Game 60 in the NHL has come and gone for all teams and the end of the season is coming like a blur. Where do we stand in the NHL as a whole, by conference and by team against On Goal Analysis’ (OGA’s) Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC)? Let’s take a look…
Three NHL Yardsticks at Game 60
For the Game 51-60 period, the NHL average against OGA’s PQC has increased from the historical 33.18 a scant +.12 to the current 33.333. This is less than half of the +.243 improvement from the Game 50 mark. This smaller change is influenced by our three, league-wide yardsticks:
1. Scoring is still improved this season to an average of 5.803 goals per game from 5.567 (overall) last season, a miniscule drop of –.001 goals per game from the 50-game marker.
2. The number of OT/SO contests rose from January’s –33.82% dip to even with the post-Lockout, February average. At the end of February, the NHL is ahead of that OT/SO average by +38.667 games, a contributing factor to the increase in the overall PQC. This increase in OT/SO games is a product of both team intensity ramping up as they begin their last push toward the Playoffs and the competitiveness of a Cap-driven league.
3. The gap between highest and lowest game-winning percentage for the League at Game 60 is now a –39.94%, a drop in the gap from Game 50 which was –43.56%. Winning teams are losing their edge over the ‘lesser’ teams as shown by only nine teams scoring above, and four teams scoring even with, the PQC.
How do these characteristics manifest in 2008/9 Conference play?
The Eastern Conference
The East ended the 60-game span down a –.26 against the PQC than the historical average. This statistic is –.42 lower than the same measurement at the 50-Game point, a reversal of the positive trend from Game 50. The Game 60 stat is also below the League’s PQC average by almost –.7, a bit less than double the gap from the last evaluation period. And the Average standings difference from the 8th seed for teams not in a Playoff spot is –11.857 in the East, a spread less than 3/4 of game larger than at Game 50 and a huge variation from the same measurement ‘Out West.’ Why the negative trends? Simply put, the East was 3-9-3 against the Curve during this period with only OTTAWA, PHILADELPHIA and WASHINGTON rising above the average. As of Game 60, the Eastern PQC model shows less wins are required to qualify for the Playoffs than the traditional model. However, the winning percentages for teams that will make the post-season indicate the overall model will hold true, so no adjustment is necessary.
The Western Conference
Just as nature seeks equilibrium, the West continues to enjoy improvements against the PQC in contrast to the East. This continues the trend from the last, 10-game stretch. At Game 60, this PQC has increased to a +.333 over their historical average, a gain of +.213 in the last 10 games. The Western Conference PQC is also +.7 higher than the NHL average, an increase of +.25 from the last reporting period. The average difference from the 1 March 8th seed to number 15 is only –4.571 in the West, an increase of almost 3/4 of a game from Game 50. How come so positive? Western teams are 6-7-2 against the Curve for this period with only two teams, ANAHEIM and PHOENIX, a full one point off the pace. Also different from the average as in the East, OGA still stands by the current model in the West.
How does your favorite team stack up? Let’ see below:
IN The Hunt…
Back East, the RANGERS, MONTREAL, BOSTON, PITTSBURGH, WASHINGTON, PHILADELPHIA and NEW JERSEY are all still ranked by OGA as Chasing Stanley. This is no change from the last report, with BOSTON likely to mathematically clinch their Playoff berth during this next evaluation period. Two things HAVE changed, however. PITTSBURGH has picked up the pace after four straight periods of downward trend and, as of 1 March sits as the Number 8 seed. The RANGERS, on the other hand, produced their worst 10-game performance since the Stoppage and sit only one win in front of the PENS. The OGA Daily Tip-In Sheet projects the BLUE SHIRTS requiring the full 82 games of the season on their current pace to advance to the post-season.
Out West, SAN JOSE, DETROIT, MINNESOTA, VANCOUVER, CHICAGO and CALGARY are all still Chasing Stanley. Both SAN JOSE and DETROIT stand a good chance of mathematically clinching their Playoff position during this period. Since the Game 50 report, VANCOUVER has caught fire and sits strongly in the 5th seed. MINNESOTA, as has been the case off and on throughout the season, is waffling in the “W” column and is hurting their chances at advancing into late April. They are only winning a projected 53.28% of their games, the lowest of the teams currently projected to make the Playoffs, and will likely require all 82 games plus losing trends by the likes of COLUMBUS, EDMONTON, ANAHEIM, NASHVILLE and/or DALLAS to make the Playoffs.
