Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins

PHT staff projects the Eastern Conference playoff teams

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We here at PHT have already hooked you up with who we think is going to win the Stanley Cup and the NHL’s biggest awards so now we’re going to do the really adventurous predictions and see if we can figure out just how we think the conference standings will play out.

Since we’ve got a raging East Coast bias here, we’re starting off with the Eastern Conference. With Washington and Buffalo improved, Philly changing things up, Boston looking to repeat, and Pittsburgh lurking about things could shake out in any direction. Here’s what we’re thinking.

Joe Yerdon says:
1. Washington Capitals
2. Boston Bruins
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
4. Buffalo Sabres
5. Philadelphia Flyers
6. Montreal Canadiens
7. New York Rangers
8. Tampa Bay Lightning

The Leafs, Devils, Isles, and Hurricanes will be in the playoff hunt until late in the season but Tampa and the Rangers will nose them out. Boston is still the class of the Northeast despite Buffalo’s advances and it’s only destiny that they’d draw Philly again in the playoffs. Washington should do just fine again in the Southeast while Pittsburgh is going to be the class of the Atlantic. Winnipeg and Ottawa should be terrible. At least they’ll sell out all year in the ‘Peg.

James O’Brien says:
1. Washington Capitals
2. Boston Bruins
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. Buffalo Sabres
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
6. Tampa Bay Lightning
7. New York Rangers
8. Montreal Canadiens

The Capitals have a little of everything: that same offensive top-end with extra elbow grease, a versatile defense that will improve with Roman Hamrlik’s addition and one of the best goalies in the NHL. The Sabres are the chic pick in the Northeast, but Boston’s deep down the middle, features the East’s best defenseman and best goalie combo. You can make a legitimate argument for four teams to make the Atlantic Division – even my 11th pick, the Devils – but my gut feeling is that people are sleeping on Ilya Bryzgalov. The 5-8 seeds feature some injury worries (in the Lightning’s case it’s a “What if Dwayne Roloson gets hurt because he’s really old?” worry) and other flaws that should keep them from the playoffs. The most interesting teams that didn’t make the top 8 are the wild card-heavy Leafs, the still-proud Devils and two young teams in the Jets and the Islanders. I’m not a huge fan of the Panthers rebuild, but that might work out too.

Matt Reitz says:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. Washington Capitals
3. Boston Bruins
4. Buffalo Sabres
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
6. Philadelphia Flyers
7. New York Rangers
8. Toronto Maple Leafs

Even though Pittsburgh played half the season without Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, they transformed themselves into a defensive team, and tied for the Atlantic Division championship. With two of the best players in the world returning, they should be the cream of the crop. The Caps have proven they are an elite regular season team and the Bruins still should be better than the Sabres. The Flyers slip just because of all the question marks surrounding the team as they attempt to find some team chemistry. The Maple Leafs slide into the final playoff spot because James Reimer should give them some solid goaltending for the first time in years. They may not be a great team, but they’ll rise up and improve a couple of spots in the standings. If any of the eight teams slip, the Montreal Canadiens and Carolina Hurricanes will be there to steal one of the last spots.

With that all squared away – check out our Western Conference previews here – who do you see winning the Eastern Conference? Let us know in our poll.

Bruins make short work of Coreau one game after he out-duels Price

TORONTO, CANADA - JANUARY 1:  Jared Coreau #31 of the Detroit Red Wings holds his head after a Toronto Maple Leafs goal during the third period of the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic at BMO Field on January 1, 2017 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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Sports almost always have a “What have you done for me lately” feel to them, but the ups and downs can be especially cruel to an NHL goalie. The margin between a great performance and an early night on the bench can often be quite small.

Take journeyman goalie Jared Coreau of the Detroit Red Wings for example.

The 25-year-old generated three wins and two shutouts in his past four games. That most recent shutout came as he out-dueled Carey Price in a 1-0 win for the Red Wings. Sure, he only needed to stop 18 shots, but he won a staring contest with Carey Price.

Now, on Wednesday, Coreau couldn’t even get through the first period against the Boston Bruins.

Coreau allowed three goals on eight shots and was pulled after 8:50 of game time, giving way to Petr Mrazek.

Now, not all of this is on Coreau. Boston just keeps hammering away, and they finally got to Mrazek late in the first period. Even so, it was a tough go for Coreau, and a reminder of just how tough that gig can be.

McKenzie: Blues, Shattenkirk are open-minded about discussing a trade

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Earlier today, PHT discussed that something seems “off” about the St. Louis Blues. Might they slip enough to justify trading high-scoring (but pending UFA) defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk?

