Eastern Conference: The final eight

This article can be found published on Chicks Who Give a Puck – Part I and Part II.

With five weeks remaining in the NHL regular season, the playoff race is still as open as ever as teams battle for the top eight spots to secure themselves a berth into the postseason.

Here’s how I think the East will pan out. How do my final rankings stack up against yours?

1. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS (40-17-6, 86 pts)

Claude Giroux and the Flyers look to win the President's Trophy for the first time in history. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Claude Giroux and the Flyers look to win the President’s Trophy for the first time in history. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

The Flyers have 19 games remaining in the regular season. They have held the lead in the Eastern Conference for weeks and have barely been challenged for that spot. Some argue that because of this, it has led to complacency in the team and a lack of effort. Whatever the case may be, the team is finally getting threatened by the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning, who are quickly closing the gap.

The remaining opponents for the Flyers have a combined record of 384-354-99. While this may look to favor Philadelphia, it doesn’t show the hot streaks some of the teams are on.  The New Jersey Devils have turned themselves around and are making a push for a playoff spot. They are 9-1-0 in their last 10 games. Similarly pushing for a spot are the Toronto Maple Leafs, who have at least one point in 14 of their last 16 games.

They have almost identical numbers on the road (20-8-3) and at home (20-9-3), so it works that there is almost an even split of home and away games left for them (9 home, 10 away).

The Flyers have the lineup to make another run to the Cup, but they need to get back on track starting with their next game.  One thing that will help them do that is to get the power play clicking, which has dropped to 16.5-percent (23rd in the league). How important is the power play to them? Just look at the numbers: The Flyers are 25-2-1 in games where they score a power play goal.

Remaining Opponents (27-7-2): Buffalo Sabres (2-0-0), New York Rangers (4-0-0), Edmonton Oilers (0-0-0), Toronto Maple Leafs (2-1-0), Atlanta Thrashers (1-0-0), Florida Panthers (2-1-0), Dallas Stars (1-0-0), Washington Capitals (2-0-1), Pittsburgh Penguins (3-1-0), New York Islanders (4-0-0), Boston Bruins (1-2-0), New Jersey Devils (3-1-1), Ottawa Senators (2-1-0)

2. BOSTON BRUINS (38-19-7, 83 pts)

Tim Thomas is pushing to win his second Vezina in three years. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

Tim Thomas is pushing to win his second Vezina in three years. (Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)

The Bruins face a tough test in their last 18 games. Eight games are against  teams in a playoff spot, while three more are teams right on the bubble outside and another two with a team on a hot streak.

The team is riding on the back of Vezina-candidate Tim Thomas. He leads the league with an unreal 1.95 goals-against average and .940 save percentage; he’s second in shutouts (7) and third in wins (29). There’s no reason for Thomas to falter now, and he should be able to backstop the team to win the Northeast Division.

They were active leading into the trade deadline and shored up their offense by acquiring centers Chris Kelly from the Senators and Rich Peverley from the Thrashers.

The Bruins are the best road team in the league (22-7-4) and have eight of their last 18 games on the road. They just completed a six-game sweep on the road and continue to ride the momentum with seven consecutive wins.

Remaining Opponents (19-9-5): Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1-0), Montreal Canadiens (1-2-1), Buffalo Sabres (2-2-1), New York Islanders (2-0-0), Columbus Blue Jackets (0-0-0), Nashville Predators (0-0-0), Toronto Maple Leafs (2-1-1), New Jersey Devils (2-0-0), New York Rangers (1-1-0), Philadelphia Flyers (2-0-1), Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0), Atlanta Thrashers (1-1-1), Ottawa Senators (4-1-0)

3. WASHINGTON CAPITALS (35-20-10, 80 pts)

Alex Ovechkin's name can't be found in the top of the scoring or goal race this season. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Alex Ovechkin’s name can’t be found in the top of the scoring or goal race this season. (Rob Carr/Getty Images)

The Capitals have been through their fair share of ups and downs this season. The high-scoring Capitals from the past few years are a thing of the past this season. They only average 2.63 goals-per-game compared to 3.82 in 2009-10. They set out to focus more on their defensive play, which has improved from 2.77 to 2.45, but what they weren’t planning on was the increase in losses.

At one point in December, the Capitals lost eight consecutive games and they have been shutout nine times this season – second most in the league. Since that time, they have gone through winning and losing streaks of two or three games.

Superstar Alex Ovechkin is heading for the worst season of his career. He is on pace for only 32 goals – 18 off of last season – and 86 points.

The team has been battling injuries all season, including top defenseman Mike Green, who has been limited to 49 games.

Only eight of their remaining 17 games are against teams in a playoff position, giving them the chance to squeeze past the Lightning for the Southeast title for the fourth year in a row.

