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A Look At the Math: 3/28/14 March 28, 2014

Posted by CapitalSpirit in Uncategorized.
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This year’s race for the playoffs has been a tale of two conferences. The West is nicely stratified, with the divisional qualifiers already over 90 points, the two wild-card teams in the mid 80’s, and everyone else at 79 or below. St. Louis, San Jose, and Anaheim are already in; Chicago, Colorado, and Los Angeles will more than likely be punching their tickets soon enough; Minnesota and Phoenix control their own fates down the stretch, and–at least mathematically–have no excuses for missing the postseason.

And then there’s the Eastern Conference, where the playoff scenarios are more convoluted than the fare structure on the DC Metro.

First, the easy part: Boston is in, and Pittsburgh would need to collapse like the Sampoong Department Store in order to miss the playoffs.

Montreal and Tampa Bay are both in the Atlantic divisional slots and playing well. Meanwhile, the rest of the Atlantic Division is, in order: going sideways (Detroit); doing its best imitation of M. Night Shyamalan’s career (Toronto); still alive, but with one foot on the golf course (Ottawa); and playing out the string (Florida, Buffalo). As it stands right now, you can break out a #2 pencil–note the word PENCIL–and put the Habs and Bolts on your playoff tree.

And now for the Metropolitan Division and the Wild Card slots, and this is the part where it gets more confusing than the chronology of “Pulp Fiction.”

Pittsburgh is, for all intents and purposes, in. IN THEORY–and this is the ONLY reason they aren’t officially in yet–they could lose their final nine games in regulation and get passed by some combination of the Rangers, Flyers, Jackets, and Capitals, while Detroit rights the ship, takes the final wild card slot, and leaves Penguins fans wondering what the heck just happened. But that’s the ONLY way the Penguins don’t make the playoffs. One more point is all they need, and they have 9 games to earn it. Pencil in the Pens, and get the ink ready: the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be back in Steeltown (unless the Penguins suddenly get possessed by the spirit of the ’95 California Angels, or something.)

Let me quickly rattle off the teams that are, soon will be, or may as well be, out of the picture:

OFFICIALLY OUT
Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers

SOON WILL BE
New York Islanders. Would need to win their final 9 games to get to 84. Eliminated from Metro 1 and 2; would be eliminated from Metro 3 at their next loss of any kind, or Philadelphia’s next point, however gained. That would leave the Islanders with a “doomsday number” of 4 against Columbus, and 5 against Detroit, Washington, and Toronto, for the wild card spots. The Islanders would have to run the table, and have a quarter of the Eastern Conference crash and burn, in order to make the playoffs. Not bloody likely.

MAY AS WELL BE
Ottawa Senators. Could reach 92 points if they win final 10 games. Eliminated from Atlantic 1. Would be eliminated from Atlantic 2 by their next loss of any kind, or by Montreal’s next point, however gained. Doomsday number against Tampa Bay is 4 for the Atlantic 3 spot. Recent performance (2-5-3 in Last 10) does not exactly suggest Cinderella potential.

LONG SHOT
Carolina Hurricanes. Could reach 91 points if they win final 9 games. Eliminated from Metro 1. Doomsday number against New York Rangers for Metro 2 is 6 with tie break; against Philadelphia for Metro 3, 9 with tie break. Carolina is 5-5-0 in its last 10, and it does have enough points available, for now, to keep things interesting. The Hurricanes need lots of wins, and lots of help, to get in. They’re good enough, in my view, to get the wins; the ticklish part is going to be getting the help. Not a team to be lightly written off at this point, but not a team to bet the rent on a playoff appearance, either.

IN THE HUNT
New Jersey Devils. Could reach 94 points if they won their final 9 games. Eliminated from Metro 1. Doomsday number against New York Rangers for Metro 2 is 9 with tie break; against Philadelphia for Metro 3 is 12 with tie break. Will the real New Jersey Devils please stand up? Simply put, I have no CLUE what’s going on in the Garden State. They’re 4 points behind the Wild Card logjam, with 9 games to go: mathematically, not bad at all. But their remaining schedule includes only 2 games against serious playoff contenders (Capitals, Bruins). Who’s going to show up for the other 7 games: cream puffs, or spoilers? Add to that the Devils’ 4-5-1 mark in their last ten games, and you’ve got an extremely combustible mix. Then too, because the Devils have so few games against teams ahead of them, they’re going to need help. Definitely a team to watch over the final few weeks; however, lack of games against teams in front of them is a concern.

