Monday, January 31, 2011

On to February

January is one of the longest months of the year and this year it seemed even longer than usual. The T-Birds will be glad to put it in their rear view mirror after going just 2-12-1-0 in 15 games. Bring on February!

It really seemed like the players were pressing in Sunday's 2-1 home loss to Everett. The term often used in hockey to describe that is "squeezing the sticks too tight".

I think some players subconsiously are trying to do too much on their own. They understand the team is stuggling and they want to be the one to score that goal or make the play that ends the funk; it's just a natural reaction to the situation. This is why the coaches tell them to keep it simple; play within yourself. In other words, take what is done during practice out on to the ice each game. When you try to take the burden of ending the streak on your shoulders alone, it can lead to penalties or missed scoring chances. Maintain the team concept.

Sometimes you don't recognize a player's worth until he's out of the lineup. Defenseman Travis Bobbee was injured in the second period of the T-Birds game January 9th in Chilliwack. Seattle lost that game in overtime. Since then, with Bobbee out of the lineup, the 'Birds are 1-9-0-0. Then defenseman Ryan Button goes down with a long term injury and Seattle is 0-5-0-0 since he's been out of the lineup. Combined the two veteran defenseman have played 541 games in the WHL. There's no subsitute for experience and that's a lot of experience on the sideline.

I try to curb my enthusiasm for young 15-year-old player who come up for a few games midseason but it was hard not to be impressed by Shea Theodore. The Aldergrove, B.C. native didn't look out of place playing in two games this past weekend. Looks like a solid, smooth, puck moving d-man in the making. I'm not comparing him to any previous player but I got the same good vibe watching him as I did watching the likes of Aaron Gagnon, Thomas Hickey, Colin Jacobs and Brandon Troock when they played a few games as 15-year-olds. I didn't see enough of Jared Hauf (he didn't see as much ice time) to come to the same conclusion yet but he looks as advertised; a big stay-at-home defenseman.

Here's the updated Western Conference race-to-the-playoffs pace for each team as of 1/31/11 with the points-earned-per-game average in parenthesis. I've added a new column after that, games remaining:

1. Portland is on pace for 98.3 pts (1.365) 20
2. *Kelowna is on pace for 85.2 pts (1.18) 23
3. Spokane is on pace for 97.92 pts (1.36) 22
4. Tri-City is on pace for 99.57 pts(1.38) 25
5. Vancouver is on pace for 80.47 pts (1.117) 21
6. Prince George is on pace for 73.44 pts (1.02) 22
7. Everett is on pace for 69.17 pts (0.961) 21
8. Kamloops is on pace for 63.849 pts (0.8867) 19
9. Chilliwack is on pace for 67.591 pts (0.9387) 23
10. Seattle is on pace for 63.529 pts (0.8823) 21

* Kelowna, as the first place team currently in the BC Division automatically gets the #2 seed.

As you can see, the T-Birds pace has fallen off with the losing streak but with 21 games and 42 points still available there is plenty of time to reverse that trend. And it won't take much. Everett was able to jump from 10th to within two points of
6th place on the basis of a 3-game winning streak and Kamloops moved into the 8th spot despite winning just 2 of their last 10 games.

Meanwhile Tri-City is still on pace to win the conference top seed. Having so many games in hand helps their pace but they still have to win those games. With seven more left on their schedule against Spokane, it will be interesting to see if they can keep up that pace.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Playoff Chase Update

After losing two over the weekend here is the updated standing for the T-Birds and the chase for the playoffs in the Western Conference. While the two losses didn't improve the T-Birds points pace or their position in the standings, they are still in the thick of the battle for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. In fact they are still on pace to finish in 8th place and grab the last postseason berth.

Again, the order is based on the current standings (as of 1/24/11) with the top B.C. Division team, in this case Vancouver, automatically slotted into the #2 position. The number in parenthesis is the points earned per game so far this season.