Hockey insider Bob McKenzie covered a variety of interesting issues on “NHL Live” on Wednesday, including the feeling that both Shattenkirk and his team seem more “open minded” about considering a trade.

Since Dec. 11, the Blues have gone 7-8-1, giving them a 23-17-5 record overall. That’s not disastrous by any means, but St. Louis has grown to expect robust regular seasons (and dreams of bigger playoff successes), so somewhat middling results might make them more willing to move an expiring contract.

If the slippage continues, McKenzie reasons that the Blues would become that much more willing to listen to offers.

Circumstances also might make Shattenkirk a little more interested in a deal, too.

While McKenzie notes that Shattenkirk rejected the idea of signing a contract extension with the Edmonton Oilers, possibly spurning a move, the blueliner would be more amenable to a “trial run” this season. That could mean with the Oilers or another team – maybe a Canadian one? – that could use a puck-mover.

Does that mean that a trade is on the verge of happening? No, not necessarily, but it does hint that the team and player would at least consider a wider array of possibilities.

In other words, feel free to dream up all sorts of imaginary trade scenarios. Oh, and what the full video for more.

More from McKenzie on “NHL Live”

The murky situation for the New York Islanders.

Is Paul Maurice on the hot seat for the Winnipeg Jets?

Finally, discussing the possibility of a Shane Doan trade:

Isles GM Garth Snow on coaching search, Tavares and who calls the shots

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During Wednesday’s edition of “NHL Live,” NBCSN’s Liam McHugh asked New York Islanders GM Garth Snow many of the key questions surrounding the organization following the firing of head coach Jack Capuano.

It’s interesting stuff, even if Snow managed to play coy on some of the bigger questions … or, to use his phrasing, “remain quiet” and keep much of the process “behind the scenes.”

Snow cited the team’s mediocre record in explaining his decision to fire Capuano (but also recent breakthroughs to praise Capuano and explain that the Islanders are surrounding John Tavares with the kind of talent that will make him want to re-sign with the organization). To some extent, some of the most interesting parts of the interview came in what Snow didn’t say, as he gives the impression that he’ll need to run his decisions by the team’s ownership group.

Let’s run through a few of the issues Snow addresses, though you should watch the video either way:

Gallant

He mostly avoided that issue, hence keeping things “behind the scenes.”

Interim head coach Doug Weight

“Doug Weight’s our head coach. “He’s had a tremendous career as a player and behind our bench the last several seasons … he has a familiarity with players and the players have familiarity with him.”

Tavares

Snow didn’t provide anything new here, emphasizing that Tavares loves playing in front of their fans and other common points.

Who makes the decisions?

McHugh pressed Snow on whether or not he has the final say on a coaching hire and other issues. Snow didn’t really specify, insisting that “the days of dictatorship are gone.” It sounds like ownership will have plenty of say in big decisions.

***

The Islanders play their first game with Weight as interim coach on Thursday, as they take on a team in a different form of upheaval in the Dallas Stars. The table’s set for the Islanders to at least save some face; they finish the month of January with six straight home games.

Now, the longer-term future, including Snow’s own job security? That’s anyone’s guess, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie discussed here.

Video: McKenzie on the unclear future for Gallant, Weight and the Islanders

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NHL insider Bob McKenzie stopped by NBCSN’s NHL Live on Wednesday for a really interesting session on the New York Islanders. If you want some fascinating tidbits, the video above is full of great insight … but you might be just as confused as ever about the direction of the franchise.

(Probably because the Islanders give off the impression that they’re confused, too.)

Let’s break down some of the more intriguing material:

  • In one eyebrow-raising point, McKenzie said that the Islanders may have gone one step further than asking for the Florida Panthers’ permission to speak with Gerard Gallant. The Isles might have even done so weeks before they fired Jack Capuano. Wow.
  • Even so, that doesn’t guarantee that Gallant will be their future head coach. McKenzie deems that a “long shot” for now and notes that nothing is imminent.
  • Instead, “what you see is what you get,” which means that Doug Weight may serve as interim head coach for a healthy chunk of time. The situation seems in flux overall.

Weight seems fine with whatever, as ESPN reports.

“I’m going to give everything I have, whether it’s five games or 40 games or if it turns into 10 years,” Weight said.

  • Maybe most importantly, McKenzie said that more sweeping changes could come to the Islanders organization this summer. One could imply that GM Garth Snow is in a vulnerable spot, something PHT discussed after Capuano’s firing.
  • Also, Gallant could be in the running for the coaching gig in Las Vegas.

So, yeah, that video above this post’s headline is absolutely worth watching. The NHL Live crew also provides some insight about the Islanders’ struggles and future direction, so check it out.

… And stay tuned. More twists and turns could be coming in this story.