I'm baaaaack. I've been unusually busy lately, so I haven't been able to update the Yelnats Cup, but here I am now taking a look at the Round 2 matchups sans the Wild. I'm well aware that the interest for the Yelnats may drop without the Wild there, but hey, I said I was going to finish the Yelnats this time and by golly, I'm gonna finish it!
Round 2 will be the Buffalo Sabres' and Calgary Flames' debut in the 2012 Yelnats Cup, seeing as they were awarded a first round bye for being the #9 seed in their respective Conferences. I'll compare each team of each matchup, just like I had done in the first round . By the way, looking at which teams I gave the advantage to in the first round, I realized I'm better in real life predictions. Oh well!
I'll also take a quick look at the front runners for the Nnoc Ehtyms trophy.
Join me after the jump!
First, the playoff tree, as a refresher.
#9 Calgary Flames
#15 Columbus Blue Jackets
#11 Colorado Avalanche
#13 Anaheim Ducks
#9 Buffalo Sabres
#12 Carolina Hurricanes
#10 Tampa Bay Lightning
#11 Winnipeg Jets
#9 Calgary Flames vs. #15 Columbus Blue Jackets
Rick Nash (5GP, 6G, 2A),
Derrick Brassard (5GP, 0G, 6A)
Steve Mason (5GP, 1.12GAA, 0.957SV%, 1SO)
Colton Gillies (5GP, 3A, T-3rd in team points)
James Wisniewski (2GP, 2A, returning from injury)
Marc Methot, broken hand, 2 to 3 weeks
Offense: I find the Flames strangely overrated in this game. Sure they have a decent first line of Alex Tanguay. Michael Cammalleri and Jarome Iginla, but is there any reason their offensive rating is an 88? The second and third line players are in the 81-84 range and include players like Olli Jokinen, Curtis Glencross, and Blake Comeau. Of course, in-game rating don't matter all that much, but the Flames offense should still be better than the Blue Jackets' overall, despite the godliness of Rick Nash. Beyond Nash and Derrick Brassard, there wasn't much offense for the BJs in the first round. The defensemen chipped in though and James Wisniewski will return from injury. Still have to give the nod to the Flames though. ADVANTAGE: Flames.
Defense: The Blue Jackets' defense is nothing to write home about, but they've actually done good in the first round. How much of that is them and how much of it is Steve Mason, I can't tell, since I simulated all their games. The Flames have some well balanced, if slightly overrated, defensemen, but for the purposes of the game, and probably even real-life as well, the Flames have the advantage here, despite Jay Bouwmeester. Also, in what world would Anton Babchuk be rated 82? ADVANTAGE: Flames.
Goaltending: I find myself conflicted here. We all know that in real-life, Mason's nickname, Sieve Mason, is well-earned. In the game though? He was by far the best goalie in the first round. He and Rick Nash formed a dynamic duo and got rid of the Stars. Meanwhile, Miikka Kiprusoff keeps the Flames afloat, but how is he in the game? Strangely enough, the combined goalie ratings are 169 to 164 in favor of the Flames, but the Flames are 89 in goaltending and the Blue Jackets are 77... defense has to play in those numbers, because I don't get those ratings at all. Anyhoo, I'll be bold and say Steve Mason will find a way to keep dominating, but in truth, the Flames should have the advantange once again. ADVANTAGE: Flames.
