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Thrashers vs. Rangers, Round One Preview

It's a new team with some old faces that will square off against the New York Rangers tonight as the Atlanta Thrashers make their playoff debut. So how will the blue hairs do against the blueshirts? Let's see what my angle on the numbers has to say:

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

How the Thrashers can score: For Atlanta, it's all about execution. Their shooting percentage from close range is excellent, and the Rangers defense is giving up the opportunities, but the goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist has been saving their bacon. The Thrashers have a number of excellent finishers in Hossa, Kovalchuk, Kozlov and Tkachuk, however, and they will push Lundqvist's abilities to the limit.

How the Rangers can score: Hockey commentators love to talk about digging hard for the "tough goals" in the playoffs, and for the Rangers, that does indeed seem to be their formula for success. They are generating the most shots from 29 feet in amongst all playoff teams, and the Atlanta defense seems vulnerable to giving up a higher than average number of close-range scoring chances.

Summary: This one's a nailbiter, folks - 2.95 GPG for Atlanta vs. 2.83 for New York makes this the closest matchup of the opening round. The extra +0.25 GPG you can credit for the home team in each game could well play a factor.

Outside the Numbers: There's two factors I see working against the Rangers - the first being Sean Avery's ability to play the pest without taking penalties (unlikely in my view), and the second being whether Brendan Shanahan has any gas left in the tank to carry him in the playoffs (his last productive playoff was five years ago). Unless those dancing trannies liberated him of some serious curse, I wouldn't assume that Shanny's going to take the team on his back like some might expect.

The Prediction: I'll take Atlanta in 7 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 and Penalty Shots are excluded.

Technorati Tags: stanley cup playoffs, atlanta thrashers, new york rangers

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