THE LOGJAM
Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings, Washington Capitals, Toronto Maple Leafs. To discuss any one of these teams, you pretty much have to discuss all 4. Top-end scores are: CBJ, 100; DET/WSH, 98; TOR, 96.

Let me mention Toronto first: they’re on a six-game regulation loss skid, they’re 3-7-0 in their last 10, and since the end of the Olympic break, they’ve tumbled from Wild Card 1 and a tie break away from a division slot, all the way to 2 slots below the cut line, with only eight games left to save their season. HOWEVER, 80 points is 80 points, and a couple of regulation wins might just be enough to squeak back into playoff position. Definitely trending the wrong way: of the 4 teams locked at 80 points, the lack of available points, and all the recent losing, doesn’t exactly scream Turnaround Act.  If I were a Leafs fan, and if I were a drinking man, right now I’d be stockpiling the Labatt Blue. It looks like there may be a lot of sorrows that will need drowning in Toronto.

As for Columbus: they have the most points available, and their 5-4-1 mark over their last 10 isn’t horrible. Their schedule over the next week, however, gives pause: PIT, @CAR, OFF, OFF, COL, OFF, @PHI, CHI. Read that: Divisional powerhouse, desperate team, 2 days to recuperate, Playoff team, one day of rest, playoff team, defending Stanley Cup champion. Okay…lots of luck with that. The good news is that if they’re still in position after all of that, their schedule does look a bit easier–on paper–over the final week. But that’s the $64,000 question: can the Jackets stay alive against some certifiably tough cookies over the next week? Worth noting is the game at Philadelphia: the Jackets might possibly be in position to challenge the Flyers for the Metro 3 slot. If the Jackets can survive this coming week, they might be well positioned for not just a playoff spot, but perhaps even some early-round success.

Now, on to Detroit and Washington. (Be honest, Caps fans, how many of you skipped down to this without reading the rest?) Both teams have 80 points on hand, and 98 available. Detroit has been eliminated from Atlantic 1, but the Capitals are mathematically still alive for Metro 1. That happy state of affairs, however, will last until Pittsburgh’s next point, or Washington’s next loss.

That the Capitals have a very tough stretch run is, by now, common knowledge. So let’s take a peek at Detroit’s:

@TOR (Desperate team looking to halt late-season slump. Somebody’s going to go to 82 points here, and if the game goes into OT, the loser will go to 81. Needless to say, the Capitals cannot afford to lose to Boston on Saturday.)
TBL (A division rivalry, and possible later-round playoff preview; the Bolts mean business this year)
BOS (Best team in the East right now)
BUF (The Sabres are out, but could relish the chance to play spoiler to their division rivals)
@MTL (More divisional fireworks, against another playoff contender)
@BUF (As above)
@PIT (Best team in the Metro right now)
CAR (Could potentially be fighting for its playoff life; could just as easily be out of contention, at which point it’s the cream puff/spoiler question)
@STL (Old rivalries die hard, and the Blues have the most points in the NHL as this is being written)

So Detroit certainly doesn’t have an easy schedule down the stretch, either. Yes, they have two games against Buffalo, but those are not guaranteed wins. And if Carolina manages to hang around, they’ll be a tough out by the time they skate the Joe. So the Red Wings really have only 2 games that might be considered “easy”–which divisional games usually aren’t, regardless of standings.

You could very easily make the case that DETROIT has a tougher schedule down the stretch than Washington has.

All told, with the numbers crunched and the schedules analyzed, there is a way for the Capitals to find their way into the postseason. No, it won’t be easy; yes, they’re probably going to need some help before it’s over; and if anyone wanted to say the Caps’ work ethic needed a boost, I’d be hard-pressed to disagree.

However, there’s hope to be had–quite a lot of it, when you look at the math–and this season isn’t quite as over as it seems.

FOR NOW.

The Capitals cannot afford to leave any points on the table at this point. They need to either play cards or leave the table.

The playoffs are now. Still.

CAPITAL SPIRIT
NO TEARS ON MY CALCULATOR TONIGHT, I LOVE IT

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