The Dallas Stars have been the best team in the league over the span of the last 50 games.
After erasing a 1-7-1 start to the season, the 33-12-5 record during that stretch has Dallas currently tied in points with the St. Louis Blues atop the Western Conference. With two games in hand, the Colorado Avalanche sit behind them with just a two-point deficit. All three have seven-plus point leads on the other Central teams battling for a Wild Card spot, and with less than 25 games left in the season, they’re likely locked into the three top spots in their division.
The three teams appear to be on a collision course with one another, though. With home ice advantage and first round playoff position implications, the tight race will be a big storyline as the regular season ticks by.
By analyzing the remaining schedules of all three teams, are there any places where one might hold an advantage over the other based on who they have left to faceoff against?
Home vs Road Record
Here’s the home and road records for the three teams and how many games of each the teams have remaining this season.
Based on current home and road records, the Blues are more likely to pick up the most points at home (by the slimmest of margins over the Stars) and the Avalanche are more likely to pick up the most points on the road compared to the other teams. If each team maintains its current home and road points percentages, the final projected points for the remaining schedule combined with their current points earned put the teams almost as close as can possibly be: 103.0 (Dallas), 103.1 (St. Louis), 103.5 (Colorado).
Teams Remaining By Division
But not all games are created equal. The NHL has created schedules that are more heavily weighted towards divisional play down the stretch. Here’s the team’s remaining schedules versus the East and their corresponding records against each Eastern Division:
The Blues have a lot of games versus the East compared to the Stars and Avalanche, and they’ve been pretty good against the other conference this season. Here’s what games the teams have left versus the West:
While each team has seven games versus the Central left, the Avalanche only have one of those games versus either of the other two teams. The Blues and Stars, however, have two key matchups versus one another in the coming 10 or so days, meaning that those games will have an even heavier weight on the outcome of end of season standings.
Assuming that each team performs the same as they have versus each division and considering each team’s remaining schedule, the Stars actually project to win the Central — but by the slimmest of margins: 104.3 (Dallas), 104.0 (Colorado), 102.5 (St. Louis).
As it stands this morning, the Pacific Division is more than up for grabs, which means that at any given point, any of nine teams could be fighting for the last two Wild Card spots as the top of the Pacific shifts: Edmonton Oilers, Vancouver Canucks, Vegas Golden Knights, Calgary Flames, Arizona Coyotes, Nashville Predators, Winnipeg Jets, and to lesser extents (until they fall even further off the pace) the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild.
These are what I’ll call the “Desperation Clubs”. The matchups with these specific teams will be even more intense, and the intensity of getting points to firm up standing positioning will have to match that of teams trying to acquire a Wild Card position to make the postseason.
Colorado has 11 games versus Desperation Clubs, while Dallas has 10 and St. Louis has just five. At the end of the day, St. Louis will need to focus on those matchups versus Dallas and Colorado while both Dallas and Colorado will have to focus on bringing that intensity nearly every game instead. That can be an advantage for both Colorado and Dallas — the switch won’t have to be flipped because it’ll be set in the on position instead.
No matter how you slice it, it appears that the Stars, Avalanche and Blues are locked into a tight race for standings position that is likely to go down to the wire. However, if the Blues don’t turn their recent stretch of play around (they’re 2-6-2 in their last 10 games played), it could quickly become a two-horse race.