The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are here and the road to the championship is not going to be easy. The Western Conference doesn't have one standout, dominant club this season, which means the path appears wide open for the team that is playing well at the right time.
Here are some key statistics to consider for the Western Conference First Round:
Shot suppression will be key in showdown between Calgary, Colorado
The Calgary Flames allowed the fewest shot attempts (41.3) and fewest shots on goal (28.1) per game in the NHL. Calgary did not suppress shots by blocking them either; they were 30th with 1,033 blocked shots.
This could pose a challenge for the Colorado Avalanche, most notably leading scorer Nathan MacKinnon, who led the NHL with 365 shots on goal this season. Flames defenseman Mark Giordano, whose relative shot attempt percentage of 5.19 ranked fourth among defensemen (minimum 60 games played), figures to draw the primary responsibility of keeping MacKinnon in check. If MacKinnon can't get loose, do the Avalanche have enough complementary shooters to stay competitive?
Colorado allowed 31.9 shots on goal per game, 20th in the NHL. They blocked 1,324 shots, most among teams that qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs and second-most in the NHL behind the Ottawa Senators (1,381), who finished 31st in the League standings. Those numbers suggest that the puck may spend significant time in Colorado's end, but it's less certain whether the Calgary shots will make it to the net.
Video: The final power rankings of the regular season
Sharks will need better goaltending to stay competitive
Goaltending matters in every playoff series, but there is a stark difference between the performance of the San Jose Sharks' skaters and their goaltending. The tandem of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell combined for an .897 5-on-5 save percentage, worst in the NHL by a decent margin; the Florida Panthers (.907) finished 30th. League-worst goaltending is a potential fly in the ointment for the Sharks, who controlled an NHL-best 54.87 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts. That vulnerability could be exploited by the Vegas Golden Knights, who average 34.3 shots on goal per game, second in the NHL to the Carolina Hurricanes (34.4). The Sharks and Golden Knights also are the two teams with the most deflected shots on goal, 106 and 104, respectively, and Sharks captain Joe Pavelski is quite adept at deflecting pucks for goals and scoring opportunities. In the past three seasons, Pavelski has 29 goals on tips and deflections, one more than New York Islanders forward Anders Lee.
Video: COL@SJS: Jones stones MacKinnon at the doorstep
Will return to health bolster Winnipeg's defensive performance?
The Winnipeg Jets stumbled down the stretch, 13-14-3 in their final 30 games and losing their lead in the Central Division to the Nashville Predators.
Their undoing appeared to be on the defensive end; they allowed 33.4 shots on goal per game, the most among playoff teams. The injury to shut-down defenseman Josh Morrissey was part of the problem. He missed the final 20 games of the regular season because of an upper-body injury sustained Feb. 24 but said he expects to be in the lineup for Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the St. Louis Blues on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NHLN, SN, TVAS3, FS-MW). The Jets also were without defenseman Dustin Byfuglien for a stretch of 34 of 39 games between Dec. 30 and March 29 because of two separate lower-body injury.
Those defensive holes present potential advantages for the Blues, a team that is much more restrictive, allowing an average of 28.6 shots on goal, fourth-fewest in the NHL. It's been even better since Craig Berube became coach Nov. 20, with the Blues surrendering 27.9 shots on goal per game.
The challenge for the Jets, despite having home-ice advantage, is that the statistical profile suggests they run the risk of getting out-shot. If that is the case, the pressure will increase to solve St. Louis rookie goalie Jordan Binnington, who was 24-5-1 with a .927 save percentage in 32 games to ignite the second-half push for a playoff spot.
Video: WPG@BOS: Morrissey strikes quickly on the power play
Slap shot efficiency could determine winner in series between Predators, Stars
The Nashville Predators took 542 slapshots this season, most among any team in the playoffs, but that tendency also might be a contributing factor to why their power-play efficiency (12.9 percent) was last in the NHL. Nashville defensemen P.K. Subban (96) and Roman Josi (91) are two of the seven players that put at least 90 slap shots on net this season.
Taking low-percentage shots is not a great plan of attack when facing Stars goalie Ben Bishop, whose .934 save percentage was tops in the NHL. The Stars may need low-scoring games because they were 29th with 2.55 goals per game, fewest among playoff teams and third-fewest in the NHL.
Video: NSH@BUF: Subban hammers slap shot past Hutton
Working overtime may be in cards for the Avalanche
The Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14) were 5-9 in games decided beyond regulation time, but that might undersell their value in the playoffs. The Avalanche were 3-12 in 3-on-3 overtime and 2-2 in the shootout. During the playoffs, teams play 5-on-5 overtime until a goal is scored.
The Tampa Bay Lightning had the best record beyond 60 minutes in the regular season, going 13-4. The Columbus Blue Jackets (10-4), Winnipeg Jets (9-5) and New York Islanders (11-7) also fared well beyond regulation during the regular season. The Pittsburgh Penguins (7-12) were another Stanley Cup Playoff team with a poor overtime and shootout record during the regular season.
Video: WPG@COL: Johnson wins it in OT after Avalanche clinch