5 Advantages Dallas Stars Have in 2014 Western Conference Wild Card Race
The Dallas Stars are currently 17 points behind the Colorado Avalanche for the last Central Division playoff berth, effectively leaving a wild-card spot as their only way into the postseason for the first time in six seasons. Can they make it?
Currently ninth in the Western Conference with 10 games to go in the regular season, the Stars are three points behind the Phoenix Coyotes for that last spot and three up on the 10th-place Vancouver Canucks.
As such, the easy answer is “Yes.” The not-so-easy answer revolves around “if” they will or not.
After all, according to Sports Club Stats, they have just a 37.3 percent chance. However, fans need not lose hope—mainly because of the following five advantages the Stars hold over their closest competition.
5. Games in Hand
The old adage goes “Win and you’re in.” To a certain degree that holds true here for the Stars.
While the Coyotes do in fact have 82 points to the Stars’ 79, Dallas has one game in hand. Dallas also has 30 regulation & overtime victories compared to the Coyotes’ 29. So if the Stars are able to capitalize on that extra game and manage to even tie Phoenix come the end of the season, they will be the ones to move on.
The Stars also have one game in hand over the Canucks, putting them even more firmly in the driver’s seat.
Now, one can make a pretty good argument that games in hand do not really constitute an advantage, as they represent more of a quirk of the schedule than anything the Stars themselves have accomplished (or have yet to accomplish). However, that the Stars are still relatively control of their own destiny at this stage of the season cannot be overstated.
Meanwhile, speaking of the schedule…
4. Easier Schedule
Six of the Stars’ 10 remaining games may be on the road, but five are against non-playoff teams. Also, five are against decidedly weaker Eastern Conference competition.
Compared to the Canucks’ remaining nine games (six at home), it’s a veritable walk in the park. The Canucks may play five straight at home at one point, but they’re all against teams currently in the playoffs and above them in the standings.
Relative to the Coyotes’ remaining schedule (five at home), the Stars again hold a slight edge. While the Coyotes also have five games left against non-playoff teams, just one is against an Eastern team (the desperate Columbus Blue Jackets, on April 8).
Also of note, it just so happens that one of those five games is against the Stars (April 13). It’s also the last game of the season for both teams. Admittedly, that doesn’t necessarily favor the Stars (they will be visiting team after all), but it does favor the fans hoping for an exciting end to the season.
It also further plays into the narrative that Dallas is in control of its own destiny.
Ironically, Dallas does not have the star power of a team like Vancouver (Sedin twins). However—perhaps even more ironically—they have scored significantly more (203 times to Vancouver's 177 to be precise). The Coyotes also just barely fall short of the Stars' total, with 202 goals of their own (in one more game).
True, the Stars are far from a powerhouse when it comes to offense. However, the duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are putting the best the Canucks have to offer to shame night in and night out.
It wasn’t too long ago that the Sedins were annual Art Ross Trophy contenders, so consider this fun fact all the more impressive: Combined, Benn and Seguin have 54 more points than the Sedins.
In fact, the higher-scoring Sedin, Henrik, only has 46 points total. And—oh, yeah—according to TVA’s Renaud Lavoie, he’s now out for two weeks with a lower-body injury.
No one is debating that the Stars haven’t been hit hard by injuries, as Rich Peverley’s cardiac event will attest to. However, the Canucks and Coyotes are arguably in worse shape.
Losing Henrik Sedin is obviously a huge loss for Vancouver, but it becomes that much more significant when one considers the other injuries that the Canucks are dealing with.
According to Vancouver’s official injury report, defenseman Christopher Tanev and depth forwards Mike Santorelli and Alexandre Burrows—the latter having complemented the Sedins nicely in the past—are all out as well.
Meanwhile, Mike Smith, the Coyotes’ No. 1 goalie, fell awkwardly—and uncomfortably for anyone who dares to watch the above clip—during his team’s overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Monday night. He’s now day-to-day.
Needless to say, neither the Canucks nor the Coyotes needed this recent turn of events. However, seeing as the Stars were already arguably the stronger overall team of the three, neither did they.
1. Advanced Stats
While it should be relatively obvious by now that the last Western wild-card spot is the Stars’ to lose, the underlying stats reveal the exact same thing.
Advanced possession metrics like Fenwick and Corsi, which track shot attempts, show Dallas is a top-10 team right now (eighth in Fenwick, 10th in Corsi). The Canucks, who at this point only have an outside-at-best chance of catching them—let alone the Coyotes—and making the playoffs, are 12th and 14th respectively.
Phoenix is surprisingly even worse off than the Canucks in each category (18th and 15th respectively). If the final playoff spot were to come down to that final game of the season between the Stars and Coyotes, it’s clear the former should have a decided advantage based on their superior ability at controlling the puck.
Admittedly, in a one-off situation like that, anything can happen, and, to a certain degree, luck can indeed become a factor. While PDO measurements (the metric which combines save and shooting percentages to estimate luck) have shown Phoenix to be the luckier team of the three up to now, the Stars aren’t exactly far behind (.997 to 1.000).
Hell, they might even be due for a lucky bounce here or there down the stretch. However, all the facts say that it won’t even need to get to that point.