NHL bubble teams

Bubble teams: Who will get in and who will play golf?

Bubble teams in each conference are fighting for their playoff lives. Florida is the only team in the East behind the eight ball that seems to have a reasonable chance to make the playoffs. Out West, the second and third Pacific division spots, both Wild Cards, and three teams on the outside looking in are all battling for their postseason lives. These last three weeks will be fun.

Eastern Conference race (at the start of play on March 13)

Wild Card No. 1: Columbus Blue Jackets (79 points, 12 games left, next game March 15 @ PHI)

Wild Card No. 2: New Jersey Devils (78 points, 13 games left, next game March 14 @ VGK)

Ninth place: Florida Panthers (75 points, 15 games left, next game March 15 vs. BOS)

Western Conference race (at the start of play on March 13)

Wild Card No. 1: Dallas Stars (82 points, 13 games left, next game March 13 @ MTL)

Wild Card No. 2: Colorado Avalanche (80 points, 14 games left, next game March 13 @ MIN)

Ninth place: Anaheim Ducks (80 points, 12 games left, next game March 14 vs. VAN)

10th place: St. Louis Blues (79 points, 13 games left, next game March 15 vs. COL)

11th place: Calgary Flames (78 points, 12 games left, next game March 13 vs. EDM)

 

More competition in the West poses a tougher task for the teams on the bubble. The East not only has less teams, but more clubs that are hit or miss with every team in the hunt having a minus goal differential.

Two teams to watch are the Florida Panthers and the St. Louis Blues. Each of these teams have newfound energy after being inconsistent for most of the season. The Panthers are 8-1-1 in their last 10, while the Blues are winners in their last two after going 1-7-2 in their previous 10.

Things are heating up in South Beach

NHL bubble teams

Photo from NHL.com

The Florida Panthers came into the month of February with a record of 20-22-6. Since then, they have gone 14-4-1, sitting as the lone formidable bubble team out East. This club has star power, a hall of fame net minder, and undeniable team chemistry.

Coach Bob Boughner said they are all in it and all screaming from the bench after big plays. It’s coming together at the right time, but some would say this was a playoff team all along.

This team has three players with at least 60 points (Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck and Jonathan Huberdeau). Throw in Evgenii Dadonov and they have four with at least 50 and Keith Yandle and Nick Bjugstadsix make six with at least 40.

All-Star talent and well-balanced scoring is the basis to all playoff teams. After a rocky start, the Panthers are in line to make some real noise down the stretch with the fire power they have on their roster.

Everyone has been waiting for when Roberto Luongo’s level of play is going to fall off a cliff. Well, the 38-year-old has not slowed down yet this year. He has gotten himself into the 400-win club (11th goalie in history), posted a 2.61 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in just 26 games played. Had his season not been cut short due to injury, we might have seen this bubble team be seen in the thick of things more so as it pertains to the playoff picture.

Nevertheless, do not sleep on the Panthers these last three weeks.

What type of Blues will they be singing in the end

NHL bubble teams

Photo from NHL.com

It is difficult to figure out what to make of St. Louis as the end of the regular season draws near. After a 21-8-2 start, I was thinking about Lord Stanley. The Blues then proceeded to go 14-19-3 in their next 36.

After scoring just 10 goals in their previous eight games where they went 1-6-1, St. Louis has won their last two for the first time since Feb. 8 and 9. Trying to forget the past, the Blues sit just one point out of the final playoff spot with 13 games remaining.

When the Blues traded Paul Stastny at the deadline, many saw that as throwing in the towel. St. Louis currently sits 23rd in the league in scoring and a league-worst 15.1 percent on the power play.

However, coach Mike Yeo has reunited the top line of Brayden Schenn, Jaden Schwartz and Vladimir Tarasenko and reconstructed the depth chart. They scored 11 goals in their previous two games against LA and Anaheim. Yeo knows there is still work to be done, but they are getting closer.

Jake Allen’s year started off with great promise as he posted a 17-8-1 record. Allen then recorded just two wins in his next 19 games played. It seems to be a confidence issue with him because when he is on, he is among the league’s best in terms of talent, but in the bottom half when he is off his game. St. Louis’ starting goaltender may have found what he did a year ago as he has recorded three straight solid starts, going 2-1-0 and allowing just five goals.

If the Blues have any shot to make it to the postseason and make noise when they get there, they must have a confident Jake Allen.

Any team at any time can get hot

Neither of these bubble teams expected to be in the position they currently sit. No one saw the Panthers playing meaningful games in late March and into April at the start of the season. No one saw the Blues trying to scratch and claw their way into the playoffs at the start of the year.

Regardless, both teams are trying to light the fire and get hot at the right time. No one cares how you start the year, only how you finish.

You may think neither of these teams deserve recognition, but their stories are interesting. At one point in time or another, every hockey follower had them out of the playoff race or an after thought. When Florida was under .500 in February, or when St. Louis lost their seventh in a row in February, we all thought these two were lost causes. Let’s let them decide.

 

Featured image from NHL.com

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out west

Anything can happen out West

The battle in Pyeongchang for American fans is now over. That means our eyes are on the NHL races solely for the majority of NHL fans in North America. In retrospect, I feel that no NHL stars present made for a less entertaining olympics. Nevertheless, it’s all over and we move forward. The race within the Western Conference is immensely tight.

It is wild out west. Teams are scratching and clawing every night for points. Only three teams are locks for the postseason. That would be Las Vegas, Nashville and Winnipeg. Eight other clubs are in a dog fight to secure the final five spots.

