Cory Schneider

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NHL Playoff Race: The teams still in it and the teams that are out of it

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With only about one quarter of the 2017-18 NHL regular season remaining the league’s playoff race is starting to get a little clearer.

Let’s take a look at where things stand as of Saturday afternoon and who should be in, who should be out, and who is still very much on the bubble.

Eastern Conference

Who should be comfortable: Tampa Bay, Boston, Toronto, Washington, Pittsburgh, probably Philadelphia

Who is on the bubble: New Jersey, New York Islanders, Columbus, Carolina.

Two of those four will get in.

Who is probably out of it: New York Rangers, Florida, Detroit, Montreal, Ottawa, Buffalo.

Analysis: The Three playoff teams in the Atlantic Division are pretty much set in stone as Toronto, the third place team, has a 19-point lead over the fourth-place Florida Panthers. It is the most top-heavy division in the league. The only thing left to be decided is what order those top three teams finish in, especially when it comes to Tampa Bay and Boston. Entering play on Saturday the Lightning have a three-point lead over the Bruins, but Boston still has three games in hand.

Over in the Metro the top-three spots belong to Washington and Pittsburgh with Philadelphia right on their tails. All three teams should feel pretty good about their spot in the standings.

That means the other two spots in the Eastern Conference should come down to the remaining four bubble teams.

At the moment Columbus is on the outside of that playoff picture, sitting one point behind the New York Islanders but the Blue Jackets have played two fewer games and hold the edge based on points percentage. If both teams continue on their current pace the Blue Jackets would jump ahead into one of those spots.

Right now Columbus is on track for 89 points, which puts them just barely ahead of the Hurricanes and Islanders in the playoff race. The table below looks at each of the four bubble teams, how many games they have remaining, their current pace, and the records they would need the rest of the way to reach 90 points (to beat Columbus’ current pace) and 95 points (which would make any team a near lock for the playoffs).

Based on their current pace and projections, the Devils are in a pretty good position. The wild card with them, however, is the fact they are still without Cory Schneider and they have been fading a bit down the stretch here.

The Hurricanes and Islanders are still the two teams with the most work ahead of them.

If you are wondering why I made the Islanders and Hurricanes the cut off and did not include the New York Rangers, just keep in mind the Rangers would need to go 15-8-1 the rest of the way to reach 90 points. They would need to do that while potentially selling off players at the deadline and after having gone 8-14-1 in their past 24 games. It is always possible that Henrik Lundqvist could play out of his mind down the stretch, but that seems like it is asking a lot.

Western Conference

Who should be comfortable: Vegas, Nashville, Winnipeg, Dallas

Who is on the bubble:  San Jose, St. Louis, Calgary, Minnesota, Anaheim, Colorado, Los Angeles.

Four of those seven will get in.

Who is probably out of it: Chicago, Edmonton, Vancouver, Arizona

Analysis: The Western Conference is a bit more wide open because there are two races taking place at the same time and that is keeping a lot of teams in it. Not only do you have a wild card spot up for grabs, but perhaps two spots in the Pacific Division as well.

At this point Vegas seems to be running away with the regular season Pacific Division crown thanks to the 10-point lead (with one game in hand) it has over the San Jose Sharks.

The other two spots in that division are up for grabs with only five points separating the second place San Jose Sharks and fourth place Los Angeles Kings.

Based on each team’s current point projection the cut-off to make the playoffs in the Western Conference is significantly higher than it is in the Eastern Conference with the final playoff teams on pace for close to 97 points at the moment.

Let’s take a look at those races.

Even though when you look at the standings today and see that the Anaheim Ducks are just one point back of a playoff spot, and ahead of the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings in the standings, they still have the hardest road ahead of them given each team’s current pace and the fact everyone else still has games in hand on them. They would need to win 15 of their final 23 games to hit that 97-point pace to jump ahead of the Flames’ current pace in the Pacific Division.

Still, there is a razor thin margin of error for pretty much every team on that table.

Any of those four teams could grab the four spots that are still legitimately up for grabs.

The Blackhawks would need a 20-3-1 over their final 24 games to reach 97 points. So let us just say that them, and every team below them, is finished for this season.

Even though Dallas is tied with St. Louis with 72 points at the moment I did not include them on the bubble because they have played two fewer games. They have a top-10 points percentage in the NHL and are currently on pace for 101 points. It would take a pretty significant meltdown for them to fall out of the playoff picture.

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Taylor Hall returns after big Radko Gudas hit

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The New Jersey Devils already weren’t fans of Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Radko Gudas, considering how unhappy they were about a hit on Kyle Palmieri (with Travis Zajac surprisingly dolling out justice in a fight).

That bitterness may only climb after Tuesday, as Taylor Hall has yet to return after an enormous hit by Gudas. The check was delivered while Hall was in the process of scoring a goal, his 22nd of the season. Gudas actually scored a goal of his own in this game, his second of 2017-18.

Gudas was not penalized for the check; do you think that hit deserves special attention from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety?

We’ll have to wait and see if Hall comes back to this game. The Flyers entered the third period with a 4-3 lead, so it’s possible that their winning streak may continue while the Devils’ struggles might persist.

Update: While it’s important to remember that sometimes players briefly return to games only to miss time later, this is a great early sign for a Devils team that is already dealing with Cory Schneider‘s absence.

Not only did Taylor Hall return, he ended up scoring another goal in this game, helping the Devils pull off a 5-4 shootout win. Wow.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Sliding Devils place Schneider on IR

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) The New Jersey Devils have placed top goaltender Cory Schneider on injured reserve with groin and hip injuries.

The team announced the move Monday, saying Schneider is expected to start skating next week.

