Inside the Eastern Conference Standings – December 26

Every now and then, we’ll take a look at each conference’s standings to see if there are any trends or quirks that explain why some teams are failing and others are overachieving. Obviously, these results will reveal bigger truths once we advance later into this season … but it’s still fun and interesting to take a peek at bigger picture numbers.

Want to compare and contrast? Check out the November and October editions of the Eastern Conference standings analysis.

Which teams are the hottest and coldest? Which teams are road warriors and who depends too much on home cooking? Let’s take a look.

Tampa Bay should rise.

With Atlanta briefly stealing the top spot normally held by Washington, Tampa Bay kinda-sorta slipped under the radar. If there’s one team that should be even better going forward, it’s the Lightning because:

  • They hold two games in hand over the Caps and Thrashers.
  • Most importantly: they’ve only played 14 games at home versus 21 on the road. They have 27 games in Tampa Bay for the rest of the regular season versus only 20 more away from their arena.

Carolina and Florida are justified in a little schedule griping.

Much like Tampa Bay, Carolina and Florida are dealing with some odd early season scheduling. Unlike the Lightning, those teams sit outside the playoff picture to boot.

Along with playing overseas, the Hurricanes have played 14 games in Carolina versus 19 on the road. They cannot complain much louder than the Panthers, though, as Peter DeBoer’s squad played 13 games in Sunrise and 20 away from home so far.

Philadelphia and Washington must face the possibility of a 4/5 seed series.

Because they’re both facing stout divisional competition and will face more road games than home contests going forward. The Capitals have played in the most games (37) of any team in the East (although the Thrashers played in 37 as well). Washington already played 21 at home, so they’ll face five more road contests.

The Flyers must face the Penguins’ push, Pronger’s injury and more road contests (five more as well) too. Then again, they have 10 wins on the road already so they don’t have to worry as much as the Capitals, who own a 7-8-1 away record so far.

Who knows how that will shake out, but unbiased hockey fans would surely get a treat if those two teams met in the first round.

Road warriors

The Penguins (12-4-1) and Rangers (12-6-0) are the best teams in the league at bringing their shows on the road. Again, the Flyers are pretty efficient away from Philly too (10-2-3) while the Lightning are scrappy but not elite away from Tampa Bay (10-8-3).

This indicates that the Atlantic Division teams are going to be tough outs in the playoffs.

A long season in Long Island

The Islanders have played the least games (32) of any team in the NHL. If any fan base could get a fast forward button, it would probably be theirs (or the Devils’ fans, I guess).

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Overall, I think that the Capitals might be in a little trouble (at least as far as winning a division title is concerned) while the Flyers might face a bump in the road. The Lightning could move up while the Hurricanes and Panthers probably have the best chance among the teams outside of the top eight to make a run for the playoffs.

Oh, it wasn’t quite bold print worthy, but with Boston’s two games in hand and the Canadiens facing three more games on the road than at home for the rest of the season, the Northeast Division race could be awfully interesting too.

And, yes, the far-off possibility of a Flyers-Capitals first round series does get me kind of excited.

Milbury, Jones: Tkachuk walked the walk; Kings’ response was embarrassing

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The Los Angeles Kings got revenge on Matthew Tkachuk and the Calgary Flames on the scoreboard on Wednesday. But was that 4-1 win enough?

Mike Milbury and Keith Jones provided a lengthy “overtime” segment on NBCSN that brought about some really fascinating takes on the situation between Tkachuk and the Flames versus Drew Doughty and the Los Angeles Kings.

Watch the full video above, as it’s worth your time.

A few interesting lines if you’re (tsk tsk) skipping it:

Milbury: Believes that Doughty didn’t “do enough,” noting that star players sometimes have to stick up for themselves. On the other hand, Tkachuk showed that he can “walk the walk.”

He also gave the Kings a “C-, D+ if not worse” for their overall response. “Fight your own battles,” Milbury said of Doughty.

Jones disagreed to some extent, believing that Kings teammates won’t look at Doughty differently. But Jake Muzzin? He believes that Muzzin’s frequent defensive partner (at least over the years, maybe not this season) backing down from a fight was an embarrassment.

Spicy stuff.

For what it’s worth, Drew Doughty has one career fight (against Joe Thornton [!] in 2011-2) while Jake Muzzin’s lone bout came against Andrew Desjardins in 2012-13, according to Hockey Fights. Does that mean they shouldn’t have dropped the gloves on Wednesday? Milbury and Jones seem to believe that they should have answered the bell.

For more, check out a collection of the early violent moments and Tkachuk’s attempted shot at Doughty. The Kings win is summarized in greater detail here.

Measure of revenge: Kings delay clinching efforts for Flames, Blues

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Deep down, the Los Angeles Kings probably realize that their season will end on game 82. Still, they kept their slim playoff hopes alive on Wednesday night … and managed to spite a team they’re growing to hate.

OK, maybe the hate is almost totally focused upon Matthew Tkachuk, yet the disdain for that talented-but-tormenting rookie was palpable.

It didn’t feel like the Kings exacted physical revenge on Tkachuk, but beating his team 4-1 ranked as classic scoreboard vengeance. With that, the Calgary Flames (and by extension the St. Louis Blues) will need to wait to clinch a playoff berth.

Now, as much as tonight was about Tkachuk, the focus was also on a pugnacious player who once dazzled for the Flames: Jarome Iginla.

In what might be Iginla’s final visit to Calgary – at least as an active NHL player – he was one of the best players on the ice. His fitting curtain call included a “Gordie Howe hat trick” with a spirited fight, an assist and a goal.

Seriously, that fight with Deryk Engelland:

That goal included a bit of luck, but hey …

Iginla was named the first star of the contest, and cameras captured his big smile in enjoying a special night. For all the nastiness of that game, it was refreshing to see such a heartwarming moment.

For more on the violence, check out this post on the early stuff and this one on Tkachuk’s missed missile launch on Drew Doughty.

Kings and Canucks will square off in first NHL exhibition games in China

graphic via NHL
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It’s official: the NHL will hold preseason games in China before next season.

The league made the announcement on Wednesday night: the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks will play two exhibitions: one on Sept. 21 (Shanghai) and Sept. 23 (Beijing). How cool is that?

“It is a privilege and an honor for the L.A. Kings to represent the National Hockey League in China as part of these two games against the Vancouver Canucks,” Kings president Luc Robitaille said. “Growing the game of hockey is something we take great pride in and it is a big priority for our hockey club and AEG as a whole. This will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for our players and our staff, and we are looking forward to the games taking place in two tremendous facilities in two remarkable cities.”

The press conference inspired some jokes tonight.

Some of the best bits came in roping in … Kobe Bryant and David Beckham?

Alrighty then.

Click here for more details.

 

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.