These are the eight teams, their projected points and current positions before games on 2/21:

San Jose – 101.1 points (2nd Place in Pacific)

Dallas – 100 points (3rd Place in Central)

Minnesota – 98.7 points (2nd Wildcard)

Los Angeles – 97 points (3rd Place in Pacific)

St. Louis – 96.8 points (1st Wildcard)

Anaheim – 95.4 points (Outside looking in)

Colorado – 94.5 points (Outside looking in)

Calgary – 94.3 points (Outside looking in)

There are two more guaranteed spots in the Pacific Division not yet solidified. In the Central, the Preds and Jets have gained significant separation leaving just one guaranteed spot up for grabs. This gives you a good idea of what will happen in that we have no idea. These are all projections with teams fighting for their playoff lives with 20+ games remaining. Anything can happen.

Battles out west in the Pacific

out west

Photo from NHL.com

San Jose:

22 games remaining – 15 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 12 at home – 10 on road

Los Angeles:

22 games remaining – 15 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 15 at home – 7 on road

Anaheim:

21 games remaining – 13 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 13 at home – 8 on road

Calgary:

22 games remaining – 14 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 10 at home – 12 on road

Each of these teams will meet in the middle and end of March. Five points separate these clubs and the intensity of those games will be at an all-time high. None of these teams are guaranteed playoff berths, which means the playoffs start now. The Golden Knights have an eight point lead over the second place Sharks with games in hand. Four of these five could make it out west or just two.

battles out west in the central

out west

Photo from NHL.com

Dallas:

23 games remaining – 19 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 10 at home – 13 on road

Minnesota:

23 games remaining – 16 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 10 at home – 13 on road

St. Louis:

21 games remaining – 14 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 9 at home – 12 on road

Colorado:

23 games remaining – 16 against teams in playoffs or in playoff race – 12 at home – 11 on road

Nashville has a nine-point lead on third place Dallas. Winnipeg is just two points behind with a seven-point separation form the Stars. Just like the Pacific, the Central foes will meet multiple times down the stretch. The teams above are in more of a situation than the Pacific clubs with only one guaranteed spot left. Three of them could make it or just one.

this is why we follow hockey

The United States were eliminated Tuesday night to the hands of the Czech Republic. TJ Oshie was unable to make it as the Americans went down in a shootout. The US Women’s quest for gold will be won or not but nevertheless done by the time this gets out. The point being is that from this point forward all of our time, energy and focus should be on the NHL playoffs forthcoming.

I sound like the most broken of broken records. However, this is a sport with a competitive nature that is worth repeating every time we sit down and watch or talk hockey. There is nothing more exciting and no better time in sports than playoff hockey. The races themselves like the one out west to get to the postseason are almost just as exciting. Let us all sit back and enjoy these races and insanely intense battles.

 

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Metropolitan Division

Things are very much congested in the Metropolitan Division

I have been slightly incorrect in the past. The central does have have the better collection of teams overall. However, the Metropolitan Division currently has the most traffic…

Prior to games on February 8th:

  1. Washington Capitals – 67 points – 29 games remaining
  2. Pittsburgh Penguins – 63 points – 27 games remaining
  3. New Jersey Devils – 62 points – 30 games remaining
  4. Philadelphia Flyers – 59 points – 29 games remaining
  5. Columbus Blue Jackets – 58 points – 29 games remaining
  6. New York Islanders – 58 points – 28 games remaining
  7. Carolina Hurricanes – 57 points – 28 games remaining
  8. New York Rangers – 55 points – 28 games remaining

This is not the most talented division, nor does it possess a top three team, but each club is in play for the postseason. Both wild card spots in the East are held by a member of the Metro. It is one hundred percent a three-man race in the Atlantic. This makes for just a 4-point separation between the number one wild card spot (held by the Flyers) and the last place Rangers. The margin for error gets smaller and smaller as every single game now has playoff implications.

So, we meet again…probably

The matchup everyone now looks forward to every season is most likely forthcoming again. It is always known that Sidney Crosby is a three-time Stanley Cup Champ while Alex Ovechkin has yet to reach a conference final…in fact, Crosby has served as Ovi’s kryptonite having never beaten him in the playoffs. The past two years each of their teams have met in the second round with the Penguins winning in six in 2016, then in seven in 2017. There is a very good chance we see this movie yet again this Spring…

Metropolitan Division

Photo from NHL.com

Washington Capitals: Why they will finish in the top three of the Metro

Alexander Ovechkin – 32 goals (leads league)/26 assists/58 points (11th in league)/+12

Depth – Four Players (Ovechkin/Kuznetsov/Backstrom/Carlson) with at least 40 points

Braden Holtby – 27 wins (tied for 3rd in league)

Pittsburgh Penguins: Why they will finish in the top three in the Metro

Trending upwards – 7-3-0 in their last 10 – 20-7-1 on home ice

Special Teams – Power play is 26.8% (leads league) – Penalty Kill is 82.5% (7th in league)

Experience – 15 of their 20 current players on roster have won a Stanley Cup together

We have the cast and crew ready to go. The two teams battled it out on the Friday before the Super Bowl in D.C. with Pittsburgh prevailing 7-4. Will we see the same ending to this trilogy as we have seen in the previous two??…or will the Washington Capitals finally breakthrough and compete for a Stanley Cup??

You gonna make a move or stand pat??

Philadelphia Flyers: Sell it seems like

The Flyers are too inconsistent to be true contenders in the East (5-4-1 in their last 10). Therefore, selling would be smart to keep adding prospects and draft picks to keep building for the future. Ron Hextall added a first rounder in the offseason for Brayden Schenn. Seeing what the market would bring for someone like Wayne Simmonds (which would be a bundle) would be smart. “It all depends on what’s coming back” Hextall says (The Inquirer).

Columbus Blue Jackets: Buy more than likely

The Jackets have scored the least amount of goals (139) of any team in the Metropolitan Division. They are -11 on the year and will look to bolster their roster offensively. Columbus is a league-worst 14.1% on the power play as well. Looking around the league, a reunion with Rick Nash may be the best option.

