So, this will mostly serve as a standings update, and the news is pretty good. As you recall, last week, teams had enough games-in-hand over us that, if they won them all, we'd have been out of the playoff picture. However, as they say, you have to win your games-in-hand for them to count, and this was a pretty decent week for them not doing that. The Hurricanes have earned one point of a possible eight in their last four games. The Leafs have earned three of eight in the same stretch. Even the Sabres and Devils lost games in regulation.
Meanwhile, we escaped California with two of a possible four points, in playing zero of a possible two good games. Yes, we battled for a while in San Jose, and yes, the Sharks are very good at hockey. But I can't help feeling like the third and overtime periods were just past our bedtime. Still, we played physical hockey and got enough lucky and enough Lundqvist to earn our way into the silly post-game fun-time that earned us a second point and time to exhale on the plane back to Eastern Standard Time. All things considered, I'll take it.
The bad news is, of course, Erik Christensen scored. He actually looked decent in his return in San Jose: the fact that he's soft was made up for by the rest of our forwards playing physical hockey, and he was able to do some good things with his stick on more plays than just the goal he scored. That would be good news even though I don't like him, except it makes it that much less likely that Sean Avery will be in the lineup as we need him to be down this stretch. Blah blah blah, the usual rant. I'm right, the end.
So, we stole a couple in Cali, the right teams lost now and again, and here's where we stand:
7. Buffalo - 76 pts, 13 GR
8. NEW YORK RANGERS - 76 pts, 12 GR
9. Carolina - 72 pts, 13 GR
10. Toronto - 70 pts, 13 GR
11. Atlanta - 70 pts, 13 GR
12. New Jersey - 68 pts, 14 GR
The Devils still get included, as if they win their game-in-hand, they pull exactly even with Toronto and Atlanta with 70 points and 13 games remaining. So, yes, everyone still has a game-in-hand over us, but it's only the one. And if they all win them, we still end up in 8th, 2 points ahead of the 9th-place 'Canes, and 2 points behind the 7th-place Sabres. Things are tight, but we're definitely in a better place than we were a week ago, despite playing less-than-stellar hockey on the West Coast. So far, so good.
Not much on the docket for tonight: just the Bolts in Toronto. Not the biggest deal, but Tampa could use a big win over a lesser team, and if Toronto could lose a couple more, it would be one fewer team we'd have to seriously worry about. Tomorrow night, on the other hand, lots of shit goes down. We host the Islanders back at the Garden, which is going to be lots of fun. They've been playing good hockey lately (4-0-2 in their last 6), and they always play up for us. We need to come back home and put points on the board - if we try to rely on the Islanders being an inferior team, we will be surprised when we are down by a couple of goals.
At the same time, the Thrashers will be at the Devils, and the 'Canes will be at the Sabres. For those of you paying attention, we want all four of those teams to lose as much as possible. What's most important, of course, is that neither game goes into overtime and therefore gets rewarded with extra points in the standings. Outside of that, clearly, let's go Thrashers, because fuck the Devils. Then, there's Carolina-Buffalo. Thoughts? If Buffalo wins, it gets that much harder to climb into 7th. If Carolina wins, though, we're back to one game from out of the playoffs entirely. Let's go regulation-time endings!
One more thing of note: our goal differential is +27 on the season. That's good for 4th in the conference and 7th in the league, one behind the goddamn Detroit Red Wings' +28. However, like the Chicago Blackhawks (+33 and in 7th), that isn't exactly turning into the wins you'd expect it to: ahead of us in the standings are Washington (+18), Montréal (+12), Buffalo (+2), and Tampa (-5). I'd like to take a look at goal differential compared to total points this season, and I'd like to see how that comparison would look if we used a rational standings system (replace the current point totals with 2 for an OT win, 0 for an OT loss, 1 each for getting to the shootout regardless of victor).
A statistical master named Nilesh's findings here lead me to believe that, in general, goal differential tends to still be a pretty good indicator of total points in the NHL, even with the shootout nonsense (in fact, he found that the Pythagorean Expectation model actually works better than it does in baseball). So are we and the 'Hawks just outliers? More on this, if I find the time to do math this week.