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NHL Western Conference Playoff Picture

With the playoffs only 10 games away, we’re all trying to figure out who will grab the last playoff spots, and hoping our teams will make it.  The real question is, how can we tell who has the best chance?

I’ve always believed that for a team to make the playoffs, and possibly make a deep run at Lord Stanley’s beer glass, they need a number of attributes. 

To start with, it never hurts to be hitting top form just as the playoffs get near.  It also helps to have an easier schedule down the stretch.  These will be the first two items we look at.  We’ll look at their record over the last 10 games, and the average rank of the teams they still have to play.

The next things to examine are a team’s performance at even strength, on the powerplay and on the penalty kill.  The team that either has no weakness or has one resounding strength can prosper.  We’ll examine all three.

When we look at individual players, the late-season push and a run to the Cup can often come down to which team is the healthiest.  Obviously a team with depth can withstand the grueling season and any injuries better than a team that relies on just one or two players.  In order to assess quality depth, I’ve compiled a count of forwards and defenseman that exceed some arbitrary thresholds in both GVT and Comparative +/-.

Finally, there is the one position that seems to matter more than all others, goaltending.  A team with a top-notch starter can win on any given night if their goalie is on his game.  In addition, a team with a good backup can at times steal a game when their starter just isn’t playing like his usual self.  I’ve listed the GVT of each team’s starter and primary backup.

For the purpose of this post, I’ve only evaluated the Western Conference teams that are “on the bubble” to determine the final playoff spots.  In the next day or two, I’ll evaluate the Eastern Conference.

 

At the first glance of team momentum and remaining strength of schedule, it would appear that Colorado is poised to drop, given that they’re playing 0.500 hockey and their remaining schedule is the toughest of all the teams remaining.  The Red Wings, winning 70% of their games and with the 2nd easiest remaining schedule, seem to have the easiest road to advance in the standings.

The Kings, Red Wings and Blues appear to have the best combined special teams, with the Flames a notch below them, but slightly ahead of the rest of the pack.  However, Calgary’s PP is horrific, so they’re more likely to ride great penalty killing than to depend on their PP for scoring.  This could be a huge problem for them.

The Red Wings, on the other hand, post the worst 5-on-5 scoring numbers of any team, which shocks me given the talent they have on hand. 

While I didn’t mention it above, with only a few games left, face-off percentage can mean a lot to teams in close games.  Winning face-offs means extra possession time, and can make a huge difference in late-game and special team situations.  Detroit has a massive advantage in this category.

The Ducks and Kings appear to have the best overall depth, especially in the forward ranks.  The Flames, Blues and Stars seem to be the thinnest teams, which means they could be hit the hardest by a key injury, a top player on a cold streak or be shut down the easiest by a good checking line. 

Finally, it looks like the Avalanche, Wings and the Flames have a huge advantage over the rest of the group with respect to starting goaltending.  Craig Anderson, Jimmie Howard and Mikka Kiprusoff have been on top of their game this year, and have a chance to put their squads into the playoffs.  The Predators appear to be the most susceptible to goaltending costing them a few games.  The Blues have the most quality depth in net and could flop goalies as an attempt to grab some momentum. 

After all this, I’m sure you’re saying “So what, just tell me who’s going to make the playoffs!”

Here are my predictions:

 5th – LA Kings

I see no reason for them to slip from 5th.  They have solid goaltending, great depth, outscore teams at even strength and a phenomenal powerplay.  They also have a few games in hand.

6th- Detroit Red Wings

This team has underperformed, but seems to be hitting its stride at just the right time.  Hot play, an easy schedule and good goaltending will see them continue to shoot up the standings.

7th – Nashville Predators

With the easiest remaining schedule and the team playing quite well, I see them hanging on to make the playoffs.  I’m not thrilled with their special teams or their goaltending, but Colorado or Calgary would have to be almost perfect to overtake them at this point.

8th – Colorado Avalanche

The Flames have the edge over Colorado with respect to remaining schedule and definitely in special teams.  I’m still not sold on a young team holding on down the stretch, but 5 points with a game in hand over the Flames is a pretty big head start.

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Related posts:

  1. NHL Eastern Conference Playoff Picture
  2. A Statistical Look at the Calgary Flames
  3. Battle of Alberta – Oct 9, 2009
  4. The Flames’ Momentum Swings Both Ways

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