Metropolitan Division

Photo from NY Daily News

New York Islanders: Toss up

Star Center for the Isles John Tavares is on pace for a 40-goal/90-point season. He is in his prime at 27 and has an expiring contract and will become a free agent on July 1st. Islanders’ GM does not expect to move him before the deadline, but seeing what the market will offer may be in his best interest. The team also knows how to put the puck in the net better than any team in the Metro with 181 goals on the year, but gives up more than anyone in the division (197 goals against). Bolstering their defensive core will be on their minds one way or the other.

One point separates these three teams. All are in play for the postseason. If you have a shot to make the playoffs, the advice should always be to go for it. The parity is real…ask Nashville.

Close, but no cigar

The Hurricanes and Rangers round out the bottom two in this jam packed division. The Rangers have asked Rick Nash for his no-trade list, but GM Ron Francis has not ruled out buying before the deadline. Two different approaches, but similar team finishes if changes don’t soon occur…

Metropolitan Division

Photo from NHL.com

New York Rangers: Selling most likely

Trending downwards – 3-7-0 in their last 10 – 8-14-2 on the road (16 road games left)

No elite scoring – 0 players with 40+ points

Carolina Hurricanes: Buying??

Trending downwards – 4-5-1 in their last 10 – -20 goal differential (worst in division)

Elite scoring and depth – two players (Teravainen/Aho) with 40+ points – five players with 30+ points

As constructed, neither of these teams are dangerous come mid-April. However, if either GM decides that this year is worth giving up significant pieces for their future with how tight the standings are, this could be extremely interesting down the stretch.

Do it

Whether you’re buying, selling or standing pat on February 26th, do it. Very rarely do all seven-eight teams in a division have a clear shot at ending up in the playoffs. All you have to do is get to the dance and right now, the last place Rangers are just three points out of that last wild card spot…

The Hurricanes have a Stanley Cup-winning net minder in Cam Ward and the Rangers obviously have a hall of fame goalkeeper in King Henrik. You can win any playoff series with hot goaltending. Anything can happen. Whatever these teams are thinking, each have a shot…so do it.

 

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NHL All-Star weekend

An All-Star weekend to remember

The game’s brightest stars were on display this All-Star weekend. This past Saturday, we had the skills competition followed by the 3-on-3 tourney Sunday. Much of what we already knew was confirmed.

Connor McDavid (only repeat fastest skater champ): The fastest human to ever play hockey.

Johnny Gaudreau (puck control relay champ): His hands are right up there with Patrick Kane’s.

Alex Pietrangelo (passing champ): Proved defensemen are some of the best passers in the NHL.

Marc-Andre Fleury (save streak champ, 14 consecutive saves): Is and always will be elite.

Alex Ovechkin (hardest shot champ, 101.3 MPH): Can still bring it with the best of them at age 32.

Brock Boeser (accuracy champ and All-Star Game MVP): He is a rookie, but already a superstar.

All-Star weekend is a showcase of the league’s best. In the past, the game itself has been classified as a show instead of real competition. The new 3-on-3 structure has tied both elements into the game and has been a success the last three years. The year before this establishment, the score of the game was 17-12. The past three championship games have been 1-0, 4-3 and 5-2.

Game 1: Central vs. Pacific

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from LA Kings Insider

The two Western Conference Division All-Stars squared off in Game 1 of the 3-on-3 tournament..

Nathan Mackinnon opened up the scoring with a wicked wrister from the top of the slot that beat Marc-Andre Fleury and rang right off the back bar and into the shelf to give Central a 1-0 lead after one.

Drew Doughty then found himself on a breakaway halfway through the second and beat Connor Hellebuyck blocker side to tie the game with 5:47 left.

James Neal later was left all alone at the top of the slot to complete a tic-tac-toe passing play from Brent Burns and Connor McDavid to put Pacific up 2-1 with 3:03 left.

32 seconds later, P.K. Subban went in all alone on Mike Smith, who tried to stack the pads, and Subban went shelf to tie it up 2-2 with 2:31 to play.

45 ticks later, Brock Boeser sent a missile top left from the top of the slot to put Pacific up 3-2 with 1:46 remaining.

Brent Burns and James Neal added two empty netters and the Pacific took Game 1, 5-2.

Connor McDavid may not have scored, but the 21-year-old showed why he is already among the game’s best. The Oiler and Pacific captain registered four assists and generated a scoring chance with his speed seemingly every time he was on the ice. McDavid and the 20-year-old Boeser showed why the first and second-year players are indisputably a part of the NHL’s most talented players.

The Pacific Division All-Stars then awaited the winner of the Metro and Atlantic Division game.

Game 2: Metropolitan vs. Atlantic

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from Sporting News

The two Eastern Division All-Stars went toe to toe in Game 2 of the 3-on-3 tournament.

Just over a minute in, two career-long rivals connected (Sidney Crosby from Alex Ovechkin) to put Metro up 1-0 with 8:51 left in the first. Four minutes later, a third and second-year player (Jack Eichel and Auston Matthews) tied the game 1-1 with 4:30 left in the first.

Claude Giroux then went in on a two-on-none with Brian Boyle where he waits, looks and fires a pellet past Andrei Vasilevskiy blocker side to give Metro a 2-1 lead with 2:18 left in the first. 34 seconds later, classic Ovechkin went far side from the top of the circle to make it 3-1 Metro with 1:44 left in the first. 11 seconds later, the hometown All-Star, Nikita Kucherov, went in on a breakaway and fired one top right on Henrik Lundqvist to cut Metro’s lead to 3-2 after one period of play.

The two teams traded goals to start the second and the game was tied at four with 5:27 to play. Erik Karlsson then scored what would have been the go-ahead goal, but the play was reviewed and ruled offsides.

Two minutes later, Jack Eichel fired one from the bottom of the circle to officially take the lead where he and Auston Matthews both pointed for a memorable goal celebration. Atlantic led 5-4 with 3:20 to play.

