1. Washington Capitals: 94 Points (43-23-8) 74 GP
The Caps have finally made a move to give Christian Djoos more time over Brooks Orpik as the sixth defenseman. But Orpik’s time on the bench won’t last long. The Caps’ favorite deadline acquisition, Michal Kempny, who also plays on the top pairing with John Carlson, left last night’s game against the Lightning. Kempny was helped off the ice after an altercation with Yanni Gourde, and when he headed to the locker room it looked like he was unable to put any weight on his leg. He did not return to the game and could be a huge loss for the Caps who have struggled with defensive depth this season.
With Evgeny Kuznetsov’s goal last night, the Caps now have six 20-goal scorers on their roster. This is the third season since 2010 that they have hit this mark. They are the first team to meet this mark this season. With Backstrom at 18 goals, this could be the most 20 goal scorers on the Caps since 1992-1993 when they had nine.
2. New York Islanders: 91 Points (42-24-7) 73 GP
If getting smashed 5-0 wasn’t bad enough on Tuesday, the New York islanders also lost Valtteri Filppula and Cal Clutterbuck. Filppula is reported to miss four weeks with an upper-body injury but Clutterbuck practiced yesterday. Filppula joins Jordan Eberle who is also day-to-day with an upper-body injury. Needless to say, this is the worst possible time for any team who is making a push for playoff seeding.
#Isles announce Filppula is out FOUR WEEKS with an upper-body injury. And Eberle is day-to-day with an upper, too.— Brett Cyrgalis (@BrettCyrgalis) March 20, 2019
This leaves Mathew Barzal, Brock Nelson, and Casey Cizikas down the middle. Barry Trotz is going to have to get creative with the lineup to fill the third line center role for the Isles. Josh Bailey and Leo Komarov have been used in the past. Komarov would be the best fit since he can slide to the middle and have Tom Kuhnhackl on his off wing. That would be an easier and more natural switch than having Bailey switch lines and positions which also mixes up two lines where sliding Kuhnhackl only switches affects the third line.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 89 Points (39-24-11) 74 GP
The Penguins were happy to get Kris Letang back on Tuesday night against the Carolina Hurricanes. The number one defenseman joined forward Bryan Rust as recent activations from injury. The Pens, after a run of miserable injury luck, are finally getting healthy at the right time before the playoffs. Letang ranks fifth among all defensemen with 1.58 points/60 and eighth with .51 goals/60. The Penguins have missed his scoring and his fourth best 53.59% Corsi on the team.
The Penguins labeled Evgeni Malkin's "upper-body" injury as week to week. He took a pretty vicious cross check in the right ribs portion of his upper-body from former teammate Robert Bortuzzo on Saturday: pic.twitter.com/iIuiifLY8s— Seth Rorabaugh (@SethRorabaugh) March 18, 2019
However, just as the Pens were looking to be fully recovered from their injuries, they lost Evgeni Malkin on Saturday to fractured/broken ribs and is listed as week to week. The lineup looks a lot less daunting when you don’t have to face both Sidney Crosby and Malkin. It allows for better matchups for the opposing teams who can match their top line with the Crosby line and not have to worry about having a 1,000 point scorer to deal with on another. They have lost three straight since he was injured and now face four teams in playoff position in their next five games.
4. Carolina Hurricanes: 87 Points (40-25-7) 72 GP
Everything about this year’s Carolina Hurricanes team feels completely different than the last decade. When they are in a game they keep fighting and find a way to win. The latest example was Tuesday when they tied the game with the goalie pulled against the Penguins. The Hurricanes have a 13-5-7 record in one goal games this season and rank 14th in the league with a .520 win percentage in one goal games. 14th doesn’t sound spectacular but when you compare that to the 14-13-11 record for a .368 win percentage, it’s a massive improvement.
