Eastern Conference Finals Breakdown Part Two
As we have found in our first breakdown, both teams have a surprisingly strong offense that excels in relatively every medium. It is from this that we did determine Pittsburgh to have an advantage given their sheer numbers.
In this breakdown we will examine the remaining factors of game play which will consist of Defense and Intangible Play (a category consisting of statistical and non statistical information) to determine who carries the advantage and which team will be predicted as the winner in this best of seven.
Defense – Anyone who is remotely interested in hockey understand that the Big Bad Bruins and defense go together like peanut butter and jelly. Over the past few seasons Boston has put forth one of the top goals against averages and has been netminded by an award winning goaltender. Pittsburgh, to be blunt, has had none of this.
The strange part to all of this then resides in the playoffs this season as Boston and Pittsburgh rank 7th and 8th respectively in the Goals Against category. Boston carries a 2.33 GAA and Pittsburgh carries a 2.54 GAA. Both teams have allowed a total of 28 goals in the playoffs thus far; however, the Boston Bruins have only played 12 games compared to Pittsburgh.
While at even strength, we have identified how good these clubs are offensively and within respect to for and against, but we should analyze the purely defensive portion of the five on five play.
The Bruins have allowed a total of 20 even strength goals through 12 games this postseason. The Penguins have allowed a total of 21 even strength goals through 11 games this post season. Boston clearly gains an advantage in purely defensive play out of the five on five, despite Pittsburgh having the overall edge in for and against.
The Penalty kill is also a large part of the defense. Pittsburgh has the second best penalty kill of the teams remaining, killing of 35 of 39 attempts for an 89.7% kill ratio. The Boston Bruins are actually last of the four teams remaining in penalty killing. Their 7 goals on 37 attempts gives them a penalty killing ratio of 81.1%.
The basic stats are easy to find, but everyone knows that defensive play has a lot to do with takeaways, giveaways, blocked shots, and big hits. In these real time numbers we should see a shift in defensive advantage.
Since talk of this series continues to roll in the direction of Boston knocking Pittsburgh off of their game, I figure we should start with the hit category. So far in the playoffs the Bruins have 474 hits. This compared to Pittsburgh’s 319 hits is a mammoth difference. The facts clearly show that the Bruins are the more physical team.
When it comes the remaining three categories mentioned though, Pittsburgh actually has the advantage. The Penguins have managed just a total of 80 giveaways thus far. The Bruins have had a total of 144, which is not characteristic of a possession hockey club. In blocked shots, Pittsburgh again has the advantage with a 203 to 185 difference. Pittsburgh also has a miniscule lead in takeaways heading into the next round with 74 to Boston’s 72.
While stats do not tell the entire truth, as we can see above, it is shocking to reveal the statistics on goaltender play between these two teams.
Penguin’s now number one goaltender Tomas Vokoun has been excellent for them since starting in game 5 against the New York Islanders. Vokoun has a 1.86 goals against average and a .941 save percentage. That ranks him second amongst NHL goaltenders at this point, only behind Jonathan Quick (pseudo tied with Crawford).
Bruins netminder Tuukka Rask currently has a 2.22 goals against average and a .928 save percentage. His great play has come exactly when his team has needed it most in these playoffs.
Despite the statistical advantage of Tomas Vokoun over Tuukka Rask, it is just not reasonable to give Vokoun the advantage in goal in this series. Vokoun is now a starting goaltender and he has played ever since game five of the Eastern Conference Quarter Finals, but he did not start four games for the Penguins. That is enough to give the slight advantage in net to Tuukka Rask.
It is quite strange to see here, considering the reputations at hand for each club, that each team is within a relatively close area of defensive success. In this instance, I want to call it an even draw between both clubs in the defensive category given Pittsburgh’s advantage in Penalty Killing, giveaways, takeaways, and blocked shots; but I could not do so, not this time.
I have to give a slight advantage to the Boston Bruins in the category of team defense because of one thing; Pittsburgh’s defensive statistics are a microcosm of their tremendous puck possession offense, except for the blocked shots which is all Craig Adams, Brooks Orpik, and Douglas Murray. Boston just has a statistical advantage, 2.33 goals against is just flat out better than 2.54 (but not by much).
Advantage – Boston Bruins
I have included the special teams breakdowns within the categories of Offense and Defense for a reason, the Pittsburgh Penguins are better at both in very much every fashion. They score more while a man or two up, they allow less goals while a man down, and they even score more while a man down. I didn’t need to write 375 words on this, instead, I want to breakdown the intangible play of each team and the not so major statistics that each team can use to their advantage in this series.
The Faceoff – It is the most underrated tool for gaining needed puck possession in all areas of the ice. It is the difference between stopping a scoring opportunity and creating one. Case in point; since the start of last season Evgeni Malkin and James Neal have combined for four goals off of the faceoff, specifically the left faceoff dot in the offensive zone. To my recollection as well, Matt Cooke and Chris Kunitz have also scored in this fashion. The play is simply to win the face off straight back to a winger on the top of the circle. The one timer or wrist shot is rapid and can catch the goaltender hugging the right post.
While I mentioned Pittsburgh offensive set plays, it is actually the Boston Bruins who dominate this category. Boston comes in to the Eastern Conference Final with a realitively huge advantage by way of a 57.5 win percentage compared to Pittsburgh’s 50.1 win percentage.
Bergeron, the Bruins leading faceoff winner, will most likely be paired against Sidney Crosby. Without the faceguard, Crosby should be a bit better at faceoff’s than he was in the previous two rounds, but he still has to go against one of the best in the league. The faceoff advantage clearly goes to Boston.
Overall the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Boston Bruins are the powerhouses of the East in many different ways. In this series though there are a few keys for each team to win.
Pittsburgh – The Penguins are not entirely a finesse team, but they can play physical. The best chance for Pittsburgh to eliminate the Bruins is to play their game of being physical in the neutral zone and in their cycle game, not to try and be overly physical.
Boston – The Bruins are a team that can wear you down, keep you in your own end, and shut down your neutral zone speed. It is something that if played correctly and in a discipline fashion can be extremely effective against high powered offensive teams such as Pittsburgh.