Preview: Game #48 Habs @ Leafs – NOT the last game of the season

Here we are. Game 82. Wait. Game 48. I was promised at the start of the season a hectic final day thanks to the short season, but it seems 14 of 16 playoff spots are already locked down, and in the East, the only thing that can change is some shuffling of seeds.

This won’t be much of a preview. This time in the season you can throw out the predictive numbers, in part because they won’t have too much effect on the final standings, but mostly because teams play at half speed when the games don’t particularly matter. This game either doesn’t particularly matter. There’s talk about going into the playoffs on a high note, but that doesn’t matter at all.

Stanley Cup-winning teams are 4-4-2 with 1 tie in their last game of the regular season since the 30-team expansion. The 2002 Detroit Red Wings won just one of their last 10 games before going on to win the Cup.

What’s at stake?

As it stands, there’s a real good chance this game doesn’t mean a whole heck of a lot. Sports Club Stats has Montreal at a 67% chance of finishing in the four spot. Sports Club Stats has Toronto at a 92% chance of finishing in the five spot.

So that gives us a 62% chance at a Montreal-Toronto playoff matchup.

For Toronto to move down and have a date with the Washington Capitals, they would need a regulation loss and for the Ottawa Senators to win back-to-back days against Philadelphia and Boston.

For Montreal to move up, they need to match Boston’s points, but the Bruins get two games, one against Washington and the other of course against Ottawa.

So we won’t know until tomorrow’s game, re-scheduled after the Boston bombing, what any of the Eastern matchups will be. Depending on what happens at the end of the 7:00 games tonight, (particularly Ottawa-Philly) we may know if it will indeed be the Leafs and the Habs.

What complicates things further is that our scenario hinges on either Ottawa or Boston winning both their games. Since they play each other… both things can’t happen.

One man’s opinion

Interesting piece about Dustin Byfuglien in the Winnipeg Free Press that blamed a lot of the issues that the Winnipeg Jets face on Big Buff. I can’t say I agree with a word of Gary Lawless’ opinion:

Byfuglien won a Stanley Cup as a complementary player with the Chicago Blackhawks. Since he’s been elevated into a primary role with the franchise now known as the Winnipeg Jets, there have been no playoff games. Not one over the last three years.

There are all sorts of issues that add up to this result but Byfuglien is a major part of the formula that hasn’t produced.

The 28-year-old Minnesota native played in 43 games this season, scoring eight goals and 20 assists. Solid offensive numbers, but too often the production came at a cost. The Jets were among the worst defensive teams in the league, ranked 25th with 141 goals against.

I bring this up here because it’s a familiar refrain. I think Dion Phaneuf takes a lot of undue heat in this market. He’s wildly different than Byfuglien, but is a big-minute defenceman that is hardly the problem for each of their respective teams. After five games, there was buy-out talk about Phaneuf, but after a few months, it seems he’ll have captained the Leafs to a playoff berth. Hmm.

You can’t mention that the Jets are 25th in goals against without pointing to Ondrej Pavelec, who tends goal for them. Remember, about 75 to 80 per cent of goals are scored from prime scoring chance locations. Even a good defensive team can expect to give up 10 or 12 prime scoring chances a game. Rather than focusing on whether a goal is the fault of the defenders or the goaltender, you’re better off comparing the number of saves a goaltender makes to his peers.

Look at James Reimer’s effect on Phaneuf’s +/- since he became a Leaf:

  Dion Phaneuf’s +/-
James Reimer +13
Other Leaf Goalies -15

Now, Phaneuf is minus-18 total since coming to Toronto, so I’m guessing the remaining minus-16 comes from shorthanded situations or empty net situations. The point moreso is that the difference between a top-ranked defence and a low-ranked defence is goaltending.

Bozak banged up

Tyler Bozak is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Just an optional skate for this morning so we don’t know any other Leafs lineup news. Peter Budaj will tend nets for Montreal and the belief is that it will be James Reimer for the Leafs. Price has not been himself for the last two weeks or so but he had a good outing Thursday in Winnipeg, so I guess Michel Therrien just wants to keep him healthy heading into the postseason.

We’ll have a recap after the game.