Brad Marchand and Nikita Kucherov capped off the Atlantic’s victory with two more goals for a 7-4 win. It took a five-goal second and a hat trick from No. 86. The three-goal performance was the first in the 3-on-3 tourney’s young history. Kucherov put on on a show for the Lightning faithful and showed why he is an elite scorer and a Hart Trophy candidate.

Championship Game: Atlantic vs. Pacific

NHL All-Star weekend

Photo from SB Nation

The remaining two teams from the East and West then competed for $1 million.

59 seconds into the first frame, Rickard Rakell cleaned up the garbage in front to put Pacific up 1-0 with 9:01 remaining in the first. Just over four minutes later, Brock Boeser extended his team’s lead to 2-0 with 4:55 to play in the first.

63 seconds later, Mike Green was left open at the bottom of the far side circle to get the Atlantic on the board. Pacific led 2-1 with 3:52 remaining in the first. Two and a half minutes later, Drew Doughty took a feed from teammate Anze Kopitar at the top of the slot and ripped a one timer past Andrei Vasilevskiy to give Pacific a 3-1 lead after the first frame.

Just under two minutes into the second, Johnny Hockey went in all alone to make it 4-1 Pacific with 8:09 to play. The two teams traded goals down the stretch, and Pacific won 5-2, taking home the $1 million prize.

In the end, it was the stars in the somewhat less competitive divisions battling in the championship game. It goes to show that this league is filled with talent at every turn. Brock Boeser may play for the lowly Canucks, Jack Eichel may play for Buffalo, but these two and others are all very much elite players in the NHL. All-Star weekend is a representation of the state of the league, which is in a very good place with the excess amount of talent it possesses.

Let us get back to business

This past weekend was fun as always. However, it’s time for teams to get back to work and play every game like a playoff game. There are races in each conference and division. This is no longer a marathon, but a sprint to the finish.

Can the Golden Knights continue what they’ve started? Is it too late for the Blackhawks to overcome their subpar first half? Will the Penguins become contenders once again? Will the Caps no longer be pretenders?

Are the Bruins and Jets for real? Are the Avs more than just way ahead of schedule? Will the Preds run back to the Final?

These questions will soon be answered. Let us all get back to work.

 

Featured image from NHL.com

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the flyers

The Flyers are flying right now

The city of brotherly love has much to be excited about this time of year. Football and basketball in Philly have met expectations. Hockey on the other hand is exceeding expectations.

The Eagles are headed to the Super Bowl.

The 76ers are in a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

The Flyers have soared into a playoff spot with 34 games to play.

The Flyers lost ten consecutive games from November and into the beginning of December. Many had them outside the playoff picture for the remainder of the season. However, Philly’s hockey club has roared back winning their last four and eight of their last 10 coming into Thursday. They sit in third place in one of the toughest divisions in hockey (the Metropolitan). There is still a long way to go before the playoffs, but Philadelphia has a lot to be excited about these days.

What’s been the difference for their hockey team??

Superstar Talent

Every contending team in the NHL has at least one player who lights it up on a nightly basis. Fortunately for this group, Philly has two.

the flyers

Photo from Zimbio

Claude Giroux (30):

14 goals, 42 assists – 56 points (tied with Steven Stamkos for fourth in the NHL)

22 Power play points – +9 rating

48 games played

Jakub Voracek (28):

9 goals, 46 assists (league leader) – 55 points (tied with Phil Kessel and Johnny Gaudreau for fifth in the NHL)

23 Power play points – +7 rating

48 games played

Ratings of nine and seven may seem modest, but having those on a team with just a +4 goal differential is actually quite impressive. Giroux will be the lone Philly representative at the All-Star game in Tampa on Sunday. The Flyer captain will attempt to lead his club back to the postseason after coming up short a year ago. Philadelphia is locked in that third place position, but Columbus and Pittsburgh (two current wildcard teams) are both just one point behind them (as of 1/24/18).

Young, but seasoned

The Flyers are led by their two superstars in their prime, but also possess two 25 and younger talents. These two players are playing at All-Star levels..

the flyers

Photo from Getty Images

Shayne Gostisbehere (24):

9 goals, 24 assists – 33 points (tied for fifth among all NHL defensemen)

18 Power play points – +2 rating

44 games played

Sean Couturier (25):

26 goals (leads team), 23 assists – 49 points (third on team behind Giroux and Voracek) – 48 games played

10 Power play points – +18 rating (leads team)

These two stars for Philadelphia may be young, but combine for 650 games of experience. We have talked numerous times about the youth movement in this league. Couturier and Gostisbehere are prime examples of the youthful leadership almost all contending teams have. The play of these Flyers will be a key element to this team’s success moving forward in their run to the playoffs.

MOOOOOOOSE

Philadelphia has been looking for a reliable goaltender for quite some time. Fortunately, at least for the foreseeable future, they have found it in Brian Elliott..

the flyers

Photo from NHL.com

Brian Elliott “Moose” (32):

19 wins and has picked up points in 26 of 37 games

2.77 goals against average w/a save percentage above 90 at .908

Elliott has carried a team (St. Louis) all the way to the conference finals in recent years. He has the capability of carrying the Flyers to the postseason and giving them an opportunity to win once they are there.

Philly’s backup has been reliable as well making their goalie tandem formidable.

Michal Neuvirth (29):

5 wins and has picked up points in six of 11 games

2.23 goals against average w/a .928 save percentage and one shutout

The Flyers have only scored 140 goals (lowest total for playoff team in East) this season, which makes solid goaltending imperative. They will not make the playoffs without it.

Battle and grind always

NBC Sports Philadelphia had its hometown team finishing with 96 points and a spot in the 2018 postseason at the beginning of the year..

They also had the Oilers winning the Stanley Cup, so really anything can happen as usual.

The Flyers are a very respectable 13-5-5 against current playoff teams and 3-0-1 against first place teams..

