Stanley Cup 2018 Preview and Predictions
2018 Stanley Cup Finals Preview
Before making some predictions on the winner, total games and some other NHL props available on the best hockey sportsbooks serving Canadians, it is best to start with a brief Stanley Cup history lesson followed by a comprehensive overview of each team and their strengths and weaknesses.
Stanley Cup Finals Recent History and Stats
Our Stanley Cup history will primarily focus on the post-lockout era, as it provides the best representation of the NHL and the playoffs. Since the 2004-05 NHL lockout, the Stanley Cup has been won by an Eastern Conference team five times and by a Western team seven times.
During the same period, the Finals has lasted an average of 6.08 games. Only two series (2007 & 2014) lasted five games, while there has not been a sweep in the Cup Finals since 1998. The majority of series have last six games, while three of the previous 12 Finals have gone the distance.
For the Conn Smythe (the NHL playoffs MVP), the winner is most frequently a forward. Forwards have won seven of the last 12 awards, followed by goalies with three and defencemen with two.
The average regular season point total of the last 12 Stanley Cup winners (excluding 2012-13 when the season was shortened to 48 games) is 105.7 points. Washington finished the year with 105 points, while Vegas was a bit better ending the season with 109.
Stanley Cup Preview
Starting on Monday, May 28, 2018, in Las Vegas, two franchises try to win their first Stanley Cup. Excluding the 1968 Stanley Cup Finals, when an expansion team was guaranteed to make it, Vegas is the first team in NHL history to make the Finals in their first year of play.
The Washington Capitals made their lone Stanley Cup Finals appearance in 1998, where the Detroit Red Wings swept them. Fans and bettors should expect an exciting series that should last six or seven games, with both teams having a chance at capturing their moment of hockey immortality.
The Washington Capitals enter the Stanley Cup Finals with 66 goals through the first three rounds, good enough for 3.47 goals per game (second to only the Pittsburgh Penguins these playoffs). The Golden Knights sit ninth overall, averaging 2.87 goals per game. Washington does generate more shots than Vegas per game (32.9 compared to 31.5), but they still manage to score at a better percentage (10.55% versus 9.11%).
Washington enters the Stanley Cup Finals with the two highest point scorers in the playoffs. Evgeny Kuznetsov paces the playoffs with 24 points, followed closely by Alexander Ovechkin who has notched 22 points so far. The Golden Knights have one player in the top-ten, Jonathan Marchessault, who has 18 points in 15 games.
The three players in the series with the highest shooting percentage (minimum 32 shoots) are on the Washington Capitals. Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Kuznetsov rank one through three, each scoring at 14.1% or better. William Karlsson leads Vegas at 13.6% (fourth overall) followed by Jonathan Marchessault at 12.5% (ranking fifth in the series)
The most significant offensive advantage Vegas has over Washington is they are slightly less reliant on their top goal scorers. Washington top three goal scorers in the playoffs have accounted for 50% of Washington’s total goals this postseason. Vegas is a bit better, with their top three scoring 46.5% of their team’s goals through the first three rounds.
Advantage: Washington Capitals
Where Vegas should have the edge in this series is on the blue line. Despite Washington have the top player for +/- this postseason (Brooks Orpik at +15), Vegas has a deeper defensive core. Nate Schmidt leads all defenceman in the series with 18 takeaways and leads all players in the series when looking at takeaways per game. Colin Miller has also been excellent for Vegas. Vegas owns an even-strength save percentage of .982 with Miller on the ice.
Washington does have a more physical team, but much of their physicality is due to their forwards, not their defencemen. The top three players for hits this postseason all belong to Washington. However, Brayden McNabb leads all defencemen with 64 hits in 15 games.
Washington’s biggest problem on defence could be Matt Niskanen. Ranking second on Washington for average ice-time, Niskanen has been shaky at times. When Niskanen and Dmitry Orlov are on the ice, Washington’s ability to stop teams from scoring takes a noticeable hit.
Advantage: Vegas Golden Knights
Before the Conference Finals, the goaltending advantage would easily go to the Vegas Golden Knights. However, after some stellar performances from Braden Holtby, the goaltending matchup in this series is much closer than expected.
While Marc-Andre Fleury was once again a pivotal factor to Vegas advancing in the postseason, it is Braden Holtby who had a more impressive Conference Finals. Holtby, who was moderately disappointing during the regular season, had a great Eastern Conference Finals. Although he started a little slow, Holtby posted his first two shutouts of the year and finished the seven games with a 2.04 GAA and .919 save percentage.
Even with two shutouts, Holtby still had worse numbers than Marc-Adre Fleury. Although Fleury did not get a shutout, he finished the Western Conference Finals with a 4-1 record, 2.02 GAA and a .938 save percentage.
These two goaltenders have faced each other seven times in the playoffs (all coming in the Second Round of 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs). Fleury and the Pittsburgh Penguins won the series in seven games, with much of the blame for Washington’s loss following on Holtby’s shoulder. Holtby was 3-4 with a 2.57 GAA, and a horrendous .887 save percentage. Fleury, filling in for an injured Matt Murray, was much better, going 4-3 with a 2.58 and a substantially better .921 save percentage.
