Friday, December 25, 2009

Sobering Egg Nog - We Might Miss the Playoffs

First off, Merry Christmas to everyone! It is a drizzling day here in South Carolina, far from the white Christmas weather I grew up with. Some traditions don't change, though, such as getting up early for a nice, big breakfast. Then, we make our way over to the tree and get into the presents. Without fail, the afternoon always turns into a quiet period where the family naps, reads the instruction manual of whatever big gift they received, or in my case, stops to pound out a quick blog.

Back to the headline: I said at the beginning of the season that the schedule can be broken down by points per month to help us determine how we need to do to make the playoffs. Read the article and argue with it here. We are rapidly approaching the first barometer and the news isn't good. I said we needed to have 50 points by the end of December to set a healthy pace to get to the 94 point magic number in April. Here at the Christmas break, we sit in 3rd place in the division with 40 points and only four games left this month. We have Buffalo on Saturday and we usually handle them well; we have Montreal on Monday and we've split with them so far; Colorado on Thursday will be a test and the Islanders on Thursday should be a win, given their recent struggles.

Either way, we're behind the pace. I know it isn't science, but it takes into account the opponents we've had thus far and the opponents we have coming up. For example, we have Boston three times in January. Do you want to wager a bet that Tim Thomas will be in the pipes for all three of those games? Here are a few other causes for concern:

- of the 37 games we have played so far, 21 have been at home. So of the 45 games we have remaining, 25 will be on the road. Problem - we're 5-10-1 on the road this year (compared to 13-5-3 at home). I can't remember a time when there was such a difference in home and away records. What I do know is that playing a lot on the road this spring doesn't bode well for wins, given how we've done so far.

- Alfie is hurt. We won't know until Saturday how bad the injury is and perhaps he'll be all ready to go. But the captain took a jarring hit from Adams - I personally thought that while the hit was clean, it was a blatant show of disrespect for a classy player in Alfie. I know that all players are fair game out there, but Alfie was fighting for the puck with Gonchar and Adams went out of his way to knock out one of the game's stars. Don't worry, I know that a similar discussion can be had for the Drury hit from Neil. I am not a pacifist and I still love fighting in hockey. I just think that there are players that you can hit and there are players that deserve more respect. The league continues to do NOTHING to protect its star players and they'll pay dearly for it when someone like Ovechkin misses half a season with a concussion.

But back to the other point - we stink without Alredsson. Completely terrible. I am expecting some beat writer to pull out our actual record without Alfie in the lineup, but I know it is so far below .500 that it is embarassing. Even the Leafs won without Sundin. Without Alfie, our players look lost and without purpose. If this injury keeps him out even 2-3 weeks, we're going to fall out of the picture and put ourselves in an uphill battle for the remainder of the year. (Update: we are 6-18-3 without Alfie. In a related story, I just threw up.).

- We still don't have a #1 centre. Stop ripping on Spezza for his slow start. He was coming along very well in the last two weeks and now we've lost him for two months. Regardless of his stats this year, it is insanely hard to win games without a number one centre. If nothing else, teams still have to put their top defensive pairing on the ice against him and Michalek, leaving more ice for Kovalev and Fisher. With Spezza out, teams can hone in on lesser players and stunt out already mediocre offence.

- Teams are getting to overtime at a striking pace. Can't remember the source, but games getting to overtime are up slightly over 20% this year. This means that those participation points are being thrown around to all sorts of teams. The 94 point threshold might not even hold up at this stage if teams have 10+ overtime losses.

And some quick hits:
- Our #1 goalie has a 2.98 GAA and .890 save percentage
- Our highest scoring defenceman has 14pts (Picard) and we're almost halfway through the year. Do the math - we probably won't have a single defenceman hit the 30 point mark.
- Our powerplay specialist has 5 points on the powerplay (1g, 4a).
- We will not have an 80pt scorer this year; possibly won't even have a 70pt player.
- Our powerplay number of 15.8% is fourth worst in the league

Listen, I'm the eternal optimist and love this team. I badly want to see us playing into April and May again and really think we can pull it off. I just see some disturbing trends that give me pause when planning trips to Ottawa for postseason games. If Alfredsson's injury is a few weeks or more and if we don't learn to win on the road, then dare I say our season ends in mid-April again.

Glass half empty? Maybe, but these guys better get back to winning.