Strength of schedule could make or break NHL teams' playoff hopes

In the chase for the playoffs, some NHL teams have a harder road to travel than others, and as we flip the calendar over to February, the Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues and Calgary Flames will face the stiffest opposition during the rest of the regular season. Over in the Eastern Conference, the rich are likely to get richer as the current division leaders, Washington, New Jersey, and Buffalo, all face relatively easy remaining schedules.

Follow after the jump for the complete breakdown...

The following table shows the remaining games for each NHL team starting with tonight, February 1, along with the average Points Percentage and Goals For/Against ratio in 5-on-5 play for their opponents, as an indicator of schedule strength. We also have the number of times that each team has to play games on consecutive nights, using the NHL Super Schedule which I published last summer. Home and road totals are included last.

For the sake of context, the average NHL team has a .559 Points Percentage (thanks to the OTL point, most teams are above .500), which translates to a 91-point season across 82 games. When teams play after having played the night before (the 2nd half of a Back-To-Back Set), their Points Percentage typically dips significantly. Last season, such teams had a .500 Pts %, as opposed to .557 overall.

Interestingly, the Dallas Stars will face the toughest opposition, but have the fewest Back-To-Backs remaining. Obviously, the presence of Western Conference teams at the top of this list is due to them having to mostly play each other - the West is dominating the East this season, with an average Pts % of .573 to .545 (and yet the East has more Overtime Losses, which makes even that comparison look closer than it should be).

 Team Games Average Opp Pt % Avg Opp 5 on 5 GF/GA Back-To-Back Sets Home Road
 Dallas Stars 27 .602 1.08 2 14 13
 Columbus Blue Jackets 25 .598 1.08 3 15 10
 St. Louis Blues 27 .583 1.04 7 13 14
 Calgary Flames 27 .581 1.06 3 13 14
 Colorado Avalanche 28 .572 1.04 6 16 12
 Carolina Hurricanes 28 .572 1.03 5 13 15
 Nashville Predators 28 .572 1.02 5 15 13
 Detroit Red Wings 27 .572 1.04 4 14 13
 Vancouver Canucks 28 .570 1.00 6 10 18
 New York Rangers 26 .569 1.03 4 12 14
 Phoenix Coyotes 26 .569 1.05 6 10 16
 Edmonton Oilers 29 .564 1.01 6 12 17
 Florida Panthers 27 .560 1.02 6 15 12
 New York Islanders 26 .556 1.00 6 15 11
 Atlanta Thrashers 28 .556 1.04 7 16 12
 Boston Bruins 29 .556 1.03 5 12 17
 Tampa Bay Lightning 28 .555 1.04 5 15 13
 Chicago Blackhawks 27 .555 0.99 7 14 13
 Anaheim Ducks 27 .555 1.01 6 15 12
 Minnesota Wild 27 .555 1.03 4 15 12
 San Jose Sharks 27 .554 1.01 4 11 16
 Pittsburgh Penguins 26 .553 1.01 7 14 12
 Los Angeles Kings 27 .550 0.99 3 16 11
 Toronto Maple Leafs 26 .549 0.96 5 15 11
 Montreal Canadiens 26 .545 1.01 5 14 12
 Philadelphia Flyers 29 .539 0.96 6 12 17
 Ottawa Senators 26 .537 1.03 4 10 16
 Buffalo Sabres 29 .537 0.96 7 13 16
 Washington Capitals 27 .534 0.95 5 14 13
 New Jersey Devils 28 .520 0.97 7 14 14

This strength-of-schedule could have a net impact of a 2-4 points or so down the stretch (for example: 27 games, 2 points per game available, and a difference of .050 = 2.7 total points). Given the incredibly tight competition in the Eastern Conference, where positions 6-12 are separated by a mere two points, that's definitely enough to make or break a few teams' playoff hopes.

How will this impact your favorite team?

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