The National Hockey League’s return to the divisional playoff format didn’t work out so great for the Pacific last season. Sure, the Kings won the Stanley Cup by beating two Pacific heavyweights along the way, but the NHL’s westernmost collection of teams only sent three teams to the postseason. The two wild card spots were earned by the Central Division, with the Coyotes missing the final spot by two points.
If the season were to end today, the Pacific would have four playoff teams: Anaheim, San Jose, Vancouver and the surprisingly resurgent Calgary Flames, who would earn the final wild card. That would leave the defending champion Kings on the outside looking in on the playoff picture.
Also, point projections over the past fortnight. pic.twitter.com/kamYl4tRgO
— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 16, 2015
The good news for Kings fans is that the season doesn’t end today, and the difference between the Kings and the second place Sharks is only four points. The Kings also have three games in hand, which means the final two months of the season are going to feature a crazy scramble among four teams for two guaranteed spots.
With that in mind, do any of those four teams have an advantage in the final stretch of the season for their playoff run? Anaheim is a lock with an 11 point lead on second place. The Coyotes and Edmonton’s playoff hopes were dashed right around Halloween. But the Sharks, Canucks, Flames and Kings will be locked in battle until the bitter end in all likelihood. Let’s break down the numbers to see how things could turn out, starting with San Jose.
San Jose Sharks: 66 points, 24 games remaining (11 home, 13 road)
The Sharks have 66 points on the year in 58 games played. That’s good for 1.138 points earned per game. They have 24 games remaining in the season. Extrapolating those numbers, the Sharks would end up with 93 points at the end of the season.
The Dallas Stars were the fourth western conference wild card last year and they had 91 points. So the Sharks are on pace for the postseason, but they aren’t a lock.
The Sharks will play more games on the road the rest of the season than on home ice. They have 11 home contests left against 14 road games. The good news for San Jose is they have been about equal on the road and at home this season, with a 14-11-5 (33 points) home record and going 15-10-3 (33 points) away from the SAP Center.
San Jose has a grueling road trip in March though. From the 17th to the 29th they will have a seven game eastern swing through Winnipeg, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh. Their longest home stand the rest of the way is four games. They actually will play eight of nine at home from February 21st to March 14th, four in a row and four in a row interrupted by a trip to Vancouver.
San Jose will play 14 games against the Western Conference and 10 against the East. The Sharks remaining schedule has them facing teams with an average of 63.8 points on the season. They will play the Atlantic leading Montreal twice and Nashville twice but are finished with Tampa Bay, the New York Islanders and the Ducks. They also have one more game left against the bottom feeding Oilers and Maple Leafs.
The Edmonton game is the start of a two game road trip to end the season for San Jose. They then finish things up with a trip to Hollywood to take on the Kings in a game that could—and should—have huge implications.
Vancouver Canucks: 65 points, 27 games remaining (14 home, 13 road)
Vancouver missed the playoffs last season and have put themselves in a good position to avoid that same fate again. With 65 points in 54 games, they have earned 1.204 points per game this season. That puts them on pace for 97 points, which should be enough for a playoff spot.
Vancouver has a favorable schedule the rest of the way as well. They are the only team among the four fighting for a playoff spot in the Pacific that has more home games left on the schedule than road tilts. Vancouver also has had a neutral home/road split this season, going 15-11-1 (31 points) and 16-10-2 (34 points) respectively.
Starting this Thursday, the 19th, the Canucks will embark on their longest remaining road trip, a five game east coast jaunt that will take them to Madison Square Garden, New Jersey, Long Island, Boston and finishing up on the 26th against the league worst Sabres. The Canucks are the only team that still gets the privilege of facing Buffalo. They will also get to host a five game home stand from March 9th to the 19th.
The schedule gods have also given the Canucks a western heavy final schedule, with 19 of their final 27 games against conference foes. For the rest of the season, Vancouver will teams with a current points average of 61.5, the lowest among the Pacific contenders. They play the Metropolitan leading Islanders in Nassau Coliseum and face the Predators in Music City. The Canucks have one more contest with the Ducks and beside the game with Buffalo, will also host Edmonton one more time.
That Edmonton game is actually Vancouver’s season finale the end of a three game home stand to end the year. It will start against the Kings before finishing with Arizona and the Oilers.