No one would be surprised if they were to go on and make it to the postseason at this point.

Philly is looking to avoid back-to-back seasons without making the playoffs since 1992-1994..

You have to battle, you have to grind.

 

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pacific division

Pacific Division Uprising

The Pacific Division is not often compared to the likes of the Central. However, this week’s power rankings have some new members in the top 10 that has the division making some noise.

The Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks and Calgary Flames all find themselves climbing the ranks of the NHL.

This is the first time the Pacific has had at least three representatives in the top 10 since October 19th (post week two of the regular season).

The depth does not compete with the Central..but they do have the conference leader (Vegas) and the same number of teams in this week’s top 10.

What do this teams do well? What do they need to work on? Are either of these teams a true contender?

Let’s do it.

Viva Las Dangles

pacific division

Photo from NHL.com

There is no team discussed more recently than the Golden Knights… and they deserve it.

What they do well:

Kill penalties – (23-for-23 since December 19th)..

Win close games – (14-4-3 in one-goal games)..

Kick pucks out – (1.98 team goals against average and a .936 team save percentage).

What they need to work on:

The power play – (1 for their last 27 since December 19th, 17% overall/23rd in the league).

Are they a true contender? Yes.

The Knights have a number one goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury and are 15-6-1 against current playoff teams. Vegas has posted wins against Winnipeg, Tampa Bay and Washington (the three other first place teams in the NHL). They currently sit at number two in this week’s power rankings and atop the Pacific Division.

Newly shark invested waters

pacific division

Photo from NHL.com

The Sharks are one of the newest members of the top 10 from the Pacific Division.

What do they do well:

The power play – (scored one PPG in 14 of their last 17 games/20-for-64 since December 7th, 23% overall/5th in the NHL).

Winning at home and on the road – (13-6-2 on home ice/11-7-4 on the road)..

Work their goalie tandem – (Aaron Dell/backup/1A goalie is 10-3-0 w/a 2.26 GAA and a .925 save percentage).

What do they need to work on:

Plus/minus – (11 players are in the minus column and are only +9 as a team).

Are they a true contender? No.

San Jose comes in at nine in this week’s power rankings and currently sit in second place in the Pacific. They hold a modest 10-8-2 record against present playoff teams and will most likely be playoff bound. However, the Sharks have a 2-7-1 record against teams with a better record than them. The Sharks are hot, but don’t seem deep enough to compete with higher ranked teams in the postseason.

The flames are hot…naturally

pacific division

Photo from NHL.com

Tied for the Sharks in points and more new members from the Pacific in the top 10 are the Calgary Flames. Coming into Thursday, this club is on a seven-game win streak (longest active streak in NHL).

What do they do well:

Special Teams – (During this streak they are 22 for 24 on the PK and 5 for 20 on the PP).

Road Warriors – (They are a league-best 13-5-4 on the road)..

Johnny Gaudreau – (15 goals/39 assists/54 points in 45 games)..

Balanced goalie tandem – (Smith/Rittich have a combined 2.25 GAA and .928 save percentage).

What do they need to work on:

Play at home – (Flames are a modest 12-11-0 on home ice this year).

Goal Differential – (Calgary is just +6 as a team so far this year).

Are they a true contender? Possibly.

The Flames come in at number 10 in this week’s power rankings. They have a solid 11-7-2 record against current playoff teams. Three of those wins have come against first place Washington, Tampa and Winnipeg. Calgary is led by a ferocious young core that can skate with anyone and will be a tough out come playoff time.

Don’t sleep on this one either…

We did just talk about the Central Division being the most ultra competitive division.

Although this is true, the Pacific is right up there.

This is a division with the leader (Vegas) having a 7-point cushion…but there is a log jam right in the middle with only three points separating second to fifth place.

The contender portion of this article may be true, but San Jose, Calgary and Vegas for that matter haven’t proven anything yet..LA and Anaheim are very much motivated to wreak havoc on the division with a great deal of hockey left to be played.

These three teams are hot..but all must be focused on staying hot all the way to mid-April.

 

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chill out

“Chill out” – All fans that have teams in the Central

The Central is the most annoying division in hockey if that is where your team resides. The traffic is so steep that we have six points (as of 1/16/18) separating first to fifth place.

Seemingly every night we have each team finding ways to pick up points. We currently have five of the seven teams in the division in a playoff spot. The two teams behind the two wild card teams are two and three points behind.

When you look at it from that perspective you want your opposing teams to chill out in a sense. However, in a division this good, the fan has to think of the gas pedal motive. You want to be in the mindset that every game is a must win. If you’re not in that mindset in a race as tight as the Central, you will not win the race and may not even make the playoffs.

The Stars and Wild are figuring it out. The Avalanche are the most revived team in the league after last season’s dreadful performance. The Hawks are never to be taken lightly. So, you better have your heads on right Central Division fans because this is going to be very interesting down the stretch.

The Resurgent Stars/WIld

chill out

Photo from MassLive.com

Did you see Tyler Seguin’s OT goal against the Bruins on Monday? You need to. The Stars have won seven of their last 10 coming into Tuesday night’s meeting with Detroit. They currently hold the number one wild card spot, but are just two points back of third place, three of second and six of first. Dallas has found their number one goalie in Ben Bishop (19 Ws/2.52 GAA/4 SOs) and are surging.

People were confounded by Minnesota’s slow start (5 Ws in first 14 Games) after their great season last year. The Wild have gotten points in 8 of their last 10 games and have the same number of points (53) as the Stars coming into Tuesday. Eric Staal is having a throwback year (19 Goals/19 Assists) and is on his way to Tampa for the All-Star Game. Minnesota has three players with 30 or more points and seven with at least 20.

If it weren’t for the consistency of these two teams this division would be significantly less congested. These teams could very easily stay hot and compete for a division title. We thought this would be the case in the beginning of the year, but weren’t sure how hectic it would be at this point in the year.

