Saturday, February 25, 2012

What If ... The NHL Season Started On 1/1/2012 and a Few other Random Musings About Hockey ...

After last night's Caps 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadians I started thinking ... what would things in the NHL look like if the season had started on New Year's Day? Why do I care you ask - well first off our Washington Capitals remain "on the bubble" even after what was another good game against Montreal, and I think that recent trends, records, etc should be weighted more heavily when trying to forecast near future performance. I wonder what a real statistician such as Neil Greenberg (see Twitter #fancystats or @ngreenberg) thinks of that line of thinking and if long term historical data backs that thinking up. In any case because I started wondering about that topic I compiled the following updated standings - the way the standings by Division would look if the season had started on January 1st vice the current 2011-2012 standings. NHL Records Since January 1st 2012 through Midnight Last Night (2/24/2012, 24:00 Local Time):

Southeast Division:
Carolina: 10-5-6 (26 points; 0.619)
Winnipeg: 11-12-2 (24 points; 0.480)
Washington: 10-11-3 (23 points; 0.479)
Tampa Bay: 9-10-3 (21 points; 0.477)
Florida: 7-8-5 (19 points; 0.475)

Atlantic Division:
New York Rangers: 15-5-2 (32 points; 0.727)
New Jersey: 14-6-3 (31 points; 0.674)
New York Islanders: 13-10-2 (28 points; 0.560)
Pittsburgh: 13-8-1 (27 points; 0.614)
Philadelphia: 11-10-3 (25 points; 0.521)

Northeast Division:
Ottawa: 13-7-3 (29 points; 0.630)
Boston: 12-9-2 (26 points; 0.565)
Toronto: 11-10-2 (24 points; 0.522)
Buffalo: 10-10-3 (23 points; 0.500)
Montreal: 10-10-3 (23 points; 0.500)

Central Division:
Detroit: 17-5-2 (36 points; 0.783)
Saint Louis: 16-5-2 (34 points; 0.739)
Nashville: 15-5-2 (32 points; 0.727)
Chicago: 9-12-3 (21 points; 0.438)
Columbus: 7-13-2 (16 points; 0.364)

Northwest Division:
Vancouver: 16-3-4 (36 points; 0.783)
Calgary: 10-7-4 (24 points; 0.571)
Colorado: 10-9-3 (23 points; 0.523)
Edmonton: 9-11-3 (21 points; 0.457)
Minnesota: 6-12-3 (15 points; 0.357)

Pacific Division:
Anaheim: 16-4-4 (36 points; 0.750)
Phoenix: 12-5-5 (29 points; 0.659)
San Jose: 13-9-3 (29 points; 0.580)
Dallas: 11-11-3 (25 points; 0.500)
Los Angeles: 8-8-6 (22 points; 0.500).

Interesting to note that looking at the Southeast Division it's definitely a race to the bottom per say. In the 55 days this year the team in the Southeast with the most points is the Carolina Hurricanes with 26 out of a possible 42 and a 0.619 record. The Hurricanes are the only team in the Southeast with a record that's better than 0.500 since New Years Day. Ironically, they started the season so badly, they are the one team in the division who are most certainly "sellers" in the short time before the trade deadline as they are on track for a season point total that likely will end up with 86 points at best. In other words, the best they can likely hope for is to find themselves 2 points on the back side (wrong side) of the forecasted 88 point peak of the bubble. However, they can certainly play the role of spoilers for their Southeast Division rivals who they will play in 9 of their 21 remaining games. Also in case you are wondering they play the Capitals in only one of those 21 remaining games: March 6th at Verizon Center. Only 6 of the Capitals remaining 21 games are against Southeast Division foes: Carolina, once on March 6th at Verizon; Tampa Bay once in DC on March 9th and once in Tampa on April 2nd; Winnipeg once in Alberta on March 16th and once in DC on March 23rd; and Florida once at Verizon Center on April 5th the Caps final home game of the 2011-2012 regular season. Given the Caps records so far this season against their division rivals (10-6-2) it's kind of a shame they don't have more games left against those division foes, of course it's also a shame the Caps can't play the 2011-2012 Montreal Canadians at least 14 of their remaining 21 games as well.

