Evolving Hockey 2023 Playoff Preview: Round 2

Rosters from CapFriendly’s Depth Charts. Data from Evolving-Hockey.

The first round is complete, and oh boy was it a fun two weeks. Three series went to game 7, the Boston Bruins lost in the most Hockey way possible (best team in the league losing in the first round), Minnesota seized the longest-playoff-loss streak from Toronto, and the Hurricanes showed that you don’t have to score goals to win a series (this is a joke). To round 2 we go!The East continues to be a gauntlet, with both series projected to be less than 60% for any team. The West is a bit more lopsided but ripe for potential upsets. Of the remaining eight teams, the last to win the Cup was Carolina in 2006, and only New Jersey has won it in the last 20 years, while Florida, Vegas, and Seattle have never won a championship. A playoffs without the Bruins, Lightning, and Avalanche? In this economy?

Here is a quick overview of the first round:

Conference Home Away Round 1 % Outcome
East BOS FLA 66.0% – 34.0% 3-4
East TOR T.B 66.1% – 33.9% 4-2
East CAR NYI 78.7% – 21.3% 4-2
East N.J NYR 72.1% – 27.9% 4-3
West COL SEA 61.9% – 38.1% 3-4
West DAL MIN 68.7% – 31.3% 4-2
West VGK WPG 48.4% – 51.6% 4-1
West EDM L.A 64.8% – 35.2% 4-2

Let’s go.

Eastern Conference

Toronto Maple Leafs (A2)     vs.     Florida Panthers (WC2)

57.1%                         42.9%

Let’s start off with the hottest series for The Narrative. The Leafs just won a playoff series for the first time in 19 years, and Florida just overthrew the regular season record setting Bruins. Based on previous assumptions about Toronto’s futility in the playoffs and the Bruins dominating regular season, this matchup is the exact opposite of what most expected, but here we are. Toronto, surprisingly, didn’t have the best series from a numbers standpoint. If we’re analyzing like it’s 2016, the Lightning posted the best Corsi For % at even-strength of all the playoff teams and posted better even-strength numbers than the Leafs (including Goals For %) in all major categories. It’s actually a bit difficult to figure out how the Leafs even won the series – the answer really comes down to goaltending, where Vasilevskiy struggled (-3.69 GSAx) and Samsonov was just serviceable (0 GSAx). Lineup decisions will be an interesting line to follow for Toronto given the lackluster performance from the Holl & Giordano line, but this team is still very strong. Given the weight that’s likely been lifted after their round one win, Toronto is primed for a long run.

The Panthers proved that I was asking the right questions back in January (this is a stretch but I’m irrationally patting myself on the back regardless). While every public model favored the Bruins in this series, the probabilities for the Panthers never ruled them completely out. While it took Game 7 overtime to get the job done, Florida showed us that their ’21-22 President’s Trophy may still be lingering within this roster. While Matthew Tkachuk is becoming a household name among the best players in the league, Anton Lundell, Carter Verhaeghe, and Sam Reinhart provided extremely good support down the lineup this series. We knew our model liked Florida’s skater group, but their goalies did everything that was required of them (be slightly above average) – Lyon and Bobrovsky (especially the playoff version) have turned into a very useful duo for the cats. Just like the Toronto, the Panthers are surely riding high after a historic win in the first round. Which team is more passionate?


Carolina Hurricanes (M1)     vs.     New Jersey Devils (M2)

46%                         54%

The doubt surrounding this Hurricanes teams is immense, it seems. While we were quite high on the Hurricanes (or put another way very low on the Islanders), there was a point where it felt like their 4th-worst regular season shooting percentage may doom them given shutouts in games 1 and 3. But if we can infer anything from the first round, it’s that our model is never wrong, right? The Hurricanes out-shot the Islanders in every game at even strength, and only lost the xG battle in two of their six games. Anti Raanta & Frederik Andersen proved quite serviceable in net for the Canes, and the well-rounded shoot-as-often-as-possible approach powered the Hurricanes to a (mostly) solid victory over the Islanders in six games. Injury questions still surround the team to an extent, with the loss of Teräväinen to a broken hand and the continued absence of Svechnikov, the real question for Carolina stays the same: can they actually score goals?