Who are these guys??

chill out

Photo from NHL.com

The Colorado Avalanche won 22 games last season and had a -112 goal differential. They scored a league-worst 166 goals and gave up a league-worst 278. The rebuild was thought to continue for multiple years, but the Avs find themselves two points out of a playoff spot with 39 games to play. They have the upper hand on Minnesota as they have three games in hand on the second wild card holders coming into Tuesday. No one saw this coming..

The Avs have picked up points in nine of their last 10 games and are currently on a seven-game win streak where they took down first place Winnipeg. They sit a game below .500 on the road, but are a solid 16-7-1 on home ice. After their abysmal plus/minus a year ago, Colorado has a very nice +16 goal differential so far this season. The Avalanche are going with whoever is hot at the moment in net with the 1/1A system. Jonathan Bernier (who’s hot right now) has collected 11 wins for the club in 19 games, while Semyon Varlamov has registered 13 in 26 appearances.

Why is this happening?? Why now?? This division has enough traffic as it is, and as a fan of a Central Division team, this is infuriating. This isn’t the NFL where teams can be revamped from the cellar to the playoffs just like that in one year. I mean whatever if they want to battle, let’s battle.

The cellar isn’t really the cellar..

chill out

Photo from NHL.com

The Hawks are on their bye week this week. I’m not going to talk about their current spot in last place in the division. With our luck it would spark a second half surge and I don’t want to deal with that. So, let’s think positively as we discuss Chicago. The Blackhawks are only three points out of a playoff spot!

You can’t really count this first half underachievement with Corey Crawford not in action for 21 of their games. By this time Friday, when the Hawks return to practice, Chicago’s number one goalie will have been out four weeks. There is no timetable for his return, but Crawford has notched 16 of the team’s 22 wins, and when he is healthy, the Blackhawks are due for a run. 37 games remain, which gives Chicago plenty of time to earn a spot in the postseason.

Nine points separate the first place Jets and the last place Hawks. A division title may not be in their near future, but the playoffs are not far fetched whatsoever. Patrick Kane as 45 points in 45 games, while three Blackhawks have at least 30 points and seven have at least 20. Their spread out offense gives them the ability to compete with playoff teams as they just took down Winnipeg 2-1 last Friday. Do not judge this team’s first half as they are more than in the hunt when they come out of their bye week.

don’t look back

St. Louis, Nashville and Winnipeg are all clinging to their current positions (1st/2nd/3rd). By the time this gets out something could change. The window for error and inconsistency is almost shut. The Central Division is so jam packed that (as we discussed earlier) the gas pedal must be in full effect.

Fans want to tell other teams to “chill out,” but you ultimately want to feel this way. Teams need to feel like every game is a must win until the end, so they are hot and ready to go coming down the stretch and into the postseason.

This is the most interesting division in the NHL this year. No team is out of it, while first place separation is apparent in every other division. The Metropolitan has significant traffic and is hotly contested as well, but the race in the Central will be the one we play closest attention to down the stretch.

 

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

no drama

No drama in hockey?

I was talking to a friend of mine about sports the other day. We ended up discussing sports talk shows, podcasts etc. The thing that always bothers me about those shows is that unless you’re watching the NHL Network, you’re most likely not ever hearing about hockey. I disclosed this irritable feeling with my friend, but he responded in a way that made me more frustrated. He said to me, “yeah that’s just cause there’s no drama in hockey”…

That is just absurd. The entertainment and soap opera drama within the game of hockey is so vast, yet the appreciation is slim. We have previously discussed the NHL popularity compared to the other major sports. This is a reason we see a lack of hockey coverage as it pertains to sports talk shows and podcasts. To say that it is due to a lack of drama is about as ignorant as it gets..

Hockey is as entertaining and dramatic as any sport. I don’t have to convince this to the hockey purist or anyone for that matter. Anyone reading these articles are most likely followers of the league. That was simply a phrase that struck a nerve, but also sparked an idea. Today we will discuss all the “no drama” we have in the NHL at this point in the regular season.

“Who are you going to take?”

no drama

Photo from NHL.com

The New Jersey Devils were a long shot to attain the number one overall pick at last year’s draft. Before the lottery took place, the team sat at number five. So, New Jersey GM Ray Shero did not even give the idea of acquiring top prospects Nico Hischier or Nolan Patrick much thought. After winning the lottery, Shero went out to dinner with Avalanche GM Joe Sakic at a restaurant in Toronto where media then gathered..

Members of the media started harassing Shero asking him again and again, “who are you going to take?” Channelling his inner Sonny Weaver (Kevin Costner in the movie Draft Day) he responded to the media, “Ok! I’ll write it down on a piece of paper” (NHL.com). He proceeded to take out a pen and paper and wrote, “Vontae Mack no matter what”, folded the piece of paper and handed it to the media. Mr. Shero may not have known right then he’d take Nico Hischier at number one, but New Jersey is very happy with their decision.

Hischier (8G, 18A in 41 games) went number one to the Devils, followed by Nolan Patrick (2G, 6A in 33 games) to Philly. Both rookies are 19 years of age and will meet for the first time Saturday night in New Jersey at the Prudential Center. Ray Shero has told the media that you can’t judge these two right now because they are simply great young talents who will both be very good players in the future..

The NHL draft is filled with scrutinized decisions that are mulled over for years. It’s the same drama that is heightened in all four of our major sports that shape all organizations involved.

Realignment/Expansion

no drama

Photo from The Athletic

The NHL currently has 31 teams, which makes it an uneven league. There are three divisions with eight teams and one division with seven. Another expansion is soon upon us (targeted by 2020-21) as  Gary Bettman has invited Seattle to apply. It is a city the league has been looking at for years where owners have been reported to be greatly in favor of the $650 million expansion fee. This would also make for a needed realignment.