The Canes now have a 94.93% chance to make the playoffs this season according to MoneyPuck. At this point, they need to have their sights set on avoiding the last position in the East. With a three-point lead on the Blue Jackets and a game in hand, the Canes are in a good position to avoid the firing squad that is the Lightning.
If the Canes can jump to the third position and face an Islanders team with injuries, the Canes could be the Vegas favorites. On top of getting the Islanders in a first round matchup, this would also mean the Capitals would play the Penguins — allowing the Canes to sidestep at least one of the two perennial playoff favorites.
If the Canes can also have Calvin de Haan return to the lineup for the playoffs, they will be an extremely hard team to play against with three extremely balanced pairings. The signs are looking good for him to make a return and hopefully this Spring. De Haan has been able to return to practice with a full cage and a single dilated eye. The lack of damage around the eye socket shows that it is an injury to the eye ball and not the structure around it. I’m not an optometrist, but hopefully that means that recovery is quicker and he can wear a full cage when he gets back.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 84 Points (40-29-4) 73 GP
In the most crucial stretch of the season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, their best player has disappeared. Artemi Panarin has just one goal in his last 15 games, which is coincidentally the same time that Matt Duchene joined the team. The Blue Jackets held onto the pending UFA hoping that he combined with additional assets would combine to create a formidable offense. Instead, he has scored one goal since February 18, and that came against the Flyers on the 28th.
It’s no coincidence that the Blue Jackets rank 21st in the league in points in this same time span, only recording 15 points in 16 games played. Before this cold streak the Blue Jackets had 69 points and sat in third place in the division with an 82.4% chance to make the playoffs. Since they have dropped to the second wild card position and are now battling with the Montreal Canadiens for the final spot, with just a 63.3% chance of making the postseason.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 78 Points (35-30-8) 73 GP
The Flyers entered Tuesday’s game against the Montreal Canadians with a sliver of playoff hopes. However, any reasonable hopes were finally snuffed out after their loss to the other bubble playoff team. This game finally confirmed what everyone outside of Philly knew all season, the Flyers are not a playoff team. They will need to now shift their focus to the long-term success of the team.
Despite their playoff chances being crushed, they have something to look forward to. They have a good young goaltender in Carter Hart and as long as they don’t run him into the ground like a young Kerry Wood, he looks to be a mainstay in the NHL for years to come.
7. New York Rangers: 69 Points (28-32-13) 73 GP
It seems that all the losing has finally broken the spirit of the Rangers. After missing a chance to tie the game late against the Red Wings on Tuesday, Pavel Buchnevich couldn’t contain himself. The Russian went back to the bench and shed tears of frustration. While many have said that he hasn’t been giving it his all, this should show the organization that he does care and lives and dies on the success of the team. There should be no questions by management on how much he is buying into the team. Losing 11 of your last 12 games would do that to anyone.
The Rangers are also in the middle of the strangest stories in the league this week. It came out that Chris Kreider has been playing through an injury since late February, when he sustained a hamstring injury against the Lightning on the 27th. This comes after Jesper Fast had also played through an injury for at least a month. This makes zero sense considering the Rangers have actively sold and tanked for the season. Why risk a more serious injury that could keep one of these players out for longer? They should have followed the same route as the Devils and Taylor Hall as soon as these players were injured.
8. New Jersey Devils: 63 Points (27-38-9) 74 GP
Since the Devils lost Taylor Hall to injury, they have been one of the worst teams, not just in points but in possession and shots. The Devils have just 32 points since December 24 which is the sixth worst in the league. This is in large part due to their -375 shot differential in that same time span, which correlates to a 44.26% corsi — which are both last in the league over that time. The only reason they aren’t lower in the standings is they have an above average 8.3% shooting percentage.
This shooting percentage was on display in Edmonton last Wednesday when they won 6-3 in a game where they were outshot 39-35. (Yes, this could also only happen against the Edmonton Oilers.) They won their next game before losing two straight and now have eight games left, including one on the road against the Hurricanes to finish their season.