It’s official: the 2014-15 Ottawa Senators are heading for the NHL playoffs. This brings one of the most improbable and out-of-nowhere streaks to a happy ending—something that remained up in the air until the final day of the regular season. Ottawa needed to pick up at least a point against the Philadelphia Flyers to advance to the playoffs, which they did via a 3-1 final as the visiting team.
Improbable isn’t the right word here. Historic might not even do this Senators team justice. The numbers? Somewhat staggering.
[email protected] are 1st team in NHL history to qualify for playoffs after sitting 14 PTS outside the postseason picture (at any point in season).
— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) April 11, 2015
Goaltender Andrew Hammond will be remembered for ages for his heroics. There’s more to this story than just the Hamburglar, but he’s been playing out of his mind for the last two months.
Andrew Hammond 20-1-2 .941 sv% 1.79 GAA 3 shutouts Playoff spot = Burgled
— Mark Masters (@markhmasters) April 11, 2015
Which brings us to the topic of this post: the actual playing of hockey games out on a sheet of ice. This isn’t a pro-stats vs eyeball argument. Instead, let’s take a second to take a step back and truly appreciate what we all just witnessed as hockey fans.
Ottawa was out of it. They seemed destined for a top-10 pick at the 2015 NHL entry draft, and then this Hammond guy comes up from the minors and hijacks a playoff spot from either the Pittsburgh Penguins or Boston Bruins. The B’s and Pens have no one else to blame but themselves for playing their ways out of a postseason berths, but in an essence this is why they play the games.
If we simply used stats and averages to determine the winners of hockey contests, the L.A. Kings, Bruins and Penguins would be playoff shoo-ins. The Kings have three of the NHL’s top-five possession players on their team, yet they’ll be cleaning out their locker room with no playoff hockey this season. Point to struggles in overtime and the shootout as the real reason that L.A. didn’t make the dance, but it’s not like they cleared the puck into their own net in those loses. The Kings couldn’t finish games in overtime and other teams could. So Los Angeles is out. Simple as that
They didn’t win those games. As important and predictive as possession is in terms of future goals, there is simply no predicting a run like Ottawa’s.
Let’s be clear here: this is one exception to the rule. An outlier or an oddity. Yet this seems to happen every season. Two or three teams get in that “shouldn’t” and two or three teams miss that “shouldn’t.” In an 82-game campaign, a number of things can happen. Certain metrics attempt to see goals coming. For weeks we’ve heard about how the Penguins are on the verge of breaking through because of how low their shooting percentage has been.
Penguins enter night with 32.7 shots/game (2nd), 6.1% shooting percentage (29th) since trade deadline. 17 shots in 1st, 0 goals. Snake bit.
— Mike Kelly (@MikeKellyNHL) April 11, 2015
That has yet to come to fruition, and Sidney Crosby and Co. are on the verge of missing the postseason because of that. Predictions aren’t guarantees and there’s a ton of value to be gained on the statistical side of things. There’s no accounting for the human element that is at play every night though, and it’s tough to truly reign in a game as quick and random as hockey.
So what if that’s a romantic notion, and so what if the Senators aren’t supposed to be a playoff team. They are because they won the games. They are because they won contests that they were supposed to lose. They won because they played hard in front of a guy like Hammond and because Mark Stone came out of left field to take a run at the Calder Trophy.
Mark Stone has been unreal. If only there was some kind of award that NHL rookies could win….
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) April 11, 2015
Stone was always going to be a good player, but he’s morphed into a two-way scoring machine over the last few months. He hasn’t been doing all the scoring himself as Ottawa’s depth has really started to show, but Stone is emerging as a building block for this franchise.
Even veterans like David Legwand have been pitching in since the trade deadline, rounding out one of the most incredible comeback stories in recent memory. Fourteen points out of a playoffs all the way to (possibly) the third seed in the Atlantic Division? Ridiculous.
It’s just something to think about: none of this was supposed to happen. It wasn’t in the cards, yet here we are. This is what makes sports fun and entertaining. The playing of games and the scoring of goals. If all the teams that were supposed to win actually won, this game would be tragically boring.
Thankfully analysts aren’t right all the time and the players are allowed to go out and earn points in the standings every few nights, regardless of how improbable, odd or unsustainable it may be.