Why you can't ignore second-half numbers

April, 5, 2010

At this time every season, I make sure to take a close look at second-half records in order to give myself a better feel for the playoffs.

More often than not, the teams with the better second-half records have good playoff runs, which is why you should be wary, in some cases, of the final standings. Throw out the first half.

Case in point: Detroit and Pittsburgh were among the top teams in the second half last season en route to their Stanley Cup finals rematch.

So let's dig in. Thanks once again to our friends at the Elias Sports Bureau for providing us with second-half records of all 30 NHL teams through Sunday night (in order of points percentage):

Now you see why I like Washington-Vancouver as a possible Cup finals matchup this June. The Caps have steamrolled through the season, so it's no surprise they are ranked first in the second half, but the Canucks' dominance might take some people by surprise. As I wrote in my earlier blog Monday, there's still some nervousness around the Canucks these days, between Roberto Luongo's recent struggles and the team's defensive play; but you can't ignore what the team has done in the second half.

This being an Olympic year, however, the second-half records could be a tad misleading. That two-week break in February cannot be discounted, which is why I also like to look at post-Olympic records as another equally important barometer with the playoffs just around the corner. Again, thanks to Elias Sports:

Well, well ... doesn't that chart open up some eyes? The veteran Red Wings, hockey's model franchise over the past two decades, are at it again. The best record since the Olympics, the fourth-best record overall in the second half. Tough to ignore the Winged Wheel, eh?

Don't say I didn't warn you puckheads about Detroit's rise. It was pretty much a universal belief around the league that once the Wings finally put an injury-riddled first half behind them, they'd be primed for a run. Well, that's exactly what happened, and the Wings are very much ready for another spring run thanks to excellent goaltending from Jimmy Howard.

Right now, my money is on either Detroit or Vancouver to make the Cup finals out of the West. Of course, if the playoffs started Monday, the Canucks and Wings would face off in the first round in the No. 3 versus No. 6 matchup. That would knock off a red-hot team in a hurry.

Other thoughts from the post-Olympic chart:

• Notice both San Jose and Chicago with 8-7-2 records, just hovering around .500. They're not heading into the playoffs on a roll. The Hawks weren't world-beaters over the second half last season, either, but ended up in the conference finals. Maybe it's not relevant. We'll see.

• The Coyotes have the third-best mark in both the second half and post-Olympics standings. When do we start really, really believing? Maybe we should now.

• The Canadiens have the second-best record in the Eastern Conference after the Olympics. Given the play of Jaroslav Halak, you wonder if the Habs aren't the best bet for a first-round upset, unless, of course, they end up playing Washington. But, for example, if it's Buffalo-Montreal in the first round in the 3-6 matchup, would anyone be that shocked if the Canadiens prevailed? Sure, Ryan Miller is Vezina-bound this season, but doesn't Halak almost even that out? Food for thought. Just look at Montreal's 3-0 win over Buffalo on Saturday for the latest evidence.

• The Predators, the NHL's forgotten team, have the fourth-best mark since the Olympics. Of course, they could end up playing the Coyotes in the first round. If that's the case, look for 2-1 being a popular score in that series.

• The Colorado Avalanche have the worst post-Olympic record of any team currently in a playoff spot. If the Avs hang on to make the postseason and draw San Jose in the first round, you'll probably see a few pundits taking Colorado with the upset because of the Sharks' shaky playoff record. But not me. Not with Colorado's play in the stretch run. The Avs look like a young team that's hit the wall. The future is big-time bright for this team, but I don't think a deep playoff run is in the cards this season.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer



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