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Photo Credit: Perry Nelson / USA Today Sports

Handicapping the Pacific Division playoff race

A month ago, the Calgary Flames were considered a relative long shot to qualify for the 2017 Stanley Cup playoffs. While they haven’t necessarily stamped their ticket to the post-season dance, they’ve done a lot to cement their place in that conversation. Not only that, they’re currently – improbably – in the mix for the divisional playoff spot.

Right now, the most likely playoff scenarios on Sports Club Stats have the Flames finishing second or third in the Pacific or in the first wildcard position (which would have them start the playoffs against San Jose, a Pacific team). Given how Pacific-centric the postseason could be, here’s a look at how the race to the very end looks for everyone except for San Jose (who are too far ahead to catch).

THE FLAMES

  • Record: 39-26-4, 82 points, 35 regulation/overtime wins
  • Remaining: 13 games; 7 home and 6 away
  • Opponents: Anaheim (twice), Boston, Colorado, Dallas, Los Angeles (thrice), Nashville, San Jose (twice), St. Louis, Washington
  • Strength of Schedule: opponents average .560 points percentage

The Flames are masters of their own destiny, really. Their schedule is slightly easier than the Ducks’, they have zero back-to-back situations left, and they play seven of their remaining 13 games in-division. If they take care of their own business, particularly against Anaheim, they have a good shot at finishing in a divisional spot.

THE DUCKS

  • Record: 36-23-10, 82 points, 33 regulation/overtime wins
  • Remaining: 13 games; 8 home and 5 away
  • Opponents: Buffalo, Calgary (twice), Chicago, Edmonton (twice), Los Angeles, NY Rangers, San Jose, St. Louis, Vancouver, Winnipeg (twice)
  • Strength of Schedule: opponents average .564 points percentage

The Ducks have the toughest schedule and still have a pair of back-to-backs left (Buffalo/San Jose and Edmonton/Calgary). However, they’ve historically been quite good against the Flames, particularly in late season games in Anaheim. If the Ducks can simply beat Calgary twice in their head-to-head meetings, they can probably eke out home ice in the first round.

THE OILERS

  • Record: 35-24-9, 79 points, 31 regulation/overtime wins
  • Remaining: 14 games; 9 home, 5 away
  • Opponents: Anaheim (twice), Boston, Colorado (twice), Dallas, Los Angeles (thrice), San Jose (twice), Vancouver (thrice)
  • Strength of Schedule: opponents average .514 points percentage

Edmonton has the easiest schedule of the four teams we’re looking at. That said, aside from Colorado, Dallas and Vancouver, they face a lot of teams that are jockeying for (a) specific playoff positions or (b) their playoff lives. The Oilers have two back-to-backs remaining, but they’ll need to find a way to match the desperation of the teams they’ll be facing down the stretch.

THE KINGS

  • Record: 33-29-6, 72 points, 31 regulation/overtime wins
  • Remaining: 14 games; 8 home, 6 away
  • Opponents: Anaheim, Arizona (twice), Buffalo, Calgary (thrice), Chicago, Edmonton (thrice), NY Rangers, Vancouver, Winnipeg
  • Strength of Schedule: opponents average .551 points percentage

It’s hard to peg the Kings. On one hand, they face a bunch of non-playoff teams like Arizona, Buffalo, Vancouver and Winnipeg. On the other hand, they have three sets of back-to-backs remaining (Calgary/Edmonton, Edmonton/Calgary and Chicago/Anaheim) and face the two Alberta teams a combined six times. In the past, that’d be a recipe for a playoff spot. This year? They may be golfing.

TIEBREAKERS

Let’s suppose that two of these teams end up with the same number of points at any point of the season. Here’s how the NHL dictates who finishes where.

  1. Points percentage. If the teams have played the same number of games, this one is moot.
  2. Regulation/overtime wins.
  3. Most points in the season series between two teams. (If they’ve played an odd number of games, the first game played in the city that hosted the extra game will be thrown out.)
  4. Goal differential.

For the Flames, in the event of a tie the good news is they have an edge on most of the teams in the divisional race in regulation/overtime wins. Aside from Edmonton, who swept all four games with the Flames, the season series tiebreaker is still very much in play with the Flames still having a bunch of games left against Anaheim and Los Angeles. And their recent winning streak has had the nice side effect of largely correcting their awful goal differential. If the tiebreakers get that far, they still have a fighting chance.

    • Burning Ring of Fire

      The only problem with this comment is that running him over implies that Kessler will end up crumpled on the ice. Additionally, the netting now makes it impossible to launch little weasels into the stands.

