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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

OGA’s Analysis At Game 70

Game 70 in the 2008/9 NHL season has now passed for all teams. Where did the season go? Ahhh… a question some teams are asking themselves right now.

On Goal Analysis’ (OGA’s) offers a dissection of its proprietary Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) as it relates to calling teams IN or OUT of the Playoffs. This analysis will speak to what we think has already happened and what the last 12 games of the regular season may bring…

Out Traditional Three NHL Yardsticks at Game 70

For the Game 61-70 period, the NHL average against OGA’s PQC has increased from the historical 38.81 to the current 39.1. This is more than double the +.12 improvement at the Game 60 mark. The change is reflected in our three, league-wide yardsticks:

1. Average scoring per game is still up this season to an average of 5.843 goals per game from 5.567 in 2007/8. This stands as +.276 goals above last year’s per game average and an increase of +.4 goals over the last 10 games. Why the increase? Because of such games as TAMPA BAY’s 8-6 defeat of CALGARY on 1 MARCH and NASHVILLE’s 6-5 OT win over EDMONTON on 3 MARCH is the answer. In fact, 55 of 137 games tallied seven or more goals from 1 through 21 MARCH.

2. The number of OT/SO contests will likely rise higher than the month of February and stand about average with post-lockout, March averages. February’s total number of OT/SO games was exactly the historical, three-year average. With 10 nights to go in the month of MARCH, the League has seen 68.7% of ‘Bonus Hockey’ games than have traditionally occurred. This number of OT/SO games is a product of three things: wounded, starting goalies; wounded skaters; and the salary cap. The numerous injured players have forced the call up of players from the AHL and other leagues that require some experience to meet the NHL’s tempo, so errors in angles or coverage have occurred. And the cap has, in some cases, both dictated who could and could not be called up, and fostered team parity.

3. The gap between highest and lowest game-winning percentage for the League at Game 70 is now –33.8%. This is a continued decrease from the drop in the Game 60 gap of –39.94%. Your BOSTON’s and SAN JOSE’s whose victorious ways inflated the league winning percentages are now playing teams who have their number. BOSTON won more than eight-in-10 games from Game 11–50, and SAN JOSE, greater than 7.5. In Games 41 – 60, the BRUINS only played .525 Hockey and the SHARKS were at .450 for the Game 70 furlong. As with the Game 60 evaluation period, more teams played below the PQC than above it.How do these characteristics influence 2008/9 Conference play?

The Eastern Conference

The East ended the 70-game span above the historical average +.323, their highest gain against the PQC all season. This is an increase of +.593 from the same measurement at Game 60. The Game 70 stat rests below the League’s PQC average by almost –.27, but this is almost three times less than the gap from the last evaluation period. The Average standings difference from the 8th seed for teams not in a Playoff spot is –11.143 in the East, a spread barely under three-fourths of a game larger than at Game 50 and a huge variation from the same measurement ‘Out West.’ Why these trends? The East increased from 3-9-3 against the Curve to 6-6-3 during this period. While the East experienced a drop-off in the overall number of OT/SO games, this group of 15 won more games in regulation time than in their last, collective 10 games. And like our last report, the winning percentages for Eastern teams that will make the Playoffs indicate the overall model for this conference is just about right.

The Western Conference

Not so in the West. For the first time all season, this Conference fell below their traditional PQC. Their –.143 below the three year average is a significant drop from the +.333 they enjoyed at Game 60 (an overall drop of –.476!) and the season-long average of +.293. This is in large measure due to the below average play of the conference where the record against the Curve was 4-9-2. The Western Conference PQC is just above the NHL average by +.267, but this is another negative trend of a –.433 when compared to the Game 60 period. This is due to a combination of the overall drop in PQC based on play and the relatively small number of 17 games where teams played in OT/SO indicating losses are coming in regulation time. The average difference from the 21 March 8th seed to number 15 is –5.571 in the West, an increase of a full game from the Game 60 marker on 1 March. This continues the trend from Game 50 with an average increase of +.875 over the last 20 games. The significant drop in the Conference PQC, its comparison with the League PQC and the increase in distance between teams that could qualify and those below the Number 9 seed all serve to indicate the Western model is inflated and needs to be readjusted downward in terms of the minimum requirements to qualify for the 8th and final Playoff seed in the West.

How do your favorite teams look? Let’ see below:

IN The Hunt…

Back East, no new teams qualified for Chasing Stanley. So the RANGERS, MONTREAL, BOSTON, PITTSBURGH, WASHINGTON, PHILADELPHIA and NEW JERSEY all still remain ranked by OGA as teams that will qualify for a Playoff berth. BOSTON also mathematically clinched their Playoff berth just a hair after the end of the reporting period. While OGA predicted they might do so by Game 70, a below-BRUIN average of 5-4-1 this evaluation period ensued and put off the celebration a couple of games. PITTSBURGH continued to pick up the pace, moving up from the Number 8 seed on 1 March to Number 5 by 21 March. The RANGERS improved their trend from a terrible Game 51-60 performance with a 5-3-2 record that has them more solidly in the Playoff hunt. The significant negative trend is with MONTREAL who is in real danger of not seeing the Playoffs in this Centennial season. Traditionally, they win about eight and add an OTL in their final 12 games. This post-Lockout tradition needs to continue in order to make up for their harmful 6-13-1 Game 31 – 50 performance or they will see themselves displaced come 13 April.

