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The Man Advantage: Playoffs Preview

Mark McLarney

Mark McLarney

Mark McLarney writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.


The Man Advantage

Special Edition: Playoffs 2012 Preview

As in past seasons, my final article of the year takes a look at each of the 16 teams participating in this year's playoffs, and breaks down their respective power play attacks to give you a better idea of who's hot, who's not, and who's injured, heading into your playoff drafts.

As a preliminary comment, it's interesting to note that overall PP scoring was down league-wide this year. In total, there were 1,408 PP goals scored in the 2011-12 season, 163 fewer than last season. And teams were also capitalizing on their PP chances with less regularity this season, as the overall PP success rate fell from 18.0% to 17.3%.

Finally, from a fantasy perspective, picking the top PP performers during the playoffs can also lead to overall success. For example, five of the top six PP scorers during last year's playoffs (Martin St. Louis, Henrik Sedin, Daniel Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Vincent Lecavalier) were also among the top 10 overall point-getters for the playoffs as a whole. So pay attention!

EASTERN CONFERENCE

1. NY Rangers

League rank (efficiency): 23rd (15.7%)
First line: Derek Stepan - Brad Richards - Marion Gaborik - Ryan Callahan - Michael Del Zotto
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: Overall, the Rangers did much more damage five-on-five this season than they did on the power play, ranking sixth in the league in even-strength scoring (1.14 5-on-5 F/A) versus just 23rd in PP efficiency (15.7%). That said, there were several players who made positive strides forward this season, including Gaborik (five more PP points compared to last year), Stepan (+6) and Del Zotto (+7). The newly-arrived Brad Richards led the team in PP scoring with 24 points, but this was five fewer than he registered the previous season in Dallas. In the end, the Rangers did not really excel in any offensive category this year, relying largely on the sublime goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist. Once the playoffs start, the team will advance as far as King Henrik can carry them.

2. Boston

League rank (efficiency): 15th (17.2%)
First line: Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Rich Peverley - Tyler Seguin - Dennis Seidenberg
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: The defending Stanley Cup champs were about middle of the pack in terms of PP efficiency this season - 17.2% (15th overall) versus 16.2% last season (9th), another team (like NYR) that was better five-on-five than with the man advantage. In their last 10 games, the B's finished with just two PP goals in 21 opportunities. At the end of the day, Bergeron and Seguin are really the only two guys that pose any sort of PP threat on this team right now.

3. Florida

League rank (efficiency): 7th (18.5%)
First line: Tomas Fleischmann - Stephen Weiss - Kris Versteeg - Mikael Samuelsson - Brian Campbell
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: If the St. Louis Blues were the surprise team of the season in the Western Conference (see below), the Panthers have to be considered the biggest overachievers in the East, both from an overall point of view, as well as from a PP perspective. The team's offseason overhaul really paid off, as Stephen Weiss finally got some linemates he could play with. From a PP perspective, Campbell turned out to be the biggest acquisition, leading the team with 31 PP points, good for third overall in the NHL. Meanwhile, Fleischmann's 22 PPPs were 18 more than he scored last season, while Versteeg (18) notched nine more.

4. Pittsburgh

League rank (efficiency): 5th (19.7%)
First line: Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal - Sidney Crosby - Kris Letang
Key Injuries: Steve Sullivan (undisclosed)
Skinny: The Pens head into the playoffs with two of the league's top four PP scorers in Malkin (34 PPP's) and Neal (31). Add in a healthy Crosby (35 points in just 21 games, including 10 on the PP), and you have possibly the most fearsome top PP unit in the NHL right now. Unfortunately, outside of Steve Sullivan (21 PPP's), the team does not boast a whole lot of PP depth, but might not need it if their regulars can stay healthy. Heading into the playoffs, the Pens had seven PP goals in their last seven games, led by Crosby (2G, 4A), Malkin (1G, 4A), Neal (3G) and Kunitz (1G, 2A). Scary good.

5. Philadelphia

League rank (efficiency): 6th (19.7%)
First line: Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jakub Voracek - Wayne Simmonds - Kimmo Timonen
Key Injuries: Daniel Briere (back)
Skinny: Despite their sixth-place ranking, the Flyers received the most PP opportunities (335) of any team in the league this season, and as a result scored the most PP goals (66). Surprisingly, it was Hartnell and Simmonds who combined for 27 of these goals (16 and 11, respectively), tops on the team. Meanwhile, Giroux was tops in the NHL in PP points this season with 38 (6G, 32A). Philly is one of the few teams that has enough PP depth to roll two very potent lines, with guys like Jaromir Jagr (20 PPPs), Briere (17) and Matt Read (11) on hand for backup duty.

