So Tuesday's loss to the Sabres was a tough one, no doubt about it. Every game this time of year is a big one, the funny part to me is they are worth exactly the same as the games in October; when no one is pulling a Jim Mora and talking about playoffs.
But I digress. Because of the point system, its difficult place a magic number of points on the Rangers going forward to help us ease the tensions; but skip to the end of the article if you want my shot at it anyways. In five seasons since the lockout, the average 8th place team in the Eastern Conference has accumulated 91.8 points after the 82 game schedule. The Rangers, Hurricanes, and Sabres (7,8, and 9) are currently all on pace for an 88 point season in the standings. With 20 games or less left for everyone in the Eastern Conference playoff race, let's look at a couple of different metrics to see what the Rangers have to do to make the playoffs, and if they even deserve to with their recent skid.
[Note by Rob L, 03/03/11 12:06 PM EST ] Well what do ya know, Gabe @ Behind the Net looked at the Eastern Conference race today. The Rangers PDO and SR are up slightly because they outshot Buffalo by a bit, I would assume.
How big of a game was Tuesday? According to Sports Club Stats, a site I end up visiting more frequently as the snow melts, the Rangers loss dropped their chances of making the playoffs as the seven seed almost 10 percent, to 77.5%. Sure it doesn't sound too bad, but if you follow the link you will see the Rangers playoff chances have taken a U-turn pointing down since the start of February; maybe now would be the time for Torts to start really yelling.
All of us that have been watching the Rangers since October know that the way they are playing now is not indicative of what this team showed on the ice until the past month. Luckily, if you've not a regular visitor to Blueshirt Banter, I have a little chart that can back me up. These are the teams that are still alive for the playoffs, to which I reluctantly actually included the Devils.
Note: chart calculated pre-Sabres game on 3/1/11
Borrowing the framework from Gabe over at Behind the Net, who recently looked at the Western Conference race; Gabe notes how goal differential (a typical stat listed within the standings) isn't exactly the most trusted stat when predicting playoff spots (Tampa Bay has a +1 GD, nestled between Philly (+44) and Boston (+43)). A better stat to peek at is Shot Ratio (SR), which just shows which teams outshoot and get outshot. I sorted the chart above by Shot Ratio, and it somewhat explains why Montreal is sitting in 6th on pace for 96 points. While their not lighting the lamp with their Shooting %, they are getting good goaltending out of Carey Price and are consistently putting pucks on their opponents net. If the puck is in the other teams end, it makes it much harder for them to score (a "classic" high school hockey lesson).
In this category, the Rangers are a dead even 50% ratio (1 shot for = 1 shot against), and their PDO (combination of shooting and save percentage) is only a hair above the 1000 average, just as their Shooting and Save percentages on the chart above are as well. In a sense, the Rangers are sitting exactly where they deserve to be despite the recent skid. Tough to hear, but that means something has to change going forward, and quickly.
The good part about all of this is that the Rangers hold their destiny in their hands; unlike Buffalo who has to keep playing very well (as they have since Feb. 1st), and then must also rely upon the Rangers or Carolina to slip. I'm a firm believer that the top four in the east as of Tuesday are safe, and that barring a major meltdown Washington and Montreal will be in as well. With 17 games to go, the bar I'm going to set is going to be 89 points to be either the 7 or 8 seed (8 of which are on the road for NYR - thank god). For the Rangers, this means a minimum of 8 wins, while 10 games where 2 points is the result gets the clinch for after-party.
So here's to stopping the skid. Just above .500 ball and a couple of lucky bounces should grant the Rangers a ticket to visit (most likely) Philly or Tampa Bay, but I'd rather see the next 10 games end up as 20 points in the morning paper. The snows melting, which means golf season is coming; why not be optimistic?