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Looking back at Round One in the East

Just before the Conference Quarterfinal series began, I posted some predictions that were based on an application of the Shot Quality metric, basically matching each team's offense with the opposing defense, in terms of shots taken and shooting percentage from various distances. Now it's time to see how well that process worked, and in the days to follow, I'll tweak the process slightly based on the findings here, and post projections for the 2nd round series due to start later this week.

So first let's review the Eastern Conference series one-by-one...

Buffalo/NY Islanders: While the overall numbers came in lower than expected, the difference between the two teams' Expected Goals values (4.37 - 2.91 = 1.46) came in quite close to the Actual Goals (3.25 - 2.00 = 1.25), resulting in an easy victory for the Sabres. My qualitative hunch was that the Islanders' goaltending wouldn't keep up the pace set late in the season, but they actually did acquit themselves rather well, particularly Rick DiPietro, as in New York's Game Two win (32 saves on 34 shots against). I picked the Sabres to win in four, but I'm sure they're happy with the five-game result.

New Jersey/Tampa Bay: Tampa Bay did a much better job of holding the Devils in check than expected, especially if you look at New Jersey's performance in the 10-19 foot range, which is where most goals come from (only 0.60 goals per game, rather than the anticipated 2.77). A combination of solid goaltending and responsible defensive play in their own zone kept the Lightning competitive in their six-game defeat. At the other end of the ice, New Jersey relied on the typically superior Martin Brodeur to hold Tampa Bay below the 2.5 goal/game mark. The one thing that jumps out at me here is how New Jersey was expected to shoot at a .384 clip from 10-19 feet, which seems absurdly high to predict. The idea was that I applied a simple multiplying factor between how one team shot from a given range, and how the opposing goaltending handled such shots compared to the league average. For example, if a goalie gave up 20% more goals in the 10-19 range than the NHL average, I boosted the opponent's shooting percentage by 20% to get the expected value. I may look into methods to provide for diminishing marginal returns there, so that no particular value strays too wide from the sanity range. I picked the Devils to sweep this one, but they ended up needing six games to dispatch the Lightning.

Atlanta/NY Rangers: Well, this went pretty far awry - I had the Thrashers winning in seven as the teams were expected to post nearly identical goal totals (2.95 for Atlanta, 2.83 for the Rangers). Instead, it looks like the goaltending took things in opposite directions for both squads. Henrik Lundqvist's .939 save percentage for New York gave them confidence, and Kari Lehtonen's .849 pace in Games One and Three put the Thrashers in a hole they couldn't dig out of.

Ottawa/Pittsburgh: The overall projection for Ottawa came out nearly perfect (expected 3.61 Goals/Game, 3.60 Actual), and my pick of a five-game victory for the Senators indeed came to pass. The Penguins offense just couldn't get on track, as their 22 shots/game figure was the lowest in the Eastern Conference's first round.

Not bad, overall I'd say - 3 out of 4 correct so far. Tuesday I'll post the Western Conference reviews, and start cranking out those looks ahead to Round Two.

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