It’s March 1st and roughly the three-quarters mark in the 2013-14 NHL season, which means it’s time for the final Puck Prediction Playoff Forecast of the season (by April Fools’ Day we should have a good idea of who’s in, so it doesn’t make sense to do a forecast then). I’ve described my methods for producing these forecasts before, and since last month I’ve used my new method for regressing team statistics in-season to estimate where each team’s shooting percentage, save percentage, Fenwick Close %, and power-play and penalty-killing efficiency will lie at season’s end. Let’s see how things look as we head into the home stretch of the season.
In general, not much change from the finishes we forecasted in February. The biggest difference is in the playoff probabilities: put simply, teams are starting to run out of games, so the odds of bottom-feeder teams making a huge late-season push, as well as the odds of a top team collapsing, are rapidly disappearing. San Jose is (sigh) still looking at a first-round series against the Kings. Most interesting, however, might be a potential Chicago-Colorado series. When I see the Blackhawks this season, I can’t help but recall the 2011-12 Pittsburgh Penguins: like those Penguins, the Hawks are a dominant possession team with a ton of offensive firepower, but also like that Pittsburgh team, they could be undone by shaky goaltending, particularly against a high-scoring opponent like the Avalanche.
The only notable change from last month’s forecast is Ottawa’s fall out of the playoff picture, and the Capitals possibly snatching the last spot from Montreal. This would set them up for a playoff series against Boston, whom the model predicts to win the President’s Trophy. The Rangers’ play has steadily improved heading into the Olympic break, and the model has them narrowing the gap for first place in the Metropolitan Division, but it doesn’t look like they’ll quite catch the Penguins. The most interesting first-round match-up would still appear to be Pittsburgh-New Jersey: the Devils are exactly the sort of team that could create big problems for Pittsburgh, which has seen declines in its offensive game and goaltending as the season has worn on.