1. Washington Capitals: 95 Points (44-14-7)
On Monday, the Capitals’ 15-game home win streak was snapped by the 24th-place Dallas Stars. This was the Caps first loss since acquiring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from the Blues. Shattenkirk's addition does crowd the blue line, which is going to lead to some interesting decisions by the coaching staff. Many thought that Dmitry Orlov could be the odd man out, but it appears to actually be Nate Schmidt.
During the Caps’ three game road trip which starts tonight, Schmidt will start seeing playing time at forward. This move isn’t too unfamiliar for Schmidt, who has skated on a line with Tom Wilson and Jay Beagle during practice. This shift comes after the Caps had to reassign Paul Carey to Hershey to get under the cap. These next three games will be interesting to watch to see how the puck moving defenseman will play at the forward position. If it works, it could add some flexibility for the Caps for the playoffs.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 90 Points (42-17-6)
The good news is that the Blue Jackets have back to back shutouts, however, it should be noted that they came against the offensively-challenged New Jersey Devils. With three wins last week the Jackets have now moved into second place, with a game in hand over the Penguins. The Jackets and Pens are poised for a neck and neck race for home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The Jackets have been powered to second place off of the back of Vezina contender Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky is tied with Devan Dubnyk for first in the league in wins with 35, second in save percentage with .931, and third with a 2.05 GAA. Bobrovsky has now started 53 games and has three straight shutouts. The key to the Blue Jackets’ success will be to keep Bob healthy for the playoff run.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 88 Points (40-16-8)
The Ron Hainsey-led Penguins are now 3-2-0 after a win over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. After originally acquiring Hainsey the team went 0-2-0, but have reeled off three straight wins since then. Losses after the trade deadline aren’t surprising - it takes new players a while to gel with their new teams. In the Penguins’ case, most of their new players are along the blue line, which is even tougher to adjust.
It takes time for partners to develop to know each other's tendencies and skills, just look at what Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin have been able to do when they are playing comfortably with each other. This goes a long way to explain why the Pens have a sub-par 3.00 GAA over the last four games. These issues will be sorted out at with time as Hainsey and Mark Streit get more playing time. As Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley come back, though, the issue may pop up again.
4. New York Rangers: 88 Points (43-27-2)
The big storyline for the Rangers this week is an apparent lack of toughness. I’m not sure when everything switched back to needing toughness for a championship when the Penguins won with four scoring lines. This is the same thinking that led to the Canadiens acquiring three fourth-line players at the deadline. To resolve this, and with injuries to Jesper Fast and Michael Grabner, the Rangers recalled forward Tanner Glass from Hartford on Sunday.
If you ever wanted some great reading head over to our Rangers affiliate, Blueshirt Banter, and read reactions to the recall, they’re fantastic. Glass has been statistically one of the worst NHL players in the past three years, but is their “gritty” player. The funny part of all of this, Glass earned a fighting major in his first game back against the Lightning and a goal in his second game against the Florida Panthers.
5. New York Islanders: 73 Points (31-23-11)
The Islanders are currently in a playoff position, one point ahead of the Maple Leafs. (Read that again: The Islanders are in a playoff spot.) The Islanders are trending in the right direction with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games as opposed to the Leafs who have a 3-4-3 record in the same span.
Islanders rookie Joshua Ho-Sang has made recent headlines for (gasp!) wearing the number 66. Many people are giving him flak for wearing Mario Lemieux’s number, but he has said he wears it because Mario is his favorite player. Ho-Sang recorded his first NHL goal in last night’s game against the Oilers and celebrated with a first class fist pump.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 70 Points (31-26-8)
The Flyers have actually put together a four-game point streak going back to February 28th. This has put the Flyers surprisingly back into playoff contention, just three points behind the Islanders for the final wild card playoff position.
Philadelphia has had a similar team to the Canes all year. They have a fairly young team with two young, high potential defensemen in Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. The Flyers have the sixth best possession numbers with a 51.6 cf%. Their weakness has come in the crease, their .912 even strength save percentage is bottom five in the league.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: 62 Points (26-27-10)
The Canes have gone from playoff contender to fifth-worst team in the league in the span of a month. Honestly, this isn’t the worst case for the Canes. The front office showed during the last offseason that they weren’t making big moves for the playoffs. Signing Lee Stempniak and Viktor Stalberg were far from Cup-contending signings.
The plan was always been to have a long rebuild and wait until the team is fully ready to make a push for the playoffs. This offseason the Canes will have seven picks in the first three rounds and will have all of their major pieces protected in the Expansion draft.
The Canes will have the cap room to be able to take on high contract players if a team like the Lightning or Blackhawks need to dump contracts. Fans should give the organization this offseason to see what the team does before jumping ship. The team is on schedule with GM Ron Francis’s plans all along.
8. New Jersey Devils: 62 Points (25-29-12)
Despite the Hurricanes’ best efforts, the Devils are in last place in the Metro. New Jersey has lost an impressive eight games in a row, the longest current losing streak in the league. The Devils didn’t go into full sell mode at the deadline, but that hasn’t mattered, because since the deadline they have been outscored a combined 9-2 in their last four games. In three of their last four games, they have been completely shutout. The Devils tank-a-thon will be in jeopardy in the coming week, as they play the Colorado Avalanche and the Arizona Coyotes in their next two games.
This is actually good news for the Devils, who for a majority of the season who have had no hope for the playoffs. In the past two weeks, the Devils have moved from 10th best lottery odds to the fourth best. Honestly, who can blame them? The best thing they can do now is improve their team for the future, and the best way to do that is to get a better pick.