A presented restructure of the divisions has Seattle in the now Pacific division, moving Arizona to the now Central as well as the Detroit Red Wings. This would renew an historic rivalry between Detroit and Chicago. Current rivalries would be in a sense broken also as Nashville would then move to the East. Expansion and realignment changes the landscape of who has to go through which teams to capture the Stanley Cup.

The NBA has a conference (the East) that is completely inferior to the other. The MLB has races to the postseason altered when teams like the Houston Astros relocate from one league to the other. The NFL has conversations about the playoff alignment every year as divisions are stronger and weaker at times. Each of the major sports have these conversations about how can we make the game better. Hockey is no different than football, baseball or basketball in this regard.

Tragedy and heart-felt stories

no drama

Photo form Yahoo Sports

National hockey analysts for NBC Eddie Olczyk and Pierre McGuire are currently battling cancer. Olczyk is fighting colon cancer while McGuire is going through prostate cancer as both are undergoing chemotherapy. The two of them are going about their business still as it relates to NBC Sports. Eddie has been filled in for by Mike Milbury, but has found a way to do games here and there while Pierre said he will be back for NBC’s coverage of the Winter Olympics.

Brian Boyle plays at a forward position for the New Jersey Devils. The 32 year old was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia during training camp. Boyle has since returned to the ice in wake of his diagnosis and was moved to tears after scoring his first goal of the season. He said he has found more of an appreciation for the game as his teammates say he is still ‘the loudest guy in the room’ (Sportsnet). The battle that hockey is can greatly relate to the battle of life as we have discussed.

The tragic overcoming of disease is newsworthy in any sport. These stories have been reported and commented on how they would be in any of the major sports. They are a reminder of how sports can serve as a great coping mechanism for fans and athletes alike struggling with the battles life throws our way. Hockey has always been a sport where adversity is met and has inspired those playing and watching.

Money Aside

Hockey may not approach the revenue stream of the other three major sports, but will never be a sport with a lack of drama. If you were to search NHL in the news section of google or any search engine, you would find stories in abundance just like football, baseball and basketball..

Having a two-minute segment on an hour-long Sportscenter hurts, but it’s reality. Viewership and ratings speak for themselves. Just don’t ever say hockey isn’t “interesting” or there’s “no drama” in the sport.

You look at the NHL playoffs, and you see 16 teams in two brackets trying to win four four out of seven series to win a championship. You have communities competing against one another to try and be the last one standing. It’s a tournament filled with twists and turns that make for an art show overflowing with drama..

Hockey is fast. Hockey is a game that can be won suddenly. A sport such as this can never be said to have no drama.

 

Featured image from Odyssey

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trade deadline

Buyers and Sellers at The Trade Deadline: February 26th

The end is near for some. For others, it’s just the beginning.

The majority of teams are past the halfway point of the regular season. The marathon part of the year is over, it is now a dead sprint to the finish line and to playoff hockey.

Buyers and sellers will soon come forth as we approach the trade deadline. There are obvious active participants as we approach Feb. 26th, but also inactive participants. You have teams like Vegas who are willing to stand pat and trust their current rosters as they embark on a playoff push. Regardless, everything is now kicked up a notch..

Today we will discuss teams that are willing to buy or sell. It also cannot be stressed enough that the greatest tournament in sports (the Stanley Cup Playoffs) is right around the corner. We will dissect the statuses of the handful of teams most likely making moves, but will also note that the battle for Hockey’s Holy Grail is near. Nevertheless, who’s buying and who’s selling??

Buyers–>The St. Louis Blues.

trade deadline

Photo from Twitter

Yeah, I got to do it. In the most humble and non-biased way possible, the St. Louis Blues need to be buyers as legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. They have been fighting the injured reserve all year, which has taken a toll on their depth. Their top point getter (at the time of injury) Jaden Schwartz went down with an ankle injury on December 9th. Since then, the Blues have won just six games and have scored only 26 goals in their last 14 games sitting in 2nd place in the Central..

GM Doug Armstrong has said to Hockey Central that the team is not in the market for a rental player (reported by Sportsnet). With their limited cap space they have expressed interest in a 28 year old Mike Hoffman (Senators) who is signed through 2020. Hoffman would be a vital piece to St. Louis having scored 27, 29, and 26 goals the past three seasons. They have Ottawa’s attention as well with their prospect collection (Jordan Kyrou/Klim Kostin) and seem to be ready to make a move. Getting Schwartz back within the month and adding another sniper in the mix puts St. Louis in a much better position heading into the postseason.

Tuesday night marks the last game for the Blues before their bye week. They have played far more games than everyone in their division at 46 (after Tues.) making a win crucial. St. Louis will take the ice against the Florida Panthers at Scottrade Center at 7pmCT before getting a chance to rest and refuel.

Sellers–>Montreal Canadiens.

trade deadline

Photo from A Winning Habit

The Habs are currently seven points behind Pittsburgh for the second wild card spot in the East. They are in a bad spot because they would have to leapfrog six teams, three of which have games in hand on them. Their position prior to the trade deadline has been deemed as sellers. The Canadiens have scored 13 goals in their last eight games. Montreal is in no way out of the playoff race, but Carey Price would have to go on a run down the stretch as they are 29th in the league in scoring (2.46 goals per game).

Max Pacioretty (Canadiens Captain) has been reported as the main player on the trading block. It’s hard to imagine with Pacioretty having five of Montreal’s 12 30-goal campaigns in the last 20 seasons. He has immense value as the 29-year old is not even a rental with one year beyond 2018 remaining on his contract. GM Marc Bergevin has said that while the team is obviously looking for picks and prospects, they also are eyeing a top goal scorer in return for the Habs’ captain.

Montreal is off until Saturday when they are home to the Boston Bruins. They have 40 games remaining to make some sort of push, but it is almost clear they cannot compete with playoff teams. With points in only four of their last 10 and just seven wins away from home it’s going to be a tough road down the stretch.

