Hockey NHL Playoffs

NHL North Division Playoff Probabilities: Canadiens or Flames?

The Habs pulled off a much needed win yesterday. The team was coming off a big win against their arch-rival but failed to use that momentum to create real separation between them and the Flames. With the NHL entering the home stretch, the Habs 3 game series against the Flames next week could decide who earns the 4th and final playoff spot.

Every time the Canadiens have had an opportunity to solidifying their playoff positioning, they have crumbled. On the flip side they have also put together some big time character wins which makes it hard to figure who this team is. This was the second mini-series between the two with playoff implications on the line and they after last night’s game the Flames now trail the Habs by 6 points. The Canadiens do have three games in hand though.

Typically holding this many games in hand with a better win percentage is a good start, but recency bias may have something to say about this. While the Habs have been treding water recently, the Flames are picking up momentum and are 3-1 in their last four.

As the playoff race heats up in the North Division, the statistical scenarios are going to be updated daily (some have already started). With this in mind, let’s take a look at a few numbers that may help give a more accurate projection. Or, in the more likely scenario, just some fun numbers to force into any argument you so choose!

Stats provided by Hockey-reference.com

For those not well versed in analytics, CF/CA represents Corsi For/Against, which is the sum of all shot attempts (on net, blocked, missed). FF/FA stands for Fenwick For/Against which is the sum of all non-blocked shots (on net, missed). The above table only takes in account shot attempts at Even Strength, and finally CF% and FF% are calculated using:

CF% = CF / (CF+CA)
FF% = FF / (FF+FA)

Ignoring the lop-sided head to head record, there are some positives for both teams. For the Flames they only have three games remaining against playoff bound teams (Montreal excluded). They have six games remaining against the teams below them, including four against Vancouver who will be returning from COVID protocols. What exactly their roster will look like is up in the air, however I would not write them off so quick. They were on a roll prior to their outbreak and an ‘Us Against the World’ attitude is not out of the question.

The Flames also play the majority of their games at home (8/12) with seven of these games against the Habs, Canucks and Sens. They are 5-1-1 at home against them combined with the some very strong CF% (57.1) and FF% (56.6) numbers in their favour.

The Canadiens have one more game on the road versus at home (7/8) which may be a blessing in disguise. The team has been more successful on the road and they will be picking up a few new bodies on the way! When the team arrives in Edmonton on Monday, Erik Gustafsson and Jon Merrill will be done their quarantine and will be allowed to join their new team. The province of Alberta has not been kind to the Habs, who despite their 0.500 Win% (2-2), have horrifying CF% (45.4) and FF% (45.9) numbers. Another underlying issue is that the law of averages dictates that McDavid and Draisaitl have some business to discuss with the Habs.

While this may paint a gloomy picture for the Habs, things are far from all bad. If we exclude the games between the Habs and Flames, and use previous results from this season to forecast who will make the playoffs the outlook becomes a bit more optimistic. The simple way of doing this would be to multiply each teams remaining game by the number of games left. This would give the Canadiens an additional ~7 (6.9) wins and the Flames ~4 (4.2). When added to each team’s current point totals this would give the Habs a 12 point lead over the Flames (61 points to 49).

We can use the data in the Table above to dig a little deeper for the stat nerds out there like me. If we seperate it be Home/Away record, and apply the same formula to each individual team, the Habs will pick up ~7 (6.8) wins to the Flames ~5 (4.7). Rounding up for both team’s the Habs would hold a 10 point lead over the Flames (61 and 51 respectively).

Essentially this would suggest that the Flames would have to run the table against the Habs and hope for a little bit of luck. Yes, I know past performance is never an indication of the future in sports, but this does paint an interesting narrative/scenario. This would put the Flames only four points back of the Habs, putting them well within range to usurp the final playoff spot.

It’s important to point out that the Habs will be getting Carey Price back into the lineup today to go along with Chiarot and Caufield (Taxi Squad) who have both joined the team. The Habs are the most dominant team at 5on5 in the North Division as made apparent by their strong CF% and FF% (except against the Flames) and if they’re Power Play can get into any kind of rhythm this team can go far.

Not to mention that Bergevin has a history of building team’s that perform better in the Playoffs. With their backs against the wall, maybe we start to see this team take playoff form at the right time.

As always don’t forget to check out the rest of the Hot Sauce Family as well as our Youtube Channel! In this week’s episode Peeze, Terry and Eagle recap Hideki Matsuyama’s historic win at the Masters, some controversies in the NFL and the NBA!

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