Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Burning Question: Can The Pens Make The Playoffs?

Spurred on by the post at the Pensblog which was inspired by the From The Rink folks I thought I'd take a look at the Pens playoff chances with exactly 24 games remaining. From the Rink said the Pens had to have 90ish points to even have a slight shot, and that 92 would make them reasonably safe. The Pensblog concluded with the 92 assessment and then took an in-depth look at the Pens schedule to try to find if that's even possible. (it's just conceivable enough to keep you interested for the next couple weeks. Beyond that who the hell knows?) I'm not trying to redo what they did. No one knows the Pens better than those guys, so we'll stick with that.

I'm just going to try to figure out exactly how difficult this going to be to leapfrog (at least) two teams given our schedule. I started out a post a couple weeks ago with this in mind, but it didn't turn out at all how I wanted, so we'll try this again, this time enforcing more of the statistical type stuff (HOORAY! I get to use my college education for something! Its about damn time.) Here is what the Eastern Conference standings look like as of 6:59 this evening. I didn't feel like shifting this thing around after the conclusion of tonight's games. So that's how things look in the East right now. That puts the Pens 4 points out and having played 1 more game than the 8th place Sabres and 2 more games than the 7th place Panthers. They are also 1 point back of the Hurricanes with 1 more game played. Certainly not ideal. So let's project these out based on the season long Points Earned Per GameSo that shows the Pens are on pace to finish 7 points out of the final playoff spot in the East with just 85 points. It shows that the 92 point guess is probably a pretty good one. But lets go a little more in-depth. I don't think anyone is going to buy that what a team did in November should have an impact on how we project their finish. For the Pens, its pretty apparent they are a very different squad from the one that got off to an excellent start. So instead, I'm going to pick an arbitrary number, say the last 20 games, and project out the points based on the Points Earned Per Game during that stretch for the top 10 teams in the East. Let's see where the leaves us. And sorry Maple Leaf, Senator, Lightning, Thrasher and Islanders fans, but I don't have the kind of time to do everyone's projection. (Calculating...Calculating....Calculating...)

And here are the results!This was more than a little surprising to me. It turns out the Pens aren't the only free-falling Eastern Conference team. But it does show how bad things will get for the Pens if they don't turn things around. I also probably could've done a better job with this if I had some more time (maybe added in some weights or something to early season games) but this is as good as I can do. It does offer some encouragement as it shows a much lower "cut" line at just 89 points for the playoffs because of how the number of struggling East teams and the top heavy nature of the conference right now.

Again, I think that the aforementioned sites probably have it about right when they say 90 will be very close and 92 should get you in. When you consider the Pens average 1.03 Points Per Game right now, they would need to up that to 1.25 to get to 90 and 1.333 to get to 92. Or, an increase of 21.6% over their normal expected output to get to 90 and 29.9% to get to 92. That's a big jump folks.

Another analytical angle: What is the average record of the teams the Pens are playing down the stretch, to give us an idea of the competition they are facing. Well, it turns out the Pens average opponent has 62.75 points right now. That puts them 2.75 points ahead of the Pens and oddly almost exactly in line with the NHL average of 62.733. So the Pens have to make up 4+ points on multiple teams with a schedule that has teams tougher than them on it and is basically exactly the same with what their opponents should be facing? That's not an encouraging sign, either.

Don't take any of this too harshly Pens fans. Its just math, and in sports, math is never an all-knowing science, but I do hope this puts some things in perspective. I'm not saying the Pens won't or can't make the playoffs, but I am saying that the team is going to have to play like a whole new team if they are going to do so, and even then it could be tricky. Just some food for thought as we wait with baited breath for the stretch run.

1 comment:

Jonathan Bryant said...

I like the statistical analysis stuff. I think that last paragraph helps to justify why the team fired Therrien. Like you said, the Pens need to play like a whole new team and that wasn't going to happen with the same old coach. They needed a spark lit under them and this is the best shot for them. That said, I think this team still has a miraculous run into the playoffs somewhere in them.