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Sabres vs. Senators, ECF Preview

The Buffalo vs. Ottawa pairing for the Eastern Conference Finals should result in a spectacular display of "new NHL" hockey, pitting two talented, offensively-oriented teams in a battle for the Prince of Wales Trophy. My predictive method of matching offense against defense and focusing on recent performance has proven pretty useful so far - so what does it say about this series?

How the Sabres can score: Buffalo appears to be all about the execution - their shooting percentage from the prime scoring ranges (10-19 and 20-29 feet) is the best among the four remaining teams, and that ability to hit your spot under pressure (recall Chris Drury's 0:07 game-tying goal against the Rangers) will be critical to the Sabre's success in this series. They'll need that composure to beat Ray Emery in goal, who has been outstanding for Ottawa so far in the playoffs.

How the Senators can score: Ottawa can be expected to pop off about four more shots per game than Buffalo, but almost all of that gap comes from 40 feet out, which shouldn't have much effect on goal-scoring. Their execution from close range is quite good, although not up to Buffalo's levels.

Summary: This one is ridiculously close - when I first ran these numbers, I had to recheck them, as the Expected Goals Per Game figures came within 0.0001 of each other (Ottawa's 2.6677 to Buffalo's 2.6676). Basically, the extra shots that Ottawa will take from long range are counterbalanced by Buffalo's superior shooting from in close. However you look at it, it's an evenly matched battle.

Outside The Numbers: The intensity level in this series should be incredible - both teams have something to prove in terms of playoff achievement, and oh yeah, there's that nasty little Chris Neil/Chris Drury incident of a few months ago to raise tempers as well.

Prediction: Home ice advantage is likely to play a factor here, so I'm going with Buffalo 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 are excluded.

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