Thank you New Jersey! A sentence that at least a few people have written since their admission to the Union in 1787. We didn’t quite realize this at the time of publication, but we were excessively high on them in the first round. Like, really high. Similar to the Islanders, this had more to do with our models’ general aversion to the Rangers, but nonetheless our stuff loves this Devils team. It took seven games, and sure, they looked like [expletive] for a few games, but [fan voice] game 7 showed exactly what Devils fans know this team can be. Other than the extremely solid roster that we talked about in round 1, the Devils found a surprising star in 22-year old Akira Scmid. Having played just 18 games in the NHL prior to his playoff debut, Schmid posted the 5th best GSAx in only 4 games. It seems quite likely we’ll see him again in this series, but one must think Vanecek will be readily available given his performance in the regular season. This is likely the most “Analytics” series we’ve ever seen in the NHL, and we, for one, are very much here for it.


Western Conference

Dallas Stars (C2)     vs.     Seattle Kraken (WC1)

63.3%                         36.7%

The Seattle Kraken, in their first playoff series as a franchise, took down the defending Stanley Cup champions in seven games. From a metrics standpoint, their series was the closest of any (shot attempts and expected-goals for at even-strength were essentially 50 / 50). The real story here was the great play from Phillip Grubauer along with the support of somewhat overlooked players of Jaden Schwartz, Morgan Geekie, and Oilver Bjorkstrand. To be fair, the Kraken benefited, to varying degrees, from the Avalanche’s punctured roster, which never found its footing, carrying over from the regular season. Seattle has some ambiguity of their own heading into the second round with the absence of Jared McCann, arguably their best player. But if anything, the Kraken showed us how a deep, well-constructed roster can carry a team when an important piece is missing. It’s hard not to cheer for this Seattle team, given their recent inclusion in the league and the fact that they’re playing Dallas.

Well, Dallas trounced the Wild. Or put another way: the Minnesota Wild just sucked. Ok fine, Dallas played well, but in true Minnesota fashion, the Wild decided they’d rather stay with tradition and lose. After taking a 2-1 series lead, the Wild’s skater group (apart from Kirill Kaprizov) collapsed. Gustavsson played quite well, and they had their moments, but things never clicked. It took a bit, and for a few games the lack of Joe Pavelski was quite apparent, but ultimately Dallas showed us (I’m talking about Luke and me here) why our model was so high on them in the first place. Their high-end skater talent combined with the superb goaltending of (Minnesot traitor) Jake Oettinger made it clear why Dallas was the stronger team heading into the first round. We’re once again quite bullish on the Stars here, and there are still some lingering questions about their roster, but if the first round was any indication, Jason Robertson & Roope Hintz don’t seem to mind who they’re playing with or against.


Vegas Golden Knights (P1)     vs.     Edmonton Oilers (P2)

35.1%                         64.9%

The Golden Knights had little issues with the Winnipeg Jets in the first round. Despite a very fun and close game 3 among a sea of white at the Canada Life Centre, Vegas was the only team in the first round to win their series in 5 games. They posted the highest xGF% at even-strength among all teams in the first round, and only 5 of their players had an xGF% below 50%. The looming presence of Connor Hellebuyck didn’t seem to faze them at all. Jack Eichel was possibly the biggest story for the Knights, scoring his first playoff goal after 8 seasons in the league. Mark Stone and Jonathan Marchessault were also fantastic in their 5 games. As I noted in the first preview, the main concern for Vegas heading into the playoffs was the uncertainty surrounding their roster. Specifically, given their injury issues and lack of playing time for numerous veterans, what kind of team are the Knights really? The first round showed they still have plenty of strength, but the Oilers will prove to be quite a test out west.

For a minute there, it almost seemed like the Oilers might actually struggle without their powerplay, eh? I kid, of course. If anything I was dead wrong in our round one preview: only the Jets had less time on the powerplay among all 16 teams while playing one game less. While it was tense for a game, Edmonton solidly won game six against the scrappy Kings. Just behind Vegas in the xGF% at even-strength, the Oilers displayed their surprising depth this round. Derek Ryan, Ryan McLeod, and Warren Foegele actually posted higher on-ice metrics than any line McDavid or Draisaitl played on (I’m somewhat reaching with this example since it was only 30 minutes but you get the idea). It seems like Edmonton is moving some pieces around with their lines, so it will be interesting to see where they land. Given Edmonton is the away team, 64.9% makes them the biggest favorite in round 2 according to our model. And given this roster, they are easily the favorites to come out of the West.

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