1. Portland is on pace for 98.44 pts (1.37)
2. Vancouver is on pace for 80.81 pts (1.12)
3. Spokane is on pace for 98.04 pts (1.36)
4. Tri-City is on pace for 97.6 pts (1.35)
5. Kelowna is on pace for 82.7 pts (1.15)
6. Prince George is on pace for 75.06 pts (1.04)
7. Chilliwack is on pace for 72 pts (1.00)
8. Seattle is on pace for 67.5 pts (0.937)
9. Kamloops is on pace for 64.8 pts (0.90)
10. Everett is on pace for 65.87 pts (0.914)

The top three teams in the U.S. Division are still neck-and-neck for the conferene top seed but Portland is back in the driver's seat after beating Spokane in overtime Sunday.

Kelowna, after sweeping three road games against U.S. Division teams this past weekend (Seattle, Spokane & Tri-City) is on pace to overtake Vancouver atop the B.C. Division and grab the conference's #2 seed, and Kamloops and Everett would still miss the postseason.

But the Silvertips are only two points behind the T-Birds with a game in hand which makes Friday's game in Everett a (and here's the understatement) very important one. Remember though, Everett is in action Wednesday against the Chiefs in Spokane while Kamloops travels to Prince George. Also, Chilliwack will be down in Portland so the standings could be jumbled again before the 'Birds take to the ice for their next game.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Setting the Pace

As of Thursday, January 20th, here is the pace each team in the Western Conference is on as we head into the final two months of the regular season. Obviously teams won't end up with a fraction of a point, so you can round up if you like but this is based on their current records. The number in parenthesis is the team's points per game average (PPG)so far this season. Remember, it's the final point totals that will determine the top 8 teams that will advance to the playoffs. Wins/losses, head-to-head, one game playoff and any other tie-breaking procedure only comes into play if two teams are tied with the same number of points. So, it is possible for a team with fewer wins to advance to the playoffs if they've earned more points then a team behind them in the standings (a result of points earned in overtime and shootout losses). For instance, Seattle (18 wins) is ahead of both Kamloops (21 wins) and Chilliwack (20 wins) in the standings because they've earned 9 pts in OT/SO losses.

This will change as each team wins or loses so we will update often. Not all teams have played the same number of games. The teams are listed in the order they currently occupy in the standings, 1 through 10.

1. Spokane is on pace to finish with 99.81 pts (1.38)
2.* Vancouver is on pace to finish with 76.7 pts (1.065)
3. Portland is on pace to finish with 95.47 pts(1.32)
4. Tri-City is on pace to finish with 98.79 pts(1.37)
5. Kelowna is on pace to finish with 78.54 pts (1.09)
6. Prince George is on pace to finish with 75.2 pts (1.044)
7. Seattle is on pace to finish with 70.43 pts (0.978)
8. Kamloops is on pace to finish with 66 pts (0.916)
9. Chilliwack is on pace to finish with 72 pts (1.00)
10. Everett is on pace to finish with 67.2 pts. (0.933)

* The first place teams in each division are guarenteed the top two playoff spots in the first round. Vancouver is currently in first place in the B.C. Division.

If, and that is a big IF, all teams were to continue on the current pace then Chilliwack would leap frog both Kamloops and Seattle and finish in 7th place. The T-Birds would fall to 8th but still make the postseason. Kamloops and Everett would be the two non-qualifiers. But failing to earn points in any game drops you PPG average. As an example, if the T-Birds fail to earn a point Friday against Kelowna their PPG average would fall to 0.957 and they would then be on pace to earn only 68.93 pts. But, if they win then their PPG average would increase to 1.00 and they would be on pace for a 72 point season. Overtime and shootout games also affect a team's PPG and pace. Should the T-Birds lose Friday in OT or a SO, their PPG average would be 0.9787 and they would be on pace for 70.46 pts. As you can see, that's not hit, it actually improves their PPG average, so if you are going to lose, better to do so in OT or a SO. Now you can see how important all those OT and SO games the first half of the season are to the T-Birds.

One caveat to all this; I'm not a mathematician and I didn't stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Final Countdown

27 games remain; 27 games left for this team to determine its fate. Will they earn a playoff spot or will they sit on the sidelines for the second straight season come late March? Isn't it better to have something to play for this time of the season? Should be an exciting final two months.

