NHL Playoff Picks: Jonah from Fucked Up Vs. a Southern Stathead
Some weeks ago I wrote a feisty treatise in these pages claiming that Americans misunderstand NHL hockey—particularly the fighting aspect—in the same way Canadians don’t get hardcore music. I’ve gotten into some fights since. “He’s a buster,” said one hockey blogger; “Your [sic] a joke,” I was told by a Twitter troll.
I try not to pay attention to these naysayers, but in the back of my head I can't help but wonder if I am, in fact, a buster. So, in the spirit of scientific discovery, I'm pitting a hardcore expert from Ontario against a hockey savant from the South to determine what becomes of my reputation.
Representing Hoser Hardcore: Jonah Falco. Jonah plays drums in Fucked Up, guitar in Career Suicide, and every damn thing on the Mad Men demos. Going to a record store with Jonah is like looking at a photo album with your mom: anecdotes, facts, and connections you should know but don’t. Jonah has not watched a full hockey game on television since first-term Clinton, but he’s attended a few since then.
Representing the Forechecking Eagle: Sam Page. Sam is sui generis, a Nashville native, NYU student, and a Predators blogger. He is of the new breed of fans who have been developing, testing, and applying advanced statistical analysis to non-baseball sports. As far as can be determined, Sam has never moshed to the Cro-Mags, taped “Possessed to Skate” off Headbangers Ball, or registered an eBay bid for a True Till Death silver-sleeve.
If the American gets more picks right, I’m a blowhard; if the Canadian wins, my TED talk at the Revelation Records anniversary will go ahead as planned.
VICE: So, who’s winning Penguins-Flyers?
Sam: With Sidney Crosby back, many consider Pittsburgh the best team in hockey. Honestly, they might have been the best even before Sid’s return. They finished first in shots for and fourth in shots against. They have the fifth best power play and the third best penalty kill. Not many teams boast the presumptive MVP on their second line.
They’ll have to be at their best to beat the Flyers, though. Philadelphia isn’t far behind in any of the aforementioned categories. And their studs, Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier, have proven as good a counter as any to Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
In a matchup this close, it may come down to goaltending. Philly’s Illya Bryzgalov has had a rough season, but his career save percentage bests Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury’s. They’re statistically close, so I’ll take the Flyers in Game 7 overtime.
Jonah: I’m gonna say that Philly is gonna upset. I know Pittsburgh can pull it off, but I also know that they can blow it. I remember Fucked Up played a gig in Pittsburgh, in some VFW probably, on the same night as a big playoff game—probably one of their Stanley Cup finals—and they blew it that night. So I’m saying upset. When you go to Philly, you’re thinking YDI, you’re thinking McRad—and then when you go to Pittsburgh you’re thinking Half Off and possibly, like, Brain Handle. No disrespect to Ed Steck, but Philly’s got the muscle, and I think that’s going to give them the series.
Detroit and Nashville face each other tonight, too.
Sam: Despite Nashville being the overwhelming favorite in the mainstream hockey media, advanced stats would tell you this series is a mismatch. For most of the season, possession metrics ranked Nashville among the worst 5-on-5 teams in the league; Detroit hovered near the top.
The stats don’t tell the whole story for the Preds, though, who shored up their 5-on-5 play at the trade deadline in acquiring three big bodies: defenseman Hal Gill and forwards Andrei Kostitsyn and Paul Gaustad. In his nine games since absconding from Russia, prodigal son Alexander Radulov has been the Preds’ best possession player.
If the Red Wings win this series, it’ll be because they stayed out of the penalty box (avoiding Nashville’s top-ranked power play) and won the even-strength battle. With Radulov back in the fray, however, I have to make the homer pick for my hometown team. Preds in 6.
Jonah: I hear about Nashville in the news, and I know that they’ve been doing pretty well, for a few years at least. So this is actually a fair fight. Detroit is a legendary hockey city, but I kinda feel like they had their moment in the sun. Didn’t they win back-to-back cups?
They won back-to-back in the 90s and they’ve been in the mix ever since. More recently, they went to back-to-back finals and won one and lost the other.
OK, this is a tough one. I mean, Cold as Life, Negative Approach, McDonald’s, The Fix, Violent Apathy, versus, like, hmm, well, there’s a lot of good 70s punk from Nashville. I think The Normals were from Nashville [they were from New Orleans—ed.]. I can’t think of what hardcore bands were from Nashville, which tells me that my mind is slipping, but, uh, Nashville… let me think, hmm, Nashville, Nashville, Nashville. You know what? I’m gonna say Nashville. What the hell!
Vancouver at No. 1 against the Kings, who have the eight-seed.
Sam: Despite winning their second straight President's Trophy a year after reaching Game 7 of the Cup Finals, the Canucks face a serious first-round challenge in the Kings. By Score-Adjusted Fenwick—plus/minus for shots at even strength—the Kings are the hottest team since the deadline. That is no surprise, either, as they then dealt Jack Johnson, maybe their worst defenseman, to Columbus for Jeff Carter, a trigger-happy forward. Controlling the shot differential usually indicates a good possession game, and historically in the playoffs the team that controls the puck wins the series.
Vancouver also acquired a Blue Jacket at the trade deadline to help with puck possession—faceoff specialist Sammy Pahlsson. Along with Manny Malholtra, who won 58.5 percent of his faceoffs this season, Pahlsson will take a lot of defensive zone draws, opening up offensive opportunities for the deadly Sedin twins, who take more offensive zone faceoffs than any other offensive unit in the league—by far.
But with the hottest team in the league and surefire Vezina finalist Jonathan Quick in net, I’m calling for the upset: Kings in 7.
Jonah: Vancouver … I’ll say this: they want to win.
Loons [Urban Blight bassist Chris O’Toole] hates them.
Of course Loons hates them. No one loves the Canucks. Vancouver doesn’t have enough class as a city—after what they did last year—to deserve to take the cup home. The thing is, you gotta remember that my point of reference for most sports is the early 90s, when I was young enough to be optimistic and to care, and not lame-slash-nerdy-slash-lazy enough to not follow it. I’m saying the Kings are going to do it, in the spirit of Wayne Gretzky, the only true Canadian on the block. Vancouver has a chip on their shoulder, but they’re in the trough. They had their crest, but now they’re in the trough.
Previously - Americans Don't Get Hockey