Western Conference Playoff Push – 95 points or bust?

By Jon Swenson - Last updated: Friday, March 18, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Current Western Conference standings:

(before games played March 18th, 2011)

1 – Vancouver Canucks* 72GP, 47-16-9, 103 points
2 – Detroit Red Wings* 71GP, 43-20-8, 94 points
3 – San Jose Sharks* 72GP, 41-23-8, 90 points
4 – Phoenix Coyotes 72GP, 38-23-11, 87 points
5 – Los Angeles Kings 71GP, 40-26-5, 85 points
6 – Dallas Stars 71GP, 38-25-8, 84 points
7 – Chicago Blackhawks 71GP, 38-25-8, 84 points
8 – Calgary Flames 73GP, 37-27-9, 83 points
9 – Nashville Predators 71GP, 36-25-10, 82 points
10 – Anaheim Ducks 70GP, 38-27-5, 81 points
11 – Minnesota Wild 71GP, 35-29-7, 77 points
12 – Columbus Blue Jackets 70GP, 32-28-10, 74 points
13 – St. Louis Blues 71GP, 32-30-9, 73 points
14 – Colorado Avalanche 70GP, 26-36-8, 60 points
15 – Edmonton Oilers 71GP, 23-39-9, 55 points

* division leader

Projected Western Conference standings:

(after 82 games played)

1 – Vancouver Canucks* 82GP, 54-18-10, 118 points (4 PSOW, 50 PROW)
2 – Detroit Red Wings* 82GP, 50-23-9, 109 points (4 PSOW, 46 PROW)
3 – San Jose Sharks* 82GP, 47-26-9, 103 points (6 PSOW, 41 PROW)
4 – Phoenix Coyotes 82GP, 43-26-13, 99 points (4 PSOW, 39 PROW)
5 – Los Angeles Kings 82GP, 46-30-6, 98 points (8 PSOW, 38 PROW)
6 – Chicago Blackhawks 82GP, 44-29-9, 97 points (6 PSOW, 38 PROW)
7 – Dallas Stars 82GP, 44-29-9, 97 points (7 PSOW, 37 PROW)
8 – Nashville Predators 82GP, 42-29-11, 95 points (7 PSOW, 35 PROW)
9 – Anaheim Ducks 82GP, 44-32-6, 94 points (5 PSOW, 38 PROW)
10 – Calgary Flames 82GP, 42-30-10, 94 points (9 PSOW, 33 PROW)
11 – Minnesota Wild 82GP, 40-34-8, 88 points (2 PSOW, 38 PROW)
12 – Columbus Blue Jackets 82GP, 37-33-12, 86 points (5 PSOW, 32 PROW)
13 – St. Louis Blues 82GP, 37-35-10, 84 points (4 PSOW, 33 PROW)
14 – Colorado Avalanche 82GP, 31-42-9, 71 points (3 PSOW, 28 PROW)
15 – Edmonton Oilers 82GP, 27-45-10, 64 points (2 PSOW, 25 PROW)

* projected division winner
PSOW – projected shootout wins
PROW – projected regulation/overtime wins

The Sharks earned critical points with a 3-2 win over a struggling Minnesota Wild team on Thursday night. Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau scored on deflections off of John Madden and Brent Burns, and a phenomenal 47 save performance by Niklas Backstrom was wasted as the Wild fell to 3-6-1 in their last 10 games. After a stretch where the Sharks lost 3 straight, 2 in overtime shootouts to Vancouver and New York, they earned their 2nd straight win after a grueling contest against Dallas. San Jose has the slimmest of margins over a surging Phoenix Coyotes squad for the Pacific Division lead. The Sharks last 8 games will exclusively feature divisional opponents, with a home-at-home season finale against the Coyotes that could decide the Pacific Division.

The Los Angeles Kings will face the rival Anaheim Ducks Saturday in a Western Conference matchup with enormous playoff implications. Any loss by Anaheim over the final 12 games could be the loss that drops them out of the playoff picture. The Kings are coming off one of their worst losses at home this season. After winning 4 straight on the road, the Kings returned to the Staples Center and were boo’d on the ice repeatedly by their home fans. Los Angeles head coach Terry Murray lit into the home crowd. “That is the most embarrassing thing I have ever been through. That’s the worst I have ever been through in all the years I’ve been coaching.” Goaltender Jonathan Quick let in two goals that should have been stopped, including a shot tee’d up just inside the red line. With another recent tough performance against Detroit where he did not last the full 60, the Bernier or Quick question may be a playoff one. According to ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun, Kigns winger Ryan Smyth has no concern about Quick. “There’s no concern. He’s been outstanding all year long for us. We’ll see him bounce back for sure. At the start of that game last night, he was phenomenal. He made some outstanding saves for us. he gave us a chance,” Smyth said.