For that matter there are seven other teams in the Western Conference who are asking themselves the same question. Some of those teams have fewer than 27 games left, some have more but we are now roughly 2/3rds of the way through the season and while the top three teams (Portland, Spokane and Tri-City) have separated from the pack, the other seven are in a dogfight for five postseason spots.

I was surprised that, outside of Vancouver, no B.C. Division team made any moves, let alone a significant deal, at the trade deadline. But then again, the price for the top available talent was most likely cost-prohibitive. Still, winning the B.C. Division not only gets you a playoff spot but most likely the only home ice advantage of the postseason for any B.C. Division team.

It's really difficult to handicap the race for the postseason over the final 1/3rd of the season. When teams are so close in the standings, injury to a key player, a small slump or a flu bug running through the locker room could cost a club a couple of valuable points. That makes Vancouver's win Sunday over the T-Birds more impressive. They already traded away their best player in Craig Cunningham and were without team captain James Henry among others. In fact the Giants have lost over 230 man games this season to injury. Yet they battled through their third game in three nights and picked up the two points that propelled them to the top of their division.

I think difficulty of schedule will also play a part in determining the last five playoff spots, which may work against the T-Birds and Everett since they both have so many games left against the Big Three; the Winterhawks, Chiefs and Americans. For instance, Seattle still has six games left against Portland. The good news is they are 4-1-0-1 so far this season against the 'Hawks. Everett too has a bevy of games left against Portland (5)and still have four games head-to-head against Tri-City, all on the road. Fortunately the 'Birds have only two games left head-to-head against the Ams, a team that has had their number this season (Seattle is 0-5-0-2 vs. Tri-City). Both the T-Birds and Silvertips face Spokane four more times (2 at home and 2 on the road).
What B.C. Division team or teams might the T-Birds (and for that matter Everett) be fighting with down the stretch for a playoff spot? My guess would be Kamloops and Chilliwack. For one, both those teams are currently right behind Seattle in the standings and secondly the T-Birds have two games left on the schedule against both teams (beginning Tuesday night at home vs. the Blazers). Additionally the other three teams in the B.C. Division are currently at least 3 games above .500. Chilliwack is only a game above .500 and Kamloops is 4 games below. Of the four games left against those two teams, three of those games will be played at the ShoWare Center. The 'Birds have already played twice in Chilliwack (1-0-1-0 with 3 pts earned) and once in Kamloops (0-0-1-0). A win Tuesday would mean a split against the Blazers on home ice (Kamloops beat the T-Birds at the ShoWare Center back on January 18th) with one final meeting with the Blazers in Kamloops on February 9th. The Bruins must travel to Kent twice. At the moment Seattle has a game in hand on Kamloops while Chilliwack has 3 games in hand on the T-Birds.

I mentioned that the 'Birds (and 'Tips) may have the rougher schedule remaining when compared to B.C. Division teams but for Chilliwack, of their remaining 30 games, 12 will be against the U.S. Division. They play in Kent twice and host Everett once. the other nine games will be against Portland (3), Spokane (3) and Tri-City (3). And while Kamloops, with 16 games left, is pretty much done playing the U.S. Division this season (one game left against the T-Birds after Tuesday's game, one left against Everett and three against Tri-City), they finish February with a five-game road trip against the top five teams in the very tough Central Division. Furthermore, the Blazers and Bruins still face each other five more times, much like Seattle and Everett still have five games head-to-head left on their schedules.

At the moment Seattle occupies 7th place in the Western Conference. If they can hold that spot they would be in the postseason. The T-Birds have gone 3-8-1-0 since the break. They sit a game below .500 for the first time since September 26th (1-2). They have 17 home games left and 10 on the road. They play their U.S. Division opponents 17 more times, the B.C. division 9 more and one against the Edmonton Oil Kings of the Central Division. believe they will have to play better than .500 on home ice the rest of the way and steal some road points, even if its an overtime or shootout point, to garner a postseason berth. I believe it won't be easy but it's doable. It has to start Tuesday night at the Sho against Kamloops.