Race for the playoffs: Western Conference seeding up for grabs tonight

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference playoff race

pz-1. Vancouver – 115 pts (1 GR)
y-2. San Jose – 103 pts (1 GR)
y-3. Detroit – 102 pts (1 GR)
x-4. Nashville – 99 pts (1 GR)
x-5. Phoenix – 99 pts (1 GR)
x-6. Los Angeles – 98 pts (1 GR)
x-7. Anaheim – 97 pts (1 GR)
8. Chicago – 97 pts (1 GR)
9. Dallas – 95 pts (1 GR)

p- clinched Presidents’ Trophy
z – clinched conference title
y – clinched division title
x – clinched playoff spot
GR – games remaining

While the final playoff spot won’t be decided until tomorrow, the seeding can get settled out a little bit tonight. Bear with us as we try to explain things as simply as possible. The chances of a three-point game erupting in any of tonight’s games makes things get a little nutty.

San Jose: The Sharks wrap up the second seed with a win over Phoenix tonight. A point from an overtime or shootout loss would move them two ahead of Detroit as the Wings play tomorrow afternoon against Chicago. Should things break down that way, a Detroit win in regulation or in overtime would make them the two seed. A win in the shootout would make San Jose the second seed because the Sharks went 3-1-0 against Detroit this year.

Detroit: The Red Wings seem destined to be the three seed given how the Sharks are playing. They can earn the second seed with a Sharks loss tonight and a win tomorrow against Chicago. The Wings can also end up in second if San Jose gets just one point tonight and they win in regulation or overtime against Chicago.

Nashville: Home ice in the first round is in Nashville’s hands tonight. A non-shootout win by the Predators over St. Louis locks up the fourth seed. A shootout win coupled with Phoenix not getting two points against San Jose would also do the trick. If the Predators get a win in the shootout and Phoenix wins in regulation/overtime, then Nashville would end up fifth behind Phoenix.

Phoenix: The Coyotes can wind up fourth in the West with a win over San Jose and a loss by Nashville. Phoenix can also wind up first with a non-shootout win coupled with a Predators shootout win. They’d be even in points but the Coyotes would then have the tiebreaker on Nashville for regulation/overtime wins. Currently they each have 38 of those.

Los Angeles and Anaheim: The winner of tonight’s game, at the very least, will be the sixth seed. If the Kings win and Nashville and Phoenix both lose in regulation, they can end up as high as fourth. The Kings won’t have a tiebreaker against either Nashville or Phoenix with regard to regulation/overtime wins so a Kings win and a overtime/shootout loss by either Nashville or Phoenix would slot them in behind those teams.

Should L.A. lose in regulation they could wind up either seventh or eighth depending on what happens with Chicago tomorrow. A Kings win tonight helps solve their playoff picture one way or another, a loss makes them wait it out another day to see whether they’ll end up playing Detroit, San Jose, or Vancouver.

An Anaheim win regardless of situation and regulation losses by the Preds and Coyotes would vault them into fourth thanks to owning the tiebreaker on both of those teams with 42 regulation/overtime wins. A Ducks loss makes them sweat it out til tomorrow to see whether they’ll be seventh or eighth.

Chicago: If Chicago wins, they’ll be in the playoffs and could wind up as high as fifth provided Nashville and Phoenix both lose in regulation and the Blackhawks win in non-shootout fashion.

Dallas: Should Dallas get into the playoffs, they’ll be the eighth seed no matter what and have a date with Vancouver. The Stars will need to beat Minnesota and have Chicago lose in regulation to do it.

PHT Morning Skate: Is the Golden Knights’ success sustainable?

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–The Arizona Coyotes have been bad for a while now and things don’t appear to be getting better anytime soon. The ‘Yotes are off to a sluggish start. They remain the only team in the league to not have recorded a win in 2017-18. “It hasn’t gone as planned,” GM John Chayka said Monday. “We want to win. We haven’t got a win yet, so that’s unacceptable.” One of the biggest problems is that they’re giving up over four goals per game. (arizonasports.com)

–No one expects an expansion team to be loaded with depth, but the Vegas Golden Knights have proven to be pretty deep this year. For now, it’s working for them, but forcing players that are playing well to sit as healthy scratches could become a problem down the road. (sinbin.vegas)

–Speaking of the Golden Knights, Andrew Berkshire looks at whether or not they’re as good as they’ve been playing early on this season. Although they’re likely playing above their heads, they’ll probably be better than many people expected. (Sporting News)

PHT’s James O’Brien wrote a great piece about the Edmonton Oilers’ struggles so far this season, but here’s a different perspective from oilersnation.com. Cam Talbot‘s slow start isn’t overly concerning. The lack of secondary scoring is a real problem though. (oilersnation.com)

–The Ottawa Senators are off to a relatively good start, but the possession stats have left a lot to be desired. How are they doing it? Will they be able to keep it up? The return of Erik Karlsson has to count for something. (Sportsnet)

