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Devils vs. Lightning, Round One Preview

The New Jersey Devils/Tampa Bay Lightning matchup would seem to be a very basic clash of styles. New Jersey is what they have been for more than ten years - a solidly deep team that stresses defense and goaltending above all else (only Philadelphia scored fewer goals in the Eastern Conference), whereas Tampa Bay relies on the sensational play from a core group of stars (Lecavalier/St. Louis/Richards) to make things happen. Without further ado, here's my take on how this series shapes up:

For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post.

How the Devils can score: During the regular season New Jersey didn't even average 2.7 goals per game, so the 3.81 expectation here says as much about the Lightning goaltending than anything else. The quantity of shots their teams won't be the concern (overall shots factor of 1.00 means shot totals should be average for New Jersey), but in the 10-19 and 20-29 foot ranges, the shooting percentage takes a big jump, meaning either the Lightning defensive coverage gives opponents more time to pick their spots, or the goaltending is failing. Either way, the Devils should enjoy a few games of offensive superstardom at the expense of Tampa Bay.

How the Lightning can score: Opposition goaltending looks to be the big story here. Despite the prospect of getting a decent number of shots, Martin Brodeur simply isn't coughing up easy goals from inside 39 feet, which is where most scoring comes from. The Lightning have a decent (not outstanding) team offense, but the Devils defense gave up the least goals in the East by a 10% margin, and I just don't see that changing in this series.

Summary: The difference between New Jersey's 3.81 and Tampa's 2.26 GPG expectations is the largest gap among all first-round matchups. Even giving an extra +0.25 to the home team in each game isn't likely to buy the Lightning much here.

Outside the Numbers: How will the Devils respond to Lou Lamoriello's April Fool's shocker by replacing Claude Julien as coach? Yes, something similar was done a few years back to Robbie Ftorek before they went on to win the Cup, but that doesn't mean it's a formula for success.

The Prediction: I'll take New Jersey in a 4-game sweep.

Table Key:
Shots For = average of shots per game by that team, from the range specified.
Shots Factor = a factor representing how many shots the opposing defense yields in that range (1.24 = 24% more than average, 0.89 = 11% less than average).
Exp. Shots = "Shots For" times "Shots Factor", how many shots are expected to occur within each range.
Sht % = The fraction of shots from within that range result in goals.
Sht % Factor = a measure reflecting how the opposing goaltender handles shots from a given range (0.74 = 26% fewer goals than average, 1.53 = 53% more than average)
Exp. Sht % = "Sht %" times "Sht % Factor", the expected shooting percentage for this matchup.
Exp. Goals = "Exp. Shots" times "Exp. Sht %", the number of goals per game expected from each range.
Values indicative of significantly higher goal-scoring are shaded green, values for lower goal-scoring shaded pink.
All figures represent exponential moving averages, giving greater weight to recent performance. Empty-net goals and Penalty Shots are excluded.

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