Can the Predators Jump the Coyotes?


Am I crazy for asking that? Perhaps. But according to this thing, Nashville has a chance to do it.


A chance? Like 1 in 100?


No. More like 1 in 2,891.


So you're telling me there's a chance!


A one-hundred-million-season simulation says the Predators have a 0.034595% chance of swiping the fourth seed from the Coyotes in the Western Conference Playoff standings. An outside shot? Maybe. But it can't be that hard, can it? I mean, if these Predators can start the season with two wins and six consecutive losses, grab 47 points in their first 36 games but take the next 31 games to get their next 30 points, promote interest in particle physics by repeatedly exposing fans to "2-8", a paired element whose simultaneous indivisibility and viscosity, characteristics that, paradoxically, keep it wholly intact even when other elements can regularly be seen passing through it, cause theoretical physicists worldwide to demand that CERN fix the Large Hadron Collider so that it can be studied, then surely they can overcome those odds, right?  Let's find out.


The Preds have 98 points and two games left to play. The Coyotes have 102 points and three games left to play. Huh? What's that? Oh, sorry. Misunderstood you. You said these two teams play on Wednesday in crystal-clear NHL Network HD and non-HD FSN at 9pm Central. Well don't that beat all!


It certainly does. Yes, the first small step for Pred requires that they beat Phoenix on Wednesday. In regulation. Based on the what the Preds have done since mid-March, that does not appear likely. Consider this: between March 16 and April 3, Nashville went to OT and/or lost in all but three of eleven games. Bad, right? The Predators played overtime hockey and/or lost in six of their last seven games. That includes the March 25 game where these same Coyotes took the Preds to a shootout. Not a unicorn-bunny-rainbow picture I'm painting here. Come Wednesday, Nashville has to find a way to get the W against Phoenix in sixty minutes and not a second more.


Now for one giant leap for Pred-kind: should the Predators beat the Coyotes in regulation, a series of arcane dicta that some say are records of God's sacred laughter will become very important, and by very important I mean marginally more important than they presently are. I speak, of course, of the NHL Tiebreaking Procedures. Here's the deal. In order to finish tied with Phoenix, Nashville, presuming it takes care of business on Wednesday, has to win its final game, at home against St. Louis, on April 10. In addition, Phoenix must lose its final two games, at Los Angeles and at San Jose, in regulation. Period. The Preds do their part, the Yotes do their part, and you may experience, live, in Beta-max Quadraphonic Technicolor, POTENTIAL FOURTH-SEED HOCKEY ACTION shun shun  shun   shun.


This is where it gets fun. Let's presume that all the aforementioned possible-but-not-necessarily-probable things happen, and The Predators and Coyotes will both finish with 102 points, no more and no less. We are then granted access to the TieGod's NHL Laughbreaking Procedures, or whatever they are called. The first procedure is irrelevant because the season is, hypothetically, over; the number of games played is the same. A late Coyote collapse and powerful Predator finish mean that both clubs finish at 48-28-6. The second procedure no longer applies because the teams posses equal wins. Both clubs finish their season series with 5 points apiece and matching 2-1-1 records, so three procedures are obviously not enough for these contenders. To the final showdown!


This is to what it comes down (That's the elementary-school-grammar-correct way of saying This is what it comes down to). Goals Scored less Goals Allowed. ∆G. The thing that keeps your plans for losing traction on a slick road. OK, probably not that last one. If the Predators and Coyotes have come this far it means that only one number can determine who has the potential extra home game in the series. I'm talking about goal differential. In order the secure the 4 seed, the Predators' goal differential, the number of goals they scored minus the number of goals they allowed, must be greater than the Coyotes goal differential. That's all. Do that, in addition to everything else, and #4 belongs to Nashville.