–The pace of the NHL game has gotten extremely fast, so it’s become more challenging for referees to keep up. Like players, officials have their own training camp. What do they do there?  “We work on repetitive movements on the ice. We also let them play hockey and we officiate the hockey. We have enough guys with minor-league guys there-there’s about 80 guys at camp-that we can make six teams and the quality of hockey was actually pretty good this year,” said the NHL’s vice-president and director of officiating Stephen Walkom. (fanragsports.com)

–Calgary’s search for a new arena remains complicated for the Flames. With the re-election of Naheed Nenshi, who isn’t a fan of the idea that public money needs to be spent on a new rink, things could get ugly. (The Hockey News)

–According to blueseatblogs, part of the reason why the Rangers are so bad this year is because head coach Alain Vigneault is having issues with deployment. Part of the problem, is that Vingeault hasn’t identified who his shutdown pairing is yet. (blueseatblogs.com)

–Over the summer, Derek Stepan got traded for the first time in his career. The adjustment has been difficult. After all, New York and Arizona offer very different lifestyles. “As we go each day, the more comfortable I get. And the more comfortable I get, the more I fit in,” Stepan said. “I feel like I’m getting closer and closer. I felt like the new kid at school.” (ESPN.com)

–NBCSN will be broadcasting tonight’s Rivalry Night game between the Blackhawks and Blues, and NHL.com gives you five reasons to watch this contest. A matchup between Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko can’t be dull! (NHL.com)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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The Buzzer: Malkin paces Penguins, Vegas keeps on winning

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Player of the night: Evgeni Malkin

Evgeni Malkin helped get things started for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday, and then he finished the game off with the overtime winner to send the New York Rangers to a fourth consecutive loss.

Malkin scored once, added three assists and even dropped the gloves in a 5-4 overtime victory, as the Penguins came back with a late — and crafty — third period goal from Sidney Crosby.

Talk about the Penguins being opportunistic on the winner. Off a defensive zone faceoff win for the Rangers, Ryan McDonagh made a terrible giveaway right beside his own net, giving the puck to Phil Kessel, who slipped it over to Malkin for the quick one-timer.

Highlight of the night:

There were a few candidates for this tonight. Phil Kessel once again showed off that tremendous wrist shot. Thomas Vanek decided to blast a slap shot on a breakaway, going post and in against the Senators. Nikita Kucherov had a perfect shot against Cory Schneider after previously setting up teammate Vladislav Namestnikov for a pretty goal versus the Devils. Yes, there were a few options.

But, we’ll go back to Winnipeg for this one. Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson not only protects the puck from Jacob Trouba on the breakaway, but then dekes out Steve Mason with the move to the forehand.

Factoid of the night:

The Vegas Golden Knights won again, giving them a 5-1 record to begin their inaugural season. That puts them in elite company.

Scores:

New Jersey 5, Tampa Bay 4 (SO)

San Jose 5, Montreal 2

Pittsburgh 5, New York 4 (OT)

Philadelphia 5, Florida 1

Toronto 2, Washington 0

Vancouver 3, Ottawa 0

Nashville 4, Colorado 1

Columbus 5, Winnipeg 2

Dallas 3, Arizona 1

Vegas 5, Buffalo 4 (OT)

Carolina 5, Edmonton 3

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Sharks send Habs to their fifth straight loss

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Make that five straight losses for the Montreal Canadiens.

Jonathan Drouin had a goal and an assist on Shea Weber‘s power play blast, giving the Habs center a two-point night. That’s one of the few bright spots, as Montreal lost by a score of 5-2 to the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday.

This was a battle of two teams struggling to start the new season, with each sitting on only one victory. For the Habs, that victory was back on Oct. 5 in their season opener against Buffalo.

Since then, however . . .

And it isn’t about to get any easier for the Habs. This was the start of a stretch that includes three games in four nights against the bruising California teams — the Sharks tonight, the Kings tomorrow, and the Ducks on Friday. It could still get worse before it gets better.

For the Sharks, who were led Tuesday by Logan Couture‘s four-point performance and Joe Pavelski‘s first goal of the season, they end their five-game home stand on a positive note after losing three of the previous four games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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Wayne Simmonds leaves Flyers game for ‘precautionary reasons’ with lower-body issue

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The Philadelphia Flyers earned a 5-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Tuesday, thanks to a four-goal outburst in the second period.

And Philly forward Wayne Simmonds earned a decision over Micheal Haley in a quick fight during that middle frame, too.

While the Flyers got the win, the news wasn’t all good with respect to Simmonds, however, as he was removed from the game for precautionary reasons because of a lower-body issue, the team announced.

Beyond that, the Flyers said they will know more about his status by either tomorrow or Thursday. That puts a bit of a damper on the win.

Not only is the 29-year-old Simmonds one of the toughest players in the league, unafraid to drop the gloves or throw big hits from time to time, but he’s an important part of Philadelphia’s offensive attack, as well. A productive member of the power play, he’s flirted with the 30-goal mark on three occasions while in Philly and reached that mark in each of the past two seasons.

And he’s done that on a contract that includes an annual cap hit of just under $4 million.

Simmonds was also off to a strong start in 2017-18 with five goals and seven points in six games.

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Cam Tucker is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @CamTucker_Sport.

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