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The Playoffs are on the Line This Week

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The Thrashers lost to the Flyers in a pathetic effort that frustrated the few people who came out to watch the game in person. I posted before the game that this was a big one because of the franchise record of getting kicked around by Philly and the pattern of falling on their faces every time they got close to moving into playoff position. I was very frustrated after the game. I could just rip the team but that would accomplish little other than make me feel slightly better.

Instead I'm going to try and get some perspective. Should I give up on the playoffs after last night? Was this loss a reason to turn out the lights on the season? As frustrating as the Philadelphia game was--I have to say that answer to both questions is still no. The team is still alive and kicking BUT the next week is perhaps the most important week in a very critical month. Let me explain why.

If you look at the updated standing you might think, "well the Thrashers are just 2 points out of the 8th and final playoff spot so that's not so bad, right?" But as Rawhide pointed out in his recent blog post you have to take into account the fact that Thrashers have played more game than most of the non-playoff position teams.

Rawhide suggested a more realistic way to look at the standing is the points above or below .500 mark. I've updated the "Real Standing" below and you can see that the Thrashers would need to pick up 5 points to get back into the top 8 and above Carolina.

Real NHL Standings
+17 Ottawa (Division Leader)
+9 New Jersey (Division Leader)
+8 Pittsburgh
+8 Montreal
+6 Philadelphia
+4 Boston
+4 Rangers
+3 Carolina (Division Leader)
--------------Playoff Cutoff
+3 Islanders
+1 Buffalo
-1 Atlanta
-2 Toronto
-2 Florida
-3 Washington
-6 Tampa

Now you might think "well, a 5 point deficit that's not so bad" but consider this--there is a very good chance that deficit will grow this week and this month. Why? The schedule. Consider the Thrashers opposition in the next week: Florida, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Montreal. Nobody is beating Detroit so that is a likely loss. Pittsburgh and Montreal are both ahead of the Thrashers and should be favored to win. Atlanta should be favored against Florida.

If the Thrashers only win the games they are favored to win this week they will go 1-3 and fall another -2 points down the "Real Standings" into a tie with Washington for 13th/14th in the East. A seven point deficit is enormous in the modern NHL where teams often get an extra point for a OT or SO loss. It is very important that the Thrashers split those four games and get at least 4 points in the next four games. The playoffs are on the line this week in my opinion.

January is the Thrashers toughest month in terms of opposition winning percentage. I expect the Thrashers to finish this month with a losing record. (Last season the opponent's winning percentage was a fairly good predictor of how the Thrashers did.) The good new is that the Thrashers schedule gets easier in February, March and April--but that only matters if the Thrashers stay within range during January. 6 of the remaining 9 January Thrashers games are against teams currently in playoff position.

The team must survive this month to make a run in February, March , April when the schedule shifts back to most intra-divisional games. If the Thrashers can mange to come out of January just 5 or 6 points out in the real standings I think they have a solid shot at climbing back up to the final spot in the final two months.

Atlanta Thrashers Strength of Schedule by Month
(Opponent's Points-Per-Game Average)
1.06 OCT
1.03 NOV
1.10 DEC
1.11 JAN
1.06 FEB
1.02 MAR/APR