Looking at the Northeast Division team's play since 1/1/2012 you can see the "hottest" team in the Division has been the Ottawa Senators who are playing very well after getting the season off to a relatively slow start. Also of note, eight (8) of the Senators remaining 20 regular season games are against Northeast Division rivals, including two against the Bruins who they are battling for first in the Division. If the Senators are able to win all four of their remaining games against the Maple Leafs and Bruins (three are against the boys from beantown) they could well overtake Boston and finish the season with the second seed in the Eastern Conference. Also, despite dealing with a spate of injuries this past month, Boston is still playing solid hockey and thanks to Tim Thomas and Tukka Rask never a team to give up points easily to opponents. If recent past efforts are solid predictors of future performance then Toronto will continue to struggle with getting off the bubble and end the season with between 85 and 90 points. That means tonight's game in Toronto is going to be an important one for both the Capitals and the Maple Leafs.

The Atlantic Division has been the toughest division in the Eastern Conference all season and the last eight weeks have not been any different in that regard then the first three months of the NHL season. That said the last eight weeks have seen the Philadelphia Flyers struggle while the New York Rangers continued to soar and the New jersey Devils came alive. To be clear even though the Flyers have the worst record since January 1 in the Division - EVERY team in the Atlantic has a record that is greater than 0.500, they are the only division in the NHL that can make that claim though the Pacific has two teams who are at 0.500 even since New Years Day and no one below 0.500 as well. It's pretty much a toss up in my view as to which division is the toughest in the NHL right now between the Atlantic or the Pacific. I guess that's a good thing if you like the beach. As for the battle to win this division, despite the resurgence of the Devils, the Rangers looked pretty unstoppable until their last two games, it will be interesting to see what they do in Buffalo tonight.

The Central Division led by the Detroit Red Wings and Saint Louis Blues have been the standard of consistency. Their standings remain the same wether you are looking at the entire season or just that stretch of it since January 1. Both the Red Wings and the Blues are battling each other for the Division, as well with the Canucks for as the Western Conference title. Ironically only two of the remaining 61 regular season contests the Blues, Red Wings and Canucks play are between each other so their performance against other Division and Conference foes will determine who wins the Central Division and the Conference. the most important team in that mix is likely to be the Nashville Predators who play the Blues once in Saint Louis on March 27th; the Red Wings twice more (3/10 and 3/30). Another interesting team likely to play a factor in the mix is also the Anaheim Ducks who have the third best record in the NHL since New Years Day, of the Ducks remaining 21 games, they play the Blues twice, the Red Wings twice, the Predators once and the Canucks once...

In the Northwest Division, here too the standings remain unchanged if the season had started on 1/1 instead of the first week of October. Additionally, just like the actual full season standings, the Vancouver Canucks are poised to pretty much lap their division foes. In fact Vancouver's relative between themselves and their division rivals is even great since January 1st as it has been over the full season. Since January 1st the Canucks are 6 games ahead of the Flames and since October they are 10 games (20 points) ahead of Calgary. The one difference is a likely bright spot for Calgary, they could finish the season with as few as 85 and as many as 95 points, but since New Years they are playing better and better hockey, since January they are 0.571 but over their las ten games they are playing 0.700 hockey. In short, the trend is the Flame's friend right now and thirteen of their remaining 21 games are at home in Calgary where they have they have a season long 0.625 record and where they have a 6-3-1 record in the last 10 games played in the Saddledome. As important as Calgary's own play in their remaining games is to whether or not they make the playoffs, so too is the play of the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars, San Jose Sharks and Phoenix Coyotes. The Blackhawks are 4-6-0 in their last ten games and have the worst record in that stretch of any team in the Western Conference Playoff battle not named San Jose who are 3-6-1, but again more on the Pacific Division shortly. If Calgary and Chicago continue the play they've each had over the last ten games through the next ten games, they will find themselves within a point of each other and battling for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West. In the case of Calgary that's not bad for a team who finds themselves training their division leaders by 10 complete games with just 21 games remaining in the season. In short unless something like the roof blowing off Vancouver's arena, there's pretty much no other way Calgary will be playing hockey this post season.

