It’s a good time to be in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division these days. The Eastern Conference is loaded with teams that seem to do nothing but win these days, and they’re all on one side of the table.
The top 4 teams are all at least 11 games above .500, and that includes Washington who currently hold the first Wild Card spot. The Caps also have 1 and 2 games at hand on anyone chasing. The final spot belongs to Philadepelphia, and they’re a full 8 games above .500.
For struggling teams in the Atlantic Division, that could erase all hopes of the playoffs.
It probably does take away the Wild Card opportunity, but what it means is the standard for the 2nd and 3rd Atlantic Division seed is set pretty low. A division seed is still realistically attainable for at least 4 teams not currently in a playoff spot: Carolina(33 pts), Tampa Bay(33), Florida(33), and Detroit(32).
So why do I think Detroit has the best shot at the post season? Here are three reasons.
1)Goaltending – Am I saying the other teams have bad goaltending? Not a chance. I’m saying they will have tired goaltenders. For example, Cam Ward is the confirmed starter against the Wings tonight. He ranks 9th in the league in games played so far (25). Tukka Rask (BOS) is one behind at 24. Roberto Luongo (FLA) sits at 22, and Ben Bishop (TBL) has 21 starts.
Detroit on the other hand continues to split goaltending duties between two capable starters. Petr Mrazek has only 19 games in and Jimmy Howard has 16. The Wings haven’t confirmed their starter for tonight as of this writing. All of these teams give up more than average numbers of shots, so goaltender fatigue is going to become a critical factor without the luxury of breathing room in the standings for rest.
2)Scoring – Every team mentioned here sits 18th or less in the NHL for team goals for. The only exception is the Tampa Bay Lightning who at 10th have scored a full 15 more goals than the Wings(26th) this season. So how is this a positive for Detroit? The word is consistency. Tampa has been somewhat steady game per game. Where they sit is kind of who they are. The same can be said for the others. Carolina isn’t nearly as deep as Detroit. Neither is Florida, and their organization is in so much chaos in management right now I don’t think they’ll hold it together anyway. Tampa is deeper, but they’re already scoring pretty well and look where that’s gotten them? One point ahead of Detroit. The problems in Tampa right now aren’t as easily solved but in Detroit it is easy; start scoring and you’ll be fine.
But the Wings still have to catch Boston or Ottawa, and here’s why I think that’s going to happen.
Boston has 16 wins and 16 losses(games in which they didn’t get maximum points). 12 wins have been where the opposition has scored 1 goal or less. That’s 75%. Only 3 of their 16 losses had the opposition scoring 2 goals or less, and 10 times Boston has lost by giving up 4 or more goals. Chances are if Boston gives up 2 goals or more, they’re losing that game. (4-15 record). That’s not a big margin for error.
Ottawa is the same way. 11 of their 18 wins saw them allow 1 goal or less, including 5 shutouts (Boston has 4). 3 more wins were when giving up two goals, which means that 77% of Sens wins have come when the opposition scores 2 or less. Compare that to the loss column. 8 of the 14 losses have been by 3 or more goals. 12 times out of 14, or in 86% of their losses, Ottawa has conceded 3 goals or more, and 10 of those were 4 goals or more. Again, giving up two goals or more is a serious problem (7-14). For Detroit, only 7 of 14 wins were when giving up 1 goal or less (50%). To win they depend less on this than the other two teams. In fact, Detroit has 5 wins when conceding 3 goals or more. Now, they’re record of 7-15 in the same situation isn’t any better, but it’s not any worse either and it is what it is for a much more fixable reason. Let me explain.
In wins the Boston Bruins average 3.06 goals for and 1.18 goals against. In losses they average 1.56 goals for and 3.56 goals against. That’s only a difference of 1.5 goals for countered by a concerning 2.38 more goals against. That means Boston gives up over 3 times more goals per game when losing. They don’t just lose. They lose badly.
Ottawa has 3.16 goals for and 1.33 goals against through 18 wins, 1.78 goals for and 4.21 goals against in 14 losses. So here we’re looking at only 1.38 goals for per win than loss, but a staggering 2.88 more goals a against per game. Again, that’s over 3 times more goals against per loss than win. Of course this makes sense. If you score more than the opposition you win and if you don’t, you lose.
But the problem for those two teams is defense. They don’t have the offensive depth to score any more than they already do so not much changes offensively from win to loss.
Detroit on the other hand averages a very impressive 3.64 goals for in wins and 1.92 goals against. In losses, the goals against increases to 3.44, about 1.5 goals. That’s less than half of the increase in goals against per loss as either Boston or Ottawa.
The big problem in Detroit is the goals for drop to an average of 1.5 goals for in defeat. That’s a mind boggling decrease of almost 2.5 times fewer goals in losses than wins. They usually beat themselves.
To me it’s more realistic to expect Detroit to improve to the league average in goals for than it is to expect 4-5 other teams to maintain an above average goals against pace. Because of this, I think Detroit is much more in control of their own destiny than any other team in the playoff race.
3)It’s what they do – Detroit seems to always be the team that can’t but does anyway. What about benefit of the doubt? Doesn’t 25 years mean anything? Most look at it like the streak has to end sometime. It’s been so long it has to end. I look at it like it’s been so long that why wouldn’t it keep going this year?
This story line could write itself in just 13 days as the Wings head in to Carolina tonight, visit Tampa tomorrow, go to Florida Friday, and follow up in Ottawa the following Thursday.