Friday, April 21, 2006

Rangers vs. Devils Playoff Preview
By Ben Valentine

What a welcoming committee.

After a nine year drought, the New York Rangers return to the postseason has drawn a seemingly impossible task in the form of a familiar foe; the New Jersey Devils. The renewal of this playoff rivalry is a good thing for the NHL; the two teams played one of the league’s greatest playoff series ever in 1994, when the Rangers took it in seven games thanks to an overtime goal by Stephane Matteau en route to their first Stanley Cup in 54 years. They met again in 1997, when the Rangers defeated Jersey four games to one; the Blueshirts last playoff series victory.

However most would argue the Devils are the worst team for just about anyone to face right now. They are the hottest team in professional sports, having won 11 straight games and coming out of nowhere to steal the Atlantic division crown from both the Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers. The Rangers meanwhile sputtered home, unable to get a point in their final five games and losing the Atlantic Division crown in the process Therefore most people see New Jersey as clear favorites here. However, before we all wrap this series up as an open and shut Devils’ sweep, let’s take a closer look at these two teams in a preview of the Eastern Conference’s three vs. six match up.

(3) Devils 46-27-9 (101 points)
(6) Rangers 44- 26-12 (100 points)
Season Series: Even- 4-4
Last playoff meeting: 1997 Rangers over Devils 4-1

Offense: The Rangers were in middle of the pack offensively, 14th overall in goals scored averaging 3.05 goals per game while the Devils averaged 2.84, good for 22nd in the NHL. There’s no doubt the Rangers are the better offensive team, featuring the more impressive season scoring tallies and arguably the game’s most dynamic player; Jaromir Jagr who was second in league in goals (54) and scoring (123). The Devils top scorer, Brian Gionta had 48 goals and 89 points overall, combining with Scott Gomez (33 goals 51 assists) to form Jersey’s top scoring line. Both of these teams are not particularly deep offensively, relying heavily on their top line. As the statistics show, the Rangers top one is better.
Advantage: Rangers

Defense: New Jersey has always been considered one of the league’s top defensive teams and this year they ranked ninth in goals allowed; surrendering 2.72 goals per game. They allowed 29.3 shots per game while putting 29.2 shots on opposing goalies, thus breaking even in that category. However this season the Rangers gave up 2.57 goals per game, good for fourth in the NHL. The Rangers put 29.9 shots per game on goal while allowing 28.8. Despite the reputations and their defensive breakdown at the end of the season, the Rangers were the better defensive team overall in 2005-06.
Advantage: Rangers

Goaltending: The resume is tilted in favor of Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur; four Jennings trophies for fewest goals allowed per team, two Vezina trophies and of course three Stanley Cups. However, the seasonal stats all are favor the Rangers’ excellent rookie net minder Henrik Lundqvist. He had a better GAA (2.24 to 2.57) and save percentage (.922 to .911) though he did see slightly fewer shots (28.8 to 28.1). The Rangers’ problem is the health of Lundqvist; he was sidelined for three weeks with a hip injury and did not see action again until the last game of the season against Ottawa, where he gave up five goals on 32 shots. While Brodeur’s name is the sexier one, there is no question when healthy, Lundqvist has been the better player this season.
Advantage: Rangers

Special Teams: The Rangers power play was solid ranking tied for 7th in the NHL at 18.9 percent. The Devils sat at 17.8 percent, 18th overall. On the penalty kill the Rangers ranked 10th at 83.7 percent while the Devils at 81.9 percent, sit 16th. Once again, the Rangers are near the top of the league in both categories, while the Devils are mediocre.
Advantage: Rangers

Verdict: I came in all ready to predict the Devils to win this series easily, but now I’m backing off of it. While the Devils are scalding hot right now, the Rangers are better in every single statistical category. The only reason to pick Jersey is because they’re on fire, which is of course, why most people have jumped on the bandwagon. But this eleven game streak doesn’t change the fact they are middle of the pack in most of statistical categories and thus they should be a mediocre team. (Remember those stats are WITH the eleven game streak inflating the totals) In other words, they’re playing way above their heads. I expect them to return to normal here. The one qualifying notion is if Lundqvist is not healthy; that unbalances things in the Devils favor. However should the rookie be close to 100%, the Rangers will bring the Devils back down to Earth.

Rangers- 4 games to 2.


Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

The Rangers are cold, hurt, and overachieved all year. You're a moron for picking them (but hey, at least you can rationalize me saying that because I'm drunk as shit right now). Go Devils!

2:09 AM  
Blogger Imtiaz Mussa said...

Ben, I'm a Rangers fan and even I'm saying the Devils are going to win this one. I hate the Devils but Brodeur is the hot goaltender right now and Henrik is rusty and quite possibly still wiped after playing so many games this season.