That all brings us to what is shaping up to be the most interesting Division in the NHL to follow for the remaining six weeks of this regular season - the Pacific. How bad was the Anaheim Ducks first three months of the 2011-2012 season, well they've played 0.750 hockey since january 1st, the third best record in the league and they are still: i) in last place in their division and ii) at best going to finish on the bubble and likely needing some help to make the playoffs. that said, for any #Caps fans, if you needed proof that bruce Boudreau knows how to coach in the NHL, well the Anaheim Ducks record since January 1 of 16-4-4 ought to be it. Further, the Ducks team goal differential over their opponents during that 24 game span is +11 also their GAA over those 24 games is only 2.04 vs a GFA of 2.92, in other words this is a team that is playing and winning stingy hockey, "the right way." As you can imagine if there's a possibility that the way things are going the team at the bottom of the division could end up on the right side of the bubble and in the playoffs, AND the rest of the division is also playing 0.500 hockey or better over the past eight weeks things could be getting pretty interesting "on the left coast" of the NHL. They are. Anaheim could finish with as many as 94 points and in the playoff race. San Jose is trending the other way, the Division leaders are 0.580 since 1/1/2012 and just 0.350 in their last ten games. It's entirely possible if San Jose doesn't turn things around they too could finish with as few as 88 points and out of the playoffs. Meanwhile the rest of the division is trending as follows. Phoenix is on fire they are 9-0-1 in their last ten games and 0.659 since New Years, they will likely win the division with between 98 and 103 points, though they could finish with as few as 94 points I just don't see that happening unless some key parts of this team gets hurt. Dallas will likely finish with between 85 and 92 points; they are in a dog fight. The Stars remaining 21 games includes playing the Vancouver Canucks four times; additionally they play the Calgary Flames, another "bubble team" three more times. As far as "four point games" against division rivals, the Stars play San Jose three times, and Anaheim once, so at least eleven of their remaining 21 games are shaping up to be potentially battle royales. That leaves us with the enigmatic, at least this season, Los Angeles Kings. The Kings are 0.500 since January 1 and 0.540 over the entire season; LA is likely to finish the season with between 83 and 90 points. How's that for a bubble team? The Kings remaining schedule involves 12 road games and 9 home games, since the Kings are 12-9-8 (0.552) on the road, vice 15-13-4 (0.531) at home that's likely not a factor in how they finish the season. The Kings' remaining schedule involves playing a pretty balanced schedule against predominately higher quality opponents, they only have 6 of their remaining 21 games against opponents who are under 0.500 since January 1. They likely need to raise their game "a little" above the 2-6-2 level they've displayed over their past ten outings to come close to being on the top, let alone the "right side" of the bubble; but that's why they actually play the games on the ice.

As for prognostications about "my team" the Washington Capitals, I am steadfastly avoiding doing that. It's clear by the fact that Alexander Ovechkin is playing through an injury, the team knows they need to play to win every one of their remaining 21 games and they are ready to try and do that. Last night's 4-1 win over a pretty hapless, or at least a Hal Gill-less, Montreal was a solid outing. Tonight's second of back to back nights, away game against a much more solid playing Toronto Maple Leafs team will be a real test. I'm hoping for another solid performance and will be watching here at home and cheering for the boys. Some things I liked about last night's game at Verizon:
1) A solid leadership performance by @Ovi8;
2) Great game and two way hockey by Sasha Semin;
3) Joel Ward - off the schneid;
4) Mike Green well on the way to getting his game and timing back;
5) Nuevy made all the saves he should have made and more than enough of the really tough ones the team needed him to make;
6) Blue liners looked pretty solid all night.

Of course it's a lot easier to be positive after a W and two points but you have to take things one game at a time. As for tonight in Ottawa:


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