.

Even without Steven Stamkos, the Lightning were able to manhandle Detroit quite easily in Game Three of that series was taken out of the equation. Excluding that outlier, Detroit owned the puck possession battle by generating 59.5 shot attempts per hour while giving up only 53.1 at even strength while score-adjusted. To go along with that, Ben Bishop continued his productive 2016 by giving up only eight goals while corsica.hockey expected him to give up 14.01 goals in all situations.

That all being said, Detroit amazingly had the edge in the expected goals battle this series sans Game Three with a 10.65 to 10.47 advantage. That was due to Detroit’s margin of victory for looking much more effective with their power play despite their lack of production. Overall, the Red Wings only scored one goal past Bishop in 25 opportunities, but were actually expected to score 3.77 goals while on special teams. Meanwhile, Tampa’s luck was used best on their power play as they were only expected to score 1.71 goals in 23 opportunities. However, the Lightning were able to put four past Petr Mrazek.

If there’s a weakness to exploit for the Islanders, special teams might be the one. Even with the possibility of Stamkos playing in Tampa’s home games as he recovers from blood clots, John Cooper’s systems on the man advantage have always been criticized despite the vast amount of talented offensive players in his arsenal. This season, the Lightning have only been able to generate 90.6 score-adjusted shot attempts per hour, which is only good for 23rd in the NHL. Meanwhile, their penalty kill also seems quite mediocre as they have given up 100.4 score-adjusted shot attempts per 60 minutes in that situation.

While the Islanders’ 94.1 score-adjusted attempts per hour while a man up shouldn’t intimidate that many teams, they have gotten hot this postseason and could pose a bigger threat against a much weaker shorthanded unit than Florida’s top ten group.

However, we need to go back to even strength: the situation where hockey will be played the most. I still can’t help but feel how mangled Brooklyn’s second line looks, especially now that Tampa is back to rolling their 11 forwards and seven defensemen for every game. That will mean more minutes for their best forwards and thus, potentially more opportunity to have them destroy weaker forward lines that the Islanders will have no choice but to throw at them. It will be very important then, I can’t believe I am writing this as a hockey analytics writer, to have Jack Capuano’s fourth line deliver massive hits towards the Tyler Johnsons, Nikita Kucherovs and even Victor Hedmans and maybe take them out of the game through injury in the most legal way possible.

Remember that Anton Stralman will still be out with a fractured fibula, so losing another defensemen to injury could be worth a thousand deaths to a Lightning team that has gone through plenty of injuries this season. If Hedman and his 27 minutes of ice time per game is gone for any stretch of the postseason, it could be curtains for them.

However, I just envision Tampa finding a way to beat an Islanders team that just seams a bit too wonky right now. Capuano has to start thinking about having Nikolai Kulemin and Ryan Strome together on the second line instead of Josh Bailey. In the regular season, Kulemin and Bailey had a shocking 35.6-percent of their on-ice attempts go in their favor in over 77 minutes of even strength. However, that same number transforms to an advantageous 50.7-percent when Kulemin played with Strome in their 150 minutes of even strength together. Either way, Shane Prince and Quine have been impressive enough in their own rights that any veteran, let alone a criticized one such as Bailey should be able to fit in well.

Still, I can’t help but think that Tampa still has more talent and the loss of Lee up front will end of biting the Islanders more than expected.

Lightning in Six

Pittsburgh vs. Washington

Here is the link of the series preview on The Hockey Writers.

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