1. Washington Capitals: 85 Points (39-12-7)
The Carolina Hurricanes aren’t the only team that has fallen victim to the post-bye week skid. The Caps have lost their first two games coming out of the bye, losing back to back games for the first time since December 29th. In both games, the Caps’ scoring hasn’t been up to par. The Caps’ shooting percentage is just 3.2% in their last two games, well below their season average of 11.6%.
The Caps’ struggles along with many other teams coming out of the bye week will be one of the many reasons that the NHL has to do away with the five-day breaks for each team. Teams coming off of their bye week so far this season are a woeful 4-12-4. Teams just look sloppy and slow in these games and it shows.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 82 Points (37-14-8)
The Pens came into last night’s game off of back-to-back losses, but were able to right the ship with a 3-1 win against the Canes. The Pens were led by Sidney Crosby, whose 33rd goal of the season proved to be the game-winner. Matt Murray had another great game with a 29 save performance. Murray, who is still considered a rookie, has a season .924 sv% which ranks seventh among goalies who have played 15 or more games. These numbers should put him squarely in Calder consideration, but he will be docked by voters for his playoff experience.
Pens GM Jim Rutherford has come out and said that he is looking to add one to two defensemen at the deadline next Wednesday. With Justin Schultz out with a concussion and Olli Maatta out for over a month with a hand injury, the Pens are thin on defense and will need depth to make another deep cup run. The Pens most likely don’t have the cap space for Kevin Shattenkirk, but could reach out to Ron Francis for Ron Hainsey, who would be a perfect fit for the team.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 79 Points (37-16-5)
Ever since their long win streak in December ended, no one has been talking about the Blue Jackets. Yet they quietly remain one of the best teams in the league with 79 points, good for fourth place in the NHL. Helping lead the charge has been rookie Zach Werenski who had a goal and two assists in a 4-3 loss to the Predators in their last game. Werenski now has 36 points (9g, 27a) which ranks ninth in the league for all defensemen.
The Blue Jackets are likely to be matched up with the Penguins in the first round of the playoffs and so far this season they have had success against the defending champs. The Blue Jackets defeated Pittsburgh 2-1 in overtime last Friday to bring their season record to 2-0-1. They match up one more time this season on April 4, which could determine home-ice advantage in the first round.
4. New York Rangers: 78 Points (38-19-2)
The Rangers lost only their second game in extra time last night as they fell in a shootout 3-2 (2-1) to the Montreal Canadiens. The Rangers have been the best team in the league in the month of February (because a Metro team is always required to hold that title) earning 15 out of a possible 18 points. The Rangers have been getting contributions from J.T. Miller and rookie defenseman Brady Skjei that has helped get them over the hump. Miller has 10 points (2g, 8a) this month and Skjei has seven points, all assists.
The Rangers’ resurgence has been mainly due to the performance of Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist and the Rangers’ .949 is the second best even strength save percentage in the league this month. The Rangers shooting percentage isn’t phenomenal at 8.5% but it’s better than average. These two combined have the Rangers at a 103.4 PDO which is in the top five in the league.
5. New York Islanders: 66 Points (28-21-10)
Doug Weight has now taken this team from the basement to fifth place and tied with Boston for the last playoff position, losing the tie breaker by one ROW. A big reason for the Islanders success is the recent play of Ryan Strome and Anders Lee, who both have five goals and six assists since January 30th.
The only issue for the Islanders is that they were bitten by the injury bug in their last game against the Red Wings. Both Casey Cizikas and Cal Clutterbuck left the game with injuries. With two nights before their game against the Canadiens, the Isles will have to turn to the AHL to replenish their bottom line.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 63 Points (28-24-7)
The Flyers hid most of their defensive mistakes early in the season with an insanely high shooting percentage which was over 10% through their win streak in November. However, since then, their offense has fallen to the second worst in the league at just 7.1%. Without scoring four-plus goals a night, the Flyers’ goaltending mistakes have not been covered up.
Heading into the trade deadline, the Flyers are in a very interesting spot. They have good young defensemen in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. Gostisbehere’s three-assist performance powered the team to a win in Vancouver Sunday. The forwards for the team seemed to be locked in, so the big question is will they make a play for a goaltender. I can’t see the Pens trading Fleury within the division, so the big question would be if the Flyers were to trade for a big name like Ben Bishop for the future.
7. New Jersey Devils: 60 Points (25-24-10)
The Devils have done just enough to stay above the Canes in the standings, but much like Carolina their chances to make the playoffs have likely closed. This isn’t a problem for the Devils who weren’t expected to compete seriously this year. The Devils have been rebuilding but have yet to fully buy in, and now might be the best time.
Heading into the deadline the Devils have done a good job to assemble a fairly young roster with an average age of only 26.7 years old. They now have good young pieces like Pavel Zacha, Devante Smith-Pelly, Taylor Hall and others to build around. However, they still have six skaters who are over the age of 30 who could fetch some good return from a team that needs a rent-a-star for the playoffs. Even with the team needeing to keep a couple players for expansion draft bait, they can easily add a couple draft picks to bolster their prospect pool this offseason.
8. Carolina Hurricanes: 56 Points (24-24-8)
The Canes have sunk to last in the East and there isn’t much to believe that they don’t deserve that right now. The Canes went into the break on a two-game losing streak and have come back losing three straight home games, which had been their strength.
There has been some chatter about the coaches and whether or not their jobs are safe. Let me be clear: they should be. To judge a coaching staff you can look at possession numbers and special teams numbers to see how their systems are working. The Canes continue to be a top six team in possession with a 55.5% Corsi-for. When looking at special teams, the penalty kill remains tops in the league with an 86.6% success rate. The Canes are also the most disciplined team in the league only being shorthanded 142 times, ten fewer than the next-closest team.
What these numbers show is that the players are playing an overall good game. They are out possessing teams, they’re disciplined, and they have good positioning and defensive systems to shut teams down.
However, there are two noticeable weaknesses to the team, scoring, and goaltending. The Canes’ even strength save percentage of .904 is the worst in the league and their shooting percentage 7.3% is 20th in the league. These aren’t coaching problems, these are composition problems. When a team is not willing to budge from the salary floor they aren’t going to have the raw talent to compete.