6. New Jersey

League rank (efficiency): 7th (19.7%)
First line: Ilya Kovalchuk - Patrik Elias - Zach Parise - Travis Zajac - Marek Zidlicky
Key Injuries: David Clarkson (lower body)
Skinny: Well, it took a couple of seasons, but Kovalchuk finally decided to show up for work. And what an impact he had this year, leading his team in both total scoring (83 pts) and on the PP (29). In addition, Elias (29 PPPs) looked 10 years younger out there and had four PPAs in six games heading into the postseason. Finally, having Parise (14 PPPs) for a full season gave the team a further boost, as did the emergence of up-and-coming stars such as Clarkson (16 PPPs) and Adam Henrique (8 PPPs). Getting Zajac back just in time for the postseason adds even more depth.

7. Washington

League rank (efficiency): 14th (17.2%)
First line: Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Marcus Johansson - Mike Green - Dennis Wideman
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: The Caps simply should not have this much trouble scoring goals with an extra attacker on the ice - should they?  The team posted a middling 17% efficiency on the PP this season, good for 14th overall in the league. Granted, they were without Backstrom and Green for long stretches this season, but with guys like Alexander Semin, Troy Brouwer and Brooks Laich on the roster, scoring depth should not have been a problem for this team. Regardless, the Caps were 1-for-17 on the PP to finish the season, and considering their very average 1.01 even strength goals for-against ratio, it looks like they will need every bit of additional scoring they can muster.

8. Ottawa

League rank (efficiency): 9th (19.4%)
First line: Milan Michalek - Jason Spezza - Daniel Alfredsson - Erik Karlsson - Filip Kuba
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: It was a turnaround of epic proportions for in Ottawa this year, and that includes the team's PP attack. Led by Karlsson, who has supplanted Sergei Gonchar as the team's top offensive blueliner - no mean feat in itself - the team's above-noted top line managed to score a combined 31 more PP points than they did last season. However, the team is entering the playoffs on somewhat of a cold streak, with just four goals in 46 chances over their final 14 games (8.7% efficiency). In addition, they allowed nine PP goals against over that span, so penalty killing will be a topic of concern as the playoffs approach.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

1. Vancouver

League rank (efficiency): 4th (19.8%)
First line: Alexandre Burrows - Henrik Sedin - Ryan Kesler - Alexander Edler - Sami Salo
Key Injuries: Daniel Sedin (concussion)
Skinny: The Canucks were tops in the league in PP scoring as recently as early February, but began to struggle offensively soon thereafter, going 13-for-91 with the man advantage over its last 30 games. The loss of Daniel surely hasn't helped in that regard, and very few teams boast the kind of depth needed to fill a hole that big. One or all of Chris Higgins, David Booth and Alexandre Burrows may be called upon to step up once the playoffs are underway. The good news is, the Canucks may boast the deepest PP blue line in the league, with Edler, Salo, Dan Hamhuis and Kevin Bieksa combining for 57 points this season.

2. St. Louis

League rank (efficiency): 19th (16.7%)
First line: T.J. Oshie - David Backes - David Perron - Alex Pietrangelo - Kevin Shattenkirk
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: The Blues were the surprise story of the year this season, going from 11th place and out of the playoffs last season to second overall in the West. However, most observers know that they accomplished this mostly through stingy goaltending and suffocating defensive play, allowing both the fewest shots against per game (26.7) and fewest goals per game (1.89). However, in terms of the Blues' middle-of-the-pack PP production, several players proved to be steady-eddie types this season, especially Pietrangelo (23 pts), Backes (17), Shattenkirk (17) and Oshie (15). Even graybeard Jason Arnott chipped in with 15 points, six more than he scored last season.

3. Phoenix

League rank (efficiency): 29th (13.6%)
First line: Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal -Radim Vrbata - Shane Doan - Oliver Eman-Larsson
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: You have to wonder how a team like Phoenix continues to make it into the playoffs every year. A below-average scoring team, second-worst power play in the league, and third-worst in shots allowed per game. How do they do it?  Well, goaltending is one way, with a team goals-allowed per game of 2.37, fifth best in the league. Timely even-strength scoring is another, as well as holding onto a lead - the 'Yotes had a .767 winning percentage after scoring first this season, fourth-best in the league, and a .971 win % when leading after two periods, good for second overall. So who needs a power play when you have all this going for you?