2:31 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Maybe the Rangers are toast. But it doesn't change the fact the stats show the Devils are a mediocre team. I don't know any pure statistical formula to evaluate a hockey team however, if a team is middle of the pack or lower in every single catagory, it says to me they're mediocre. And this is over an 82 game season, so there's plenty of sample size to work with.

I don't know how you can say the Rangers overachieved Zach when they posted better goals per game, goals allowed per game, more shots per game, fewer shots allowed per game, a better power play and penalty kil than Jersey yet finished with one fewer points. If anything Jersey has overachieved during this streak to sucker people in. I mean I looked at this rationally and said what's the argument for the Devils and the Rangers. In the end, the Devils only real argument is "they're hot and the Rangers aren't."

Anything can happen, especially in the NHL. I'd be an idiot to say the Devils couldn't win, because they can. But if you just looked at the stats and forgot about reputations, you'd take the Rangers.

2:10 PM  
Blogger David Arnott said...

Ben, you've forgotten hockey's Giguere Principle, which is that in a playoff series the team with the hot goalie wins, every other indicator be damned. Henrik is such a question mark right now that you'd have to give the advantage to the Devils based on that alone.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Zachary Geballe said...

Well first of all, there's the uncertain matter of who exactly on the Rangers is hurt. Second of all, didn't you see what time I posted my comment (or read the actual text of it). Lastly, you know better than I (as T and David pointed out), that the hockey playoffs are about goaltending. If you're giving me a choice between Martin Brodeur and (a possibly injured) Henrik Lundqvist, well...that's not even a choice, is it?

4:10 PM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

I realized you were drunk, but your sentiments are those I've heard before. I was also trying to respond to the "hot" team, "hot goaltending" point T-Bone brought up.

David, I looked back on the Giguere season and saw the playoffs were not actually completely out of line with his regular season; he had been one of the better goalies in the league the entire season. His GAA was 12th, but his save percentage was 8th overall despite seeing the 4th most shots in the league. He certainly raised his game in the postseason, posting a .945 save percentage despite seeing over 33 shots a game. But again, he was clearly one of the best goalies in the league in 2002-2003. Brodeur has not been this year, despite his gaudy win total.

Furthermore while the Ducks were mediocre in most catagories they were very good in GAA (sixth overall) and exceptional on the penalty kill (second overall). The only comparable mark for New Jersey this season is overall GAA, where they are ninth. Statistically they don't have as good a goalie, PK or defense as that Ducks team did.

That Ducks team was certainly lucky and Giguere was hot. But that A. doesn't happen often, and B. the Ducks are still more impressive statsitically than the Devils are this season.

4:46 PM  
Blogger heebnvegan said...

First of all, Mattheau's goal was in double overtime, not just overtime. That's important for reliving the drama.

As Ben knows, I'm a very biased Rangers fan, but I have trouble being optimistic in this series. Ben cites the statistics as revealing the teams' capabilities over a long period of time, but the Devils had a slow start and lost their coach. They got past all that, though, and have been the better team of late--of course with their amazing finish. I think that's more important than just saying what's happened from October-April.

Also, Lundqvist is one amazing goalie. He's one stellar rookie. And he has a bright career ahead of him. But here and now, even if he was better statistically in the regular season, he's no Martin Brodeur. Brodeur is playing at his best now, and Lundqvist--assuming he's healthy even--just isn't at that level.

So yeah, can you really say the Rangers are better than the Devils in every single category? I think that's a bit much. I'm hoping you're right and that the Rangers win, but I'm not holding my breath.

Let's go Rangers!

3:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How are you feeling about this ridiculous analysis now, after the 6-1 dismantling of the Rangers?

You failed to take into account in your offense preview that the Devils finest offensive player, Patrik Elias, plays on a different line than Gomez and Gionta, thus giving the Devils a much more balanced attack than you want to give them credit for.

Also, the Devils played terrible hockey at the beginning of this season. To use your terminology, they were playing way below their heads. Brodeur was hurt, Elias was hurt, their coaching was in over their heads, they were really feeling the loss of Niedermayer, and they just plain sucked.

After Elias returned from injury and Lamoriello took over as coach, they became a different team. If you've watched them at all this season, you would understand this. My point is that their stats are depressed based on a terrible first half, and they do not represent their true ability level.

8:59 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

So, the Devils got their 2...

1:26 AM  
Blogger Ben Valentine said...

Well I clearly missed on this one. I don't think the Devils are that good, but they certainly looked that way against the Rangers. I would have liked to see what the Rangers might have done with Jagr healthy, but there's little point in thinking about that now. They're done, finished, toast, etc...

Sabres will come out of the East and lose to the Sharks in the finals btw.

10:42 PM  

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