1. Washington Capitals: 98 Points (45-24-8) 77 GP
The Capitals could have clinched a playoff spot on Tuesday when they beat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1. However, with the Montreal Canadiens and the Columbus Blue Jackets winning on Tuesday, the Caps ability to clinch shifts to tonight, which is obviously great news for the Canes. They now have a three-point lead on the division with five games left.
In Tuesday’s game, Alex Ovechkin scored his 49th goal of the season moving him three goals ahead of Leon Draisaitl in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy. This goal was also his 656th career goal which ties Brendan Shanahan for 13th all-time. He is now just one shy of his eighth 50 goal season, which would be his first 50 goal season since he had three in a row from 2013-2016. It would also move him just one behind Wayne Gretzky who has nine 50 goal seasons.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 95 Points (42-24-11) 77 GP
Olli Maatta is nearing a return from his upper-body-injury that has kept him out for the last 20 games. He could return as early as Friday, but any return for the playoff run is massive for the Penguins who have struggled with defensive depth. Monday, Zach Trotman filled in for Kris Letang, who is out again with an upper-body-injury. Maatta’s return could either plug in with Brian Dumoulin in the top pairing or play with Marcus Pettersson on the third pairing, which also forces Erik Gudbranson out of the lineup.
Even with Evgeni Malkin and Maatta out, the Penguins were able to pick up seven out of eight possible points in their four-game road trip. Part of their latest success was the fill-in for Malkin, Teddy Blueger. Blueger had his first career two-goal performance against the New York Rangers on Monday which also included his first career shorthanded goal. This is what a playoff push is all about, sometimes you get contributions from the least likely sources, but everyone chips in to get the job done.
3. New York Islanders: 95 Points (44-26-7) 77 GP
The Islanders are a feast or famine squad at the worst point of the season. Only one of their last five games has seen goals scored by both teams. Last Tuesday and Thursday the Isles were shut out in back to back games against the Bruins and Canadiens with a combined 9-0 score. On Sunday they shut out the Arizona Coyotes 2-0 but lost on Tuesday by a score of 4-0. While they are tied with the Penguins in the standings in points, the Isles’ recent run doesn’t give anyone in confidence heading down the stretch. With only five games left, three of which are against playoff teams, it doesn’t give them much time to turn it around.
The news gets worse for the Islanders: Andrew Ladd has a torn ACL and will miss the next five months. The winger also missed a couple of months earlier this year recovering from another knee surgery. Ladd has four years left of his seven-year, $38.5 million contract. Ladd has three goals and eight assists in 26 games played this year, which equates to 1.92 points per 60 minutes — which is the fourth best on the Islanders.
4. Carolina Hurricanes: 91 Points (42-27-7) 76 GP
The past week has seen an insane up and down for the Hurricanes. In their last two games against the Canadiens and the Capitals, they have looked underwhelming. They have played a 40-minute game and you can see the difference between a playoff team and a borderline team. The Canes were able to beat the Canadiens but were quickly stamped out against the Caps when they took a period off. The upcoming game against the Caps will show if some time off can reset the team, but rest hasn’t favored the Canes.
Rod Brind’Amour said that back-to-back sets are a myth and teams shouldn’t come out slow in the second. The Hurricanes are a young team, and it shows in their play. They play worse when rested and better on back-to-backs. They have a 12-3-1 record in the second half of back-to-backs this season. They have just one more set left when they play the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday and the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday and I would say the Penguins have a tougher matchup on their hands than the Flyers.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 88 Points (42-30-4) 76 GP
The Blue Jackets’ game tonight against the Canadiens will be their most important of the year. As it stands now they have just a 53% chance to make the playoffs, a -16.4% change from last week. As they stand now, they are 2 points behind the Canadiens with a game in hand. They can either come out of this game tied in points and holding the ROW tie breaker, or four points behind with just five games left. With four of those games on the road, it would be very difficult to climb the standings.
The good news for the Jackets is they seem to have turned the corner this past week. They now have two straight shutouts against the Vancouver Canucks and the New York Islanders after losing three straight. Sergei Bobrovsky now has 53 straight saves and seven straight shutout periods that date back to their game against the Calgary Flames last Tuesday. He has struggled with consistency this year, but it seems that he is peaking at the perfect time for the Blue Jackets.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 82 Points (37-32-8)
They Flyers signed forward Michael Raffl to a two-year, $3.2 million contract. The forward was set to become a free agent on July 1 but opted to stay in Philly. Raffl currently plays on the fourth-line with Corban Knight and Philippe Myers but has proven himself to be an effective player. Raffl has 70 goals and 62 assists in 406 career games with Philly, six goals and 12 assists came in this season. With Raffl signed, the Flyers now have six RFA’s and four UFA’s left to sign this season.
Three of their UFA’s are goalies Cam Talbot, Brian Elliott, and Michal Neuvirth and it would be safe to say that at least two of them are on the way out, and one will stay to help mentor Carter Hart. The rest of the pending free agents are the bottom six on the team. As young players they will look to keep some around, but this season has shown that the roster isn’t strong enough to make the playoffs. Some changes will need to be made to the roster moving into next season.
7. New York Rangers: 71 Points (29-34-13) 76 GP
The Rangers are one of the potential landing spots for Artemi Panarin or Erik Karlsson. The issue is that they don’t have the cap space to add one of these players. The easiest place for the Rangers to shed cap is on the blueline. Marc Staal, Brendan Smith, and Kevin Shattenkirk are all on the wrong side of 30 years old and signed through the 2020-2021 season. With all three making over $4.5 million, a buyout would open up a significant amount of cap space for the offseason. (Plus making a move on the blue line will be easy to replace in a year’s time when the Rangers inevitably sign Adam Fox to an entry-level contract.)
Tonight marks Henrik Lundqvist's 50th #NYR start of the season, making him just the 7th goalie in @NHL history to appear in 50 or more games in at least 12 different seasons. pic.twitter.com/PYX7XH86Pz— New York Rangers (@NYRangers) March 28, 2019
Shattenkirk makes the highest at $6.65 million but is also the best on ice out of the three. He is 30 and is having a down season with just two goals and 25 assists. Since joining the Rangers he has had his worst statistical seasons but showed improvement this season. The player that potentially makes more sense to buy out is Marc Staal. Staal has been an issue on the blue line for the past three years. He is the oldest of the three defensemen and a buyout would save the Rangers $4.8 million in cap space over the next two years.
8. New Jersey Devils: 67 Points (29-39-9) 77 GP
The Devils managed to win their game against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday despite Cory Schneider letting in a goal from center ice. It’s funny for two reasons, first being the goal itself. The other, the Devils have been losing all season, but now that they are trying to lose for a better draft pick, and they manage to win against another bad team. Schneider has struggled this year and has won just six games in his 21 starts. Since the Devils traded Keith Kinkaid, Schneider’s performance has improved. Despite having a season long .904 sv% since the trade deadline, it has gone up to a .916.
This is most likely the best thing you’ll watch today. pic.twitter.com/jDxnwMYa2d— New Jersey Devils (@NJDevils) March 24, 2019
The Devils season and their impact on the standings is coming to an end. They have just two games left against teams in a playoff position, the St. Louis Blues on Saturday and the Hurricanes on April 4. Their other three games are going to have a bigger impact on the race for Jack Hughes at the bottom. The Devils play the Red Wings who are in third to last, in a game that is likely to determine who has a double-digit percentage to move up to the first pick.