The Bruins enter tonight's #RivalryNight game against the Philadelphia Flyers with a 2-3-0 record through their first five games played. Over their next five, they'll face a gauntlet of opponents that have collectively gone 16-9-5, or a .617 point-percentage. But is ten games too early to judge a team? We know about the unwritten rule of American Thanksgiving being a good gauge of where teams fall come the end of the season, but how about Halloween? Does looking at a team's first ten games project if they'll make the postseason?
We were wondering the same thing! Luckily, we did all the work for you. Looking back over the last five seasons, we checked out each team's record through their first ten games played, and if that resulted in a playoff appearance or a chance at a lottery pick.
It turns out that while it's not a sure-fire way of projecting postseason chances, it gives you a far greater chance of playing hockey in late April when you hit the 12-point mark come your tenth game. Of the 80 playoff teams to make the postseason since 2011, only 17 teams had 4 wins or less through 10 games. Of those 17 teams, 14 earned points via losses in overtime or a shootout. Only the '13-'14 Rangers, '12-'13 Capitals, and '11-'12 Bruins won 4 games or less with no Bettman points added and still made the postseason.
There have been 37 teams to win 5 games or less and make the postseason, which gives the 2-3-0 Bruins a little more hope. Going 3-2-0 or better over the next handful of matches doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility. But of the 20 teams to earn that 5th win after 10 games, 15 had points earned from OTLs. Ultimately when boiled down to point-percentage, on average playoff teams over the last five seasons take away points 60.8% percent of the time. That point-percentage when applied to 10 games means the Bruins are eyeing that 12-point mark. To do so, they'd have to go 4-1 or 3-0-2, essentially playing .800 hockey.
The point-percentages over the last five years has steadily increased each season. In 2010-2011, teams that made the playoffs only averaged a .594 point percentage. That went down to .569 the following season. But since 2012-'13 it has increased each year, from .603 to .628, to .647 last year. A good start has held more weight in recent years, and if that trend holds true for this season it could spell trouble for the Bs.
On the contrary, there's the non-playoff teams. Fourteen teams each season miss the playoffs, and with injuries, trades, and tanking, they often start better than they finish. But how hot can a hot start be before a team flames out?
There have been 70 teams to miss the playoffs since 2011. Of those, 67 teams - an overwhelming 95.7% - have six wins or less to start their season. Only the 2012 Blues, 2013 Maple Leafs and 2014 Maple Leafs had 7 wins out of the gate, but missed the playoffs. A less-inclusive 54 out of 70 non-playoff teams (77.1%) have five wins or less through their first ten games. So from this we can see that while playoff teams don't necessarily have hot starts, non-playoff teams historically have cold ones.
On average over the last five seasons, teams who miss the playoffs have a .497 point-percentage. Equated to the first ten games of one's season, that's just under 10 points. It seems simple - get to 12, and you're likely in. Fall short of 10, and you're golfing by Patriot's Day.
But this is math, right? It's all taken circumstantial, and taken with a grain of salt.
Only, three out of the four Bruins teams that made the playoffs between 2011 & 2014 started with a .600 point-percentage or better. Last year's team - the one that missed the playoffs with the most points scored ever in the NHL - was 5-5-0 after ten games, just shy of that .600 benchmark. In fact, in the Claude Julien era, when a team has five wins or better and at least one overtime point through ten games, they've made the playoffs. They snuck into the postseason in 2008 after starting 6-4-0. They did the same the following year, going 5-2-3. Even in a down year in 2010, they started the 5-4-1 in October and ultimately grabbed the sixth seed by season's end. Before Julien came aboard they missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, and started them both under .600.
Ultimately, the Bruins would like as many wins as possible over the next five-game stretch. Ideally, they'd reach five wins by their tenth game. But in reality, they need less than five regulation losses.