The NHL’s fifth furlong has passed. Where do we stand with all Game 50’s complete in terms of overall NHL, Conference and Individual team performance? AS usual, you will see key points in bold, blue italics...
The NHL at Game 50
For the Game 41-50 period, the NHL average against OGA’s Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) has increased from the historical 27.64 a scant +.243 to the current 27.883. This is an improvement of +.173 since Game 40 and an improvement of +.103 over the Game 30-to-40 difference. This is due in large measure to three additional, key observations and their related statistics:
1. Scoring is still improved this season to an average of 5.804 goals per game from 5.567 (overall) last season, an increase of +.237 goals per game and no change from the Half-Mile Pole.
2. The number of OT/SO contests took a nose-dive during the month of January when almost all of this evaluation period took place. The NHL as a whole had a –33.82% drop off from the historical, January average. The drop off in extra frames puts this years’ average only seven OT/SO games above the norm and a full two games behind the 2005/6 season. While it is early as this is being written, February also seems to be shaping up as another slow month for ‘Bonus Hockey.’ The decrease in OT/SO games is a product of the top teams establishing their dominance without having to result to extra frames to gain that second point. It also is one of the reasons arguments about the ‘ill affects’ of three-point games are wasted breath.
3. The gap between highest and lowest game-winning percentage for the League at Game 50 is a -43.56%, an increase over the difference of -40% at the half-way point. Winning teams are extending their dominance over those that are not.
How do these characteristics of the 2008/9 season affect Conference play?
The Eastern Conference
The East ended the 50-game span only a +.16 higher against the PQC than the historical average. This figure is –.12 lower than the same measurement at the Half-Way Point. Both are also below the League’s PQC average by almost –.317, an increase in the difference over the last evaluation period. The Average standings distance from the 8th seed for teams not in a Playoff spot is –11.14 in the East, a much more prolific separation of teams than out West. The PQC has improved back East as eight teams improved, three remained even, and four teams regressed between Game 40 and Game 50. Of these numbers only six teams played at or above the Curve, a testament to how competitive the NHL is. The East’s average Goals For (GF) is higher than the West by +.8 goals per game, which is still a decrease from the Game 40 period. They have also played in 33 more OT/SO games than ‘Out West,’ a factor in lowering the goal differential. Division PQC’s in order from highest to lowest are: Northeast (28.6); Atlantic (27.9); and Southeast (25.7). Overall as of Game 50, the Eastern PQC model is just about accurate in determining who will make the playoffs, so no adjustment is necessary.
The Western Conference
The West continues to enjoy improvements against the PQC just as in the last, 10-game period. For the Game 50-period, the Western PQC has increased to a +.12 over their historical average. Division PQCs' in order from highest to lowest are: Pacific (29.1); Central (28.5); and Northwest (27.5). These combine to sit a +.967 higher than in the East. There is a noticable amount of parity from top to bottom in this Conference. Indeed, the average standings difference between the 8th seed and teams not in a Playoff spot is only –3.86 in the West. This means any solid winning streak against only a three-game skid for the 8th seed pushes a different Western team into a Playoff berth. The PQC improved out West as in the other Conference with nine teams progressing and six teams retreating against the Curve from Game 40 to Game 50. SAN JOSE’s continuing dominance skewing the Western PQC and the intense competition for the 8th seed notwithstanding, OGA's stands by its model in the West as right about on track.
Who is IN and who is OUT of a Playoff berth in the Conferences?
In the East:
IN: The RANGERS, MONTREAL, BOSTON, PITTSBURGH, WASHINGTON, PHILADELPHIA and NEW JERSEY are all still Chasing Stanley. There is no change to this group from the last report. PITTSBURGH seems to be in less trouble than at the half-way point, but are, according to the current standings, still battling for a Playoff seed with the three teams In The Curve below.
OUT: The ISLANDERS, TAMPA BAY, ATLANTA, OTTAWA and TORONTO are still at Tee Time – eliminated from Playoff contention.
IN THE CURVE: This leaves BUFFALO, FLORIDA and CAROLINA to fight for the one remaining Playoff seed. Of these three teams, and based on their current playing percentages, only FLORIDA stands of chance of qualifying this evaluation period. The issue is they must go 6-0-1 by Game 60 for this to happen. The odds are against it, so look to no further call of IN or OUT in the East by Game 60.
In the West:
IN: SAN JOSE, DETROIT, MINNESOTA, VANCOUVER, CHICAGO and CALGARY are all still Chasing Stanley. There is no change to this group from the half-way mark. While MINNESOTA and VANCOUVER looked to be in trouble, The WILD played In The Curve during this evaluation period, and the CANUCKS opened up the Game 60 evaluation period with three, straight wins.
OUT: ST.LOUIS, NASHVILLE, COLORADO, and LOS ANGLES are at Tee Time. As predicted in the Game 40 report, the AVALANCHE and KINGS are new additions to this category for this rating period. The KINGS could improve their positioning with five-of-eight wins to finish the Game 60 evaluation period and the BLUES would have to be perfect through 24 February. Odds are against both based on current winning percentages. The PREDATORS and AVALANCHE cannot claw their way up and off of Tee Time by Game 60.
IN THE CURVE: ANAHEIM, DALLAS, EDMONTON, COLUMBUS and PHOENIX are scrapping for two remaining Playoff berths. Of these five teams, and based on their current playing percentages, only DALLAS has a chance at Chasing Stanley by Game 60, but they must go 7-0. Of these teams, the COYOTES are the most likely to reach Tee Time at Game 60 as they have to go 4-0-1 to stave off elimination.
The Game 50 stretch helped set the current conditions. The Game 51-60 timeframe is an important evaluation period, especially in the West where a minor losing streak could end Playoff hopes for any of five teams. After their Game 60, ANAHEIM, BUFFALO, CAROLINA, DALLAS, and EDMONTON must play above the curve to close out the season or they are in danger of not securing a Playoff seed.
There is still more hockey to play, but OGA’s PQC continues to solidify the picture. Stay logged in to On Goal Analysis to follow the calls…