NHL Playoffs Preview 2019: Western Conference

Updated: April 9, 2019 at 4:23 pm by Dylan Berthiaume

Not much to complain about here. Reverting to the old playoff format wouldn’t change any matchups in the first-round, but it would affect the seeding moving forward. The Predators get the luxuries of being a No.2 seed despite posting the third-best record in the conference.

Current Playoff Format Old Playoff Format
[P1] CGY vs. COL [WC2] [1] CGY vs. COL [8]
[P2] SJS vs. VGK [P3] [2] SJS vs. VGK [7]
[C1] NSH vs. DAL [WC1] [3] NSH vs. DAL [6]
[C2] WPG vs. STL [C3] [4] WPG vs. STL [5]

[P1] Calgary Flames vs. Colorado Avalanche [WC2]

Flames Avalanche
RECORD 50-25-7 (3rd) 38-30-14 (17th)
GF/PG 3.52 (3rd) 3.15 (10th)
GA/PG 2.72 (9th) 2.98 (16th)
5V5 SV% .918 (19th) .923 (9th)
PP% 19.3% (18th) 22.0% (7th)
PK% 79.7% (21st) 78.7% (25th)
CF% 53.83% (5th) 49.86% (14th)

The Calgary Flames are heavily-favoured in what is obviously the most lopsided first-round matchup in the Western Conference. Calgary’s depth upfront and their elite blue-line are the keys to victory over the Avalanche. The Flames’ questionable goaltending should be a moot point in this series.

On paper, the matchup couldn’t be much worse for the Avalanche. They are a top-heavy team reliant on Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon, and Mikko Rantanen (assuming he’s healthy) beating other teams single-handedly. Calgary, of course, possesses a magnificent first line of their own, completely capable of going blow for blow with MacKinnon and company. Sean Monahan, Johnny Gaudreau, and Elias Lindholm have dominated the puck at even strength all season long. If their production can nullify that of Colorado’s top-line, this series will be all but over.

Obviously, the depth of the Avalanche pales in comparison to that of the Flames. Calgary’s second-line, featuring Mikael Backlund, Matthew Tkachuk, and Michael Frolik, is one of the best checking lines in the NHL. In over 400 minutes together at 5v5 this season, the three of them controlled 60.19% of the shots and 58.37% of the scoring chances. Flames head coach Bill Peters can hard-match the Backlund line against MacKinnon on home ice, allowing Monahan and Gaudreau to run rampant against the depth of the Avs.

Bottom Line: Colorado will need elite goaltending to even have a chance of beating the Flames. The Avs are heavily out-matched in every other facet of the game, but Philipp Grubauer’s recent run of success suggests they will have the advantage in goal. He should be able to steal a game from the Flames, but it’s hard to expect much more from this underdog.

My Prediction: Flames in 5️⃣

Brock’s Prediction: Flames in 5️⃣

[P2] San Jose Sharks vs. Vegas Golden Knights [P3]

Sharks Golden Knights
RECORD 46-27-9 (6th) 42-32-7 (16th)
GF/PG 3.52 (2nd) 3.00 (14th)
GA/PG 3.15 (21st) 2.78 (10th)
5V5 SV% .897 (31st) .915 (24th)
PP% 23.6% (6th) 16.8% (25th)
PK% 80.8% (15th) 80.9% (14th)
CF% 54.87% (1st) 54.36% (3rd)

The Sharks and Golden Knights are set to collide in one of the most evenly-matched series of the first-round. San Jose’s front office has assembled one of the best groups of 18 skaters in the entire league, but they failed to address a very obvious weakness in goal. Martin Jones has played well below average all season long. That the Sharks managed the second-best record in the West despite a sub-.900 SV% is a testament to how good their skaters are. If San Jose again fails to deliver in the post-season it will almost certainly be because of goaltending, and the front office won’t have anyone to blame but themselves.

Vegas returns to the post-season after their magical run to the finals a year ago with what is arguably a better team on paper. Jonathan Marchessault, William Karlsson, and Reilly Smith won’t have to do all the heavy-lifting this year thanks to some key trades and free-agent signings. Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny showed an instant connection at the start of the season, giving the Golden Knights a legitimate second line. Of course, their production and upside were only amplified by the acquisition of Mark Stone at the deadline. Stone, Stastny, and Pacioretty have been incredibly-effective at even strength, boasting a 57.96 CF% and a 56.44 SCF% in just over 150 minutes together.

