Monday, March 26, 2007

Handicapping the playoff race

With exactly two weeks left to play, the question we're all looking to answer at this time of year is, who's going to finish where?

And while there is certainly room for a lot of movement in the final six or seven games of the regular season, there are a few things we can figure out.

Here's a look at where we're headed (the percentages are just me eyeballing it):

Eastern Conference
  1. Buffalo: with at least a five-point lead on the next-closest team and seven games to play, top spot is the Sabres' to lose. 95%

  2. New Jersey/Pittsburgh: it'll be the Atlantic Division winner here, and the Devils have a slightly easier schedule with a game in hand. 55% NJ

  3. Atlanta/Tampa: here comes the Southeast... the Lightning has been in the toilet, especially in goal, throughout March and the Thrashers are hot. This one still may come down to the final game of the season, when these two square off. 60% Atl

  4. Ottawa/Pittsburgh/New Jersey: the four-five spot is hockey's Group of Death, as there'll be one good team going home regardless of who finishes here. Ottawa hasn't lost in regulation in ages and gets the sliding Bruins twice more. 65% Ott / 20% Pitt

  5. Pittsburgh/New Jersey/Ottawa: ditto from above, with the loser of the Atlantic Division sweepstakes likely to slot in here, starting on the road in the Canadian capital. 60% Pitt / 30% NJ

  6. N.Y Rangers/Tampa: my have the Rangers surprised lately. Henrik Lundqvist has been the best goaltender in the league the past two plus months, which should put them in this spot. 70% NYR / 20% TB

  7. Tampa/Carolina/N.Y. Islanders/Montreal/Toronto: ah what a mess... it's sort of a grab bag here, and will come down to how each team plays in the head-to-head games against their fellow bubble clubs. Carolina has a favourable schedule and has seemed more motivated lately and Tampa holds the tiebreaker with 41 wins. 40% TB / 30% Car

  8. Carolina/N.Y. Islanders/Montreal/Toronto/Tampa: more mess... I like Carolina and the Islanders more than the two Canadian clubs, but it's going to be awfully close — and I wouldn't be surprised in the least if a tiebreaker decides it (and the Leafs and Isles are low on wins). 45% Car / 25% NYI

Western Conference
  1. Detroit/Nashville/Anaheim: one of these three gets top spot in the West, and I'm going to go with the Red Wings — although the Ducks have been the hottest of the trio. There's really not a ton separating the three. 35% Det / 30% Nash / 30% Ana

  2. Anaheim/six other teams: it depends both on who wins the Pacific Division and just how hard-charging the teams at the top of the Northwest can stay. 50% Ana

  3. Minnesota/Vancouver/Anaheim/Dallas/San Jose: probably the Northwest winner here, but not necessarily. The Wild have been particularly impressive since Christmas. 45% Min / 35% Van

  4. Nashville/Detroit/five others: still too difficult to call, although the Central Division runner-up probably falls here if not at the top. 50% Nas / 35% Det

  5. Vancouver/Minnesota/others: Northwest runner-up seems a likely candidate given how well they've played, but Dallas is right in here, too. Not that it's a plum spot to start the playoffs. 45% Van / 35% Min

  6. Dallas/San Jose/others: the Pacific runner-up may fall here, and both the Stars and Sharks have been terrific. 35% Dal / 30% SJ

  7. San Jose/Dallas/others: stick the third-place team from one of hockey's toughest divisions in here. 35% SJ / 30% Dal

  8. Calgary/Colorado: ah yes, finally a playoff race in the West we can pin down to two teams. The Flames probably aren't climbing over anyone, and the Avalanche can really only hope to catch their division rivals. And Colorado's been terrific lately. 60% Cal / 35% Col



At 3:05 a.m., March 26, 2007, Blogger d-lee said...

Don't discount the fact that Carolina is just four points out of first place in the SE division and has a game in hand on both the Thrashers and the Bolts. The Canes have a chance, albeit a microscopically small one, to win the division and take the #3 seed. It'll probably come down to the last day, when the Bolts and Thrashers play each other.

At 1:46 p.m., March 26, 2007, Blogger JavaGeek said...

I do simulations of season standings every night and I have the actual numbers instead of educated guesses.

