The ’Top Six’ remain up for grabs

The ’Top Six’ remain up for grabs

09 Jan 2016Lucas Bradelj»

With only three rounds left in the regular season, every point is crucial right now in EBEL. Afterwards, the 12 teams will be divided into two groups, only assuring the six best-seeded clubs a spot in the playoffs. So let’s take a look at the situation going into the final rush.

Red Bull and Black Wings lead the way

The only two teams to already have ensured themselves a playoff spot are Salzburg and Linz. The defending champions have been set as the favourites before the start of the season and have not disappointed. After a bad start into the season, in which they noticed the departure of Thomas Raffl, the Bull’s offensive depth excelled and they are now the are the team with the most goals scored. EBEL’s topscorer Johnny Hughes (14 goals and 36 assists) and Ryan Duncan (13 goals and 35 assists), but also a strong group of Austrians such as Dominque Heinrich or Matthias Trattnig make them the team to beat in the post-season. In net Luka Gracnar and his back-up Fabian Weinhandl form a very reliable tandem.

The Black Wings are no less dangerous. Sebastian Piche, the only defenceman among the 10 best point collectors in the league, can create offence in every shift. Finishing those plays off is the job description of Andrew Kozek, EBEL’s most effective goal scorer with 30 goals on his count. Alongside Kozek another Canadian is crucial for their success, as Brett McLean’s 36 league leading points prove his quality. In net, Michael Ouzas provides stellar goaltending with a save percentage of 93.3 %. Overall the ‘Linza’ posses a great mix of youth and experience, including national team players Fabio Hofer and captain Philip Lukas.

Red Bull Salzburg
Defending champion Red Bull is leading the league this year too.

Four spots for five teams

Nothing is yet decided on positions three to seven. With only five points between 3rd seeded Orli Znojmo, who celebrated a big 2-3 road win on Salzburg on Friday, and 7th seeded Bolzano (though with the Foxes having disputed one less game than their opponents), every single point matters now.

In fact, in EBEL everything is about one term leading up to mid of January: Top Six. After the 44 regular season games, teams placed first till sixth are qualified for the Pick Round, which guarantees a playoff spot. For the teams in the lower half of the table though play the so-called Qualifying Round is awaiting, in which the remaining two spots for the post season are up for grabs.  So while the top teams can play without much pressure, as they are ‘only’ competing for the right to pick the quarterfinal-opponent, the teams in the Qualifying Round have ten intense games to avoid the early elimination from the contest.

Alongside the Czech and Italian representative, also the Vienna Capitals, Dornbirn Bulldogs and Villacher SV all are in contention for spots in the upper half of the table.

Znojmo, led by their top scorer Colton Yellow Horn (24 goals and 23 assists), surrounded by a team built on skilled Czechs and Slovak players such as Peter Pucher or Jan Lattner, have established themselves as a strong presence in the league. The two games against Villach in the seven remaining days of regular season could decide their destiny.

Caps - Bolzano
On Sunday, the Bolzano Foxes will want to steal three more points in Vienna.

The Vienna Capitals, seen as the biggest contender for Salzburg before the season, have lacked consistency and now find themselves fighting for the direct playoff qualification. However, with a roster filled with lots of experienced players such as Rafael Rotter (35 points in 33 games played), Simon Gamache or Troy Milam, this is a team which should never be underestimated. On Sunday, the Capitals, before heading to two ‘easy’ games on paper in Innsbruck and Slovenia, will face Bolzano in a ‘six-point-game’. The Italians will come with newly acquired defenceman Brendan Bell (102 NHL-games), but without a lot of resting time, as they play in Hungary today. The Foxes, captained by Alexander Egger (22 assists), can rely on four dangerous lines, which include Taylor Vause (12 goals and 22 assists) and the deadly slapshot of Marco Insam (7 goals and 5 assists). In net, Jaroslav Hübl gives the Italian a chance to win every night. The five points lost in games against last placed Ljubljana could though hunt them down in the decisive phase of the season. After the games in Fehervar and Vienna, another crucial game is awaiting them, as in South Tyrol they will challenge the Dornbirn Bulldogs.

Dornbirn, led by the always dangerous offensive tandem of Christopher D’Alvise and Matt Siddall (both with 34 points), has best chances to make the playoffs for the second time in their four years in the league. Two seasons ago, the Bulldogs almost eliminated Salzburg in the quarters and they could be a party spoiler this season as well. With games left against Fehervar, Bolzano and Linz, it is in their hands to qualify for the Pick Round.

Villach has come back in their battle for a spot in the top six thanks to a 9-game-winning-streak. New head coach Greg Holst can rely on excellent goaltending provided by JP Lamoreux, as well as the offensive instincts of Brock MrBride and Rick Schofield. Defensively, a rather young group has proven its qualities this season.

The record champion struggles again

One team that has not been mentioned yet is the one of 30-time-Austrian champion Klagenfurter AC. Despite having one of the highest budgets available to them, the direct playoff qualification seems to be very difficult at the moment. Lots needs to go their way to reach the Top Six. The Corinthians had an excellent start into the season, before a losing stretch led to the firing of coach Doug Mason. New coach Alexander Mellitzer has not been able to really get the winning touch back to the team yet, negatively highlighted by 0:7 loss on home ice against Salzburg. It all looks as if KAC will, just as they had to last season, try to earn a playoff spot in the Qualifying Round.

KAC has once again had a rough regular season.

Extra points wanted to keep playoff dreams alive

For Fehervar, Graz, Innsbruck and Ljublijana the Pick Round is no more a topic. However, the better you finish in the regular season, the more points you can start the Qualifying Round with. This is why Fehervar will try to defend its 9th place. The Hungarians had big expectations coming into the season, but were not consistent enough to live op to those. New head coach Hannu Järvenpää will try to guide the team to a playoff spot. The Devils rely heavily on a group of Hungarian national players, such as Daniel Koger and Gergö Nagy (each with 25 points).

Fehervar AV19
Hungarian club Fehervar, here celebrating a goal in Vienna, has to go to the Qualyfing Round.

Graz is facing a similar situation. A big factor going into the Qualifying Round will be goaltending and there the 99ers have the statistically second best goalie of the league in the lineup. Sebastian Dahm (92.9 % SVP, 2,54 GAA) could have a big impact in the playoff race.

Innsbruck has once again had a disappointing season. After an excellent start, they have fallen into a big hole, losing 18 out of their last 22 games. John Lammers and Derek Hahn provide good offence, but a lack of depth has been their biggest problems since rejoining the league in 2012. The Sharks have not improved significally in that department since and this is why they are again on second-last place.

For Ljubljana, a club with serious financial problems, expectations were low right from the get-go and, despite the last place, they actually exceeded those. With the exception of a few games, the group of young Slovenians were competive in every game, even landing some surprising wins against Vienna, Dornbirn and Bolzano.

Current EBEL-standings

# Club G W W-OTL-OTL Score P
1EC Red Bull Salzburg41235310151:105 82
2EHC LIWEST Linz41216410130:100 79
3Orli Znojmo41204314147:109 71
4UPC Vienna Capitals41196115118:93 70
5Dornbirner EC41202613119:100 70
6EC VSV41202514114:98 69
7HC Bolzano40184414112:104 66
8Klagenfurter AC41173615129:134 63
9Fehervar AV194013541896:111 53
10Moser Medical Graz 99ers4113432186:114 50
11HC TWK Innsbruck4110252489:143 39
12HDD Telemach Olimpija Ljubljana414433076:156 23


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