NHL Playoff Preview: WSH vs BOS

The biggest storyline heading into the Boston Bruins and the Washington Capitals first round matchup revolves around Zdeno Chara, facing off against his old squad. Playing each other 8 times in the regular season so far, this storyline has grown stale and lacks the luster it would otherwise would have in a normal season.

Regardless, these two aging teams both have much to prove as they vie for another Stanley Cup before their respective contending windows slam shut.

Statistical Breakdown

This matchup is between two middle of the pack squads who rely heavily upon their top-six for production. The Capitals don’t put many pucks on net, and fail to generate a lot of quality looks in the slot. Despite this low event strategy they employ, they shoot lights out. The likes of Ovechkin, Mantha and Oshie are all great shooters and their talent makes up for the teams structural ineptitude to produce chances.

The Bruins are one of the best teams in the league at putting shot attempts on net, ranking fourth among all playoff teams. Their strategy is very clear; quantity over quality. They generate the lowest quality shots of all 16 playoff teams and are a middle of the pack team in terms of shooting ability.

Perhaps the most shocking statistic in this series is the defensive play from both squads. The Capitals have never been regarded as a defensive powerhouse, but they’re capable at reducing the quantity of chances their opponent takes. Boston’s high shot quantity strategy combined with Washington’s ability to reduce chances makes for an interesting strategic matchup.

Boston’s defensive metrics are terrible. They give up shots, and high quality ones at that. Despite the reputation of some of their players being capable defensively, this hasn’t translated to their underlying statistics. Is this something they can fix in the playoffs?

The special teams advantage in this series also appears to be completely up for grabs. Boston, despite their incredible first line, is weak on the powerplay at generating expected goals. Their penalty kill is even worse, ranking last. If the Bruins wish to win this series, they need to fix their special teams play, now.

Boston Bruins

What you see is what you get with the Boston Bruins. The top line of Marchand, Bergeron and Pasternak isn’t going to surprise anyone. Their production is consistent, and has been for a while. The biggest development for this team in the second half of the season was how the Hall acquisition. The results so far are very positive. Krejci and Smith have performed much better with Hall on their flank, giving the Bruins two formidable lines.

Key points:

  • Depth. The biggest question mark for the Bruins heading into the postseason. Their entire bottom six has been underwhelming, without one player standing out to this point.
  • Charlie Mcavoy is a top-five defenseman in the league. His play at both ends of the ice is exceptional, and will be critical to their success.
  • Mike Reilly was the best depth acquisition among all playoff teams. Reilly has fit in seamlessly into the lineup and he has solidified himself as the true number three on this team.
  • What first looked to be incredibly problematic has turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The injuries to Rask and Halak opened the door to Jeremy Swayman, who has put up an absurd two wins above replacement in only 10 games played. Is that sustainable? Definitely not, but if Rask struggles and Swayman continues to catch lightning in a bottle, it could be a Cup winning recipe.

X-Factor: Tuuka Rask. The Bruins hold one key statistical advantage over the Capitals, and the most important one at that. The options the Bruins have in net are plentiful, but if the Bruins are forced to put Swayman in the crease late in the series, it might already be too late for the Bs.

Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals love to recycle depth pieces from division rivals to fill in the gaps around their stars. Chara, Jensen, Schultz, Raffl, Hagelin, Sheary and Sprong have all played in the division prior to joining the Caps. What does this mean? Nothing really, but provides an interesting look into their roster construction philosophies.

Key points:

  • Tom Wilson will be Tom Wilson. I predict either a suspension or a series win (butthurt).
  • Mantha’s numbers look average on the surface, and after a hot start for the team, his production has tapered off. For the trade to be worth the hefty price they paid, he needs to have an excellent showing in the playoffs.
  • The Capitals defense is solid, and shows no glaring weakness. John Carlson is the big name on the back end, but Brenden Dillon is the true catalyst for their success on D.
  • The depth on this team is solid, with the likes of Eller, Hagelin, Sheary and Sprong all providing something unique to the team. Sprong in particular will be an interesting player to watch. His offensive output has been impressive, and he could be a key cog.
  • Goaltending has been a revolving door in Washington. Vanecek will be coined the number 1 goalie to start the playoffs, without holding any playoff experience under his belt. It could be a quick series if he doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain. Or might Craig Anderson get a proper shot in the crease?

X-factor: Anthony Mantha. The surprise deadline acquisition needs to be worth the price of admission to keep up with Boston’s top-six Anything less could contribute to their demise.

Ultimately, it’s the Bruins who the betting public favors to win this series, despite being the lower seed. The model also believes that the Bruins are the team to beat, and for one crucial reason: goaltending. The Capitals are a deeper team, but need a strong performance from Vanecek to advance past the first round.

Prediction: Boston Bruins in 7.

Koho Contributor Picks

Tate Laycraft: Boston Bruins in 5.

Connor McCallister: Boston Bruins in 7.

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