Out West, no new teams qualified for Chasing Stanley just like back East. So SAN JOSE, DETROIT, MINNESOTA, VANCOUVER, CHICAGO and CALGARY are all still in the hunt. As predicted, SAN JOSE and DETROIT mathematically clinched their Playoff appearances during this period. VANCOUVER has continued their onslaught of the Western standings, losing only one in regulation and one in OT. MINNESOTA, though not yet eliminated, suffered their fifth evaluation period below the Curve, however. They are sinking fast as they only hold the 10th best winning percentage in the Conference, which the reintroduction of MARIAN GABORIK will likely impact. This team stands the best chance of being a Shot Off The Post – an incorrect call – this season.

On The OUTs…

In the Eastern conference, there is no change to teams ranked at Tee Time – eliminated from Playoff contention. The ISLANDERS, TAMPA BAY, ATLANTA, OTTAWA and TORONTO are still below the Playoff qualification line. Of note is the fact that four of the five played at or above the Curve this furlong, however, giving hell to the teams above them. They have collectively served as the most entertaining, unqualified-for-the-Playoffs teams in recent memory. Likely to join them a few games into the last furlong is BUFFALO who has stumbled mightily without RYAN MILLER. As with MINNESOTA, the SABRES sit with only the 10th best winning percentage in their Conference, are losing at the wrong time of year and sit with only one furlong above the Curve in the bank.

In the West, DALLAS joined ST.LOUIS, NASHVILLE, COLORADO, LOS ANGELES, PHOENIX, and ANAHEIM at Tee Time as this blog was being drafted. Their annual average of 5.67 games above the Curve at season’s end has slipped away and they will join a few other teams up in the stands that otherwise have not missed the post-season since the Lockout. They are a victim of a disjointed first half of the season, no SERGEI ZUBOV and BRENDEN MORROW and the loss of BRAD RICHARDS for several games with a broken wrist. So all seven teams at Tee Time out West are chosen and the other eight are Chasing Stanley, right? Not so fast…

On The Cusp…

Of most interest stand the rest of the teams who are not yet IN or OUT…

In the East, the interesting dilemma is if CAROLINA and FLORIDA make it in, is it the RANGERS or MONTREAL who get eliminated? The two, hottest teams in the NHL in the last 10 games have been the PENGUINS (8-2) and the HURRICANES (7-1-2). For the first time since their 2006 Stanley Cup victory, this team is poised to return to the post-season. For FLORIDA, MONTREAL and the RANGERS, the last two slots depend on the “W” and “L’s” for the rivals. It doesn’t take many “L’s” – in fact only two separate the three teams. Whoever plays to Win will be IN and one of the three will be watching the Playoffs in HD from their recliner. For our money, the most likely one is MONTREAL.

As you turn to survey the West, it is like stepping into a tornado. This is by far the most competitive Western Conference race we have seen since the Lockout. At the very outside edge of the disqualified teams who might still make their way back into the lower ranking slots are NASHVILLE, ANAHEIM and ST.LOUIS. Chances are slimmer for ANAHEIM and ST.LOUIS as their final outcomes are almost decided. NASHVILLE might JUST hang in there long enough to grab the Number 8 seed like they did last year. Besides CAROLINA above, no one is more poised to see the post-season who has not yet clinched a berth than COLUMBUS. Yes indeed, continue to play as they currently are, and the last of the NHL’s teams to not yet meet up with the post-season will be quickly called Chasing Stanley by OGA. Finally, EDMONTON will battle with MINNESOTA, NASHVILLE and the others mentioned above for their first game in the post-season since Game 7 with CAROLINA in June of 2006. If this were another sport, we would be watching at that singular, hold-your-breath moment when a cowboy leaps from his horse to grab the horns of a steer. Hang on – a couple more weeks will tell…

Looking Ahead

The Playoffs follow the Game 82 furlong. OGA’s look ahead will include series prognostications and blogging throughout the post-season. As a group, we cannot wait for that up-on-pins-and-needles, lose your breath excitement of the finality of the Stanley Cup run. These are Playoffs like no other sport can claim.In the meantime, there is still more Hockey to play and a few more seeds to be decided. OGA’s recommendation is to keep a sharp eye on those at the 6th through 9th (East) or 10th (West) positions for the rest of the season. Such pesky teams as TORONTO, OTTAWA, the ISLANDERS, ANAHEIM, ST. LOUIS and LOS ANGELES all hold the keys to other clubs’ ability to move on to the games of late spring. Stay logged in to On Goal Analysis to follow the calls…

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