On The OUTs…
In the Eastern conference, there are no changes to teams ranked at Tee Time, or eliminated from Playoff contention. The ISLANDERS, TAMPA BAY, ATLANTA, OTTAWA and TORONTO are still at Tee Time, OGA’s ranking of eliminated from Playoff contention. As of their Thursday, 19 February loss to CAROLINA, there is no way the ISLANDERS can win enough games in the season to simply move back up to a ranking of In The Curve which wouldn’t put them in the running for a Playoff position. (If you ignore the standings and go to an ISLE’s game, however, you would never know they were done as they continue to play a tough, entertaining Hockey game on most nights.) ATLANTA and TAMPA BAY are a scant two losses away from loading up into the same boat. TORONTO and OTTAWA have a bit more leeway, but two and one losses respectively mean they will fail to qualify for OGA’s ranking of Chasing Stanley this season.
In the West, ST.LOUIS, NASHVILLE, COLORADO, and LOS ANGELES were joined at Tee Time by PHOENIX and ANAHEIM during this furlong. Of these teams COLORADO looks to be solidly through – they cannot win enough games to be ranked as Chasing Stanley. In order, ANAHEIM, NASHVILLE, ST.LOUIS, LOS ANGELES and PHOENIX still have a chance of being dubbed a Shot Off The Post and moving upwards from elimination to qualification if they win and the teams in front of them lose. For the DUCKS, a combination of four losses and wins by the seeds above them will keep them at Tee Time. For NASHVILLE and ST.LOUIS, the magic number is 3.5 losses. And LOS ANGELES and PHOENIX only need to drop 1 and 1/2 game respectively. The West is tight from eight to 15, so expect turbulence as we come in for an end-of-season landing.
On The Cusp…
Of most interest stand three teams each in the East and West who remain In The Curve, or still in the hunt for a Playoff spot. Forgetting for a second that there are teams that have met the Tee Time criteria in the West that may still surprise, here is how these six teams stack up:
FLORIDA is the only one of the six that could reach the criteria to be called Chasing Stanley over this furlong. As of 1 March, however, they need to be almost perfect over the next seven games to do so. The issue here is that they are 6-4 in their last 10 and would need to play .929 Hockey over the next seven tilts. This not being likely, they will most probably fail to meet OGA’s criteria for Chasing Stanley, but we would smile if we were wrong in this regard. They are a strong contender for making the Playoffs this year, a great thing for Hockey where it’s 90F/32C+ degrees.
Staying in the East, BUFFALO and CAROLINA are still In The Curve and could remain there after this furlong. The issue is that the CANES have only played .500 Hockey, and the SABRES .400 Hockey in their last 10 games. Another key indicator of making the Playoffs since the Lockout has been rising above the Curve at least twice by now in the season and neither the SABRES nor CANES have done so. As a bottom line, both teams are in trouble unless the RANGERS and PENGUINS falter and lose their Playoff bid and FLORIDA drops off of their current pace.
DALLAS, EDMONTON, and COLUMBUS still remain In The Curve in the West and none will rise above that rank by Game 70. In order of the best chance of remaining in the Playoff hunt, these teams fall out as COLUMBUS, EDMONTON and DALLAS with all of them being pushed by clubs currently below the line. DALLAS has slipped most as they ride a five-game losing streak and are most in danger of elimination. For all three teams, getting the “W” is the only thing that can shut up the pundits. This Conference will have the most pressure and excitement as we close in on ’82.
The Game 60 stretch has provided us with an exciting current set in the NHL. By our calculations, there is one seed remaining in the East, and two to fight for in a very tight Western Conference by 13 April.
The Game 61-70 timeframe is an important evaluation period where three teams are likely to mathematically clinch their Playoff berth and more riding In The Curve may just fall out. There is still more Hockey to play and OGA’s PQC says the smart money is on the fan who doesn’t leave before the final buzzer. Stay logged in to On Goal Analysis to follow the calls…