Clarity Amidst The Chaos

This potential playoff matchup isn't as bad for the good guys as you might think.

ROBBY:
In the interest of full-disclosure, this post was originally going to be focused only on the Ducks' potential playoff matchups. When I floated this idea to Arthur, he said it was on par with "Dewey Defeats Truman" in terms of magumbo-baiting. He also said it was something Daniel would do (okay, that last part is a lie, but I just wanted you to understand the level of violation we're talking here).

While the Anaheim Ducks still have the unenviable task of actually qualifying for the playoffs, some teams in the Western Conference have been top-seeded locks for some time. Vancouver, Detroit, and San Jose seem relatively safe bets for the first three spots in the Western Conference. In the interest of making this post nicely symmetrical, I'm also going to boldly predict that Dallas nabs that fourth spot. They led the Pacific for a good deal of the year, and they're currently only a couple of points out of fourth.

As the regular season winds to a close and the chase for the Stanley Cup playoffs ratchets up, I thought it would be a good idea to start looking at potential first-round matchups. Below the fold, you'll find a quick look at each of the top-seeded teams as well as regular season records for each of the contenders against each of the playoff locks.

All stats and standings before play on Pi Day (3/14 for you non-mathletes)

Vancouver Canucks (45-16-9 overall, 23-7-5 at home)

Vancouver has been the class of the NHL all season. The Canucks currently lead the race for the Presidents' Trophy by eight points over Philadelphia (though this may be a dubious honor given that the winner has claimed the Cup only once since 2001-2002) and also feature the best home record in hockey. Between the powerhouse Sedin twins and a dominant season from Ryan Kesler, the Canucks look poised to make a deep run for the Cup. While Roberto Luongo has faded in playoff campaigns over the last two years, the Canucks have tried to keep their netminder a bit fresher by limiting his minutes through the use of back-up Cory Schneider in a career-high 20 games, thus far. While the Canucks have been rocked by injuries on the blueline all season, they've weathered the storm and are a formidable threat as the playoffs near.

Detroit Red Wings (41-20-8 overall, 18-11-4 at home)

I hate writing anything nice about this team, but they've put together another strong season despite missing significant playing time from key pieces like Pavel Datsyuk and Brian Rafalski this year. Jimmy Howard has taken a step back this year, giving up 0.5 goals per game more this year and maintaining a save percentage under .910. Aside from Phoenix and San Jose, the Wings also feature the worst home record of the current top-8 teams. Despite their flaws, Detroit is always a tough team to handle in the playoffs given their pedigree and, shall we say, relatively favorable standing in the eyes of the zebras.

San Jose Sharks (39-22-8 overall, 18-11-5 at home)

Like the Red Wings (but not to the same degree), saying something nice about the Sharks is something I'd rather not do. And through about 30 games this year, it looked like I wasn't going to need to. But Antti Niemi has decided to recapture some of that Blackhawks magic from last year and the Sharks have proceeded to emerge as front-runners in a crowded Pacific Division that just may be the best in hockey. We all know about the Sharks' inability to get the job done in the post-season, and their offense has the ability to mysteriously disappear for long stretches at a time. However, teams would be mistaken to take the Sharks lightly, and while they probably won't make the Cup Finals, the Sharks will be a challenge for any team in the first round.

Dallas Stars (37-24-8 overall, 19-10-6 at home)

Dallas is probably the most surprising team in the Western Conference this year (Calgary is a close second). While head coach Marc Crawford is likely in-line for the Jack Adams Award, players like Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson are having strong seasons on the front-end and Kari Lehtonen has been better than most people expected between the pipes. Dallas has faded a bit over the past 20 games after a blistering start to the season, and their 193 Goals For are better than only Los Angeles, Nashville, Minnesota among the Western Conference's contending teams. The Stars, like the Ducks, have a penchant for late-game heroics (they're second among all Western contenders in OT/SO wins) and while they may not blow you away, they are a dangerous team that thrives when the game is on the line.

Who Has the Edge?

There are, realistically, 11 teams contending in the West, with Nashville, Anaheim, and Minnesota still credibly in the hunt (Minnesota is four points out of a playoff spot, while Nashville is only one point away). With the top-four teams (at least the top-three) relatively cemented, let's see how the contenders have fared against the playoff leaders this year.

All records from the perspective of contenders

Vancouver

Detroit

San Jose

Dallas

Los Angeles

2-1-0

3-1-0

2-2-0

3-1-1

Phoenix

1-1-1

2-0-2

0-3-0

3-2-0

Chicago

2-2-0

2-1-0

0-2-1

1-1-1

Calgary

1-4-0

0-2-2

1-1-1

4-0-0

Nashville

2-1-0

3-1-0

2-0-2

1-2-0

Anaheim

2-1-1

1-3-0

2-2-0

3-1-0

Minnesota

2-2-0

1-1-1

2-1-0

0-2-1

Total

12-12-2

12-11-5

9-11-4

15-9-3

  • The Kings match-up well against any of the playoff locks, although they may want to shoot for the sixth seed so they can continue their dominance of the Red Wings at Joe Louis. In two games in Detroit, Jonathan Quick owns a .988 save percentage. The Red Wings probably don't want any piece of him.
  • Phoenix only plays well against Dallas. They seem to have some issues against any of the other contenders.
  • Chicago plays Vancouver and Detroit decently, but they definitely struggle with the Pacific Division.
  • Calgary, like Phoenix, can only compete against Dallas. Those Vancouver and Detroit numbers are pretty ugly.
  • Nashville, like Los Angeles, is probably hoping for a series against the Red Wings.
  • The Ducks also fall into that same crowd as Phoenix and Calgary. They've played the Canucks reasonably well, but a first-round series with Detroit is probably not something the Ducks want any part of.
  • Oddly enough, Minnesota fares decently against everyone but Dallas. A first-round series with San Jose or Vancouver would be favorable to them.

At the end of the day, it's interesting to see how most teams match-up really well against one team, but not so well against one or more others. San Jose fares the best against the contenders, while Dallas has the worst record against them. If it wasn't for San Jose's propensity to fall apart after the regular season, one might be inclined to think these numbers suggest a long playoff run for the Sharks.

What do you think? In your observations of other teams (and the data above), how do you see the playoffs shaking out? Do any of the potentially lower-seeded teams have any inherent advantages?

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