Oh, yeah. One thing. As we speak (As I type this?/When I typed this?/While you read this?), Nashville has a goal differential of +2. I'll clarify: to this point in their season, the Preds have scored exactly two more points than their opponents have scored on them. Two. Dos. Ni. How is that so? Four words: close wins, blowout losses. Obviously that's a bit simplified, but it makes its point. The Predators have lived and died this season by gutting out a lot of close games for Ws and just not showing up for others for Ls. But what about the Coyotes? Their goal differential is +20. I know what you're thinking. Jason, that's greater by a factor of ten! Maybe not those words exactly, but the point is that you recognize the chasm of points that separates these two clubs.


So what does the mean? Simple: for Nashville to get the 4 seed, assuming all of the other criteria have been satisfied, there must to be at least a 19-goal net differential swing in the Predators' favor. It can happen in any combination of points scored by Nashville and/or goals given up by Phoenix, but the Preds have to get at least one differential goal up on the Yotes.


Is that even possible? Can a team really close that gap? Apparently the Sports Club Stats computer thinks so. It says that if Nashville were in this situation 2,891 times, statistically, we'd grab the 4 seed once, at least. I don't explicitly know the process by which that conclusion is reached, and even if I did, I likely don't have the hardware or technical expertise to run that kind of simulation.


I do, however, have access to scoring data and Wolfram Alpha. This gives me a low-rent way to estimate the probability that the Predators will jump the Coyotes. Here's how:


From the scoring data I look at the per-game goal differential of all the teams immediately involved in Nashville's fate, that is any team that can affect the total goal differential of Nashville or Phoenix. Those teams are, obviously, Nashville and Phoenix, and, less obviously, their other remaining opponents: St. Louis for Nashville; Los Angeles and San Jose for Phoenix. From this I look at the distribution of each team's per-game goal differential. Specifically I'm looking for games that have a differential of 4.75 or more. Why 4.75? Because Nashville needs a net change of +19 differential goals relative to Phoenix, and there are only four possible games than can affect that number: the game between Nashville and Phoenix; Nashville's game with St. Louis; and Phoenix's games with Los Angeles and San Jose. The +19 differential divided by the 4 games is +4.75 per game; the minimum average change must be +4.75 per game in Nashville's favor.


Now what? Depends on how "accurate" you want to be. For the most simple/least accurate method, we need to know the probability that Nashville, San Jose, and Los Angeles will score +4.75 or more goals in a game and the probability that Phoenix and St. Louis will give up +4.75 or more goals in a game. In 80 GP, Nashville has scored more than 4.75 goals once, so 1/80 = 0.0125 is the simple observed probability that they will score more than the average need. For the other teams, it's much the same. In 79 GP, Phoenix gave up more the 4.75 goals once, so 1/79 = 0.0126582278. St. Louis didn't give up anything above the threshold all year, so 0/78 = 0.00. Los Angeles got over twice in 78 GP, so 2/78 = 0.0256410256. San Jose got over twice in 79 GP, so 2/79 = 0.0253164557.


Now which take each game, average to two numbers, and, Viola!, a quick and dirty number for the probability that that specific game will give Nashville more the +4.75 differential goals in its favor.

Nashville vs. Phoenix = ((1/80)+(1/79))/2 = 0.0125791130

Nashville vs. St. Louis = ((1/80)+(0/78))/2 = 0.00625

Los Angeles vs. Phoenix = ((2/78)+(1/79))/2 = 0.0191496267

San Jose vs. Phoenix = ((2/79)+(1/79))/2 = 0.0189873418


Now to get our final quick and dirty number, the probability that Nashville will finish ahead of Phoenix, we simply multiple these four numbers together. And, wow. The decimal answer is at ^-8 in scientific notation, which means my method gives us way less hope than Sports Club Stats. As an approximate fraction, SCS gave us 1 in 2,891 chances; my version gave us 1 in 34,982,066 chances.


Hmm. After looking back through everything, I realized that a team need not have +5 differential goals in a game to average +4.75. The average between the four games must be 4.75, but as long as the total goal differential for the four games sums to +19 or more, the goal differential in a specific game doesn't matter. This certainly changes the quick and dirty model, but I've spent too much time writing already. Maybe I'll try to tackle it in another post, but I may not get to it until next season. Thanks for reading, and Go Preds!

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