Special Teams: PP: I have to say I prefer Columbus' set-up here. Not only do they have some good d-men to feed both powerplays, but they had the second-best powerplay of the first round (1st was Minnesota). That's not to say the Flames don't have a decent powerplay, but they have Tanguay playing point and Bouwmeester and Giordano aren't as good as Johnson and Wisniewski in terms of offensive strength. I honestly never really liked the idea of having 4 forwards on the powerplay. To me, it makes it easier for the PK to get opportunities. ADVANTAGE: Blue Jackets
Special teams: PK: Another tough comparison here. The BJ's PK was 4th in the league in the first round, which is pretty good and top PK man Derek Mackenzie has performed very well. I still can't get over the fact that Jack Johnson is on the top PK line though, doesn't make sense to me, but it's a video game. Calgary is well represented on their PK though, with Blake Comeau, Matt Stajan, Scott Hannan and Cory Sarich as notables. I'll give the nod to the Flames here. ADVANTAGE: Flames
Overall: It's hard to overlook that the Flames are much better rated than the Blue Jackets and...well...it's the Blue Jackets. They did cause an upset and I wouldn't be all that surprised if they could do it again, because I feel the Stars are better than the Flames. Sometimes though, it's all a matter of systems and team weaknesses blending in with an opponent's strengths. In this case, I think Kiprusoff could be harder to crack, especially if no one helps Nash. The Blue Jackets have become an interesting underdog to watch though. ADVANTAGE: Flames
#11 Colorado Avalanche vs. #13 Anaheim Ducks
Milan Hejduk (7GP, 4G, 4A)
Paul Stastny (7GP, 1G, 4A)
Matt Duchene (7GP, 3G, 0A)
Ryan Getzlaf (6GP, 7G, 3A)
Corey Perry (6GP, 3G, 7A)
Bobby Ryan (6GP, 2G, 3A)
Semyon Varlamov (7GP, 2.19GAA, 0.926SV%)
Cody McLeod (7GP, 0G, 4A, 13 hits)
Erik Johnson (7GP, 0G, 3A, 14 hits)
Jonas Hiller (6GP, 2.29GAA, 0.927SV%)
Toni Lydman (6GP, 0G, 4A)
Lubomir Visnovsky (6GP, 1G, 3A)
Jan Hejda, Broken wrist, 3 months.
Jamie McGinn, Fractured collarbone, 2 to 3 weeks.
Sheldon Brookbank, Sore shoulder, 1 to 2 weeks.
Matt Beleskey, Wrist sprain, 1 to 2 weeks.
Offense: Well, this seems like a no-brainer to me. First of all, the Ducks' first line is devastating and the second line holds its own. Meanwhile, the Avs have a more balanced offense, but only Milan Hejduk and Paul Stastny showed up in the first round. The Avs barely scored 2 goals a game against the Oilers, who aren't exactly known for their defensive capabilities. Include the fact that the offensive defensemen for the Ducks will contribute more than the Avs' will. ADVANTAGE: Ducks
Defense: The loss of Jan Hejda for the remainder of the playoffs hurts the Avalanche big time here. They have the better defensive defensemen, but in terms of sheer talent and ability to make plays, Anaheim gets the edge here. ADVANTAGE: Ducks
Goaltending: In complete honesty, I'm not high on Varlamov. At all. However, he performed admirably against the Oilers and their high-flying offense. Hiller had good numbers too, but not as good as Varly and he played against the Wild, who aren't exactly known for scoring boatloads of goals in the first place. That being said, can Varlamov survive the Ducks' top line? We'll have to wait and see. For now, I'm giving an ever-so-slight advantage to Colorado. ADVANTAGE: Avs
Special Teams: PP: Is there any doubt that the Ducks have one of the scariest top PP units in the league? There shouldn't be. This mammoth of a line can tip the scale in any series against an undisciplined team. The Avalanche better not take too many liberties. ADVANTAGE: Ducks
Special teams: PK: The clear advantage goes to Colorado here for having top PK man Jay McClement and some mighty fine defensive d-men led by Erik Johnson. I feel the Ducks using Getzlaf and Perry on the PK just tires them out when they could be using guys Andrew Cogliano and Niklas Hagman. The loss of Sheldon Brookbank to injury also hurts the Ducks here. ADVANTAGE: Avs
Overall: It may look bad for the Avs, especially if Varlamov can't contain the Ducks' star power, but the strong Colorado PK could help prevent a few of the inevitable goals the Ducks' powerplay will produce. It will be a matter of opportunism for the Avs. If Milan Hejduk still has gas left in the tank and the rest of the team can give him some support, the Avs could win this one. The Ducks are on a roll however, coming off a 4 game winning streak in which they pretty much dominated the Wild. Once again, special teams will be a big part of this series, but if Getzlaf and Perry go cold, the Ducks are probably too thin beyond the top 6 to stand a chance. Regardless, I have to give the advantage to the Ducks, but Getzlaf and Perry better have some broad enough shoulders to carry their team. ADVANTAGE: Ducks
#9 Buffalo Sabres vs. #12 Carolina Hurricanes
Eric Staal (7GP, 1G, 7A)
Jeff Skinner (7GP, 3G, 2A)
Jamie McBain (7GP, 0G, 5A)
Tuomo Ruutu (7GP, 2G, 2A)
Jiri Tlusty (5GP, 3G, 2A, injured for the next week or so)
Cam Ward (7GP, 2.67GAA, 0.909SV%)
Jiri Tlusty, Sore shoulder, a week or so.
