NHL playoffs standings update: Phoenix eyes top spot

We’re getting near the part of the season where every game involves a heavy dose of scoreboard watching. Teams not only need their two points, but some help from other teams to either grab a playoff spot or take a better playoff position headed into the post season. We’re going to start updating the playoff picture daily here on Pro Hockey Talk, starting today as we gear up for matchup between the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers, two teams fighting for the final spot in the East.

After the jump, the standings of the Eastern and Western conferences, as well as some thoughts on each.

Western Conference

DIV GP W L OT Pts GF GA DIFF Home Away L10 Streak
1
Chicago Blackhawks
CEN 71 45 19 7 97 234 179 +55 26-7-3 19-12-4 4-4-2  
2
San Jose Sharks
PAC 71 43 18 10 96 231 187 +44 22-6-8 21-12-2 3-6-1 Lost 4
3
Vancouver Canucks
NW 72 44 24 4 92 236 187 +49 26-8-2 18-16-2 6-2-2  
4
Phoenix Coyotes
PAC 72 45 22 5 95 198 177 +21 26-10-2 19-12-3 8-2-0 Won 8
5
Los Angeles Kings
PAC 70 41 24 5 87 207 185 +22 20-12-3 21-12-2 5-4-1 Won 1
6
Nashville Predators
CEN 72 41 26 5 87 203 201 +2 21-12-2 20-14-3 7-3-0 Won 5
7
Colorado Avalanche
NW 70 40 24 6 86 211 185 +26 22-11-2 18-13-4 5-5-0 Lost 1
8
Detroit Red Wings
CEN 71 35 23 13 83 193 192 +1 19-10-5 16-13-8 7-2-1 Won 1
9
Calgary Flames
NW 71 36 26 9 81 181 177 +4 18-16-3 18-10-6 7-3-0 Won 2
10
St Louis Blues
CEN 71 34 28 9 77 194 196 -2 12-17-5 22-11-4 7-3-0 Won 2
11
Dallas Stars
PAC 71 31 27 13 75 206 227 -21 20-10-6 11-17-7 3-6-1 Won 1

 

There are three big races right now, that will have a major impact on the playoff picture in the West. First, the Chicago Blackhawks have been able to — somehow — overcome the San Jose Sharks for the lead in the conference. Thanks to the Sharks’ unseemly losing streak, they’ve opened the door for a three-way battle for tops in the West that includes…. the Phoenix Coyotes.

Yes, the franchise and team that was the laughing stock of the sports world last summer has now snuck into the picture for the No. 1 seed in the West, riding an incredible eight-game winning streak. A win today against the Dallas Stars — coupled with a San Jose loss to Edmonton — and the Coyotes could find themselves in first place in the West. Incredible.

The other race is towards the bottom of the conference, with the Detroit Red Wings trying to hold off the Calgary Flames. Mathematically, this is the closest race but they also have St. Louis and Dallas still within shooting distance as well. The Stars are too inconsistent to put together the sort of streak needed to be considered seriously, but a losing streak of any kind by those above them and it’s certainly a possibility. The Red Wings have a chance to open up their lead today, as they take on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Eastern Conference

DIV GP W L OT Pts GF GA DIFF Home Away L10 Streak
1
Washington Capitals
SE 72 48 14 10 106 283 203 +80 26-4-4 22-10-6 7-1-2 Won 1
2
Pittsburgh Penguins
ATL 72 42 24 6 90 224 205 +19 21-10-4 21-14-2 6-2-2  
3
Buffalo Sabres
NE 70 38 22 10 86 195 177 +18 21-9-6 17-13-4 5-4-1 Won 2
4
New Jersey Devils
ATL 71 42 25 4 88 189 169 +20 24-10-1 18-15-3 5-4-1 Lost 1
5
Philadelphia Flyers
ATL 71 37 29 5 79 211 196 +15 21-12-2 16-17-3 4-4-2 Lost 1
6
Ottawa Senators
NE 72 37 30 5 79 194 212 -18 23-10-4 14-20-1 2-7-1 Lost 5
7
Montréal Canadiens
NE 72 36 29 7 79 196 198 -2 18-13-4 18-16-3 7-2-1  
8
Boston Bruins
NE 70 31 27 12 74 174 180 -6 14-14-6 17-13-6 4-5-1 Lost 1
9
Atlanta Thrashers
SE 71 31 29 11 73 215 229 -14 18-13-5 13-16-6 4-5-1 Won 3
10
New York Rangers
ATL 71 31 31 9 71 185 195 -10 15-17-6 16-14-3 4-4-2 Lost 2
11
Carolina Hurricanes
SE 71 30 33 8 68 198 221 -23 19-14-3 11-19-5 6-3-1 Won 2

 

Currently, the Washington Capitals are the only team that’s locked up a division title, but the Sabres have a good firm grasp on their lead in the Northeast division; I doubt the Ottawa Senators are going to go off on any sort of winning streak anytime soon. The Capitals also have a good firm lockdown on the No. 1 spot in the conference.

There are still some good races to keep an eye on. The Penguins, thanks to an overtime loss to the Hurricanes yesterday, have opened up a shot for the New Jersey Devils to take over the lead in the Atlantic division, although New Jersey was shutout yesterday against St. Louis as they failed to take advantage of Pittsburgh’s slip. Neither team plays today.

Finally, we have the most intriguing race in the NHL. Everyone’s attention has been on the battle between New York and Boston for 8th in the conference, all the while the Atlanta Thrashers have snuck into the picture and threaten to knock both out of the playoffs. The Rangers and Bruins have been amazing to watch, as they’ve stumbled and struggled to even muster a fight when the opportunity arises to make a move.