The playoff race in the West has morphed considerably since this blog began tracking it after the allstar break. At that point on February 1st the Stars were 30-15-5, in the Pacific Division lead, and they were pushing Vancouver and Detroit at the top of the league. The Sharks were projected to miss the playoffs via tiebreaker, trailing Anaheim, Minnesota and Chicago for the final 3 playoff spots. The race changed on February 17th, win streaks by San Jose and Phoenix moved the chains on the playoff window. An 0-8-1 streak for Dallas saw their stock plummeting faster than TriMount Studios. A flurry of trades surrounded the playoff push on February 25th. Anaheim brought in Jarkko Ruutu and Dan Ellis, St. Louis traded Eric Brewer, a disasterous series of trades saw Craig Anderson, Chris Stewart and Kevin Shattenkirk leave Colorado, and Dallas traded James Neal and D Matt Niskanen for offensive defenseman Alex Goligoski.

If Anaheim, Los Angeles, Chicago and Minnesota finished tied for points, they are also projected to finish tied for the first standings tiebreaker with 38 games won in regulation/overtime. That is where it gets confusing. The next tiebreaker is the greater number of points earned in games between the tied clubs. In a 4-team tie, Chicago (16 points) would lead Minnesota (13 points), Anaheim (9 points) and Los Angeles (7 points) in points earned between the clubs. The problem comes with the fact that Los Angeles (11 games played, 3 remaining) and Anaheim (10 games played, 4 remaining) will have played in a larger number of games than Chicago (11 games played, 1 remaining) and Minnesota (12 games played, 0 remaining). The next tiebreaker comes when teams have not played an equal number of home games against each other. Then points earned in the first game played in the city that had the extra game shall not be included. Not applicable. Next tiebreaker caveat; If more than two clubs are tied, the higher percentage of available points earned in games among those clubs, and not including any “odd” games, shall be used to determine the standing. Given that scenario, only Anaheim could catch Minnesota, but no one could catch the Chicago Blackhawks. The fourth tiebreaker, which may come into play with Minnesota and Anaheim, comes down to greater goal differential over the regular season. At this point in time, Anaheim (-6) leads Minnesota (-11) with one game in hand.

Post-lockout, 90-95 points was the target for teams to make the playoffs. Last season was the first time a team qualified for the postseason with less than 91 points since the introduction of the shootout. The Montreal Canadiens and Philadelphia Flyers both qualified with 88 points, and both advanced to the Conference Finals in the East. In the five seasons since the lockout, Western Conference teams that qualified for the 8th playoff spot needed to earn an average of 93.6 points (05-06 Edmonton – 95 points, 06-07 Calgary – 96 points, 07-08 Nashville – 91 points, 08-09 Anaheim – 91 points, 09-10 Colorado – 95 points).

[Update] Current NHL Playoff Matchups – ESPN.com.

[Update2] Has rule change cut down on shootouts? – John Kreiser for NHL.com.

The NHL Board of Governors changed a rule for this season, making non-shootout wins, rather than total wins, the first tiebreaker when teams end the season with the same number of points. If the objective was to reduce the number of shootouts, then the rule appears to have worked, because the League is on track for the fewest shootouts since the tiebreaker was enacted for the 2005-06 season.

Through 1,065 games this season, there have been 124 shootouts, a pace that would result in 143 over a full 1,230-game season. That’s a 22 percent drop from the 184 shootouts last season, and two fewer than the 145 in 2005-06, the first season the tiebreaker was used to settle games that were even after overtime.

It’s not that a lot more games are being decided in regulation — the 23.8 percent of games tied after 60 minutes are just slightly fewer than last season’s 24.5 percent (254 so far; 283 over a 1,230-game season, down from 301 in 2009-10), and still more than any of the four previous seasons since the arrival of the shootout. But while 61.1 percent of games that went into overtime last season went to a shootout, that figure is down to 48.8 percent — a number that would be the lowest in the shootout’s six seasons.

[Update3] New tiebreaker rule could come into play in tight West – Kevin Allen for USA Today.

It is possible that a team might pull its goalie for an extra attacker during a tie game to avoid a shootout, although there is risk involved in doing that in overtime because according to Rule 84.2, if a team is scored upon, it forfeits its guaranteed point.

[Correction] Fixed garbled projected standings.

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