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Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Non-Traditionals And Their First 10 Games

Here at On Goal Analysis (OGA), we are decidedly in favor of growing The Great Game. With all due respect to our northern neighbors where Hockey was invented, you grow the game where you have the most potential to spread it to new people. In the NHL, that means the markets down ‘south of the border.’

While OGA analyzes all NHL teams’ ability to make – or not make – the post-season as far out as possible, of particular emphasis are the Non-Traditional teams, the Non-Trads. In this case, we mean (from East to West) Carolina (CAR), Florida (FLA), Tampa Bay (TBL), Columbus (CBJ), Atlanta (ATL), Nashville (NSH), Dallas (DAL), Phoenix (PHX), Anaheim (ANA), Los Angeles (LAK) and San Jose (SJS).

For this blog, we tell you how each of these teams played last year and on average since the Lockout coming out of the chute for the first 10 games of the season. Why are these games important when another 72 follow? When you look at it as measured by our Playoff Qualifying Curve (PQC), you know that we called Colorado Chasing Stanley – IN the playoffs – and Toronto at Tee Time – OUT of the post-season – among our calls by Game 10 last season. We also discuss the Back-To-Back (B2B) schedule because those games do not allow for adequate rest, recuperation and refocusing of the team for the next contest.

And for good measure, we throw in a couple of notes about some of the other teams based on what we saw in the pre-season.

So before the first puck drops that officially counts, here is your Non-Trad analysis through Game 10 for the 2010/11 regular season.

The Carolina Hurricanes

Last year? Last season, well, CAR would just like to forget last season’s first half. While they could not be called OUT by G10, this was the team’s worst start since the Lockout and a harbinger of things to come over the following 30 games.

The Best? There should have been no doubt in 2005/6 when they won the Stanley Cup that they were at least heading to the post-season by the end of their first 10 games (G10). But they began the 2007/8 season in the same manner as their Cup run year and tripped up badly in mid-season. In short, they have been sporadic, in large measure due to accumulated team injuries over the course of the seasons.

G10 Average? By this season’s G10, they will have played three B2B pairings. Opening in Helsinki against MIN for a B2B that qualifies as one of one of OGA’s Black-And-Blue Schedule pairs, they come home for five days before a five-game road trip to OTT and out to the west coast. By G5, they have had 13 days to play those games for a normally comfortable 2.6:1 days-to-game ratio. But the issue here is all of those games are on the road. In fact, eight of their first 10 fall out that way – the scheduling Gods were not kind to the ‘Canes to start this year.

What Should They Do This G10? Since the Lockout, CAR’s trend is for a strong season start. They win on average by Games 2, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10. This season, that would be versus MIN, VAN, LAK, PHX, NYR and PIT. That would suit them just fine. But they are just as likely to take the first two against MIN in Finland, OTT or VAN, SJS or ANA, an OT/SOL at PHX, and one-to-1.5 wins in the G8-10 range. If they surpass that, they are a force to be reckoned with for the season as long as good health accompanies them along the way.

The Florida Panthers

Last year? Last year the Panthers had their worst G10 start since the Lockout and were called at Tee Time. That call remained just as sound in April as it was before Halloween.

The Best? Arguably, their best season since the Lockout was 2008/9 where they played In the Curve – about average – all season and only lost a playoff berth on a tie-breaker that is no longer en vogue. While they displayed steady improvement against the PQC from 2006/7 through 2008/9, last year was a huge valley.

G10 Average? Unlike CAR, by G10 they will have played only one B2B pairing which is under the Conference average. That comes in the first two nights of the season on a Western Canada swing, while they enjoy a 2.4:1 days-to-game ratio through G5. The back half of their G10 has a marginally better ratio of 2.6:1, but contains an Eastern Canada road trip.

What Should They Do This G10? Post-Lockout, FLA wins on average by Games 2, 4, 6, and 9. This season, that would be against VAN, TBL, NYI and MTL. Those four wins are not the pace the team wants in order to be a contender. It is possible they could take one on the road in Western Canada, one-to-two at home from TBL, DAL and/or NYI, one more in Eastern Canada, and hopefully G10 versus ATL. If they can equal or best that, they stand a chance of playing past April 10, 2011.

The Tampa Bay Lightning

Last year? In 2009/10 the Bolts had an average, In The Curve G10 start, just as they always have since the Lockout.

The Best? Their best season since the Lockout by a slim margin was 2006/7 where they played just above the 2005/6 season, the last two times they have been to the playoffs. The 2007/8 and 2008/9 seasons displayed a negative PQC trend, which finally improved last season.