Offense: How the Sabres are rated that high on offense is beyond me, but they do have a pretty tasty top line, composed of Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville. Plus, defensemen Christian Ehrhoff, Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold are more than capable of chipping in. Young guys Nathan Gerbe, Tyler Ennis, Ville Leino and Cody Hodgson provide decent secondary scoring and Drew Stafford is one of the most mysterious players in terms of production... he could string like 2 or 3 hat-tricks in a month, then go completely cold and have an entire fanbase on his back. He's the very definition of a dark horse. Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes will be getting Jiri Tlusty back from injury very soon. He had 5 points in 5 games in round 1. Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner took care of most of the scoring in round 1 and youngster Jamie McBain led the offense from the blueline. Carolina scored the most goals in the first round, but they were playing against Toronto, who have horrible goaltending. Strangely enough, the Leafs were 2nd in goals despite some great goaltending by Cam Ward. The Carolina offense will need to prove itself against a strong Sabres goaltender. ADVANTAGE: Sabres
Defense: It's hard not to give the advantage to Buffalo here as well. Ehrhoff, Myers, Leopold, Robyn Regehr... yeah, the Canes don't have nearly as impressive a defensive corps. Plus, they didn't fare all that well against the Leafs, except for Jamie McBain and Joni Pitkanen. ADVANTAGE: Sabres
Goaltending: Hoooo boy. This one is a very tight contest. Despite allowing the second highest number of goals, the Canes wouldn't have made it to the second round without some stand-out performances from Cam Ward. When he's on his game, he's pretty tough to beat. On the opposing crease, there's Ryan Miller, one of the highest rated goalies in the game and a damn fine one in real life too. Miller does have the advantage of a better defense in front of him, so he does get more help than Cam Ward does. This prompts me to give the advantage to Carolina in terms of goalie-goalie comparisons. If you consider all the surrounding factors, it would be Buffalo. ADVANTAGE: Canes
Special Teams: PP: The Sabres' first powerplay unit could be devastating. The same can't be said for their second unit though, but the Canes' second powerplay unit isn't all that much to look at either. Vanek, Roy, Pominville, Myers and Ehrhoff on the top unit looks pretty good, but so does Ruutu, Staal, Skinner, Pitkanen, McBain. Pretty tight contest here if you ask me. I might need the in-game rating to decide this one for me. Buffalo's offense is higher, hence, more likely to succeed on the powerplay. Kind of sucks to decide it that way, but I don't want to give ties. ADVANTAGE: Sabres
Special teams: PK: As I said in the round one preview, I like the choice of forwards for the Canes, but just like with the Leafs, the Sabres' defensive strength is hard to ignore. The Canes' defensemen are adequate for the PK, but Regehr and Myers put the Sabres over the top here. ADVANTAGE: Sabres
Overall: It sure looks like the Canes will have their work cut out for them. To be fair, I don't even think the Sabres should be taking part in the Yelnats Cup Playoffs. They're a good enough team to be in the playoffs, but a bad mid-season stretch killed their run. Also, seeing as the Canes barely squeaked past the Leafs, it's hard to imagine them knocking off a team that should be one of the favorites to win it all right now. ADVANTAGE: Sabres
#10 Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Winnipeg Jets
Vincent Lecavalier (6GP, 4G, 4A)
Teddy Purcell (6GP, 1G, 5A)
Steven Stamkos (6GP, 3G, 1A)
Blake Wheeler (6GP, 1G, 6A)
Bryan Little (6GP, 5G, 1A)
Zach Bogosian (6GP, 0G, 5A)
Ryan Shannon (6GP, 1G, 4A)
Martin St.Louis (6GP, 1G, 3A)
Marc-André Bergeron (6GP, 1G, 2A)
Tim Stapleton (6GP, 3G, 2A)
Evander Kane (6GP, 3G, 0A)
Andrew Ladd (6GP, 1G, 3A)
Ryan Malone, Sore shoulder, a week or so
Taylor Pyatt, Broken hand, 2 to 3 weeks.
