Shockingly, hockey standings are completely misunderstood and little notice is paid to the importance of a fast start to the season. With a proper understanding, one would see just how amazingly well the Rangers have performed so far and the implications for the season. It's all good.
Let's start with the standings. The newspapers put standings in terms of points and most fans blindly follow them. However, in baseball, standings are kept by the papers in games in or out of first, by counting the wins and subtracting the losses (and only secondarily by using winning percentages). That is actually a better way of understanding hockey too. And, hockey insiders look at performance in terms of games over .500 (ignoring ties) just as baseball managers do.
For example, the Rangers are now listed in the papers as being in 6th place. However, they are seven games ahead of the loss column at 12-5-3. In fact, looking at things the right way, the Rangers are tied for second place with Boston at seven games over, and Pittsburgh is in first at eight games over .500.
So, why is this important? Stay with me please. Depending upon the particular season, making the playoffs requires that a team is somewhere between 11 games over .500 (93 points, such as 44-33-5) and 15 games over .500 (97 points, such as 46-31-5). At 100 points, a team is usually in 4th place (18 games over), and almost always 4th or better at 105 points (23 games over). There are complex reasons why this is so - such as the distribution of wins among a closed group, the number of ties, and divisions v. conferences - but it is so and you can look at the last few years to confirm this is so.
Okay, so what does this mean for the Rangers? It means the Rangers do not have to do particularly well to make the playoffs from this point out. With 62 games remaining, a mere 29-25-8 will do it. If this were chess, with a goalie as good in the shoot out as the King, you need only play for ties.
It also means that 4th place is a realistic goal. Going 34-21-7 from this point out should do it. Maintaining the current pace (37-16-9) is not necessary unless winning the Conference were the objective. (Last year it took 107 to win the Conference, the years before 121, 116, and 104.)
Counting chickens too early is a serious risk. The Rangers could have a losing streak, or suffer a few more serious injuries. But, with Dubinsky due for a huge break out (playing with Sean would do that if the idiot Coach would keep the pair together long enough), Hagelin ready for a great rookie year, and Staal coming back sometime in the next few months, this team is just as likely to get better.
It would take a major collapse for this team to finish out of the money.
This does not surprise us. For the past few years, this blog has contained predictions for the coming season. Shockingly, we have been right for several years in a row. When the Rangers were playoff bound in 2009-10, we predicted they would just miss. When the Rangers were predicted to be 13th of 15 in the East, we predicted they would make the playoffs. In fact, for the past two years we have been dead right - almost to the exact point total.
So, what about this year? At the moment, the team is ahead of schedule. We predicted 105 points and a record of 49-26-7. With 20 games played, the record is 12-5-3 - which projects to 111 points.
Do we think this team is playing that well? No. But, 4th or 5th is still likely. And, since this is the Rangers after all, the ride is not going to be all smooth sailing either. But, it is a fun year isn't it!
I'm Mike Savino, the Ranger Pundit. I have been a NY Rangers fan since the 1937 - 1938 season. The first game I saw in person was in 1943 against the Blackhawks. My biggest disappointment was the '49-50 season and our loss to the Red Wings in the Stanley Cup finals.