Buyers–>Columbus Blue Jackets.

trade deadline

Photo from MyNHLTradeRumors.com

The Blue Jackets made a splash in the offseason acquiring Artemi Panarin. Everything seemed to be falling into place as they were atop the Metro Division for the majority of the first half. The Capitals hot streak that has surged them to the top along with key injuries to Columbus makes them buyers at the trade deadline. The Jackets are currently without top players Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg and Brandon Dubinsky. Columbus is currently just 24th in the league in scoring putting in 2.71 goals per game.

As the Jackets continue to battle in getting healthy, GM Jarmo Kekalainen will definitely look to add to his contending team. He is said to be targeting a top two center by the February 26 deadline. Kekalainen has approximately 4.3 million in cap space to work with as he eyes former Blue Jacket Derick Brassard. The 30 year old has played in 40 games this year for Ottawa with 11 goals and 16 assists. The Canadien born center spent his first six years in Columbus and could most certainly bolster their somewhat underachieving offense.

The Blue Jackets sit in third place in the Metropolitan Division. They have played two more games than Washington and three more than New Jersey coming into Tuesday. It is going to be a dog fight to the very end of the regular season for home-ice advantage. Columbus has the talent to compete, but are again looking for help with 38 games remaining on their schedule.

“Let’s getter goin’ here”

All of this is very relevant information as we approach almost one month until the trade deadline. The reshaping of teams will soon commence, but there is a much greater circumstance forthcoming. Every game and every two points on the line now takes greater significance..

We are two and a half months away from playoff hockey. Two and a half months away from throwing the standings and seedings away and the best teams competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup..

It is the toughest trophy to win in sports, and the decisions made prior to February 26th have great impact. I don’t even want to talk about it anymore. Let’s just getter goin’ and enjoy it.

 

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NHL midseason sleepers

Potential sleepers at halfway point

The Pittsburgh Penguins and Chicago Blackhawks are currently out of the playoff picture. These clubs have won six of the last nine Stanley Cups.

The championship pedigree of these two teams makes this a curious case at the halfway point of the season. The Pens are the reigning champs who came into the season with the best odds (8-1) to repeat once again. Chicago began the grind coming off a year in which they finished No. 1 in the West. The Hawks were given the fifth best odds (12-1) to raise Lord Stanley for the fourth time in nine years.

There is room for excuses and explanations for why this is happening. You can look at it from various angles, but maybe their reign as the NHL’s elite is over for the time being. That’s what I’m hoping for at least. It would be tough to make that case for Pittsburgh with them being back-to-back champs and then Chicago just given their DNA.

I don’t like either of these teams. It’s nice to have more novelty teams, which makes for more stories. Those outside of these hometown cities must continue to drive them further into the cellar. We can’t sleep on them either. Nevertheless, we need to dissect what’s happening with two of the most successful teams in the last decade.

What’s going on in the City of Steel??

NHL midseason sleepers

Photo from NHL.com

The Penguins have been battling this year to say the least. Seemingly every game has them down another man. They currently sit a point behind Carolina for the second Wild Card spot in the East. Pittsburgh continues to fight through their regular season adversity with AHL call-ups and college signings. If they find a way into the postseason at full strength, the Pens will not be overlooked.

The first order of business on their team dissection is that dreaded goal differential. Coming into Thursday, the Penguins are -14 on the year. Matt Murray (No. 1 goalie) logs the most minutes for them and has been battling injury almost all year. When he’s been in the net, he hasn’t been as sharp as he’d like to be either. Murray has been somewhat average with a goals against close to three and a save percentage hovering around 90 percent.

Furthermore, the Penguins backend is either out of commission or less than advertised. Excluding Kris Letang, Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz, Pittsburgh’s current D-core has registered just 19 points. The entire core is a combined -52 with only one (Schultz) in the plus column, who has played just 24 games. The Pens are more than capable of turning it around as they reach their halfway point, but need to act fast. They lost some pieces in the expansion draft and free agency. But there hasn’t been an excess amount of changeover for the two-time reigning champs.

Troubles in the Windy City..

NHL midseason sleepers

Photo from NHL.com

The people of Chicago and fans of their beloved Blackhawks find themselves in a weird place. At the midpoint of their season they find themselves in last place in the toughest division in hockey (the Central) and four points behind the second Wild Card spot in the West. Will they find their form down the stretch? Or has this been a downward spiral for them since the end of the 2016 season?

Chicago is coming off two straight first-round exits. In each of those series against Nashville and St. Louis, the Hawks’ core players (Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane…) were shut down, and they were forced to dig deep. The depth of the Blackhawks roster was exposed, which is perhaps why they are not the same dominant team at this point of the regular season. Kane is still doing Kane things with 38 points in his first 38 games, but Toews is not as lethal with 24. The Hawks have a few young guns putting up points, but are they a complete enough team to overcome this slow start?

Corey Crawford is still a top 10-15 net minder with 16 wins and a 2.27 goals against, but has no partner. Chicago has used two other goaltenders that have appeared in 14 games and have combined for just two wins. In the modern day NHL, we all know having two solid goalies is crucial to your success. Crawford has accounted for 34 of the team’s 42 points coming into Wednesday’s meeting with the Rangers.

DO not sleep on them..Battle.

We can discuss all the injuries and how these two teams have underperformed so far this season, but no. The trap opposing teams cannot fall into is forgetting about the championship DNA in each of these two clubs.

The second half of the regular season is a sprint. The marathon part is over, and good teams play their best when everything is on the line. Every two points is crucial, and that’s what scares me the most about these two teams.

The last thing they need is a chip on the shoulder, which is what we all are giving them. The core and the leaders of these two teams have won and know how to win when it matters most. Therefore, they must keep a foot on the gas pedal and battle.

 

Featured image by A-B Tech

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