1. Washington Capitals: 97 Points (45-17-7)
The Caps righted the ship last night with a 4-2 win over the Minnesota Wild. Before this win, Washington had lost their previous five games, winless since March 4th. Last night also marked the end of another rough streak for the Caps, a ten-game goalless streak for Alex Ovechkin. Ovi scored his first goal since February 19th against the Wild.
Tomorrow, the Caps will get defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk back from a two-game suspension he earned from charging Kevin Gravel of the Los Angeles Kings. The Caps have been struggling to score as of late, going six straight games scoring two or fewer goals before scoring four last night. This has brought up the same fears that DC fans get every spring that the Caps’ scoring is going to disappear in the playoffs.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 95 Points (43-16-9)
The Pens had their own streak come to an end this week as their five-game win streak was snapped against the red-hot Flames on Monday. The Penguins have continued to be hit with injuries, but this time it has been to the forward group rather than the defensemen who were affected earlier this year. Last Wednesday Patrik Hornqvist was diagnosed with a concussion, Matt Cullen sat out Friday’s game with a lower-body injury, and Carl Hagelin suffered a lower-body injury on Saturday.
Concussions can be very tricky, so Hornqvist could miss substantial time, and Hagelin will be sidelined for at least four weeks. One piece of good news for the Pens is that they have signed Northeastern University senior Zach Aston-Reese to a two-year deal. Aston-Reese led the NCAA with 31 goals and 63 points this season. The 22-year-old forward went undrafted and was free to sign with any team he pleased. Yesterday he made his decision to sign with the Penguins.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 94 Points (44-18-6)
In the month of March the Blue Jackets have been successful with a 5-2-0 record. The Blue Jackets were propelled to their current standing mainly from their early season 17 game win-streak. Since then the Blue Jackets have fallen back to a normal level of play, but have seen their performance dip at times.
Having a successful March will be huge for Columbus as they will look to enter the playoffs with momentum, the exact opposite thing the Caps are looking at right now. The main reason for the team’s success is because of Sergei Bobrovsky’s play. The Vezina is likely to come down to Bobrovsky and Devan Dubnyk of the Minnesota Wild. The remaining games for the Blue Jackets aren’t likely to change the playoff picture, but they are likely to determine the Vezina winner, and the Jackets still have an outside chance at a division title.
4. New York Rangers: 90 Points (44-22-2)
The Rangers might as well openly admit that they are playing for the top wild card spot to cross over to the Atlantic Division for the playoffs. Going into last Thursday’s game against the Canes, the Rangers had 88 points and were sitting in third place. What did they do? They played Antti Raanta, Tanner Glass, and held out key players like Rick Nash and Michael Grabner due to minor injuries. Both Nash and Grabner played the next game against Detroit.
Not only is this an easier path to the Stanley Cup than going through the Metro, the Rangers have been a dominant road team all season. The Rangers’ 25 road wins is the most in the league and five more than the next closest team in the East, the Ottawa Senators. The Rangers excel at playing on the road and it won't scare them to have two road games right off the bat in each series. They will be able to avoid playing two of the three top teams in the league and won't face the Caps, Pens, or Blue Jackets until the conference finals if they cross over.
5. New York Islanders: 77 Points (33-25-11)
With an overtime win against the Canes, the Islanders reclaimed a spot in the playoffs as the final wild card team in the East. The Islanders don’t just have to worry about the Maple Leafs, who have been struggling a bit, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are also climbing up the standings to fight for the final wild card position.
The Lightning are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and have an active four-game win streak. Currently, the are tied with the Isles with 77 points but are two games behind in ROW. The good news for the Isles is that they still have six remaining home games and they are 20-9-6 at Barclays this season. The Isles are going to need to win at least eight of their last 13 games to secure a playoff position.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 70 Points (31-29-8)
This time last week the Flyers had playoff hopes. Though they were slim, the Flyers had a chance to claim the final wild card spot. Unfortunately for Philadelphia fans, the Flyers proceeded to lose their next three games, which has all but doomed their playoff hopes. When the Flyers needed it the most their offense couldn’t get it done.
In their last three games, the Flyers were only able to muster six goals while giving up 11 to their opponents. At the deadline, the Flyers acquired an additional veteran forward in Valtteri Filppula to avoid these situations, and to provide a boost, however it hasn’t boosted their play and the Flyers will be on the hook for his $5 million cap hit next season.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: 68 Points (28-27-12)
The Canes have seven points in their last 10 games, however, it will be too little too late to make any kind of playoff push. The Canes waited to play some of their best games until after being eliminated from playoff contention including scoring eight goals against the Islanders on Monday. In a borderline meaningless games, Jeff Skinner finally showed his silky mitts, something he’s done occasionally but inconsistently earlier in the season.
The Canes now just have the 10th best odds in the NHL draft lottery which equates to a 14.4% chance to move into the top three. If the Canes keep this level of play, they will be in an awkward spot for the draft. They won’t have a great first round pick, which they need, and they also won't have any success to show for a pick outside of the top 10.
8. New Jersey Devils: 62 Points (25-31-12)
The Devils are serious about increasing their draft lottery odds. In their last 10 games, they have only earned two points with a 0-8-2 record, the worst in the league by far. Currently, they sit in third to last but have lost so many games in a row that they are close to being overtaken by the Coyotes.
The NHL season isn’t done throwing teams curveballs. The Devils’ game last night against the Jets was postponed due to the snowstorm that hit the northeast. The game will be rescheduled to March 28, between two existing home games on 3/26 and 3/30. The Canes barely escaped the same fate, as they flew out of Newark Monday night before the storm hit.