G10 Average? At G10 they will have played two B2B pairs at just above the Conference average. Their first five games have one B2B pair with a 2:1 days-to-game ratio, and the G6-G10 period has the other at 2.4:1. With five games at home and five on the road, the Lightning will enjoy a more milk-toast-like opening G10 that should provide ample opportunity to succeed.

What Should They Do This G10? Post-Lockout, TBL’s trend is just a bit under CAR’s. They win on average by Games 2, 5, 6, 8 and 10. This season, that would be against MTL, DAL, NYI, NSH and PHX. Despite this pre-season, TBL should get a ‘W’ against ATL to open the season, one-to-two more on their road trip in G2-G4, another one or two in G5-G8, and will test their mettle against PIT and PHX in G9 & G10. A win out of those last two with five in their first eight will put them on that winning path they need to make the playoffs this season.

The Columbus Blue Jackets

Last year? Columbus had their second best G10 start last season. They even carried that success on through their best G20 start, garnering the OGA call for Chasing Stanley which later turned into a disappointing Shot Off The Post, one of only three incorrect PQC calls in 2009/10.

The Best? Their best G10 start since the Stoppage was their 2007/8 campaign, a non-playoff season. The 2008/9 playoff season was a significant notch under their best but the only season and they made it to the post-season. This was because they played just above the eighth and ninth-ranked teams’ and the Eastern Conference averages. The margin between IN and OUT of the playoffs for the sixth through 10th place teams is always slim.

G10 Average? At G10 they will have played three B2B pairs, a pair above the Conference average. Their first four games are B2B’s including the NHL Premiere against San Jose in Stockholm which qualifies as one of OGA’s Black-And-Blue Schedule pairs. Their last pairing is G6–G7 the third week in October. Through G5, their days-to-game ratio is 2.6:1 (with post-Euro jetlag involved) and 2:1 for G6-G10.

What Should They Do This G10? Since 2004, the teams’ trend for G1-G10 is to win at Game 2, 4, 6, and 9 plus another half-game at G10. That’s against SJS (in Sweden), MIN, CGY, EDM and an OTL at COL. A split in Sweden would be a great morale booster for the team that underscores NHL parity. After Sweden, they host CHI and fly to MIN on Friday and Saturday, so the MIN victory of the two might be more likely. Between ANA, CGY and CHI in the next three, if they are playing well this season then one of those three should fall in the ‘W’ column. And PHI, EDM and COL in their last three being a win-and-a-half may or may not happen. What this team needs is to beat their average in the first 10 as an indicator of something closer to a playoff berth on their horizon than not.

The Atlanta Thrashers

Last year? Last season, ATL made it to Game 10 In The Curve, or just about average as most teams play in that time span. While they could not be called either IN or OUT, this was the team’s second best start since the Lockout behind the 2006/7 season when they made it into the Playoffs.

The Best? Of note, while they have not qualified for the post-season since then, they have shown positive PQC growth in each of the last two seasons following their dreadful 2007/8 start. This is important to the team as their 2005/6 through 2008/9 seasons were decided in the PQC on average by Game 26. Last season, they were not called at Tee Time until Game 50, indicating the same kind of steadily improving track the Chicago Blackhawks have been on over the last three seasons.

G10 Average? In this season’s G10, they have three B2B pairs to play, a number greater than the Eastern Conference average by a bit more than one pair. They open at home versus WSH and the next night play at TBL before a three-game west coast swing which includes their second B2B pairing. So by G5, they knock out five games in nine days, or a 1.8:1 days-to-games ratio. This is worse than the more comfortable 2:1 days-to-game ratio for recovery from bumps and bruises they see later on. Games 6 – 10 hold three Atlantic Division opponents (BUF x 2 and the NYR) and a reverse pairing from opening night of versus TBL at home and at WSH as their final B2B pair of the stretch.

What Should They Do This G10? On average since the Lockout, they win by Games 2, 4, 7 and 9. But they will need to do better than that to keep their heads above water. This season, those wins would be against TBL twice, ANA and the NYR. If they are anything like they look on paper, they might easily split the four, total games with TBL and WSH, achieve the same from their two games with BUF, grab at least one win out in California and maybe catch NYR napping for an OT– or SOL. If they surpass that, they are on a path similar to 2006/7 and a potential post-season bid.

The Nashville Predators

Last year? The Predators’ G10 last year was their worst first 10 games since the Lockout. From 2006/7 through 2009/10, NSH only won two of their first five games. In three of those seasons, the team picked up the pace for G6-G10. In 2009/10, however, that second-half output was worse than the first five. The Preds still made the playoffs last season – which is why you cannot ever truly count them out – but they paid for the S L O W start the rest of the way.

The Best? Their best G10 was in the 2005/6 season, although the following year turned out to be their best finish. That first, post-Lockout season was a wire-to-wire performance of consistency, however.