Schneider hasn’t played since being hurt on Jan. 23 in a game against Boston. He leads the team with a 17-11-6 record with a 2.79 goals-against average.

Forward Nick Lappin was recalled from Binghamton (AHL). He will join the team for a game in Philadelphia on Tuesday.

The Devils announced the NHL awarded Taylor Hall and Will Butcher assists on the team’s only goal in a 6-1 loss to Columbus on Saturday. The change, coupled with Hall’s goal and assist Sunday night against Boston, extends his point-scoring streak to 14 games. He has nine goals and 12 assists.

Penguins’ playoff hopes keep looking brighter

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For much of this season, the question hasn’t been “Can the Pittsburgh Penguins threepeat?” Instead, it’s been very reasonable to wonder if they’d even be able to make the playoffs, and that’s still fair to ask.

Still, with the All-Star break approaching, it’s been quite some time since their playoff outlook seemed this promising.

One big piece of the puzzle, naturally, is the Penguins’ own play. Sidney Crosby made some history in passing Jaromir Jagr in team scoring tonight, and Evgeni Malkin was also electric in Pittsburgh’s 6-3 drubbing of the Minnesota Wild.

They’ve now won seven of their last nine games, pasting the Wild and Hurricanes by a combined score of 9-4 during the first half of their four-game homestand.

Beating the Hurricanes in regulation captures the other piece of the puzzle: other Metropolitan Division teams are either treading water or in danger of sinking altogether. As of tonight, the Penguins are ranked second in the Metro with 57 standings points, although 51 games played exaggerates their advantage.

Still, there are trends that make you wonder if Pittsburgh and maybe a few other Metro teams can really separate from the pack.

  • The Capitals are in a pretty cushy spot. They closed off a three-game losing streak on Thursday, giving them 63 points in 49 games.
  • The Devils, on the other hand, are in serious danger to slip, and maybe slip drastically.

New Jersey is now on a four-game losing streak, and the larger downward trend is especially disturbing, with just two wins in their last 12 contests. With injuries really starting to pile up (Cory Schneider, Taylor Hall, and Marcus Johansson being hurt lately), the magic might dry up for the Devils in a dramatic way. They fell 3-0 to the Predators on Thursday.

They now have one fewer standings point (56) than Pittsburgh’s 57, although they hold three games in hand. Considering the lead they built earlier this season, it’s notable that they’re no longer a no-brainer to finish ahead of the Pens and other Metro contenders.

  • The Flyers have been on the rise in a big way overall, sandwiching one loss between two four-game winning streaks from Jan. 4-23. They did lose tonight, however, falling 5-1 to the Lightning.

Like New Jersey, the Flyers have 56 points, but with one fewer game in hand (49 games played versus Pittsburgh’s 51).

  • The Blue Jackets could pass the Penguins if they win tonight’s game against the Coyotes, as Columbus currently sits at 55 points in 48 games.

One would probably peg the Blue Jackets as especially likely to pass the Penguins, as it seems like their best hockey is ahead of them. Injuries and a light recent schedule has been frustrating, much like losing three of four. At least Torts is being entertaining, though.

  • The Rangers are in serious danger of slipping out of the picture and becoming sellers at the trade deadline. Sitting at 53 points in 49 games, they hope to end a three-game losing streak against the Sharks tonight.
  • The Islanders are also up-and-down with 53 points in 49 games, as the ascent of Mathew Barzal hasn’t totally protected them from poor defense and goaltending. They’ve also lost three of their last four games and might go into the All-Star break on a down note considering that they’re facing the shockingly effective Golden Knights.
  • The Hurricanes really needed tonight’s 6-5 win against the Montreal Canadiens.

They head into the break with 52 points in 49 games. This marks just their fourth win since Dec. 30, a 4-7-1 stretch. If Sebastian Aho misses serious time, Carolina could be in precarious position.

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Considering the games in hand advantages for those other prominent Metro teams, it would be shocking if the Penguins finagle a round of home-ice advantage as the second seed.

If you expand the scope to merely finishing in the top five in the division, things look increasingly positive, as it’s unlikely that the Atlantic will send more than three teams to the playoffs. That’s especially true if some teams fade, especially if the Devils really flop down the stretch.

For those who’ve barely glanced at the standings, this might seem “same old, same old.” Those who’ve been monitoring the situation more closely likely realize that there have been times when the playoffs truly looked like a coin flip – or worse – for the defending champs.

The Penguins still have a lot of work to do to make another postseason berth a reality, but again, it’s been a long time since things looked this promising.

Which isn’t especially promising for the rest of the NHL’s contenders.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Rough night for goalie injuries: Devils’ Schneider, Panthers’ Reimer

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Tuesday could end up being a tough night when it comes to goalie injuries.

  • The New Jersey Devils have already been struggling, but this high-offense/shaky-defense mix could really crumble without a healthy Cory Schneider. That’s the concern tonight, as he left the Devils’ game against the red-hot Boston Bruins with a lower-body injury.

The Devils were already dealing with Keith Kinkaid being sidelined with a groin issue, so Ken Appleby is taking over, and likely absorbing some outstanding jokes about chain restaurants and/or cheap appetizers.

  • On a similar note, the Florida Panthers were already waiting as Roberto Luongo heals up, and now James Reimer is dealing with something during tonight’s game against the Dallas Stars. While footage of Schneider laboring after moving laterally is not yet available, here’s a GIF of Reimer being shaken up:

Reimer cooled off in January, but he helped keep the Panthers’ playoff hopes at least on life support in December, going 7-3-3 with a sparkling .932 save percentage during that month.

Both the Panthers and Devils were already dealing with some struggles, so possibly being down to the third goalies on their depth charts wouldn’t help matters. Each squad has to hope that their goalies are only dealing with minor issues.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.