Thursday, April 02, 2009

Playoff Picture Starting To Clear

As we know there's only one way to be sure of playoff participation, and that is to win games. However, a lot of teams will make the playoffs (even those who haven't clinched yet) by losing the majority of the rest of their games. It is a function of who plays who, and even with three point games, teams coming from behind can only catch up so much.

The Flyers are a good example. They currently have 92, and two teams outside the playoff picture could by simple arithmetic overtake them. However, because that would mean the Panthers and the Sabres beating other playoff contenders, and the existing possibility that the 4 teams currently behind them could still lose games as well, it means the Flyers would still have a 32% chance of making the playoffs if they lost all their remaining games. The Hurricanes, with a mere 91 points would have a 28% chance of making the post-season without a further win, and 92 points for them would solidify their position at 49% or so (a toss up).

Predictive models like the one I have been tracking at Sports Club Stats start to come into their own with 5-10 games left, it is where their predictive modelling becomes more reliable and just before the point where we can work it all out in our heads anyway. In any case, they are nothing more than good fun as we all know that 94% of making the playoffs two weeks out if the chance is 0% once the final game is played.

From the Canadiens point of view, it has been interesting the past few days, and indeed weeks. The team currently has an 82.4% chance of making the playoffs (if you prefer to weight games by home ice and previous record, goal differential and all that) 0r a slightly lower 80.8% if you're like me and prefer to believe that 50/50 is closer to the truth at this wacky time of year.

Yesterday's games were pretty tame as far as us scoreboard watchers are concerned. The Leafs win did nothing to improve our chances at making the playoffs (statistically speaking – presumably if we overtake the Flyers we're guaranteed in anyway); the Penguins win over the Devils decreased our chances by a fraction and the Thrashers OT win over Buffalo pushed our likely participation up by less than 1%.

Tonight's games are more interesting, however. Obviously our own game is a big one. A win would push our odds to 9/10 scenarios, whereas a point-less loss would drop us to around 7/10. A lone point would hurt, not help the cause from the odds-makers perspective, but would only affect a 2.5% drop. The Rangers also play and could help us out by losing to the Hurricanes to the tune of a few percent.

Friday's another interesting day (as they all will be until the end of the season now) with the Panthers and Sabres in action.

Cheering the Thrashers on

As you know, Kovalchuk and the Thrashers have done us a few favours recently. For one thing, they bowed down and lost. For another, they've beaten the Sabres twice in a month and the Rangers once as well.

Well our second favourite team will could be playing the second biggest role in determining our playoff fate as they have two of their remaining 5 games against the Florida Panthers. To give you an idea of their importance, a win tomorrow over Florida would help our chances three times more than a single point form us this evening, giving us a 6% bump. If Atlanta were to pull off the sweep (tomahawk chops going?), then Florida would probably need to beat two or three of Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington, all on decent tears themselves.

Perhaps it's time to get a Ted Turner TNN package to try and get some Atlanta hockey on your sets.

And don't assume it will be a bore watching this revitalised team. Since the Thrashers lost to the Blackhawks on February 11th, the team has actually picked it up mightily going 14-6-1 to bring home the season. Not only that, Kovalchuk is on a rampant tear scoring his 30th goal over the 37-game stretch since the midpoint. Though the odds don't pick it up because of the dismal first half, the Thrashers actually look one of the more likely teams to get wins in the last week and a half of the season...

Canucks in?

The Sports Club Stats website has Vancouver in in all scenarios. The NHL website does not give them the clinch. Out of pure curiosity, I looked into it. I thought you'd enjoy what I found – I think I figured out a way Vancouver could miss the playoffs (it's not surprising it comes out as a zero with 50 million runs):

1) Naturally, Vancouver must lose all their games, they must also take a major goal differential hit to make things more manageable for the trackers – 93 points (0-6-0)

2) St. Louis must win all their games and recover their goal differential to overtake Vancouver – 93 points (5-0-0)

3) Nashville (Vancouver has the tie break) must win all their games too – 94 points (5-0-0)

4) Columbus who will have lost 2 of their remaining 5 to St. Louis and Nashville must pick up OT points in one or both and win 2 of their next three; or just win their other 3 – 93+ points (min 2-2-1)

5) Anaheim need 4 wins and an OTL from 5 (obviously not letting Vancouver get a point in the process) – 94+ points (min 4-0-1)

6) Chicago, now with at least 3 losses from their last 6 from Nashville and Columbus must take a point from Detroit or one of the Columbus games over 3 games – 94+ points (min 0-5-1)

7) Finally, Calgary must get at least a point from their remaining games – 94+ points (min 0-4-2)

The point that should be conceded to celebrating Canucks fans is the fact that even if they lose and all these things happen, because they drew St. Louis in the season series, the Blues going making up the 34 goal gap in goal differential is the biggest stretch of this entire theory. And that's even if you don't look at who plays or goaltends on these teams...

Happy hockey and scoreboard gazing.

Go Habs Go. (And Thrashers too)

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