Often in March and April, we hear hockey announcers say, “Points are at a premium this time of year” or “It’s always tougher to get points this time of year with all teams playing so hard.” Nope! This is yet another hockey cliché that has no backing.
Sure, when an NHL team faces a playoff team or a team fighting for a playoff berth in March, the former can expect a tough battle. On the other hand, what about when teams play against teams “playing out the string” in March and April? Those are the easiest points to earn!!! In fact, it is far easier to play against bad teams in March and April than it is earlier in the year. In March and April, bad teams have already unloaded their best players and have sometimes shut down injured players for the season. Therefore, games against these teams should be walks in the park down the stretch….and don’t give me any “But those bad teams play extra-hard and are extra-motivated to win those games.” (Don’t even gimme that, Biz Markie). Guess who else plays “extra-hard and is extra-motivated to win those games”? Good teams who are in the playoffs or in the thick of the playoff race. As I mentioned earlier in the season, only in the NHL do people applaud effort game in and game out. Effort should be an expectation, not something to be commended! In fact, the only game I have ever watched and been compelled to think, “Wow, these players are not trying”, was a Devils/Sabres game in April 2016. Both teams were playing as if they knew they were three games away from a 6-month offseason…which was actually the case. But I digress…
On Saturday, a thrilling battle for the last four playoff spots in the Eastern Conference came to an end. The Devils, Blue Jackets, and Flyers made their way into the playoffs, while the Panthers were left on the outside. Furthermore, the Penguins did not clinch a playoff spot until two days prior. Anyway, how do you think these five teams performed down the stretch against teams who were clearly out of the playoff race? Really, really, ridiculously well! In a moment, I will show you these teams’ records against out-of-playoff-contention teams from March 1 until the end of the season. Because I am passionate about the NHL converting to a 3-2-1-0 points system, I have put the records in this format (regulation wins – non-regulation wins – non-regulation losses – regulation losses). Please note that, in the actual standings, the first two figures are summed in a composite “Wins” category in which all wins are worth 2 points.
New Jersey Devils: 5-0-0-0
Florida Panthers: 8-1-2-1
Pittsburgh Penguins: 4-1-2-1
Philadelphia Flyers: 3-0-1-1
Columbus Blue Jackets: 4-3-0-1
As you can see, these five teams “cleaned up” on bad teams. Therefore, no, points are not always “at a premium” down the stretch.
Also, for you non-hockey fans out there – first off, I am glad that you made it this deep into a hockey article. That makes me feel proud. Secondly, please note that this rule extends to other sports as well. Take it from a Mets fan who watched the Mets wipe the floor with bad teams (who had unloaded many of their good players) in August/September runs in 2015 and 2016, only for the Mets to change from “mopper” to “moppee” down the stretch in 2017. No, in MLB, wins are not always “at a premium” down the stretch either.