Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 01/25/09 at 06:20 PM ET
As we hit the all-star break, it’s about time to start seriously thinking about the playoff picture. In the East, it’s clear that Boston, Washington, New Jersey, Montréal, Rangers and Philadelphia will be there. As of today, Buffalo and Carolina are in, while Florida and Pittsburgh are just barely on the outside of that playoff bubble.
While Toronto and Tampa are less than ten points out of a spot as of today, I don’t think they’ll be contenders come April. After viewing the remaining schedules for the four teams I figure to be the last contenders, I’m predicting that the final two spots will be held by Pittsburgh and Carolina.
I’ll start with Buffalo, currently in seventh, and work my way down to the tenth place Penguins.
The Sabres are presently in seventh place with 53 standings points and 35 games remaining. 17 will be at home and 18 on the road. Based on today’s standings, a staggering 22 of their remaining games are against teams inside the bubble. They will come out of the break with a tough four game road swing out West. Sixth place Edmonton, third place Calgary, fifth place Phoenix and eighth place Anaheim. The remainder of February is a wee bit easier on them, with seven other games against playoff teams and five against outsiders.
In March, they’ll play six playoff teams and six non-playoff teams.
In the final stretch of seven April games, five will be against playoff teams and two non-playoff games. Four of those will be against current division leaders. Their final stretch is at Washington, then home for games against New Jersey and Detroit, at Toronto, at Carolina and finally at home against Boston.
It’s not going to be easy at all for the Sabres. They’ll need to step up their game and hope for someone else to have a late-season collapse. Remember that last season Boston qualified for the postseason in large part because of Carolina’s epic fail in the final week.
The Canes are currently in eighth place with 51 points and 34 games remaining. They’ll have 18 home matches and 16 on the road. Of the remaining games, 18 are against teams currently inside the bubble.
The remainder of January should be kind to the Hurricanes, as they have a tough road game against the Rangers and two “easy” home games against Tampa and Atlanta.
February gets off to a rough start, three consecutive road games out West against seventh place Vancouver, first place San Jose and fifth place Phoenix. For the rest of the month, they play just three “inside the bubble” teams and seven “outside” teams. They’ll have five home games against “outside” teams, giving them a chance to fortify their position inside the bubble and possibly even make some ground in the SE race.
March will feature eight games against “inside” teams and five against “outside” teams.
April will have the last five games, and four of them will be consecutive home games. However, of these five games, just one is against an “outside” team, and one is against Pittsburgh, who is currently on the outside but shouldn’t be. It’s going to be a tough final stretch.
If the Canes can take care of business in February, then hold their own in March, they should be able to withstand the rough waters down the stretch and qualify for a spot.
The Cats are sitting in ninth place, outside of the playoffs. They have 50 standings points and 36 games remaining. They’re not going to have many off days for the rest of the season. They’ve got the most favorable home schedule of these four “bubble” teams, with 20 home games remaining and just 16 on the road. They have two different five game home stands and one five game road trip.
The remainder of January will have them play two “inside” teams and one “outside” team.
February is where things are going to be impossible for the Kitties. They start off with a couple of non-playoff opponents, but they have a stretch of TEN straight playoff teams from February 12 to March 1. While the other teams will be having softer schedules that month, they’re going to have to win just about every one of those to have any chance.
March should be kinder to the Panthers, but it might be a lost season by that point. They face six “inside” teams and nine “outside” teams for an amazing total of 15 games that month. Amazingly, with that many games, there’s only one back-to-back situation. Even though there’s a five game homestand, they’ll have to do a lot of traveling.
Three of their last five games will be against SE division rivals.
In total, 20 of their 36 remaining teams are against “inside” teams.
I think they’ll stumble so much in that brutal February stretch that they won’t have a chance.
The Penguins have been one of the biggest surprises (should I say disappointments?) of the season. They’ve been hampered by injuries and the inability to fill the void left by Maid Marian Hossa, but I don’t think anyone would have imagined that they’d be on the outside looking in at the all-star break. They’re currently in tenth place with 50 points and 34 games remaining. Half of these games will be at the Igloo.
The remainder of January will see the Pens play two “inside” teams and one “outside” team.
February will be pretty even in terms of the toughness of the schedule. They’ll play seven “inside” teams and five “outside” teams.
The tail end of this long home stretch also marks the beginning of an easy month of March for the Pens. In one ten game span from March 1 to March 20, the Pens have eight games against “outside” teams. For the record, that stretch starts with road games at the eleventh place Stars, 12th place Lightning and ninth place Panthers followed by a road game at second place Washington, a home game against the Panthers, then at the tenth place Blue Jackets, then home game against the 13th place Senators, first place Bruins, 14th place Thrashers, 13th place Kings.
I assume it has something to do with the circus running the Pens out of town earlier, but they’ve got a very very nice eight game home stand from March 14 to April 1.
Four of the Pens final five games are on the road, but the good news for them is that only two of them are against “inside” teams.
The soft schedule in March and the HUGE home stand should give them enough of an edge to grasp one of the final two spots.
A Boston/Carolina matchup in the first round wouldn’t be pretty at all. I’m hoping, then, that Carolina can play very well down the stretch, getting anything other than the #8 seed.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.