One of my favorite websites that I use daily to check in with the pulse of hockey is SportsClubStats.com. It lists the odds for teams of nearly all sports to makes the playoffs. It’s quite a handy tool, with charts that help explain and show the mathematical analysis of each team’s progress.
Sports Club Stats calculates each team’s odds of making the playoffs, how each upcoming game will impact those odds, and how well they have to finish out to have a shot. It knows the season schedule and scores for past games. Each night it grabs any new scores from the internet and simulates the rest of the season by randomly picking scores for each remaining game.
I was always terrible in math, so thank goodness for a service like this. I don’t have to do any work.
As of February 12th, the Sabres are up to 52.5%, which is the highest ranking they’ve had on this site for a very long time. Buffalo’s chances hit 57.3% – after a win in October vs. the Senators – the third game into the regular season.
For the bulk of the season between, the Sabres were mired anywhere between 3% and 20%, usually towards the lower end of that measure.
So, how can it be that a team that has been mathematically out of analytical contention for so long, suddenly be a relevant contender for the post season again?
Well, if EA Sports NHL 2001 taught us, it was the importance of momentum (and the need to change lines frequently, or face the dire consequences). Hit the 1:30 mark of the video to see what I mean:
Momentum, again, is a huge part of the game. Coaches talk about it during winning and losing streaks; players talk about it to reporters between the periods of one game. “You know, we just gotta’ keep our legs moving, and capitalize on our chances. Gotta’ stay consistent, and work hard every shift. Ya’ know?”
Right now the Sabres have a ton of math and momentum behind them. On ESPN, Scott Burnside and Pierre LeBrun discussed Buffalo’s recent winning streak, and if the team can finally break back into the top 8 in the Eastern Conference. LeBrun:
“…Making up ground late in the season seems like skating in quicksand, unless you’re the Buffalo Sabres. Another win last night, and suddenly the Sabres are just two points out of the eighth spot in the East with two games in hand on Carolina. You heard here first: the Sabres are making the playoffs this season.”
Burnside sided with his hometown team, Atlanta, to make it, despite pouring out plenty of reasons to take confidence in the Blue and Gold:
“I am not sold yet on the Sabres, although having won eight of their past 11 contests is surely impressive. The power play is also starting to cook, which is crucial. During this stretch, they have beaten Tampa Bay, Boston and Montreal. That’s the key if you’re trying to make up ground, beating the also-rans and getting points against good teams. The Sabres have done that.”
The Sabres have indeed done a lot. After spending most of the season ridiculously lost from playoff contention, they have overcome injury and ownership change to assault the standings.
They now sit just 2 points out. Credit coach Lindy Ruff for getting his team to inch its way up the mathematical ladder to this point. Now, one game out, it’s up to the players to take care of the momentum on the ice, and finish the job.