Vancouver has been given a big edge to finish the season given their schedule. It’s up to them to take advantage of it.
Calgary Flames: 65 points, 26 games remaining (12 home, 14 road)
The Flames have been the pleasant surprise of the Pacific Division this season but the rest of the schedule may not allow for a happy ending. Calgary has earned 1.161 points per game this season putting them on pace for 95 points. That’s better than San Jose but worse than Vancouver, so they need to make up ground in other spots. Can they?
The schedule says no.
With 14 road games against 12 home contests, Calgary is facing an uphill battle. Thankfully for the Flames, they have been equally adept in both environments, going 16-11-2 (34 points) at the Saddledome and 15-11-1 (31 points) away from the friendly confines of Alberta. Calgary has an interesting schedule toward the end of the year.
They get five straight home games from St Patrick’s Day through the 25th of March. Four of the five games are against teams currently out of the playoff picture. Immediately after that home stand, Calgary will go on a five game road trek through Minnesota, Nashville, Dallas, St. Louis and Edmonton. Not an easy task. In fact, six of Calgary’s final eight games will be on the road.
There is some good news for Calgary, as it gets 15 games against the west in their last 26 contests. The combined point average of their remaining opponents is 62.7, below the Sharks’ total but higher than Vancouver’s. Calgary avoids Montreal, but has to travel to the Islanders and Nashville. They will play Anaheim twice but get to host both encounters and has that one last game against the Oilers.
After they play Edmonton, they will return home to host the Coyotes and then the Kings in the season’s penultimate game. That might be an important matchup. The Flames will then travel to Winnipeg to battle the Jets, the only one of the Pacific contenders that finishes outside the division.
Los Angeles Kings: 62 points, 27 games remaining (11 home, 16 road)
Los Angeles’s chances for defending their Stanley Cup title grow dimmer by the day. The good news is they are a long way from out of the picture. The bad news is their remaining schedule is a bear. They have earned an average of 1.127 points per game, putting them on pace for 92 points. A good total, but nearly enough for the playoffs.
The Kings also have more road games remaining on their resume than any other contender. Sixteen road tilts versus 11 home contests is rough enough, but for a Kings team that has depended heavily on home success this year, it could be too much to overcome. The Kings are 18-6-6 (42 points) at Staples Center but a mediocre 7-12-6 (20 points) away from Hollywood. The 42 points are tops in the division but the 20 road points are dead last in the entire Western Conference. That includes Edmonton.
Yes, the Oilers have gotten more points on the road this season than the Kings. There are no words.
The Kings also get the luxury of not hosting a home stand of longer than two games from this point forward. Granted, they will have four sets of two straight home games, but for a team that relies on points at home like LA has, that’s a big mountain to climb. They also have to go on an eastern swing from the 23rd of March to the 30th that puts them against the Devils, Rangers, Islanders, Minnesota Wild and the Blackhawks. Three of their final four games are roadies as well, when they go on the Western Canada swing from April 6th through the 9th.
LA will play the Western Conference 19 times to end the season with 8 games against eastern opponents. Their opponents the rest of the season do sport an average of 63.8 points though, tied with San Jose for the highest of the four teams. The Kings next game is against the Lightning, tied for the Atlantic Division lead. They will host the other Atlantic leader, Montreal and take on the Islanders. They have one game left with the Predators in Staples, but two games against Anaheim on the Pond. They are the only Pacific contender with two matchups against the Oilers left on the docket. They finish the season with the Canadian swing going to Vancouver and Edmonton before making the trip to Calgary. Then they finish at home against the Sharks. Two must win games if ever there were.
How do the teams schedules compare amongst themselves? Here is a quick chart of the games they have left against each other home on the left, road on the right.
|SJ||x||1 h, 1 r||0||1 h, 1 r (finale)|
|VAN||1 h, 1 r||x||0||2 h, 1 r|
|LA||1 r, 1 h (finale)||1 h, 2 r||1 r||x|
The schedule clearly favors Vancouver the rest of the way. The Canucks have the easiest road to one of the remaining two automatic Pacific post season bids. Calgary has an edge over San Jose with games in hand, but for a young Flames team, the pressure might be too much. The Sharks are veterans, but their inconsistent play this season is concerning. The Kings have the toughest road to the postseason, but you count them out at your own risk. Right Sharks’ fans?