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Devils vs. Senators, Second Round Preview

We have a classic clash of styles in the New Jersey/Ottawa Eastern Conference Semifinal, between the defense-first Devils and the dynamic Senators. In my humble opinion these matchups make for some of the more entertaining series, but let's see what the numbers tell us about how this will shake out.

For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post.
How the Devils can score: There's not much outstanding when it comes to the New Jersey offense - they take an average amount of shots, with a pretty typical distribution in terms of short vs. long range, and the execution in terms of scoring percentages is right around average as well. The Ottawa defense isn't likely to shut them down, but the goaltending has been fairly strong as of late posing a challenge to a Devils offense that doesn't want to get stuck playing from behind.

How the Senators can score: The Senators will be expected to outshoot the Devils by 2-3 shots per game, which may not sound like much, but since that margin comes almost entirely from within 29 feet (sum those three left "Shots For" columns and compare against NJ), that translates to about half a goal per game. The shooting percentages aren't likely to be outstanding, but by creating an extra quality scoring chance per period, the Sens should be able to consistently achieve a decent level of offense.

Summary: While Martin Brodeur is certainly to be lauded for his career achievements, I'm not totally convinced that the Devils have a significant edge in the goaltending department, based on the way these two teams are going. Ray Emery is at the top of his game, and as we've often seen in recent playoffs, it's not unusual to see new stars develop between the pipes. This analysis ends up giving the Senators about a half-goal per game edge (2.24 - 1.77 = 0.47), which is actually the widest gap among these four Conference Semifinal series. I just see the Ottawa offense putting constant pressure on the Devils, and their goaltending playing well enough to give them 4-2, 3-1-type victories.

Outside the Numbers: While stellar goaltending is always desired, it's by no means a guarantee of playoff success. If you look at the top 8 goalies in terms of playoff save percentage, 4 of them lost in the first round (Marty Turco, Miikka Kiprusoff, Johan Hedberg and Niklas Backstrom).

Prediction: Ottawa in 6 games.

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 are excluded.

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