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Red Wings vs. Flames, Round One Preview

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Two of the most balanced teams in the Western Conference meet up tonight in Game 1 between the Detroit Red Wings and Calgary Flames. Each team has top-notch scorers up front (Jarome Iginla/Pavel Datsyuk), elite defenders along the blue line (Dion Phaneuf/Nicklas Lidstrom) and potentially game-stealing goalies behind them (Miikka Kiprusoff/Dominik Hasek). Up front I'll tell you I think this is the most intriguing matchup in the NHL so far, but here's what my spin on the numbers says about who'll come out on top:

For table explanation, scroll down to the bottom of this post.

How the Red Wings can score: Overall, the Red Wings (as has usually been the case for the last 15 years) put loads of shots on net, particularly from 40 feet out, which isn't surprising with the likes of Lidstrom and Mathieu Schneider back there. The Flames tend to give up more of those shots as well, so look for the Detroit D to fire away early and often, and bank on Tomas Holmstrom, Kyle Calder and Todd Bertuzzi (who's "likely out" for Game One) to provide screens and go after rebounds.

How the Flames can score: It would appear that Calgary's best chance to generate offense will come from close range, as they take a low number of mid-range shots, Detroit tends to shut down those areas, and their goaltending fares well there already, a triple-whammy against Calgary through that section of the table. From inside 20 feet, however, the Flames may be able to make something happen.

Summary: This is the 2nd-tightest matchup of the opening round (2.97 vs. 2.68 GPG), and home ice is likely to play a role.

Outside the Numbers: This analysis reflects very little of Todd Bertuzzi's impact (only 8 games played with the Wings), so if he is able to come back and play effectively, that should benefit Detroit's chances.

The Prediction: I like Detroit in 7 games.

Table Key:
Shots For = average of shots per game by that team, from the range specified.
Shots Factor = a factor representing how many shots the opposing defense yields in that range (1.24 = 24% more than average, 0.89 = 11% less than average).
Exp. Shots = "Shots For" times "Shots Factor", how many shots are expected to occur within each range.
Sht % = The fraction of shots from within that range result in goals.
Sht % Factor = a measure reflecting how the opposing goaltender handles shots from a given range (0.74 = 26% fewer goals than average, 1.53 = 53% more than average)
Exp. Sht % = "Sht %" times "Sht % Factor", the expected shooting percentage for this matchup.
Exp. Goals = "Exp. Shots" times "Exp. Sht %", the number of goals per game expected from each range.
Values indicative of significantly higher goal-scoring are shaded green, values for lower goal-scoring shaded pink.
All figures represent exponential moving averages, giving greater weight to recent performance. Empty-net goals and Penalty Shots are excluded.

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