Even if Fleury is no longer on the Penguins, he continues to have success against Washington. Fleury went 2-0 against Washington this season, posting a .939 save percentage and a 1.50 GAA. Braden Holtby started one game against Vegas this season, allowing three goals on 28 shots (for a .893 save percentage) in a losing effort.
Advantage: Vegas Golden Knights
Where the series is arguably the evenest is on special teams. the Capitals own a stronger power play, scoring on 28.8% of their opportunities. They are not nearly as effective on the penalty kill, killing off just 75.4% of power plays this postseason.
Vegas does not score nearly as much on the power play, netting a goal on 17.6% of the time. However, they have killed off 82.5% of power plays, the fourth highest mark this postseason.
Where things get really interesting is when looking at other factors in the series. Vegas is a crisp 6-1 at home, losing only one game to the San Jose Sharks in the second round. They are also 6-2 on the road, losing once in Winnipeg and once in San Jose.
The Washington Capitals are only 4-5 at home in the playoffs, but a stellar 8-2 on the road. Their two road losses came by a combined three goals, while they have outscored opponents on the road 33-14 in their eight victories.
Brooks Orpik leads all skaters with 13 games played in the Stanley Cup Finals. However, those games came back in 2008 and 2009 as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Fleury also has 13 games of Stanley Cup experience (playing with Brooks Orpik in 2008 and 2009), going 6-7 with a .919 save percentage and a 2.55 GAA.
Rest should not play a huge factor in the Stanley Cup Finals. Washington last played on Wednesday, while Vegas has had over a week off to prepare. The lengthy time off for Vegas could be a slight disadvantage, leading them to have a rusty first game of the series.
While one loss does not determine a team’s fate in the playoffs, starting slow will not help the Golden Knights win the series. Vegas will then need to win on the road, something they were not overly successful at against Eastern Conference teams.
Vegas finished the regular season with an 8-6-2 mark against the East on the road, compared to a 20-10-3 road record (including playoffs) against the Western Conference. Washington went 11-4 against the West at home but was a lousy 5-8-2 against playing in the Western Conference. Washington’s excellent road play in the postseason so far should help them overcome their mediocre regular season mark against Western Conference teams.
2018 Stanley Cup Finals Prediction
After considering everything above, now is the time to make our prediction. Both teams have their advantages and disadvantages entering the series. While the Golden Knights have been slightly before overall in the postseason going 12-3 (while Washington is 12-7), the play of Washington entering the Cup Finals is not something to overlook.
If Holtby had not posted consecutive shutouts in the Eastern Conference Finals, Vegas would be the better pick. However, with Washington’s offence playing at such a high level and their ability to win on the road, it is tough to bet against Ovechkin and the Capitals. Vegas could easily have a letdown game to start the series, forcing them to win on the road.
Additionally, Holtby’s strong play entering the Stanley Cup Finals helps close the gap between the pipes. Had Holtby not played nearly as well (against Tampa Bay, the best offensive in the NHL this season), Vegas would likely be able to win this series. Now, with the edge in the net not nearly as strong for Vegas, the series shifts into Washington’s favour.
This series should last six or seven games, with the Washington Capitals doing enough at both ends of the ice to defeat the expansion Vegas Golden Knights on route to the franchise’s first Stanley Cup victory. The best bet is Washington in six, although wagering on seven is a fine strategy.
Stanley Cup Final Prop Bets
Along with the winner of the 2018 Stanley Cup, Canadian sportsbooks are offering up action on some exciting NHL player props. We have narrowed it down to two offering up some good odds on the best players to lead the Finals in goals and points.
Top Goal Scorer Stanley Cup Finals
Leading all skaters in the Finals with a shooting percentage of 15%, Alexander Ovechkin is the best player to wager will lead the Finals in goals scored. The 15% shooting percentage is a playoff high for Ovechkin. He has taken fewer shots per game than his career average (4.21 this year compared to 4.54 over his entire playoff career).
If Ovechkin does increase his shot total (very possible against Vegas who allow 33.7 shots per game) while maintaining his shooting percentage, he would be on pace for four goals in six games. While four goals do not seem like many, only four players have topped four goals in a Stanley Cup Finals since 2006 (none scoring more than five).
Top Point Scorer Stanley Cup Finals
While the top goal scorer should come from the Washington Capitals, the best player to wager will lead the Finals in points is Jonathan Marchessault. Marchessault ranks second (behind only Evgeny Kuznetsov) for points per game. Marchessault has 18 points in 15 games these playoffs for an average of 1.2 points per game.
The Knights will need some extra production from their top point scorer and Marchessault should be up for the task. Marchessault leads Vegas with six power play points and will have an excellent opportunity to increase that total against Washington’s subpar penalty kill. Additionally, he has picked up two points in four of his last seven games. He should continue his strong play in the Stanely Finals against the Washington Capitals.
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