NHL Power Rankings 3/27: What Realistically Are the Isles' Chances?

Protect this house! (Finally) - Bruce Bennett

OK, so the Isles haven't been too great lately, but are they too late to salvage their season?

OK, I'm going to shorten up the Power Rankings and Alternate Reality standings by showing just the Eastern Conference race for both (and talking not much at all about either), since the Isles' past week was... less than stellar.

So rather than dwell on that, I decided to do a little homework and whip up a table of head-to-head games left amongst the playoff hopefuls. Starting with that, I try to draw a few conclusions on the following question: What reasonable chance do the Isles have of making the playoffs? See below.

Just keep in mind that all of these tables were created and written about before last night's win vs. the Caps.

Weekly Opinion Poll Round-Up

Here's what they're saying about our team on the ol' interwebs:

Site Ranking Prior Comments
CBS 22 18 Nothing like the Florida Panthers coming to town to get them off the schneid. The three-game losing streak is done and the Isles are still hanging around in the playoff race.
THN 21 --- Islanders had great chance to make up ground at home, but failed miserably. Are 0-4-1 in last five games against teams currently in a playoff position.
ESPN 22 19 The trip that defines their playoff hopes this season? Games in Washington, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and New Jersey coming up.
TSN 22 21 Salvaged a four-game homestand with a 3-0 win over Florida following three losses. Now the Isles hit the road for four. The good news is that they've been better on the road this year.
Fox Sports 25 21 Winning at home has continued to be a struggle, although they salvaged a four-game homestand with a shutout of the Panthers on Sunday. Their 14 points through 19 home games puts them in a tie for the fifth-fewest points in team history.
NHL Numbers --- 19 No rankings this week.
Average 22.4 19.6 Break out the Petty.

It's a shame that NHL Numbers decided to start doing this bi-weekly, as their unique approach (trying to discern where teams will finish this year) would have tied in to my own piece at the end of this article. Anyways, on to the power rankings.

LHH Power Rankings

As calculated by yours truly. Again, this is just for the Eastern Conference this week, but the final column shows each team's overall ranking:

Overall
EAST W L OTL Pts Win Pct PWR Rank
1 Pittsburgh 25 8 0 50 0.758 2120 3
2 Boston 21 7 3 45 0.726 2028 4
3 Montreal 20 6 5 45 0.726 1992 5
4 Ottawa 18 9 6 42 0.636 1825 9
5 Toronto 17 12 4 38 0.576 1713 12
6 New Jersey 15 11 7 37 0.561 1564 14
7 Winnipeg 17 14 2 36 0.545 1549 17
8 Carolina 15 13 2 32 0.533 1518 19
9 Buffalo 13 15 4 30 0.469 1445 21
10 NY Rangers 15 13 3 33 0.532 1444 22
11 NY Islanders 14 15 3 31 0.484 1390 25
12 Washington 15 16 1 31 0.484 1285 26
13 Philadelphia 13 16 2 28 0.452 1270 28
14 Tampa Bay 13 18 1 27 0.422 1119 29
15 Florida 9 18 6 24 0.364 1034 30

Pretty much right where they belong, sadly.

Standings from an Alternate Universe

Again, handing out 5 points for a regulation win, 4 for an OT win, 3 for a win in the shootout, 2 for a loss in the shootout, 1 for a loss in OT, and none for a regulation loss.

(Number of points) (5) (4) (3) (2) (1) (0) Actual
EAST RW OTW SOW SOL OTL RL Pts Place
1 Pittsburgh 21 2 2 0 0 8 119 1
2 Montreal 16 2 2 2 3 6 101 T2
3 Boston 16 1 4 1 2 7 100 T2
4 Ottawa 13 1 4 4 2 9 91 4
5 Toronto 15 2 0 4 0 12 91 5
6 Winnipeg 13 3 1 2 0 14 84 7
7 New Jersey 12 1 2 5 2 11 82 6
8 Carolina 14 1 0 1 1 13 77 9
9 NY Rangers 10 2 3 3 0 13 73 8
10 Washington 12 2 1 0 1 16 72 T10
11 NY Islanders 10 2 2 0 3 15 67 T10
12 Tampa Bay 12 1 0 1 0 18 66 14
13 Philadelphia 11 1 1 1 1 16 65 13
14 Buffalo 8 1 4 2 2 15 62 12
15 Florida 8 0 1 1 5 18 50 15

Even with their abysmal homestand, the Isles in this case are still only two wins out of eighth, albeit two regulation wins now (instead of a regulation win and a shootout win, last week). If anything, the larger number of points gives teams more hope than the Bettman Bonus Point system we have now, apparently.

What Are the Odds?

And so we arrive at the real question on everyone's minds. We've gone over the bonus point system many a times over the past few years. How it keeps the teams relatively close when you look at just the number of points each team has. How that's pretty deceptive. How it keeps fannies in the seats, despite the fact that mathematically the 10th place team's chances of climbing over two others are pretty slim. Our good friend Chris, in fact, thinks it's already a foregone conclusion.