  • Shredder

    Don’t mean to be a troll, as I’m an Oiler fan, but this article popped up with the new site format, and is just too interesting not to pop in and voice an opinion.

    From where I’m standing it’s going to be a Battle of Alberta this year. Hard to say who’ll finish on top, if the Flames keep this streak it’ll be them. The good thing for the Oil is they have the 2nd best goal differential in the Pacific. I’m certain the Oilers can squeak out the 2 wins against Anaheim, which should help both teams. Don’t know why, but the Oil just seem to be built to beat them. That’ll lead to SJ and ANA going head to head. It’s hard for me to imagine the Kings going on the same epic tear the Flames are on to beat out St. Louis for that last playoff spot though.

    • TriPPiNvdUb

      If you take away the first 8 games of the season, including the 2 where they handed us (the Flames) our ass on a platter, the Oilers sit at a -2 goal differential… Things aren’t as rosy as they look!

      • Parallex

        Those games count. You can’t “take away” those games… it’s intellectually dishonest to do so. I’m sure there are probably Oil fans saying “well if you take out the Flames last 10 games…” and that’s no more accurate then musing about taking away their first 8.

        • TriPPiNvdUb

          I’m not saying that they don’t count, I’m just saying that the goal differential doesn’t tell the whole story and can be a skewed way of looking at a team’s success, especially when said team falters/storms out of the gate.

      • Shredder

        I’m not going to take that away, because it’s a legitimate tie breaker over the course of the season. Who cares if you think those first 8 games were luck. I’m trying to predict standings, and if the Oil and Flames are tied, right now the Oil have the tie break.

    • FlamesFanOtherCity

      The Oilers have to be 2nd or 3rd in the Pacific to be able to play the Flames in the first round. If they are in a WC spot, they play the Sharks (unlikely to unseat them) or Minny/CHI. The Oilers do have a easier schedule to finish the year, but this is when teams love to play spoiler. You can’t take them for granted.

      As far as a possible BOA goes, you can throw out the regular season results. All of those games were played when the Flames were struggling in nets. The most recent debacle was with CJ allowing 3 goals on 4 shots. That was in January when the Flames hit the lowest of lows. Just before their season turned around and Elliott went on a hot streak.

      And just another note, EDM (31) has fewer ROW wins than CGY (35). That is the #1 decider of standings. ANA (33), STL (35) have more, while LA is tied.

    • Burning Ring of Fire

      Other teams to beat the Ducks this year – Canucks, Coyotes, Panthers, Blues…and the point of the comment was…oh yeah, crappy teams can beat the Ducks this year.

  • aye

    I disagree with ducks having the toughest schedule, I think the flames do. Just because their opponents have a slightly higher points percentage doesn’t mean they are higher quality opponents. The ducks play teams under .500 and well out of the race 4 times, the flames only play 2, and the ducks have more home games. So, finishing 2nd or 3rd is still a tall task, especially given their final 6 games. I still think it’s going take game 80 to eliminate the kings.

  • aye

    Gotta give it to the
    Coyotes, still battling hard despite having nothing to play for. Pulling the goalie and tying the game late, and beating the kings in SO. Not going to be easy picking for anybody down the stretch. Glad the Flames are done with them. The Kings on the other hand really don’t deserve to be in the dance this year, despite the desperation in their game and constantly putting up 40+ shots they just can’t score. Aside from Carter they can’t score a goal in 10 rounds of SO. Poor Iggy picking the wrong team once again.

    • RedMan

      I agree about the coyotes… there’s always the teams that play well after they are out of it. I suspect the Stars will even find some pride and finish hard after they crapped the bed in Edmonton with zero effort. this is the time of year that losers turn to spoilers, and top contenders start pacing themselves, being careful to avoid injuries. that being said, I would not be so fast to count Kings down… if they lose a couple more quickly, sure, but they have the skill and experience to sneak in to the post season, and once there, they are built for the post season. look out!

      • aye

        I would disagree with the Kings having skill. I mean aside from Carter, Kopitar, Toffoli, Pearson, who else on that roster would you protect or would be bummed out about losing in the ED if they decide to go 7/3? I personally can’t think of any other forward worth protecting.

  • RedMan

    it’s the teams that have toplay the Flames that are worrying. Don’t kid yourselves, other teams look at the Flames Dominance over the last few months and nobody wants to face them. Sure, some silly homer fans yap and dance in front of their computers like its the 10th annual warm up to the draft lottery, but the teams know what tall order they face when they face a confident and skilled bunch like calgary who are playing a team game exceptionally well.