The top four teams in the Western Conference Wild Card race — the Dallas Stars, Minnesota Wild, Arizona Coyotes, and Colorado Avalanche — are all separated by three points with 12-14 games left in the season. Only two of these teams will get into the playoffs. Here’s a look at each of the four teams in the race, with a look at what’s going good, bad, and potential X-factors.
Right now, the Avalanche are last in the race, they’ve played the most games of the bunch and have the fewest wins in regulation and overtime (ROW) which is the first tiebreaker. When factoring in rosters and point production, the Avalanche have the worst odds of the group to make the playoffs (according to Micah, Dom L., and Money Puck).
Playoff chances, West and East. pic.twitter.com/h8bCsmSzBl— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) March 12, 2019
The Avs have the most ground to make up of the four, and it won’t be easy with their schedule including two back-to-backs, all of the teams they’re fighting against, the league’s best at the beginning of April. Chris did a great breakdown of the full schedule in the link below if you want to have a look at it. It’s a relentless push to the finish, and it doesn’t help that Dallas has two games on them.
In terms of personnel, the Avs have never had consistent goaltending throughout the season. Sure, we’ve seen the odd shutout by Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer, but both their save percentages are below the league average among regular goalies. Looking at all situations save percentages among the 45 goalies who have played in 1000 minutes this season, Varlamov is 24th and Grubauer is 36th.
By most shot metrics, including Evolving Hockey’s expected goals, the Avalanche are an exactly league average team. They’re just outside of the top-10 in goals for, but fall as a result of poor defense and goaltending. With the ground they have to cover, playing league average hockey will make it really hard to make up ground on the team, especially since the team’s third-leading scorer — the point-per-game captain Gabriel Landeskog — is out for the season with an injury.
The Coyotes have been very hot this month, winning eight of their last 10. The team is only just starting to come back to full strength, health-wise, and it’s paying dividends. Darcy Kuemper has a .918 save percentage this season, including a .935 in his last 10 games. If they can carry this goaltending through the 13 games left in their season, they should be able to pass Minnesota for the second wild card spot.
A lot of the accolades for Arizona’s success has been directed at head coach Rick Tocchet, who has been able to get a lot out of his ragtag team full of injuries every night. Personally, I listened to his interview with the 31 thoughts podcast and really liked how open, honest, funny, and dedicated he is to his young team. They seem to be responding well.
Unfortunately, the schedule isn’t going to be their friend from here on out. A lot of Arizona’s wins these past few weeks have come against pretty bad teams, or the Calgary Flames who are going through a goaltending trough. For the next 13 games, the Coyotes play six playoff teams, including Tampa Bay.
The Wild are in a precarious position with the Coyotes one point behind them with a game a hand. Their schedule looking forward is a lot like Colorado’s in that they have two back-to-backs, and a long homestand in the middle of the month (now), but the Wild have the most playoff teams ahead of them in the next 12 games in seven.
The Wild are a low-event team, meaning they rely on good goaltending and timely goals in order to succeed. On the season, starting goalie Devan Dubnyk has been about as good as Semyon Varlamov, but in his last 10, he’s been able to put up a .922 save percentage with his best nights coming against some of the best teams in the league (Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Calgary, St. Louis). Whether he can sustain that for the rest of the season will be the most important part of Minnesota’s success.
The Stars are by far in the best position heading into the playoffs. They have two games in hand on Minnesota and only five of their final 14 games coming up against playoff teams. On the other hand, they have three back-to-backs that all include travel before the back halves of those double headers.
Luckily for them, the Stars have two goaltenders who are playing great at the moment. Ben Bishop recently won second star of the week and is currently posting a .930 in 39 games this season; a .954 in his last 10 games! His partner, Anton Khudobin has a .924 this season and is going strong with a .925 in his last 10 starts since the beginning of February.
Bishop stopped all 59 shots he faced over two appearances to help the Stars (35-28-5, 75 points) earn two wins and maintain the first Wild Card position in the Western Conference. Bishop, who registered consecutive shutouts for the first time in his NHL career (362 GP), made 28 saves in a 1-0 triumph over the New York Rangers March 5 and 31 stops in a 4-0 victory against the Colorado Avalanche March 7. In doing so, he became the first Dallas goaltender to post shutouts in consecutive team games since Kari Lehtonen from March 10-13, 2012.
Unfortunately, the Stars have one of the worst offenses in the league. After the Big-Three — who are each having disappointing seasons by their standards — there’s no forward on the team with 30 points on the season, which roughly equates to a 40-point scorer on an 82-game season. You can’t win with depth like that (looks at Joe Sakic).
Will the goaltending be able to hold this team up, or will it be time to take the horseshit out at the end of another disappointing season? It’s really . shame that their big trade deadline acquisition Mats Zuccarello could only play one game before breaking his arm.