Don’t take your eyes off the Ottawa Senators, however. They’re historic fall could take them out of the playoffs, opening up the chance for two of the Atlanta, New York and Boston trio to make the playoffs. And then, most likely, get promptly ousted by the Washington Capitals.

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    Clutter-bucks: Isles sign energy guy to five-year, $17.5 million extension

    NEW YORK, NY - JANUARY 03:  Cal Clutterbuck #15 of the New York Islanders scores his second goal of the game at 9:53 of the third period against the Dallas Stars at the Barclays Center on January 3, 2016 in the Brooklyn borough of New York City.  The Islanders defeated the Stars 6-5. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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    The New York Islanders made a splash on Friday, signing veteran forward Cal Clutterbuck to a five-year, $17.5 million extension — one that carries a $3.5 million average annual cap hit through 2023.

    Clutterbuck, 29, has two goals and nine points through 25 games this year, while averaging 15:26 TOI per night (his highest average since joining the Isles four years ago). As per usual, he leads the club in hits — one of the staples of his game — and serves as one of the club’s alternate captains.

    This new contract represents a nice raise for the former Minnesota Wild man. His last contract, set to expire in July, was of the four-year, $11 million variety, and carried a $2.75 million cap hit.

    This contract also resembles the one GM Garth Snow gave another of the club’s role forwards. This summer, Casey Cizikas signed a five-year, $16.75 million extension — one with a $3.35 million hit — despite the fact he’d never scored more than 30 points in a season, or averaged more than 14 minutes of ice time.

    This style of spending — along with splashes made for free agent disappointments Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd — is sure to raise some questions. The Isles opted not to spend that money on retaining two of their key players from a season ago, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo, and the club has struggled to find its form through the first quarter of this year.

    Bettman: Salary cap could stay the same for next season

    TORONTO, ON - SEPTEMBER 27:  NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman unveils the League's Centennial celebration plans for 2017 during a press conference at the World Cup of Hockey 2016 at Air Canada Centre on September 27, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
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    Don’t expect a big jump in next season’s salary cap.

    “We’re not going to give out any numbers now,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said yesterday, per Yahoo Sports. “The cap could range from where it is now to a couple or so million up, but we’re all going to have to focus on what makes the most sense moving forward.”

    The salary cap only went up slightly for the current season, from $71.4 million to $73 million. The only slight increase was due to the lower Canadian dollar, which negatively impacted last season’s league revenues by “$100 or 200 million,” Bettman said earlier this year.

    The loonie has been holding relatively steady for around half a year. It’s currently worth $0.76 USD and has been helped by the recent oil rally.

    A flat salary cap would be bad news for big spenders like the Chicago Blackhawks, who still need to get Artemi Panarin signed to an extension. The Los Angeles Kings could also be forced to make some tough decisions, as they’ve got Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson in need of new deals. Ditto for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have key RFAs in Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Conor Sheary.

    Related: Trades galore? McPhee expecting ‘a massive player redistribution before the expansion draft’

    A few ‘bad decisions’ have been costing Lundqvist

    New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) reacts after giving up a goal to Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (87) during the second period of an NHL hockey game, Wednesday, Nov. 23, 2016, in New York. The Penguins won 6-1. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
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    Henrik Lundqvist has set such a high bar that his 12-8-1 record with a .912 save percentage is cause for great concern these days in New York.

    That his backup, Antti Raanta, is 6-1-0 with a .932 save percentage only contributes to that concern, because if Raanta can manage those numbers, what’s Lundqvist’s excuse?

    “I feel like I’m tracking the puck well, moving well,” Lundqvist told the Daily News. “It just comes down to some bad decisions at times that cost me.”

    Indeed, December has not started well for The King. He’s allowed 10 goals in three starts for a save percentage of .894. In Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to the Islanders, his decision to poke check a loose puck led to the winning goal by Andrew Ladd.

    But while this month has been a struggle, it should be noted that Lundqvist was mostly excellent in November. He finished with a .925 save percentage, including that 40-save victory on Black Friday in Philadelphia.

    Which is to say, he has more than earned the benefit of the doubt. Since 2008-09, Lundqvist has not finished a season with a save percentage below .920, and that is a remarkable achievement.

    Raanta was solid again last night in Winnipeg, where the Rangers beat the Jets, 2-1. A starting goalie for tonight’s game in Chicago has not yet been announced, but Lundqvist is a good bet.

    Top 10 career save percentages among goalies with at least 300 NHL starts

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    Jets send talented rookie Connor to AHL

    WINNIPEG, MANITOBA - OCTOBER 23:  Goalie Cam Talbot #33 of the Edmonton Oilers pushes Kyle Connor #81 of the Winnipeg Jets  during the 2016 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic hockey game on October 23, 2016 at Investors Group Field in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. (Photo by Jason Halstead /Getty Images)
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    Kyle Connor is on his way to the minors.

    On Friday, Winnipeg announced that Connor — the former Michigan Wolverines star taken 17th overall in 2015 — has been assigned to the club’s AHL affiliate, the Manitoba Moose.

    Connor, 19, had just one goal and four points through 19 games this year, struggling to adjust to life at the professional level.

    He’d been a healthy scratch for each of the Jets’ last six games and, prior to that, missed five games with an upper-body injury after getting nailed into the boards by L.A. forward Kyle Clifford.

    The Jets are getting healthy up front, which further explains why Connor is on his way to the Moose. Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault both recently returned from injury.