Despite struggles against Chicago and Vancouver, San Jose has a good record against playoff teams

SAN JOSE, CA - DECEMBER 28: Ryan Kesler #17 of the Vancouver Canucks collides with Torrey Mitchell #17 of the San Jose Sharks at HP Pavilion at San Jose on December 28, 2011 in San Jose, California. The Canucks won the game in overtime 3-2. (Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)

As Sharks fans this year are very aware, the timing and layout of a teams schedule can make it quite difficult to compare one teams performance to another in any kind of complete way. Even coach McLellan had no idea he was up for the ASG coaching spot given the strange nature of this year's Sharks schedule.

But comparing teams based on regular season results poses additional problems. Quite apart from varying numbers of games played, the nature of the unbalanced NHL schedule dictates that all teams will not see the same competition. Teams in the Pacific Division have typically had hard slogging against good competition, while teams like Vancouver in the Northwest have been able to beat up on Edmonton, Colorado, and Calgary, each of whom have recently had years of weakness.

Come playoff time, this all gets sorted out. But what's the best way to compare the performance of teams while factoring out those differences before the playoffs?

Last year I started using a measure I've been calling Record against Strength. The idea is to look at only the record of the teams in the league against strong competition. Beating up on the Blue Jackets isn't the best measure of a teams strength. So how do we define strong? Easy - how did each team do against the teams that are would make it into the playoffs if they started tomorrow.

I thought that the half-way-point might be a good time to look at how this is shaping up.

I've been fortunate that a friend of mine runs TheHockeyPool.com (an excellent hockey pool management site). He has added the nightly calculation of these strength charts to his site. Here are Wednesday nights results comparing performance of teams against all 16 "playoff" teams, and they are interesting:


Best Western Conference Records vs. "Playoff Teams"

Team GP
Points
PTS/GP PTS/82 GP
Minnesota
20
25
1.25 102.5
San Jose
22
26
1.18 96.9
St. Louis
22
26
1.18 96.
Los Angeles
22
25
1.14 93.2
Detroit
22
25
1.14 93.2
Chicago
16
18
1.12 93.2
Nashville
16
18
1.12 92.2
Vancouver
25
28
1.12 91.8

And of course the data for the Eastern Conference:


Best Eastern Conference Records vs. "Playoff Teams"

Team GP
Points
PTS/GP PTS/82 GP
Boston
18 27 1.50 123.0
New York (R)
18 26
1.44 118.4
Philadelphia
18 22
1.22 100.2
New Jersey
20
22
1.10 90.2
Ottawa
21
23
1.10 89.8
Washington
23
24
1.04 85.6
Florida
21
20
0.95 78.1
Carolina
26
24
0.92 75.7

[Note]: Data does not include Thursday's games.

The 'Season points' column is the one to look at - it represents the average points per game versus strong competition, scaled out to an 82 game season for comparison purposes.

The west is very even. Despite their recent struggles, Minnesota has done well against strong teams so far this year. St. Louis being up at the top should also not be a surprise. What is most surprising is Los Angeles. Despite their early season slide, they have performed well against good teams. Vancouver has also been bit surprising, doing relatively poorly against strength. The Sharks are close to the top of the west.

What is really surprising to me though is how good Boston and New York are doing. So far, they have been in a class by themselves when it comes to playing tough games. If they keep this up, expect them to be tough in the playoffs.

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