San Jose’s top-nine and blue-line are well-equipped to deal with the Golden Knights’ dynamic top two lines. The Sharks’ league-leading numbers suggest they should have a slight edge over the Golden Knights at 5v5. San Jose should also have the advantage on special teams. Their PP% of 23.6% is the sixth-best in the NHL, while the Golden Knights finished the year with the league’s seventh-worst power-play at 16.8%.

Bottom line: Goaltending will be the great equalizer in this first-round matchup. A performance from Marc-Andre Fleury like the .927 SV% he posted in last year’s playoffs would be enough to steal this series for his team. The Sharks clearly have the better group of skaters, but they’ll need Jones to be league average, at the very least, if they want to make any sort of run in the playoffs. Assuming we see a healthy Erik Karlsson, I like the Sharks’ chances of edging the Golden Knights, but it’s going to be close.

  • My Prediction: Sharks in 7️⃣

  • Brock’s Prediction: Golden Knights in 7️⃣

[C1] Nashville Predators vs. Dallas Stars [WC1]

Predators Stars
RECORD 47-29-6 (7th) 43-32-7 (15th)
GF/PG 2.88 (19th) 2.55 (28th)
GA/PG 2.59 (4th) 2.44 (2nd)
5V5 SV% .928 (5th) .935 (2nd)
PP% 12.9% (31st) 21.0% (11th)
PK% 82.1% (6th) 82.8% (5th)
CF% 52.24% (7th) 48.32% (22nd)

Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites must be absolutely thrilled his team, built around a pair of “horseshit” superstars, was able to sneak into the post-season, but that is the power of goaltending. A miraculous season from Ben Bishop propelled Dallas to their first playoff appearance since 2016 despite an obvious lack of depth and yes, an underwhelming campaign from Jamie Benn. Believe it or not, this top-heavy Stars team is exactly the type of team the Predators should be nervous about facing in the playoffs.

While they remain one of the very best teams in the NHL at even strength, Nashville dramatically underperformed on the man-advantage this season. Despite all their talent and skill, the Preds inexplicably finished with the league’s worst power-play at a dismal 12.9%. Their inefficiencies on special teams have been masked by outstanding 5v5 play and elite goaltending, but it’s not easy to make a deep post-season run when you’re only converting on one of every eight power-play chances.

Bottom line: There is a real cause for concern here for the Predators. If Bishop can deliver anything close to his league-leading .934 SV% in this series, the Stars will have a serious chance of eliminating Nashville. Boasting the league’s 11th-ranked power-play and fifth-ranked penalty-kill, Dallas should have a sizable advantage on special teams. It’s hard to bet against a blue-line that features Roman Josi, P.K. Subban, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Ellis, but if you’re looking for an upset in round one, the Stars are as good of an underdog to bet on as any.

  • My Prediction: Predators in 7️⃣

  • Brock’s Prediction: Predators in 5️⃣

[C2] Winnipeg Jets vs. St. Louis Blues [C3]

Jets Blues
RECORD 47-30-5 (10th) 45-28-9 (12th)
GF/PG 3.29 (7th) 2.98 (15th)
GA/PG 2.96 (15th) 2.68 (5th)
5V5 SV% .923 (8th) .921 (12th)
PP% 24.8% (4th) 21.1% (10th)
PK% 79.2% (22nd) 81.5% (9th)
CF% 48.97% (19th) 51.50% (10th)

This year’s punching bag of the analytics community, the Jets will be put to the ultimate test in round one as they’re set to square off against the Blues. After a dreadful start to the season, St. Louis rode a remarkable rookie campaign from Jordan Binnington to a 30-10-5 record in 2019, the best in the NHL. Since January 1, St. Louis ranks in the top ten in the NHL in goals for, goals against, PP%, PK%, CF%, and SCF%. They are as well-rounded as any team in the NHL and a nightmare first-round matchup for the Jets.

By nearly all accounts, Winnipeg is a below-average team this season at 5v5. They are routinely out-attempted, out-shot, and out-chanced, yet they still managed a 50.61 GF%, thanks in large part to the league’s seventh-best PDO. They’ve been bailed out by above-average goaltending and an elite power-play. While it’s worked out for them so far, it’s not the kind of pedigree that Stanley Cup champions are generally made from.t

Bottom line: The Blues are built to win this series. Binnington has been one of, if not the best goaltender in the league since he took over as the starter in early January, and St. Louis’ penalty-kill is more than capable of slowing down the likes of Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele, and Patrik Laine. The Jets need to rely on goaltending and the man-advantage to win games, two areas where they project to be out-matched in this series. There’s a lot of talent on that team, but in this matchup, they’ll be lucky to push it to six games.

  • My Prediction: Blues in 6️⃣

  • Brock’s Prediction: Blues in 6️⃣