Monday, April 15, 2013

The Perils of Best of Fives: Playoff Travel and Team Chemistry

A Travis Morin goal from the last time the Stars' participated in the playoffs. (Credit: Chris Jerina)
The Stars missed the playoffs last season, but since they last participated, some things have changed that could really affect their chances to go deep into the postseason.

With a pool of sixteen teams in the first round of the playoffs, the AHL sought to bring down travel costs. Already having setup their seven game series to be played in a 2-3-2 format instead of 2-2-1-1-1*, the league needed more. The league decided to move the first round only to a best-of-five format.

Close opponents still play a balanced 2-2-1. You'd have to imagine Texas and Houston or OKC might play a 2-2-1. However, opponents that are further apart play a 2-3 with the lower seed getting their two home games first. This might happen if Texas played Rockford in the first round.

Your first reaction here might be, "Why doesn't the higher seeded team go first?"

You have to remember that the playoffs are bonus money for arenas in terms of attendance, and each team that makes the playoffs gets at least one guaranteed home game regardless of the outcome of the series. If the top seed went first, they could shutout the series 3-0, and the lower seed wouldn't get a home game. Therefore, lower seed goes first.

If you're thinking through the ramifications of that one, you should start to see a potential problem. It's often said that a series isn't a series until the home team loses a game. If you think about it, that's the only way for a series to go less than seven games. Someone has to lose at home.

In the 2-3 situation, the lower seed starts at home, and it wouldn't be entirely out of the realm of possibility that the lower seed wins both of its games. Now the favored team, the higher seed, is on the ropes. Coming home for three games doesn't mean as much when you're already down 0-2 in a series. All it will take is one little misstep for the club that potentially dominated the regular season to get sent to the golf tees by a team that might have barely snuck into the dance.

Now, that is the nature of the game and every team with home ice advantage has the potential to face the same disadvantage.

Texas is guaranteed home ice advantage thanks to clinching the division yesterday and, being in Texas, is at a much higher risk of playing a 2-3 formatted first round. With all of the roster flux that has surrounded the team over the past few weeks and potentially could surround the team at the end of the season, chemistry and playing 'a full 60' will be of the utmost importance in the first round for Texas this season.

Supposing that the Dallas Stars, now tied for eighth in the West, do not make the playoffs, Texas could see Alex Chiasson, Matt Fraser, Jordie Benn and Cristopher Nilstorp added to their lineup on a moment's notice. There's a reason why each of these players is in Dallas. It's not like the quality of Texas's play will drop via their addition. However, it will change things up. Take, for example, just the top six. Here's how they've laid out over the past few games, excepting Ritchie's illness scratch yesterday.

R. Smith-Morin-Sceviour
Hedden-Dowling-Ritchie

OK, now you have to add Fraser and Chiasson back. Going with where they were earlier in the season, that gives:

Fraser-Morin-Sceviour
Hedden-Dowling-Chiasson
R. Smith-Ritchie

There's no way you drop Reilly Smith off the top six. He is a force for the Stars, currently averaging the best points per game of any Star in franchise history. Brett Ritchie has shown a similar nose for the net. If you're thinking about Hedden, Dowling and Chiasson breaking up, think again. That line has been dynamic for Coach Desjardins this year ever since it was put together.

Breaking up Morin and Fraser is also a no-no, based on past experience. And finally Colton Sceviour is this team's leading point scorer this season.

Maybe you're thinking the Stars could just throw a center between Smith and Ritchie and call that the third line. There's an issue there as well. Think about all the players currently on the third and fourth lines. Those include Glennie, Sonne, Cameron, Vause, Gazdic, Petersen and Wathier. Third and fourth line guys have a role to play as well. You need to match up against the other teams well with energy and checking lines.

The point of all this being that the Stars will be messing with their lineup's chemistry at a very precarious time if the 2-3 series alignment comes to pass for Texas in the first round.

Now, all of this pre-supposes that Dallas doesn't make the playoffs. If Chiasson keeps contributing as he has at the NHL level, Dallas might make the playoffs. That's a whole separate conversation to have.

* - If you're not familiar 2-3-2 and 2-2-1-1-1 refer to the number of games in a series played at each opponent's home arena. There are always an odd number of games and the higher seed gets more home games than the lower seed. In 2-3-2, the higher seed gets home games in games 1, 2, 6 and 7. In 2-2-1-1-1,  the top seed gets games 1, 2, 5 and 7.

4 comments:

  1. I sure hope Alex is ok. But speaking about Alex, I am pretty sure if Dallas can squeek into the playoffs, we will not see Alex back in Cedar Park again. If they don't, we will see for our playoff run, and then he won't return. It should make all of us proud to see our boys go up and be successful. One day soon, Dallas will be made up of "our boys". Steve

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  2. Best of 5 scares the bejeezus out of me, especially if first 2 are on the road. At least one road win would be nice.

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  3. Excellent article.
    Petersen between Smith and Ritchie would be pretty good. Expect Toby to crank his game up a notch in the playoffs.
    The question is who will center the 4th line between Gadzic & Wathier. Can Wandell come back ?
    I think Willie will go with:
    Fraser-Morin-Sceviour
    Hedden-Dowling-Chiasson
    Smith-Petersen-Ritchie
    Gadzic-Faksa-Wathier
    Fortunus-Morrow
    Oleksiak-Commodore
    Connauton-Benn

    Faksa has a big body, skates well and is keeping things simple. Glennie is too soft and careless for playoff hockey.
    Sure hope that Nilstorp will go back to his old pads. He looked terrible Saturday when trying to break his new pair for the playoffs.
    Alright, let's drop the puck and do it.

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  4. Good Luck in your first round vs Milwaukee...From OKC!!!

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