Thursday, March 26, 2009

Canadiens Night Off Playoff Musings

Thank you, Maxim Afinogenov...

During this whole losing streak, the Canadiens have done more to solidify their playoff standing by watching rivals' games on TV than by gaining points themselves.

Two important things seemed to have happened:

1) The Ottawa Senators got delusional
2) Teams 4-7 (directly ahead of us) became impossible to beat

As a result, teams 9 and 10 (those we are most concerned with) have found livelier opponents than they may have been expecting and have lost a fair number of games the past fortnight.

Delusions of grandeur

Both the Ottawa senators and the Toronto Maple Leafs have turned around their seasons recently. Strangely, February 7th was a turning point for both teams. Going into games that evening, Ottawa had 42 points after 50 games and Toronto was slightly better with 45 points after 52 contests.

Toronto have played well of late (despite shipping most of the players we might have called their best at the deadline). They have gone from favourite to land a top 5 pick to favourite to continue their painful rebuilding effort with a 12th overall choice with a 13-5-4 record over their last 22. They might have been a factor for the Canadiens, except that they have only hurt us – beating us once and losing at every opportunity to Buffalo and Florida.

Ottawa on the other hand have been kind in every way. They have trounced Buffalo in the 4 past meetings allowing them only a single point. And they have beaten every other playoff rival at least once. Their one slip was not letting us beat them twice in our 2 games. Since February 7th, Ottawa are a gaudy 15-6-2.

The difference they have made to the playoff is clear; but while Toronto seem to largely have done all they have done by accident, Ottawa has been deliberately targeting a playoff berth. Fair play to them, it says a lot about their sportsmanship and faith in themselves. However, it does not say much about their grasp of simple arithmetic or indeed of probabilities.

You see, on February 7th, when their hope grew into delusion, Ottawa would have needed to amass 50 points from their remaining 32 games to make the modest and generous playoff cutoff of 92 points. To do that they would have needed a record of 25-7-0 (or if they like to lose in OT something like 23-5-4). Perhaps not impossible for the San Jose Sharks, but the Ottawa Senators were clipping at less than a point pr game to that stage. Not only that, but in order to make the playoffs with such a low point total they would have to also wish for some monumental collapses from all the right teams.

Well, Ottawa got their collapses from Florida and Montreal, but despite this and their great play, they would need to win all their remaining games to make 92 points now. The painful part of the delusional ways is that they are now firmly planted in the middle with a shred of playoff hope and the thinnest hope of participation in that draft lottery.

Still, thanks Ottawa, you sure have helped your neighbours down the 417 a whole bunch by repetitively kicking the Sabres...

The Atlantic 3 and Carolina

The Flyers are 6-4-0 in their last 10 and and 12-6-1 in their last 19.
The Penguins are 7-1-2 in their last 10 and 11-1-2 in their last 14.
The Rangers are 7-3-0 in the last 10 and 8-3-0 in their last 11.
And, the Hurricanes are 7-1-2 in their last 10 and 9-1-2 in their last 12.

All this has meant the Habs have been distanced from their former homes at 4th and 5th, but in winning so thoroughly, these teams have been keeping precious points away from teams that could encroach on 8th. Buffalo has gone 1-5-1 against these teams and Florida has gone 1-1-2. Critically, Buffalo has kept Florida in check also (else they might have felt good about their 1-1-2) by beating them twice themselves in regulation.

Last night

Last night was a perfect example of how scoreboard watching can go well. Buffalo, as I mentioned, beat Florida and Carolina beat Ottawa.

The implications of the two games both played in the Habs favour. For one thing, Ottawa is out, all but mathematically. They received the blow late from Carolina, but only after all their hard work in crushing Buffalo for the past two months. The other game keeps the battle for ninth hot, but gives the Canadiens room for maneuver. With a game in hand on Florida, 2 points lead and the tie-break, the Habs are in good shape. If the Habs win 7 of 9, there is nothing that can keep them out of the playoffs. In order to beat us out, Buffalo has to go 2-0-1 better than we do and Florida must get at least 3 more points than us in 1 less game.

There's still work to do, obviously, and the Canadiens must climb over 90 points by a decent margin. There's no room for sub-500 stuff here. But if we have a modest 5-4-0 run, Florida will have to be incredible (6-1-1), Buffalo too (7-2-1), and Toronto and Ottawa will be outside looking in.

I don't think it's a stretch to say that the past two days have been two of the brighter ones in 2009 for the Canadiens.

To 7 wins! Go Habs Go!

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