2012 NHL Playoffs: Can The Sabres Actually Make A Run At This?

ANAHEIM, CA - FEBRUARY 29: Sheldon Brookbank #21 of the Anaheim Ducks and Tyler Myers #57 of the Buffalo Sabres fight in the closing minutes of the third period at Honda Center on February 29, 2012 in Anaheim, California. The Sabres defeated the Ducks 2-0. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)

The Buffalo Sabres sit two points behind the Winnipeg Jets with one game in hand on the Jets. In the process, they have to leapfrog two teams, the Washington Capitals and Tampa Bay Lightning, to get to the eighth place spot. With 17 games left to play, is the schedule going to be a negative or positive to the Sabres chances to making the playoffs.

The Sabres have 17 games left this season, ten on the road and seven at home. In fact, the rest of the schedule looks like this:

Date Opponent
3/5 @ Winnipeg
3/7 vs. Carolina
3/8 @ Boston
3/10 @ Ottawa
3/12 vs. Montreal
3/14 vs. Colorado
3/17 @ Florida
3/19 @ Tampa Bay
3/21 vs. Montreal
3/23 @ New York Rangers
3/24 vs. Minnesota
3/27 @ Washington
3/30 vs. Pittsburgh
3/31 @ Toronto
4/3 vs. Toronto
4/5 @ Philadelphia
4/7 @ Boston

At first glance, that schedule looks quite daunting as it is a lot of games squeezed into a small time frame against a bunch of quality opponents. The Sabres have to face the Bruins two more times, the Rangers once on the road, and the Flyers once on the road. They also have three games against teams that they are currently chasing in the playoff standings, starting Monday against Winnipeg, and two more against a Toronto team trying to fight their way back into the race after stumbling out of it in the last couple of weeks.

Using Pythagorean expectations, explanation of which can be found here, the Sabres appear to have the toughest road to making the playoffs. In the 17 games left, they have an average expected winning percentage of .479 which is the worst among all of the playoff contenders in front of them. The Sabres have four games where their chances of winning sit around 30%, road games against Winnipeg, Boston and the Rangers.

A couple things to note about the Pythagorean expectations I use. The expected winning percentages are based on the opponent's ability to win the game. Hence, it takes into account how good/bad the opponent is in their respective games rather than the actual's team abilities at home or on the road. It also has a tendency to regress expectations back to the mean so most of the winning percentages are going to be close to .500.

After the jump, the schedules of the contenders.

Winnipeg

Winnipeg is currently in the driver's seat as they sit in eighth place. The major issue for them is that every team chasing them has at least one game in hand on them. The team has the second easiest schedule down the stretch with an average winning percentage of .503. The Jets have nine road games and seven home games left on the schedule and has five games against teams chasing them in the standings. They also have a crucial five game road trip to essentially close out the end of the season.

Date Opponent
3/5 vs. Buffalo
3/8 @ Vancouver
3/9 @ Calgary
3/14 vs. Dallas
3/16 vs. Washington
3/18 vs. Carolina
3/20 @ Pittsburgh
3/23 @ Washington
3/24 @ Nashville
3/26 vs. Ottawa
3/28 vs. New York Rangers
3/30 @ Carolina
3/31 @ Tampa Bay
4/3 @ Florida
4/5 @ New York Islanders
4/7 vs. Tampa Bay

Washington

The Washington Capitals have 18 games left in the season and have an interesting schedule on the road to the playoffs. While they have winnable games against Tampa Bay, Carolina, and Winnipeg all at home, they have to face off against Boston, the Rangers, and Detroit all at home. In the middle of March, the Capitals have a five game road trip that features games against Winnipeg, Chicago, and Detroit. The Capitals have an average expected winning percentage of .493, the second lowest among the four teams under consideration.

Date Opponent
3/4 vs. Philadelphia
3/6 vs. Carolina
3/8 vs. Tampa Bay
3/10 @ Boston
3/11 vs. Toronto
3/13 @ NY Islanders
3/16 @ Winnipeg
3/18 @ Chicago
3/19 @ Detroit
3/22 @ Philadelphia
3/23 vs. Winnipeg
3/25 vs. Minnesota
3/27 vs. Buffalo
3/29 @ Boston
3/31 vs. Montreal
4/2 @ Tampa Bay
4/5 vs. Florida
4/7 @ NY Rangers

Tampa Bay

The Tampa Bay Lightning may have the easiest schedule heading into the road to the playoffs as they have a seven game home stand in the middle of March that features teams like Edmonton, the Islanders, and Carolina. The Lightning also have to close out the season on a three game road trip with games against Montreal, Toronto, and Washington. All of those home games gives the Lightning an expected winning percentage of .524. With 23% of all NHL games going to overtime this season, Tampa Bay is expected to pick up 22 points out of their final 18 games.

Date Opponent
3/6 vs. Ottawa
3/8 @ Washington
3/10 vs. Carolina
3/13 vs. Boston
3/15 vs. Toronto
3/17 vs. St. Louis
3/19 vs. Buffalo
3/22 vs. Edmonton
3/24 vs. NY Islanders
3/26 @ Philadelphia
3/27 @ Boston
3/29 @ New Jersey
3/31 vs. Winnipeg
4/2 vs. Washington
4/4 @ Montreal
4/5 @ Toronto
4/7 @ Winnipeg

The one thing we know for certainty in the last month? It's going to be a wild ride.

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