LAFAYETTE, La. — Only six weeks remain in the 2018-19 regular season. This season has already seen history made with the Birmingham Bulls’ 11-game win streak to start a season and Peoria Rivermen goaltender Stephen Klein‘s three straight shutouts and 257:10 scoreless sequence. With the playoffs right around the corner, we ask the important questions as the race to the postseason enters its homestretch.
1. Will the Peoria Rivermen make history?
The Rivermen already hold the SPHL mark for total points (83, 2015-16) and wins (39, 2015-16) in a season. Through 41 games, the Rivs (32-4-5) are on pace to eclipse both of these marks. If Peoria wins only eight of their remaining 15 games, the Rivermen will become the first SPHL team to win 40 games in a season. The Rivs are also within reach of reaching 90 points, should they secure 21 of a possible 30 points – a .700 point percentage.
It’s almost a formality Peoria will break the record for fewest regulation losses in a season. Back in the 2015-16 campaign, the Rivermen dropped only 12 games in regulation. For Peoria to not beat their mark, they would have to lose eight of their final 15 games.
In the 2005-06 season, the Knoxville Ice Bears dropped only three games in regulation at home – a feat matched by the 2011-12 Augusta Riverhawks. The Rivermen (16-0-2 at home) are ten games away from becoming the first SPHL team to go an entire season without losing a home game in regulation.
The last team I could verify in North American professional hockey at any level to not lose a regulation game at home was the 1943-44 Montreal Canadiens.
2. Can the Evansville Thunderbolts avoid having the league’s worst-ever record?
On the flip side, the Evansville Thunderbolts struggling season could put them in the record book as well. The 2004-05 Winston-Salem Polar Twins have the unfortunate mark of gaining only 28 points (14-42) in a season and the 2014-15 Huntsville Havoc won only 11 games. The Bolts (currently 9-29-4) would need another long losing streak to secure these records. At their current pace (4-4-2 in their last ten games), Evansville should be able to avoid the dishonor.
3. Is it possible for the Birmingham Bulls to win the Coffey Trophy?
Currently with a 30-10-2 record, the Birmingham Bulls became the second team to secure a spot in the 2019 Presidents Cup Playoffs. At 62 points, the Bulls trail the Rivermen by seven points in the standings. Seven points is a lot of ground to make up this late in the season, but don’t count out the Bulls in the regular season chase. The Bulls and Rivermen play each other twice more (March 15-16) in the regular season. Should Birmingham get a weekend sweep of Peoria, the Bulls would only need to make up three points to get the league’s regular season title. There is not a big margin for error, but the Bulls remain in Coffey Trophy contention.
4. Who will be the first team out? Pensacola or Quad City?
We shift our focus to the real playoff race: the battle for the eighth and final spot in the Presidents Cup Playoffs. The 15-21-4 Pensacola Ice Flyers currently hold a six-point lead over the 12-24-4 Quad City Storm in the race for eighth.
Over the last ten games, the Ice Flyers have a 5-3-2 record. Continuing at this pace, Pensacola would finish with 53 points on the season, meaning Quad City would need to secure 25 of a possible 32 points (a .781 points percentage) to catch the Ice Flyers.
If the Storm and Ice Flyers wind up tied in the standings with identical regular season wins, the Storm would have the playoff tiebreaker due to a 2-1-0 record against Pensacola. So if you’re a Quad City fan, your two favorite teams are the Storm and whoever plays the Ice Flyers.
5. Will Ben Blasko and Stephen Klein have record-breaking seasons?
Ben Blasko is currently the SPHL leader in points (54) and assists (38). While neither total is close to catching all-time leader Kevin Swider (106 points and 73 assists in 2004-05), Blasko is within range of two more of Swider’s records.
Blasko currently notched assists in 12 straight games – four shy of Swider’s mark of 16 games during the 2007-08 season. If Blasko keeps on helping his teammates light lamps, he can break Swider’s record on March 3rd against the Storm.
Additionally, Blasko has scored at least a point in 18 consecutive matches. Should he continue to keep the streak going, Blasko would have a shot at the longest point-scoring streak on April 5th against Macon.
Already with a couple of league records, Klein, currently with a 1.80 goals against average, is within striking distance of another SPHL mark – Andrew Loewen‘s mark of a 1.74 goals against average during the 2012-13 season. Teammate Storm Phaneuf isn’t far behind – Phaneuf currently has a 1.91 GAA.