Remaining Opponents (18-3-7): Florida Panthers (1-1-1), Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-1), Edmonton Oilers (0-0-0), Carolina Hurricanes (4-0-0), Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0), Montreal Canadiens (1-0-1), Detroit Red Wings (0-0-0), New Jersey Devils (1-1-0), Philadelphia Flyers (1-0-2), Ottawa Senators (3-0-0), Columbus Blue Jackets (0-0-0), Buffalo Sabres (2-0-1), Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0-1)

4. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING (37-20-7, 81 pts)

Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos have become an inseparable duo on the ice for the Lightning. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos have become an inseparable duo on the ice for the Lightning. (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

If you feel a case of déjà vu setting in, don’t worry, you won’t be alone. With 18 games left on the schedule, the Lightning only face 11 different opponents. The NHL crammed in six divisional games in the final stretch, including three games against the Hurricanes in 16 days.

In Steve Yzerman’s first season as GM and Guy Boucher’s first season at head coach, the Lightning currently sit first in the Southeast Division and third in the East. Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis have been scoring machines for the team and both sit near the top of the NHL in those categories. Stamkos leads the league in goals (41) with no one nearby to challenge him and he also sits second in points (78), one behind Vancouver’s Daniel Sedin. St. Louis is second in assists (51) and third in points (75). It will be a tough test for teams to shut down this pair on any given night.

Forty-one-year-old Dwayne Roloson came in partway through the season and claimed the top spot between the pipes and has been stellar for the team. He posted two shutouts in his first four games after being acquired and two more back-to-back six games later.

The Lightning are 11-5-2 in divisional games and with six more of those coming up, those points could prove huge for them to claim the Southeast title. They are the best home team in the East and have nine more games at home after spending all but one game in February at home.

Remaining Opponents (15-9-4): Montreal Canadiens (2-0-0), Washington Capitals (2-3-0), Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0), Ottawa Senators (1-0-0), Florida Panthers (1-1-2), Toronto Maple Leafs (3-0-0), New York Islanders (1-0-2), Carolina Hurricanes (2-1-0), Pittsburgh Penguins (1-2-0), Minnesota Wild (0-1-0), Buffalo Sabres (2-1-0)

5. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS (37-21-7, 81 pts)

Jordan Staal, who battled back from two injuries, made his season debut just in time to help the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

Jordan Staal, who battled back from two injuries, made his season debut just in time to help the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

The Penguins have gone through a trying season, watching injury after injury pile on. Seven players are currently listed on injured reserve, including top stars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. While there’s hope Crosby can return this season, the same cannot be said for the Russian who will be sidelined the remainder of the year.

Crosby was on an unprecedented run- he went on a 25-game point streak during the season, compiling 26 goals and 24 assists during that span. He was well on his way to 64 goals and 132 points until hits to the head in back-to-back games took him out with a concussion. He has missed 24 games since and shows no signs of return anytime soon.

The Penguins kept going with the wins in January, but stumbled along in February. Their penalty kill unit remains at the top of the league at 86.9-percent.

The road ahead doesn’t get any easier for the depleted lineup, with seven games against playoff teams; five of those against division leaders.

Only two players – Max Talbot and Kris Letang – have played in all 65 games for the Penguins. With all these injuries, can the team continue to win or will it all catch up to them?

Remaining Opponents (23-12-3): New Jersey Devils (2-1-0), Boston Bruins (1-2-0), Buffalo Sabres (3-0-0), Montreal Canadiens (1-1-1), Edmonton Oilers (0-0-0), Ottawa Senators (2-1-0), New York Rangers (2-2-1), Detroit Red Wings (1-0-0), Philadelphia Flyers (1-3-0), Florida Panthers (2-0-0), Tampa Bay Lightning (2-1-0), New York Islanders (3-1-1), Atlanta Thrashers (3-0-0)

6. MONTREAL CANADIENS (35-23-7, 77 pts)

Tomas Plekanec leads the Montreal Canadiens in points and is second in goals and assists. (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

Tomas Plekanec leads the Montreal Canadiens in points and is second in goals and assists. (Andre Ringuette/Getty Images)

The Canadiens took a hit on defense with the losses of Josh Gorges, Andrei Markov and Jaroslav Spacek. Twelve different defensemen have suited up for the team this season, but the Canadiens have hung on to stay in the middle of the pack for a playoff position.

Management has trusted the team to goaltender Carey Price and he has taken the reins and run with it. He is second in the league with 30 wins and tied for second in shutouts with seven. He also sits ninth with a 2.34 goals-against average and eighth with a .922 save percentage.

They are 12-5-2 against divisional foes, winning all season series in the division except for the Maple Leafs.

They are an even 15-15-1 on the road, which is where they will spend 10 of their last 17 games. They are currently on a three-game win streak, two of which were away from the Bell Centre.

The Canadiens face a tough road ahead with 12 of 17 games against playoff contenders and two against hot teams battling for a spot. They should be able to hold the sixth spot, but don’t look for them to pass the Bruins.

