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Friday, January 8, 2010

The Colonel’s Teams At The Half-Turn

For On Goal Analysis (OGA), I follow Anaheim, Atlanta, Buffalo, Edmonton, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ottawa, St. Louis, Tampa Bay and Washington. I constantly analyze them against OGA’s proprietary Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC) which tells me early on who will or will not make the Playoffs. What did these teams look like at Game 40, the veritable mid-way point, and why has OGA made the calls they have about them?

The Colonel’s Team Summaries

Anaheim has been called at Tee Time, eliminated from 2010 Playoff contention. This call came at Game 40, on 31 December. Last season, they were called out on 18 February (Game 59) ringing as a Shot Off The Post, or incorrect call of Tee Time. After this season’s Game 40 (G40), they stand at the lowest point they have ever been against the PQC. Said another way, they are 11.5 games below where they were at G40 of the Ducks’ Stanley Cup winning season in 2006/7. Can they still come back? In our opinion, their season is done. After resting on the negative side of both their team and the NHL’s average PQC since Game 5 this year, they need to win 7-in-10 games for the rest of the season to stand a chance of holding down the last Playoff position in the West.

Atlanta at Game 25 was 1/2 of a game below their 2006/7 best at that point and looked to be on the way toward a call of Chasing Stanley – or IN the 2010 Playoffs. They hit a bad lull immediately after that point and before the Chasing Stanley call could be made, however, suffering a constantly decreasing gap between their average PQC and this season’s reality. At G40, they sat with a call of In The Curve, our average call between IN and OUT of the Playoffs. They have to right their sinking trend, however, because they now sit lower against the PQC than any season other than 2008/9. If they cannot start winning at better than .600 Hockey, they will find themselves watching the Playoffs from their couch instead of their bench.

The Buffalo Sabres of 2009/10 are playing right on par with the Sabres of 2005/6 at G40 and strongly at five games above their average PQC. Called as Chasing Stanley at Game 10, this team looks like the Sabres of old as they stand on the square shoulders of Ryan Miller. The only thing that can derail them at this point is an injury to their netminder, so much knuckle biting will be had between the remaining games of the season and during the Olympics.

Edmonton was called at Tee Time on 23 December and has been brutal to their loyal fans. At this season’s G40, they tied their worst ever G40 PQC from the 2007/8 season. Over 25 of their first 40 games, they have displayed a negative trend in play when compared to their average PQC. All indications are that it looks like a disappointing season is done unless they can win an average of 7.5 games in every 10.

Minnesota teased us at just short of Tee Time for their first 20 games and then kicked it into gear, finding their stride in new coach Todd Richards’ system. At G40, they were solidly In The Curve with 25 games’ worth of positive trend against their average PQC to boot. They will be hanging in for one of the remaining playoff berths in the West, but have to surpass the likes of Nashville and Vancouver to do it. So as good as they have been of late, they need to be even better or they will sit and watch the Playoffs with a middle-of-the-West finish.

New Jersey will be competing in the Playoffs this year for the fifth straight season since the Lockout. They have been solidly Chasing Stanley since Game 15 when they rose above their best performance against the PQC since 2005/6. Despite a shallow PQC dip in their last five games, they are winning more than 3.5 games in every five. The only question will be how deep they go in the Playoffs this year.

Ottawa was called Chasing Stanley at Game 20 and has fallen a bit flat since then. At G40, their PQC was more on par with being In The Curve than at the top of the heap. But after suffering through weeks without your starting goaltender and injuries to your top two points-getters in Alfredsson and Spezza, they are hanging in there well enough for OGA to consider them still playoff bound. They DO need to pick up their 2.75-games-in-5 winning average, however, to keep form seeing the likes of the Rangers, Canadiens or Thrashers climbing up the standings at their expense.

St. Louis was called at Tee Time last season on 16 December and fought back as the best team in the second half of the season to earn their first Playoff berth since the Lockout. They were also the second of three Shots Off The Post for OGA last season (yes, I am considered the trouble-maker on staff). High expectations have been dashed this season again with another Tee Time call on 31 December. While their current PQC still out-paces their post-Lockout numbers, at Game 40 they remained under the NHL average and below where they were in the 2007/8 season at New Years’ for comparison. New coach Davis Payne has to provide a spark that equals 7-wins-in-every-10 games to see this team enter the NHL’s post- season.

The interesting thing about Tampa Bay is that in 2005/6 and 2006/7, they made the Playoffs below and right at the PQC average respectively. So are they IN or OUT for this year? Were they in the Western Conference, they would be a Tee Time right now. But at G40, they were at Dusting Off Clubs, just shy of elimination for contention. Their G40 ranking was the second best they have recorded at that mark since the Lockout and their trend is to play higher than their average PQC more often than not this season. But winning an average of only 2.5-times-in-every-five-games is not going to be enough to get them into the post-season. If they do not pick up the winning pace, they will find themselves in the middle of the pack, just shy of the Playoffs, just like Minnesota out West.

With New Jersey and Buffalo, Washington stands as the class of the Eastern Conference this season. They were Chasing Stanley at Game 15 and have not looked back. This season’s best, post-Lockout run has tied last seasons’ peak at G40. Since Game 10, their performance has sat at a noticeable amount above their average PQC. This could very well be Washington’s year with New Jersey and Buffalo their primary hurdles to get to the finals.


So Buffalo, New Jersey, Ottawa and Washington out of the Colonel’s teams are Chasing Stanley with Ottawa the only one that needs to play a bit stronger to justify that call.

Atlanta, Minnesota and Tampa Bay are in between IN and OUT of the playoffs and will all need to improve their play to secure one of the remaining Playoff berths in their Conference.

Anaheim, Edmonton and St. Louis are at Tee Time, eliminated from 2010 Playoff competition. None of these teams are winning at better than a 49% clip and all need to win at 70% or better to change their fortunes.

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