G10 Average? NSH’s two B2Bs through G10 are right about average and are split between both halves of the furlong. Their 2.2:1 days-to-games ratio through G5 has only one game on the road versus CHI. They also have the same ratio on the back half of these games which, between the two, provides a playing rhythm that the team can get some measure of comfort from. Their second B2B is an at DAL and TBL mini-road trip.

What Should They Do This G10? In the last five years, NSH has on average won Games 2, 4, 6, 8, 9 and another half-of-a-game at G10. Painfully for the Preds, that’s at CHI, versus WSH and PIT, at TBL, versus STL and a half-game thrown in at DET. What’r the odds on those wins? Would you want them? If they split those 10 games, I say they have had a good start to the new season.

The Dallas Stars

Last year? Dallas began last year just off pace for the type of year that took them to the playoffs their first three seasons following the Lockout. In fact, it was exactly equivalent to the start of the 2007/8 season which saw Dallas proceed to the Western Conference finals.

The Best? Their best start since the Stoppage, however, was the 2006/7 campaign, the kind of playoff season Stars fans yearn to see again. If they can start somewhere between last season and 2006/7, they will likely be both a surprise and on their way to a successful season.

G10 Average? Dallas starts with a ‘leisurely’ single B2B pair through G10. It comes in their first pair on the road at NJD and NYI. The days-to-games ratio through G5 is 2.2:1 and through G10 is 2.4:1. All in all, a decent time to recuperate from bumps and bruises and reset between games and focus on a new opponent each time.

What Should They Do This G10? Over the last five season, the teams’ trend for G1-G10 is to win at Game 2, 3, 5, 7, 8 and 10. This season, that’s against NYI, DET (on Mike-Modano-Returns-To-DAL-Night), TBL, NSH, ANA and BUF. Getting one ‘W’ every other game through the first six would mean to capture six wins they need to add three-of-four in their G7-G10 home stand. Between NSH, ANA, LAK and BUF, no team is a pushover, so if DAL begins with five versus six wins, don’t be surprised.

The Phoenix Coyotes

Last year? The Coyotes of last season had their best G10 start since the Lockout. Since it was also the first time they made it into the post-season since the Lockout, it is a good marker for success in follow-on seasons.

The Best? See above.

G10 Average? Like CBJ and LAK, PHX suffers three B2B pairings in the first 10 games of the season. The opening pair is against BOS in Prague and qualifies as part of OGA’s Black-And-Blue Schedule. After five days off returning from Europe, they are versus DET and at ANA B2B as well. Their days-to-games ratio through G5 is a deceptive 2.6:1 which is actually two pairs with multiple days in between. The third B2B kicks off a road trip the week before Halloween at both MTL and OTT. G6-G10 has a 1.8:1 ratio which means it will be more difficult to find any kind of comfort zone for recuperation and preparation over the second half of this furlong.

What Should They Do This G10? Since the Lockout, the ‘Yotes on average have won at Games 2, 5, 7 and 10. [Of note: of all of the Non-Traditionals they are the only team without a win for a given game (G9) since the Stoppage.] For PHX, those wins would be versus BOS (in Prague) LAK, MTL and TBL. While you can expect it is likely to get a split in Europe, they can get ahead of their curve with a ‘W’ on the weekend of 16 & 17 October. Another win versus LAK or CAR is possible in G5 and G6. Another victory from one of the three road games to MTL, OTT and DET is needed, and the traditional G10 winner would all come together to only set them In The Curve. If they can add an additional victory or two in there as well, they will have as good, or better, a start than last, successful season.

The Anaheim Ducks

Last year? In 2009/10, Anaheim had their worst G10 start since the Lockout. While they played .500 Hockey by G5, in G6-G10, they only put out a .200 effort.

The Best? Their best season since the Stoppage was the 2006/7 Stanley Cup winning year. That season, they were called Chasing Stanley at G10. Since then, there has been a constant downward trend by season’s end in terms of the PQC.

G10 Average? At G10 they will have played two B2B pairs at just about the Conference average. The pairs are split evenly with one before G5 and the other after. They start hard out on the road with a 1.6:1 days-to-game ratio. But G6-G10 is better at 2.2:1. Seven of the first 10 are on the road in a three-gamer road trip, with a home stand before a four-gamer out of town. A mixed bag of team bonding and fatigue from travel, the Ducks will need some character for a good showing out of the chute.

What Should They Do This G10? Since 2004, the teams’ trend for G1-G10 is wins at Game 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. That’s versus NSH, VAN, PHX, PHI and DAL. Over the last five years, this team has played .560 Hockey at home and .437 on the road. So in the first three-gamer road trip, one win would be about average. Their home stand should have a game-and-a-half in the W/OTL column, and the last, four-gamer road trip could have one-to-two wins. If they do that, then about 4.5 W’s should ensue. That’s a bit under the PQC, but not something that cannot be overcome. If they are better than that, you may have them heading in the right direction back toward the playoffs.

