Six Teams for Five Spots

We're seeing a narrowing and tightening in the field of teams vying to make the postseason in the AHL's Eastern Conference. Three teams look pretty much guaranteed to be in: Hershey (109 pts, 1st in East), Worcester (89 points, 1st in Atlantic), and Portland (86 points, 2nd in Atlantic).

Albany (84 points, 2nd in East) is probably a very good bet to hang onto a playoff spot, but they're not a lock to remain in 2nd place in the East. The Admirals, for instance, are 6 points back of Albany with 1 game in hand and 1 game head-to-head remaining on the schedule. So, things could tighten up even more very quickly, especially if the Rats keep stubbing their toes against teams like Binghamton.

They're the first of six teams, including the Admirals, fighting for five playoff spots. Typically, they'd be treated separately by division, but with the crossover rule potentially vaulting a 5th place Atlantic team over a 4th place East team, we should treat them as lumped together. The other five teams are: Manchester (79 points, 3rd in Atlantic), Lowell (79 points, 3rd in Atlantic), Norfolk (78 points, 3rd in East), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (77 points, 4th in East), Bridgeport (75 points, 5th in Atlantic).

Here's what's left for the six teams:

Albany (2nd, East)
Current point total: 84 points
Remaining games: 8 (3 home, 5 away)
Games against over .500 teams: 2
Record over last 10 games: 6-2-0-2
Projected point total based on 10 game trend: 95 points (2nd, East)

Manchester (2nd, Atlantic)
Current point total: 79 points
Remaining games: 11 (5 home, 6 away)
Games against over .500 teams: 7
Record over last 10 games: 3-5-1-1
Projected point total based on 10 game trend: 88 points (4th/5th, Atlantic)

Lowell (3rd, Atlantic)
Current point total: 79 points
Remaining games: 10 (8 home, 2 away)
Games against over .500 teams: 7
Record over last 10 games: 4-4-0-2
Projected point total based on 10 game trend: 89 points (3rd, Atlantic)

Norfolk (3rd, East)
Current point total: 78 points
Remaining games: 9 (6 home, 3 away)
Games against over .500 teams: 8
Record over last 10 games: 5-3-0-2
Project point total based on 10 game trend: 89 points (4th, East)

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (4th, East)
Current point total: 77 points
Remaining games: 10 (4 home, 6 away)
Games against over .500 teams: 6
Record over last 10 games: 6-2-1-1
Project point total based on 10 game trend: 91 points (3rd, East)

Bridgeport (5th, Atlantic)
Current point total: 75 points
Remaining games: 10 (5 home, 5 away)
Games against over .500 teams: 6
Record over last 10 games: 6-3-1-0
Projected point total based on 10 game trend: 88 points (4th/5th Atlantic)

So, if 10 game trends were to hold up (and they never do), Norfolk would make the playoffs by 1 point over Manchester and Bridgeport and they would tie Lowell at 89 points. The negatives for Norfolk is that they have the second least number of games remaining behind only Albany, and they have the most games remaining of any of the six teams against +.500 opponents, including three against the beast of the conference, Hershey. The good news is that they have the second most home games behind only Lowell out of the six teams.

Personally, I think this is going to come down to 4 teams (Norfolk, Manchester, Lowell, and Bridgeport) fighting for 3 spots. And, I believe that based on their 10 game trend, their high number of +.500 opponents, and their high number of away games, Manchester will be the odd team out. But, they have goaltending, which changes everything, so we shall see.

The other thing this exercise should prove is that every point is precious in these final 9 games for Norfolk. Every shift, every shot block, every save, every decision could be the difference between making the playoffs or going home early. It should also make clear to Admirals GM Brian Lawton that the right move or two could be the difference between making it or missing it. It's a great thing for young players to learn how to perform under this kind of pressure and a great thing for their development if they gain the confidence they can pull it off. So, I can't wait to see what's going to happen next starting Wednesday.