At 2:52 p.m., March 26, 2007, Anonymous Lammy said...

7-8 in the Eastern Conference are anyone's guess at this point, but I wouldn't put TB in 7th right now. Their goaltending has been terrible, and they play the Panthers twice, a team that has given them fits this year. I would pick Carolina for 7th on the strength of their recent play. The Habs get my vote for 8th, especially if Halak stays hot, but also on the strength of their wins total. They do have a pretty tough schedule down the stretch, though. Hmmm...

I'm sure that by 10 p.m. tomorrow, I'll throw all this out the window.

At 3:58 p.m., March 26, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1) Florida hasn't given Tampa fits this year. Tampa is 1-2-1 in Miami, where Florida has a very good home record (21-12-5 at home). Tampa has won both home games against Florida, and the remaining two games are in Tampa.

2) Tampa's GAA is very misleading. If we separated out goaltending from defense here, I think we'd see that that the goaltending has been okay while the defense has been awful. Tampa gives up way too many odd-man rushes. I bet they are one of the worst teams in the NHL in odd-man-rushes-allowed, if there is such a stat. Part of it is the aggressive offensive style they play, and part of it is plain poor defense by both the forwards and defensemen. I don't know what percentage to assign to each of those two factors.

3) Tampa should have no problem getting into the playoffs with their remaining schedule. They'll have a hard time with Ottawa, Buffalo, and Toronto, but no one else should scare them in the East.

At 4:21 p.m., March 26, 2007, Blogger PPP said...

Both yours and JavaGeek's numbers are flawed because neither one of you has the Leafs at 100%.

At 4:21 p.m., March 26, 2007, Blogger James Mirtle said...

Yeah, the Lightning haven't played well, but the soft schedule really does them a lot of favours. Besides, they've been hot and cold all year, so it wouldn't surprise me to see them suddenly win out.

But, if Halak remains as good as he's been the past week or so, Montreal will really challenge. It's going to come down to all the games these teams play against one another.

At 5:04 p.m., March 26, 2007, Blogger JavaGeek said...

Lightening have been terrible in March:
-15 Goal differential with 2W-6L (3OTW - 0OTL)

Recent games vs. Florida:
Tampa vs. Florida: 4-5OTL, 3-2SOW, 2-6L.
Tampa should win, but they're not guaranteed [recently lost 7-1 to Washington]

Tampa has possibly the worst goaltending in the league...

At 2:19 p.m., March 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

JavaGeek: Are you basing your Tampa-goalie assessment just on the GAA? How do you know how much of that is the goalie's fault, how much is the offensive style, and how much is the skaters' fault? If you're basing it on shot quality stats or something else, it would be interesting to look at.

The recent 7-1 Ottawa-Tampa game really epitomizes what Denis and Holmqvist have to contend with. Ottawa must have had ten odd-man rushes during that game. How many 2-on-1's does Brodeur face a game compared to Denis?

At 10:02 p.m., March 27, 2007, Blogger JavaGeek said...

Let's say I base it on:
1. Tampa has the second most goaltender swaps in the NHL (2nd to Columbus)
2. Penalty killing shot quality neutral save percentage is bad (fewer odd man rushes on PK)
3. Holmqvist has never been NHL caliber goalie, not sure why you think he is now...
4. Denis has never been a winning goaltender, I have no reason to suspect things have changed.
5. Holmqvist are ranked 42/44 and Denis is 43/44 in terms of shot quality neutral save percentage [can't measure odd man rushes though]. Only Cloutier is worse.
6. Ranked 23/30 in terms of goalie stars given this season. And only 4 first star goaltender games. [Vancouver has 14] Only LA is worse.

You're probably right about odd man rushes, but goaltenders are supposed to stop some of those too..

Side note: another T.B. game another goalie pulled, plus they lost to Florida...

At 4:11 p.m., March 29, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Reasons 3, 4, and 6 are completely subjective and do nothing to separate-out the goaltending from the defense. Teams in high scoring games will always have fewer goalie stars. I bet the East has fewer goalie stars than the West.

"Penalty killing shot quality neutral save percentage" sounds promising. Where can I find these numbers?

How do you explain Tampa's shootout save percentage, if they have such abysmal goalies? The shootout seems to be the perfect way to eliminate defense from the equation.


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