Remaining Opponents (23-11-4): Tampa Bay Lightning (0-1-1), Boston Bruins (3-1-0), St. Louis Blues (0-0-0), Pittsburgh Penguins (2-1-0), Washington Capitals (1-1-0), New York Rangers (3-0-0), Minnesota Wild (0-0-0), Buffalo Sabres (3-0-2), Atlanta Thrashers (1-1-1), Carolina Hurricanes (3-0-0), New Jersey Devils (1-2-0), Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0), Ottawa Senators (4-1-0), Toronto Maple Leafs (2-3-0)

7. CAROLINA HURRICANES (31-25-9, 71 pts)

Eric Staal is helping to push the Carolina Hurricanes to lock a spot in the playoffs. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Eric Staal is helping to push the Carolina Hurricanes to lock a spot in the playoffs. (Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

The Hurricanes are trying to ride a high since hosting the All-Star Game at the end of January, but have only gone 6-6-3.

Captain Eric Staal leads the team in goals (28) and points (61), and that also leaves him tied for ninth and in 13th, respectively, in the league. Rookie Jeff Skinner has been a sensation in Carolina and is in the lead for the rookie scoring race with 22 goals and 48 points.

Goaltender Cam Ward has a tough task night in and night out as he faces a league-worst 33.6 shots per night. Even with that, he stands eighth in the league in wins (28) and 15th in save percentage (.920).

The Hurricanes have an almost identical record against three of the remaining divisional rivals they have to play (5-4-2). They hope to turn things around against the Capitals and gain some valuable points down the stretch to secure a seed in the playoffs.

Remaining Opponents (12-10-2): Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0), Atlanta Thrashers (4-0-0), Washington Capitals (0-3-1), Columbus Blue Jackets (0-0-0), Buffalo Sabres (1-1-0), Toronto Maple Leafs (2-1-0), New York Islanders (2-0-0), Ottawa Senators (2-1-0), Tampa Bay Lightning (1-1-1), Montreal Canadiens (0-3-0), Detroit Red Wings (0-0-0)

8. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS (29-27-9, 67 pts)

Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs have the hockey world paying closer attention as they draw nearer to a playoff spot. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs have the hockey world paying closer attention as they draw nearer to a playoff spot. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

No, this is not a typo. The Maple Leafs are pushing to make it into a playoff spot for the first time since the 2003-04 season.

Goaltender James Reimer has been wowing Leafs Nation with his play and has posted a 12-4-5 record and a 2.28 goals-against average and .929 save percentage.

Since being taken last in the All-Star Fantasy Draft, Phil Kessel has turned up the heat with 15 points in 12 games (since Feb. 8).

Not only Kessel, but the Maple Leafs themselves seem to have turned over a new – not to be cliché – leaf. They have gone 10-2-4 since that time and have been climbing the ladder in the East to come within three points of the eighth spot.

The schedule ahead won’t be easy, but the Maple Leafs have already beaten five playoff teams in seven attempts since the All-Star Game and are poised to knock off a few more and crawl into the last spot, if not a little higher.

Remaining Opponents (17-16-6): Chicago Blackhawks (0-0-0), New York Islanders (2-0-1), Philadelphia Flyers (1-2-0), Buffalo Sabres (1-2-1), Tampa Bay Lightning (0-2-1), Carolina Hurricanes (1-2-0), Florida Panthers (2-1-0), Boston Bruins (2-2-0), Minnesota Wild (0-0-0), Colorado Avalanche (0-0-0), Detroit Red Wings (0-0-0), Ottawa Senators (2-2-1), Washington Capitals (1-1-1), New Jersey Devils (2-0-1), Montreal Canadiens (3-2-0)

THE REMAINDER OF THE EAST:

9. New York Rangers
10. New Jersey Devils
11. Buffalo Sabres
12. Atlanta Thrashers
13. Florida Panthers
14. Ottawa Senators
15. New York Islanders

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5 Comments on “Eastern Conference: The final eight”

  1. March 4, 2011 at 10:24 PM #

    I was under the assumption that you were going to try hard to get my Sabres into the mix here.

    Them finishing 11th isn’t getting them into the mix.

    • Candice Monhollan
      March 4, 2011 at 10:25 PM #

      I tried, but sitting there looking at their schedule compared to the others, I just don’t think it’s in their favor. I hope I’m wrong. I’d like to see them make it, but it will be a tough battle for them.

      • March 4, 2011 at 10:27 PM #

        You are probably right but stranger things can happen in this lovely game we call hockey

  2. March 5, 2011 at 10:23 AM #

    Nice article and breakdown, Candice.

    Great read. I also have a funny feeling that the Leafs will make the cut and bring back a 2004 reunion with the Flyers!

    Dave

  3. Gabe Roman
    March 5, 2011 at 11:18 AM #

    I love this site….keep up the awesome work. Are you on TWITTER as well so I can follow you there?

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