4. Nashville

League rank (efficiency): 1st (21.6%)
First line: Martin Erat - Mike Fisher - Patric Hornqvist - Shea Weber - Ryan Suter
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: Surprisingly, the Preds finished with the top-ranked power play in the NHL this season and were easily the most-improved team in that regard, given their 26th-place finish last year. Weber and Suter each contributed 20+ PP points from the blue line, however the team also received contributions from guys like David Legwand (19), Mike Fisher (14), Craig Smith (13) and Colin Wilson (12), highlighting the Preds' offensive depth and ability to roll more than two lines that can score. Meanwhile, the recently-arrived Alexander Radulov could prove to be an x-factor for the Preds. He has just one PP assist in nine games since rejoining the team, but his ability to break games open with his offensive displays has been well-documented.

5. Detroit

League rank (efficiency): 22nd (16.1%)
First line: Tomas Holmstrom - Pavel Datsyuk - Henrik Zetterberg - Nicklas Lidstrom - Niklas Kronwall
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: The Wings took a huge hit this year in terms of their PP ranking, falling from 5th overall last season (22.3%) to 22nd this season (16.1%). There were simply too many guys whose production levels dropped off this year, especially Lidstrom (just 17 PPP's this season, down from 39 last year) and Zetterberg (14, down from 30). However, a handful of players are heading into the playoffs on a bit of a hot streak, including Holmstrom (four PPP's in his last eight games), Kronwall and Zetterberg (three apiece). Regardless, the Wings had the best 5-on-5 goals for-against ratio in the league this year (1.44), so who needs a power play when you're killing other teams at even strength?

6. Chicago

League rank (efficiency): 26th (15.2%)
First line: Andrew Shaw - Patrick Sharp - Patrick Kane - Brent Seabrook - Nick Leddy
Key Injuries: Jonathan Toews (concussion), Dave Bolland (upper body), Andrew Brunette (foot)
Skinny: Inexplicably, the 'Hawks finished near the bottom of the pile when it came to PP production this year. This is the same team that ranked third overall in said category last season, accomplishing that feat with largely the same group of guys. The only member of their top PP line to even come close to last year's totals was Hossa, who finished with one more PPP versus last season. Everyone else fell flat. Kane and Toews each had about a dozen fewer points, while Sharp and Duncan Keith each had nine fewer. The team does have some depth with guys like Bolland, Brunette and hotshot rookie Andrew Shaw, but injuries could keep most of these guys on the sidelines. Toews' status for the playoffs remains cloudy also.

7. San Jose

League rank (efficiency): 2nd (21.1%)
First line: Logan Couture - Joe Thornton - Joe Pavelski - Patrick Marleau - Dan Boyle
Key Injuries: none
Skinny: The Sharks just barely managed to scrape their way into the playoffs this season, despite boasting the second-best power play in the league. And even this stat can be deceiving, as the team actually scored 11 fewer PP goals compared to last season, an 16% dropoff. So what happened?  Despite Couture's breakout season (26 PP points, best on the team), too many other regulars suffered power outages this season, including Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Dan Boyle, each of whom scored 10 fewer PP points compared to last season. Having said that, the Sharks went 13-for-50 down the stretch, a 26.0% clip. Fans will just have to hope their team can keep up that level of production into the postseason.

8. Los Angeles

League rank (efficiency): 17th (17.0%)
First line: Dustin Brown - Anze Kopitar - Justin Williams - Mike Richards - Drew Doughty
Key Injuries: Jeff Carter (ankle), Simon Gagne (concussion)
Skinny: Much more was expected offensively from the Kings this season, given the offseason acquisitions of Richards and Carter. However, the two former Flyers failed to show much chemistry with their new linemates, whether it was 5-on-5 or on the PP. In fact, the Kings' success this season had more to do with goaltending (2.07 goals allowed per game, second-best in the league) and a renewed commitment to team defense (27.4 shots allowed, also second-best). On paper, you would think the Kings have all the firepower needed to do a ton of damage in extra-man situations, but it seems like as a team they're still figuring each other out. However, they did go into the playoffs with eight goals in their last seven games, led by Williams (3G, 2A), Kopitar (4A), Richards (1G, 2A), and second-liners like Alec Martinez (1G, 2A) and Willie Mitchell (3A), so maybe they are gelling at just the right time.

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