Earlier today I broke down the Eastern Conference’s bottom three playoff spots and the four teams who have a good shot of filling them. My blog buddy Marty Vance took a look at the other end of the East spectrum, assessing which of the New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres and Pittsburgh Penguins had the best chance to nab the second seed in the conference.
At this point; looking at these schedules, how can you not assume the Penguins are going to be grabbing the 2nd seed? But look a little closer. I could easily see both Pittsburgh and New Jersey having identical 2-1 records going into Sunday, or even really, New Jersey could be ahead by 2 points, having their most difficult game in their finale, while Pittsburgh plays Washington tonight.
… I don’t think anybody wants that 4 seed, with a first rounder against Ottawa, then most likely heading to Washington in the 2nd. Yikes.
Marty predicts that the order will turn out to be New Jersey at No. 2 with Buffalo in the third spot and Pittsburgh getting the tough hand at No. 4. I must agree with him because the Devils’ well-earned (seriously, 6-0 against the Penguins? That’s insane.) tiebreaker over Pittsburgh very well might be the ultimate factor.
It borders on poetic that – at least at this moment – the Penguins and Devils have the exact same record even though Pittsburgh dropped every game to New Jersey. For Buffalo, I figure there isn’t nearly as much anxiety involved with being a second seed versus being a third. Naturally they’d prefer the second seed, but a matchup against Montreal might actually be less strenuous than a grind-it-out series against Boston.
You’ve got to love the fact that there’s plenty of meaningful hockey to be played in this final week of regular season action.
It’s refreshing that hockey fans have, for the most part, moved on from debating Tyler Bozak‘s merits.
The general feeling is that the Toronto Maple Leafs use him in appropriate ways these days, so we can simply enjoy his work as a pretty spiffy hockey player.
Speaking of spiffy, check out the sweet moves he made against the Minnesota Wild for the goal above. Feels like you could dub over a Chris Berman “whoop” or two in there, right?
(If you’re into that kind of thing.)
Here’s that gaudy move in isolation and in GIF form:
Even with two games in hand, some might be surprised to see the Washington Capitals tied with the Boston Bruins in standings points in early December.
That’s the case on Wednesday Night Rivalry, as a somewhat up-and-down Capitals team (which is glad to welcome T.J. Oshie back) hosts a Bruins squad that’s riding a three-game winning streak.
It should be an interesting matchup on NBCSN, which you can also watch online or via the NBC Sports App.
Click here for the livestream.
No one wants to hear “It could be worse” when injuries are really piling up, but … uh, it could be worse for the New York Rangers.
At least, it could have been worse for Rick Nash. The team announced that he’s only expected to miss about a week after undergoing an MRI related to a groin injury.
It’s been a redemptive season for Nash, so it’s nice to see that it isn’t getting totally derailed. Granted, injuries like these can linger even if a guy returns to the lineup, so we’ll need to see if he gets back to 100 percent.
The Rangers certainly aren’t at full-strength right now. Their laundry list of injured forwards is quite daunting, even for a team with vaunted depth at that position:
(It sounds like Pavel Buchnevich is still quite a ways from returning, sadly.)
Alain Vigneault sells the biggest benefit of these issues: opportunities for other players – including Oscar Lindberg – to step up.
“I just think this is part of the NHL and it is what it is. It’s there and you deal with it,” Vigneault said . “You get a lot of players at different times that wish that they can get more ice time to prove that they can have a bigger role and that they can do more. Well, no better time than the present for us right now.”
Thanks to two knee injuries, the Montreal Canadiens suddenly seem pretty slim at center.
The team announced two unfortunate and strangely similar timelines for important centers: both Alex Galchenyuk and David Desharnais are expected to miss six-to-eight weeks with their knee issues.
It will be a challenge for Michel Therrien to make everything work, to the point where you wonder if maybe he’ll move a player from the wing to center (hey, Max Pacioretty DOES want an elevated role, if you believe the rumors about discontent).
Tomas Plekanec becomes that much more important to the Canadiens, and one might assume that Andrew Shaw may go back to the middle. LNH.com’s Arpon Basu listed some options, in case you’re more of a visual learner:
Yeah, not ideal.
The road ahead
It isn’t all bad news when you look at Montreal’s overall situation.
For one thing, they gave themselves a nice cushion, as they currently lead the Atlantic Division by five points. With four games in a row and six of seven at home, they may be able to manage these tough losses pretty well in the short-term.
The real challenges might come late in December and early in January. They play seven road games in a row – though with a break around New Year’s – and nine of 10 away from Montreal from Dec. 23 – Jan. 12.
While they’ve suffered some minor bumps in the road so far, this is their truest test of 2016-17. It should be interesting to see how they handle this.