The Los Angeles Kings

Last year? Last year was the Kings’ first foray into the Post-season since the Lockout. Many predict a return with even better results this season. It may be interesting to note last year’s start was only their second best since the Lockout.

The Best? The interesting note is that last year was not as good as their 2005/6 kickoff. Both seasons, in fact, looked about the same through G40. The Kings just could not sustain the ‘W’s’ in 2006 like last year.

G10 Average? Los Angeles has three B2B’s through G10. They are on the road to bookend the 10 games and split the pair home and away in the middle. Days-to-games by G5 is 2.4:1 and through G10 is a harried 1.6:1. Ouch. But their final five games are all a road trip through the guts of the Continental U.S.

What Should They Do This G10? In the last five years, the Kings have won on average on the evens – Games 2, 4, 6, 8 and 10. That’s versus CGY, VAN, PHX, MIN and DAL. If CGY’s pre-season was not an anomaly, then their first W might not come until G3. Do they steal another one or two on the short home stand? And look for them to be stronger on the first three of the G6-G10 road trip as the flights are relatively short and there is a day in between games. The G9 & G10 pair will be tough because it is at both CHI and DAL B2B – they will be up to play the Stanley Cup Champion but may be tired and ‘smelling the barn’ pulling into DAL. Five W’s in the first 10 would not be bad for this schedule. But they need to capitalize early as they have a tough scheduling row to hoe later in the season.

The San Jose Sharks

Last year? San Jose began last season tied with 2007/8 for their second worst start since the Lockout. You shouuld take this with a grain of salt, however, because they stand as one of only three teams in the NHL to have made it to the post-season every year since the Stoppage.

The Best? While all successful in terms of making a post-season appearance, 2008/9’s G10 start saw SJS wire-to-wire as an team OGA called Chasing Stanley.

G10 Average? The Sharks begin the season with a just-about-average two B2B pairings, including the Black-And-Blue Schedule starter against CBJ in Europe. They have a long 2.8:1 ratio to kick off G1-G5, but this is due in part to the six days they are off after game two with CBJ in Stockholm. The G6-G10 ratio of days-to-games is 2.4:1 including the at EDM and CGY B2B for G6 & G7.

What Should They Do This G10? Their success these past five years starts with the new season as they win on average by Games 2, 3, 5, 6, 8 and 10. This year, that’s versus CBJ (in Europe) ATL, COL, EDM, NJD and MIN. All of these and more are doable based on how the team looks on paper. The only unknown is which one – Niemi or Nittymaki – is the best netminder to start between the pipes.

Other, Post-Pre Season Notes

Atlanta Thrashers fans have to be a bit worried that their team went ‘Oh-Fer’ in the Win column in the pre-season. But take note that five losses, all by one goal, not necessarily with the season’s starting lineup, and while learning a new system usually means a little gelling needs to take place. Hopefully, practice before the opener against WSH will be all that is necessary to tune up.

The Calgary Flames’ perfect Pre-Season will not necessarily translate into the games that count, especially with the cornucopia of injured Centermen on the roster.

The Minnesota Wild’s play this pre-season is eerily reminiscent of last regular season’s first 10 games, while the Colorado Avalanche’s 2-5-0 record looks nothing like their beginnings in 2009/10.

The St. Louis Blues’ Pre-Season effort – especially on the Power Play – looks like the Central Division is in for some stiff competition this year.

The Toronto Maple Leafs’ play during their nine-game Pre-Season is the kind of effort they will have to pull off throughout the season to see games past the middle of April.

The Washington Capitals’ 5 – 1 record included only three games with Alexander Ovechkin in the lineup. Sidney Crosby only played in two of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ six. What happens when they both are in for as many of 82 as they can get done health-wise?


Here is a summary of the predictions for the Non-Trads’ at G10 which OGA will grade themselves upon as the teams get to that point:

Carolina – 5.5 to 6 W’s
Florida – 5 to 6 W’s
Tampa Bay – 4 to 6 W’s
Columbus – 4.5 W’s
Atlanta – 4.5 W’s
Nashville – 5 W’s
Dallas – 5 W’s
Phoenix – 5 W’s
Anaheim – 4.5 W’s
Los Angeles – 5 W’s
San Jose – 6 W’s

Also: Calgary will NOT be perfect at G10. Minnesota may very well start hard like last season. Colorado may not start as well as last year. Look for St. Louis and Toronto to improve. And it is like shooting a wounded duck, but count on Washington and Pittsburgh to be strong again this season.

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