The NHL will make way Sunday for the Winter Olympics, putting the next regular-season game on Feb. 25, when the Buffalo Sabres host the Carolina Hurricanes. That game will also kick off a mad dash for the playoffs, a race whose stress level is determined by the team for which you root.

Sports Reference’s Simple Rating System is a good way to gauge each team’s strength of schedule after the Olympic break. SRS makes it very easy to compare one team to another because every team’s rating is their average goal margin, adjusted up or down depending on the strength of their opponents. Thus a team with an average schedule ahead would have an average rating of zero. If a team had a tougher-than-average schedule remaining their average SRS would be positive while weaker-than-average schedules carry a negative SRS rating on average.

The easiest road to the postseason appears to belong to the New Jersey Devils. They have the third-weakest schedule after the Olympic break and have three points to make up to get in the playoff picture. Of the other teams with the softest schedules — Los Angeles, New York Rangers, Tampa Bay, New Jersey, Boston and New York Islanders —  all but the Isles are currently in a playoff spot, and they have 12 points to make up.

Team

Feb

Mar

Apr

SRS Avg

Playoffs?

Los Angeles Kings

-0.17

-0.14

-0.04

-0.12

In

New York Rangers

0.74

-0.13

-0.24

-0.12

In

Tampa Bay Lightning

-0.47

-0.10

-0.18

-0.14

In

New Jersey Devils

0.16

-0.11

-0.31

-0.16

3 points behind

Boston Bruins

-1.01

-0.09

-0.27

-0.18

In

New York Islanders

-0.23

-0.20

-0.32

-0.24

12 points behind

At the other end of the spectrum we have the Colorado Avalanche. They play the most difficult schedule after the break but are third in the Central, giving them the final divisional playoff spot. Second most difficult schedule belongs to the Philadelphia Flyers, who, as of the end of Friday’s games, are also third in their division but are tied with the Detroit Red Wings with 64 points. Washington comes in with the third toughest schedule remaining but boasts the most difficult March dance card among all 30 NHL teams. The Caps will need to play a much-improved brand of hockey against tough opponents to make up the three-point deficit they now face.

Team

Feb

Mar

Apr

SRS Avg

Playoffs?

Colorado Avalanche

0.05

0.27

0.33

0.27

In

Philadelphia Flyers

0.57

0.25

0.15

0.23

In

Washington Capitals

-0.66

0.28

0.21

0.22

3 points behind

Nashville Predators

0.41

0.04

0.34

0.14

4 points behind

Minnesota Wild

-0.42

0.05

0.46

0.12

In

Winnipeg Jets

-0.14

0.15

0.08

0.12

3 points behind

If you favor different types of methods to suss out strength of schedule, they likely will point to the teams above. Most notably, Washington and Colorado as having difficult roads ahead.

 

 

 

No matter how you slice it, teams on the bubble will need to go into March like a lion or risk exiting it like a lamb.