What the Kings have to do, and who they have to do it to

You'll recall that last season people were saying it might take, 97, 98 or even 100 points to make the playoffs in the West. At the time, I said, it's likely going to be 95 points. I was called "optimistic" (the polite version). The threshold turned out to be 95 points. This year, on cue, we're hearing the same predictions that it will take 100 points to get in, and again, I say, it won't. If I had to guess, I would say 94 points will be enough.

Sportsclubstats runs millions of simulations of the season, updating every day, and whether you're Detroit, Calgary or LA, 94 points is enough 90% of the time. 93 is probably enough (70-80%), 92 is getting into iffy territory, etc.. But there's just no foundation to the idea that it's likely to take more than 95, much less 100.

To understand why, you have to keep in mind that the teams who are competing for playoff spots are playing each other. The Kings, for example, are done playing Eastern Conference teams by mid-February.

As it stands right now, if you randomize the outcome of every remaining game for every team in the NHL season, the Kings make the playoffs just better than 50% of the time, in 10,000,000 simulations. In a weighted model, where the team with the better record is given a small edge (and I believe they take back-to-backs and home ice into account, too), the Kings' odds rise to 70%.

This is the same ballpark as the odds for basically every other team in the West, except the top three teams and the Oilers, whose odds are better (or worse), respectively.

The Kings need a record of 21-14-3 (.592) to get to 94 points. To put that in perspective, the Kings were 22-12-1 through December 27.

Some other points:

  • There are 38 games left. Twenty-two of them are against the ten teams with whom we are in direct competition for the 4th-8th seeds. Five will make it; five won't. The ten teams include everyone in the west except DET, DAL and VAN (who are out of reach, for now) and EDM (who is not a threat, for now).
  • Remaining games against those teams: ANA 4x, PHX 4x, SJS 3x, COL 2x, MIN 2x, CGY 2x, CBJ 2x, STL 2x, NSH 1x, CHI done.
  • The February road-trip. I keep reading how this is the thing that will doom the Kings. I don't see this as a rough patch at all. In fact, I can't wait.
  • For my own comfort, I like to make a second calculation regarding the remaining schedule. My feeling is, if the Kings need to win 5 or 6 of their last 7 games in order to make the playoffs, they're not getting in. They need to alleviate the pressure before it gets down to April.
  • I would like the Kings to get to 90 points with seven games left to get to 94. That's my own personal anxiety speaking. But let's look at those numbers anyway.
  • That means the Kings would need to get 41 points in 31 games. That's a .661 stretch. That's a 20-10-1 record. That's possibly a tall order, butiisn't that basically what we expect of them anyway -- winning two games out of every three -- and then they would have some breathing room when they get back home for the final seven. 
  • I think it's interesting the Cup champion Blackhawks are in nearly exactly the same situation as the Kings. The Hawks are 3 points ahead of the Kings, but the Kings have 2 games in hand. When I look at the Hawks' schedule, though, it just looks deadly.
  • Look first at how their season ends. ANA, BOS, DET, CBJ, TBL, MTL, STL, DET, DET. Just the fact that they close out with two games against the Red Wings (and three in the last nine) is cause for concern. If DET has the chance to kill the Hawks' playoff hopes, they will find a way to do it. I find it pretty easy to imagine Chicago losing most of those games.
  • In the 21 games before that last stretch, they have out-of-conference games against PHI and PIT and twelve against rivals who hate them (VAN, DET, STL, DAL, NSH, CBJ, PHX). Like the Kings, the Hawks have to finish the season six or seven games over .500.
  • While we're at it: the Ducks. They also appear to be ahead of the Kings, by virtue of having played three more games. Like LA and CHI, they need to play seven games over .500 to get to 94 (19-12-4 from here on). But starting February 1, they have SJS, COL, VAN, WSH, MIN, STL, LAK, MIN, COL, DET, DAL, VAN, NYR, COL, PHX, STL, LAK, DAL, NSH, CHI, COL, and then close out the season with SJS, DAL, SJS, LAK, LAK. (Somewhere in there they also have three against CGY and one against EDM -- "easy" games.) Put it this way: if they make the playoffs, they deserve it. I prefer to think that they're doomed.
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