Believe it or not, the final weekend of the regular season will be upon us in just two weeks. For the rest of the season, we’ll take a weekly look at remaining strength of schedule, and how it could affect the final Hockey East standings. To do this, we’ll use a team’s individual KRACH rating, alongside an average of the KRACH rating, per game, of their remaining opponents.
That’s a pretty straightforward chart, with some pretty revealing details.
The race for the first-round byes is still definitely up in the air, with two teams — BC and BU — seemingly wrapping up a spot in that top-four. It would take a hefty, and unexpected, fall for either of those teams to drop out of the first-round bye spots.
Things get interesting from there.
Providence, Notre Dame, UMass Lowell and Vermont are all the main contenders for those final two spots. Based on having the weakest schedule remaining, and some recent hot play, I’d predict that Providence will have a bye on first-round weekend. So that leaves Lowell, Notre Dame and Vermont for potentially that final spot. Right now, those three teams are separate by just one point, with Lowell and Notre Dame tied. The Irish have, by far, the toughest schedule of the three teams remaining, so let’s take them out and assume they’ll be playing that weekend. Vermont and Lowell and then neck-and-neck for that final bye position. Lowell owns the tie breaker, and has a one-point edge on the Catamounts currently, which could prove to be vital.
Now let’s look at the first-round home teams, and there’s not a lot of separation here. Out of that top-six, whichever two team fail to get a bye will obviously be home in that first-round weekend, and that leaves two spots for Connecticut, New Hampshire, Merrimack and Northeastern to fight over. It seems pretty clear at this point that Maine and UMass will have trouble catching up to eighth place.
This is another conundrum, with four teams vying for two spots. The team to watch here is Northeastern, however. Not only are they playing good hockey recently, they have the easiest schedule in the league remaining, and it’s not even close. The Huskies wrap up conference play with UMass, Connecticut (x2) and Maine (x2). Granted three of those games are on the road, but Northeastern should secure a home-ice spot as long as its goaltending holds up.
The final spot come down to New Hampshire, Merrimack and Connecticut, and it’s really tight here. UConn and UNH have a points edge on the Warriors (UNH and Merrimack have a game in hand on UConn), but Merrimack and UConn have similar schedules, while the Wildcats schedule is very tough the rest of the way (the second-toughest in the league).
It’s also important to look at a team’s KRACH. Both Merrimack and UConn are ranked higher than New Hampshire, and by a considerable margin. UNH holds the tie-breaker with the Warriors, which could be vital here, because points the rest of the way will be very difficult for UNH. Their schedule includes two games at Vermont, and games at BU and at UConn. There are only two home games for the Wildcats, and it’s against the Terriers and Huskies. That’s a tough road.
So, I think that final home-ice spot could come down to Merrimack and UConn, a pair of teams that tied twice last weekend, but the Warriors need to close a three-point gap, despite UConn’s game in hand.
So, now let’s have some fun … with two weeks to go, here is how I’d project the final Hockey East standings, with full disclosure that this will probably change when we play this game next week!