But are we really at that point already? Wouldn't one good winning streak vault the Isles past several others? Let's see first who is playing who in the final games of the year:

Current Top
Place Team GP Pts Five TOR NJ NYR CAR WAS NYI BUF PHL TB FLA
6 Toronto 33 38 4 --- 2 2 1 1 1 0 1 1 2
7 New Jersey 33 37 5 2 --- 2 0 0 1 1 1 1 2
8 NY Rangers 31 33 5 2 2 --- 2 0 1 1 2 0 2
9 Carolina 30 32 9 1 0 2 --- 2 1 0 1 2 0
10 Washington 32 31 6 1 0 0 2 --- 2 1 1 2 1
11 NY Islanders 32 31 4 1 1 1 1 2 --- 1 3 1 1
12 Buffalo 32 30 8 0 1 1 0 1 1 --- 1 2 1
13 Philly 31 28 7 1 1 2 1 1 3 1 --- 0 0
14 Tampa Bay 32 27 5 1 1 0 2 2 1 2 0 --- 2
15 Florida 33 24 4 2 2 2 0 1 1 1 0 2 ---

The top five teams in the conference are looking pretty good for a lock for the playoffs. While it's true that the Jets might slip up, that just means one of the other Southeast teams would take over that playoff spot. We're still really just looking realistically at 6th through last for now.

So after the Games Played and (total standings) Points columns, you see who each team is playing the rest of the year. Top Five refers to the total number of games remaining vs. the Jets, Pens, Habs, Bruins, and Sens. At first blush, the Isles at least have a somewhat easier schedule than others, playing only top-five teams four times (tied for least) and playing six games against the four worst teams in the conference (the most).

That being said, there are plenty of teams above the Isles who are playing those same bottom clubs almost as many times, and more importantly, they will play each other.

I'm not going to make this super-technical this week, as there are plenty of games left to the season. But let's figure out where the Isles' "tragic number" is (that is to say, the number of points they don't earn that would make them miss the playoffs). For the moment, we will assume the following:

  1. The other teams don't earn any points against the top five.
  2. The other teams don't play any three-point games against each other.
  3. The other teams finish .500 against each other.

That means if two teams play each other twice more this season, they split the games, and if they play each other only once, they each earn a point. I know that's impossible. But think of it this way, if Team A plays Teams B and C each one time, they win one of those games and lose the other. Like I said, it isn't totally scientific. It's just to give you an idea of what their records will have to be.

OK so here is each team not named the Islanders, with the minimum number of points they'd earn against each other, and the total points they'd have at the end of the year:

Current Min Total
Place Team Pts Pts
6 Toronto 10 48
7 New Jersey 9 46
8 NY Rangers 11 44
9 Carolina 8 40
10 Washington 8 39
12 Buffalo 7 37
13 Philly 7 35
14 Tampa Bay 10 37
15 Florida 10 34

Now if the Isles earn every possible point from here on, they'd have 63. The Rangers are the team they'd have to aim for, so the tragic number, in the best of circumstances, is 63 - 44 = 19. That's 8 losses plus an OT/SO loss over the last 16 games, or half a game under NHL-,500.

Well, that at least sounds hopeful.

But let's face it, there are lots of three point games this time of year. Over the entire season, about 24% of the games played thus far have ended up with a Bettman Bonus Point. Also, it is unreasonable to assume that the top five clubs in the conference would earn each and every point against all the other teams (except for the Isles, who we are assuming will win every game).

Let's redo the top table, adding 25% more points for games played against each other, and a mere 20% of all possible points earned against the upper echelon clubs:

Current Total
Place Team Pts
6 Toronto 51
7 New Jersey 49
8 NY Rangers 48
9 Carolina 44
10 Washington 42
12 Buffalo 40
13 Philly 38
14 Tampa Bay 41
15 Florida 37

So the Isles tragic number would shrink to 63 - 48 = 15. That's only 7 regulation losses and an OT/SO loss in the last 16 games; a record of 8-7-1. Still very doable.

But realistic? Well, you'd imagine the number of three-point games will rise, as games start to take on more of a playoff feeling. Also, it's not reasonable to assume that the teams ahead of the Isles are going to split their remaining games with the teams below the Isles. What would it take to overcome that? A swing of two games (10-5-1)? Three games? Even if 40% of all head-to-head games end in OT or the shootout, and if all of these teams play the upper echelon tougher (winning 40% of all possible points against them), the Isles would still "only" have to go 10-6-0.

I don't want to make some verdict on this. I'd rather you guys mull it over and have some hope if you want to have it.

Chris made some good points in his Dear Garth letter, and the Isles haven't been a .667 team this year. But at least we're still talking about the possibility of the playoffs with only 15 games to go, and it's far from impossible. And now that the clock reads 0:00, we know that the Isles already have one of those wins.

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