Offense: The loss of Ryan Malone could hurt here, especially since the Bolts don't have all that much secondary scoring. At least he'll be back soon, so he may only miss a game or two, but who knows? It could be too little too late by then. Both teams did a pretty good job offensively in the first round but Winnipeg had the advantage of playing the Islanders, who are much weaker defensively than the Bolts' first round opponents, the Canadiens. In terms of pure star power, the Bolts have the edge here and they could make or break this series. Steven Stamkos needs to get on the board more often though. ADVANTAGE: Bolts
Defense: Arguably the Bolts' weakness, the Jets are actually quite strong on defense with guys like Zach Bogosian, Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, so there's no contest here. ADVANTAGE: Jets
Goaltending: Pavelec > Roloson. ADVANTAGE: Jets
Special Teams: PP: This is an interesting situation. While the Bolts have the star power, the Jets have better offensive quality on the blueline. That's not to say Marc-André Bergeron and Victor Hedman won't get the job done though. The scales tip towards the Bolts' star-studded forwards in this one and they will tip further if Stammer awakens. The Bolts were third on the powerplay in round 1, whereas the Jets were 7th, which is still respectful. ADVANTAGE: Bolts
Special teams: PK: On paper, I feel the Bolts' PK should be pretty good, as they have some nice PK forwards in Nate Thompson, Adam Hall and Vincent Lecavalier, but they killed a measly 77.3% of their penalties against the Habs whereas the Jets killed 89.7% and were 3rd in the league. However, the Bolts had to deal with a strong Montreal powerplay, which can't be compared to the Isles'. I'll go with my initial choice and go with the Bolts here, because I still think the Jets' D aren't as well suited for the PK as they are for the PP ADVANTAGE: Bolts
Overall: This could potentially be one of the more interesting matchups. The Jets could do some damage against Roloson, as they did against Rick DiPietro and Evgeni Nabokov. On the other hand, they face stiffer competition offense-wise as well, so we could see some tight, high-scoring games. The special teams will undoubtedly play a huge part here and despite the Jets being more balanced, simulations tend to favor star power, so I think the Bolts will move on to the third round. ADVANTAGE: Bolts
Nnoc Ehtmys watch:
#1 Steve Mason: 1st in all major goaltending categories, beat the Stars basically singlehanded, seeing as the Stars are the only team that had less goals than the Blue Jackets. If he keeps it up, the Blue Jackets could make it deep in the Playoffs. (5GP, 1.12GAA, 6GA, .957SV%, 136SA, 1SO)
#2 Ryan Getzlaf: Had a hat-trick en route to helping the Ducks win 4 straight to eliminate the Wild after they had dropped the first two. Leads the playoffs in goals. Co-leads the league in takeaways with Matt Duchene and Bobby Ryan. Third in the playoffs behind teammates Perry and Ryan in +/-. (6GP, 7G, 3A, 2GWG, +8, 11TK, 21 hits)
#3 Rick Nash: Had a point in 8 of the Blue Jackets' 13 goals in the first round. Second in the playoffs in goals with 6, but only played 5 games. (5GP, 6G, 2A, +3, 2GWG, 2PPG, 1SHG)
#4 Vincent Lecavalier: 3 game winning goals made him an important player in the Habs-Bolts tilt. Tied for 7th in the playoffs with 8 points in 6 games. His faceoff mastery was also a boon to the Bolts. (6GP, 4G, 4A, +2, 3GWG, 16 hits, 64.6FO%)
#5 Milan Hejduk: Carried the low scoring Avalanche to a first round elimination of the Oilers. (7GP, 4G, 4A, +6, 1GWG)
#6 Bryan Little: 4th in the playoffs in goals with 5 in 6 games. (6GP, 5G, 1A, +6)
#7 Corey Perry: Fed Getzlaf most of his goals. Shares the lead in assists with Tyler Bozak and Eric Staal. Also shares the lead in +/- with Bobby Ryan. (6GP, 3G, 7A, +10)
#8 Ondrej Pavelec: Kept the Isles at bay, despite some pretty crazy results in some games. Still, he was third in GAA, and 6th in SV%. Leads all goalies in shutouts. (6GP, 2SO, .924SV%, 2.09GAA)
#9 Zach Bogosian: Leads all defensemen in points along with Jamie McBain and...Tom Gilbert? What?...Anyway, Bogosian is near the top of the leaderboard in hits as well and is tied with 5 other d-men for the +/- lead among d-men. (6GP, 0G, 5A, +4, 22hits)
#10 Derrick Brassard: Rick Nash's partner in crime, tied for 4th in assists despite playing only 5 games. Contributed in nearly half his team's goals. (5GP, 0G, 6A, +2, 8TK)
Now, the first two games on the docket will be Canes-Sabres and Blue Jackets-Flames. The next two will be Ducks-Avs and Jets-Bolts. I'll let you decide which games will be the featured ones. I'll try to get them done by this weekend. Let Round 2 of the 2012 Yelnats Cup Playoffs begin!