Friday, March 15, 2013

Numbers game in the NHL Eastern Conference

For four or five years now, I've been somewhat of a fan of the Washington Capitals hockey team, even though I rarely get to their games.  Four or five years ago, they were the only winning professional big league team in either Washington or Baltimore, with the exception of the Ravens, and I've never been as big a fan of them as I was of the Colts.  I had to learn to like hockey, and now I like it as a game that has about as much non-stop action as is possible other than soccer.

The Capitals have had their playoff heartbreaks, but they've been a consistent regular season winner.  Ironically they fired the coach that got them started winning, Bruce Boudreau, because it was thought he didn't build the team for the playoffs and was having trouble with former superstar, now just star Alex Ovechkin.   Now Boudreau merely has his new team, the Anaheim Ducks, in second place in the Western Conference behind the statistically improbably Chicago Blackhawks.

This year, however, with the lockout and shortened season, the Capitals got off to a horrendous start under new coach Adam Oates, with some unbelievable bad luck and bad habits, resulting in things like three 5-on-3 power play in their first four games.  They've improved since, but have still had some bad games, like Tuesday against the Carolina Hurricanes.  Thursday they had a near-miraculous comeback and managed to beat the 'Canes, supposedly keeping their chances of getting into the playoffs alive.

Well, that got me to thinking - should I still worry about the Capitals making the playoffs this year, or stop worrying about the outcome of each game and just enjoy the sport for what it is?   Do they still have a realistic chance to make the playoffs?

So what I did was simple.  I looked at the bottom four teams currently in playoff position, plus the Hurricanes who are first in the Southeast Division, so they stand third in the conference.  I looked at how many games they played and thus how many points they could still get.  In hockey the playoff determinant is not won-loss record, it's the number of points you get:  2 for a win in regulation time or OT/shootout, 1 for a loss in OT or shootout.  Then I assumed that each of these teams would finish the rest of the season and get half the points available.  For the Capitals, I made the hopeful assumption that they'd win 60% of the remaining games - which might be way too hopeful, given how they've done so far this season -- and when that didn't quite come out even, I gave them one more point for a loss in OT.

So here's the results.  I did this in the afternoon, so results of tonight's games are not included.

Ottawa Senators
21 gms left/42 pts left: 
32 points currently, total of 53 with .500 play.

New Jersey Devils
21 gms/42 pts: 
31 points currently, total of 52 with .500 play.

Toronto Maple Leafs (surprisingly doing well this season)
20 gms/40 pts: 
31 points currently, total of 51 with .500 play.

Winnipeg Jets
21 gms/42 points: 
30 points currently, total of 51 with .500 play.

Carolina Hurricanes
22 gms/44 points: 
31 points currently, total of 53 with .500 play.

Washington Capitals:

22 games left/44 points:  23 points currently. 

Get 60% of the points = 26 points total.  Give them one extra for an OT loss = 27.   23 + 27 = 50 points total.

This means that if they win every 3 out of their next 5 games, and the closest five teams ahead of them only get half the available points,  then they would fall short.

So they either need to get real hot and get more than 60%, or one or more of  the teams ahead of them has to fade.

Ultimately, I conclude that their chances of making the playoffs this season are low.  So I will stop being concerned about their record, hope some of their players get healthy and spark an unexpected improvement of this season's fortunes.  

If they get on a winning streak and win five or six games in a row, then I might be a little more hopeful about their postseason chances.  But with those current numbers, there is little point in agonizing over how they do the rest of the season.   I'll just watch the games and enjoy the skillful game of hockey.  If the Caps make the playoffs, great. If they don't, then I've prepared myself to anticipate that outcome, and it will be interesting to see who they trade for.

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