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Senators vs. Penguins, Round One Preview

Perhaps the most anticipated series in the first round pits the perennial regular season powerhouse Ottawa Senators against the sensational Pittsburgh Penguins, the team that nearly moved out of town, only to wind up in the playoffs instead. The media focus on Sidney Crosby's first postseason will be intense, which perhaps takes some of the pressure off the Senators to finally make good on the promises they've made for the last several years. They've got plenty of star power on both sides, but how will the numbers shake out?

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

How Ottawa can score: Shots, shots, and more shots seems to be the story here, as Ottawa takes a lot of shots, and the Pens give up a bunch as well, a dangerous combination. Much like the San Jose Sharks, expect the Sens to generate most of their goals from the 10-29 foot range. Although Marc-Andre Fleury's goaltending has been excellent leading into the playoffs (note how Sht % Factor is less than 1 across the board), the Pittsburgh defense yields plenty of shots from the 10-19 foot range, where you can expect about 20% to score. Unless the Penguins do a better job keeping Ottawa shooters outside the prime scoring areas, even Fleury's magnificent work won't keep the Senators from piling up the goals.

How Pittsburgh can score: The Ottawa defense will give up more shots than average as well, so expect plenty of up-and-down action in this series. However, the Senators goaltending appears to outperform Pittsburgh's in almost all aspects. The key here for the young Penguins is to utilize their collective talents and capitalize on the short-range opportunities that should present themselves.

Summary: The Expected Goals values of 3.61 for Ottawa and 3.10 for Pittsburgh paint a bleak picture for the young guns, especially since Ottawa has home-ice advantage.

Outside the Numbers: Probably the biggest wild card when it comes to this round is the raw inexperience of some of the key Pittsburgh Penguins (Crosby, Fleury, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal). The pressure on Crosby, in particular, is potentially overwhelming, and that can lead to players trying to do more things individually than they should, making that extra move at the blue line rather than hitting the winger with a pass or dumping the puck in.
The Prediction: I'm going with Ottawa in 5 games, but they'll probably be some of the most entertaining games of the entire postseason.
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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