division watch

Vincent Lecavalier, Alex Ovechkin

Southeast Division Watch (March 14)

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Southeast Division outlook (March 14 -March 20th)

1. Washington Capitals (40-20-10 for 90 pts; 70 Games Played)

Current streak: Eight wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Montreal (Tuesday), Detroit (Wednesday) and New Jersey (Friday).

Thoughts: The Capitals are one of the hottest teams in the NHL right now, there’s no doubt about that. Even with a five-point lead in the Southeast Division, they can’t rest on their laurels. Tuesday’s game against the Canadiens begins a six-game road trip that should test Washington’s growing case as a Cup contender.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning (38-22-9 for 85 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Two losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Toronto (Mon), Montreal (Thurs) and Ottawa (Sat).

Thoughts: If I had to wager on the Capitals or Lightning, I’d probably have to go with Washington. Tampa Bay would improve their odds if they closed the gap to three points with 12 games to go if they beat the Maple Leafs tonight. Still, with eight of their last 13 contests away from home, it might be a bit much to ask.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (31-28-10 for 72 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Four straight losses.

Week ahead: Away vs. Buffalo (Tues), home against Toronto (Wed) and home vs. Islanders (Fri).

Thoughts: It’s probably true that every remaining game is at least somewhat big for the Canes, but the next two are still substantial, as they take on bubble teams on Tuesday and Wednesday. Cam Ward, Eric Staal & Co. actually play the Sabres two more times counting Tuesday’s big road contest, so they could conceivably close the gap in a vacuum if they won both of those games in regulation.

4. Atlanta Thrashers (29-28-12 for 70 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Road game vs. New Jersey (Tues), home vs. Philadelphia (Thurs) and @ Buffalo (Sat).

Thoughts: This week might just be a “fork in the road” moment for the puzzling Thrashers. All three of these contests could be defeats, but if they make an impressive showing, that will reveal their legitimacy in the home stretch. It’s tough to fault anyone who has been questioning their playoff credibility since New Year’s, though.

5. Florida Panthers (28-32-9 for 65 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Philadelphia (Tues), Toronto (Thurs) and Islanders (Saturday).

Thoughts: The Panthers have been solid in the first four games in their seven-game homestand (2-1-1), but solid wasn’t what they needed to make a last minute surge into the playoff picture. Instead, they leave their fans with yet another purgatory season in which they’re not good enough to make the postseason but not bad enough to get a great draft pick. Unless they start tanking right now, that is.

Pacific Division Watch (March 12)

Dallas Stars v San Jose Sharks

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Pacific Division outlook (March 12 -March 18th)

1. San Jose Sharks (39-22-7 for 85 pts; 68 Games Played)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Rangers (Saturday), @ Chicago (Monday), @ Dallas (Tuesday), home vs. Minnesota (Thursday).

Thoughts: The Sharks have earned at least one point – mostly wins – in all but one game since February 13th. It’ll be tough to keep up their current pace to end the season, though, as San Jose will play against playoff-caliber teams (aside from St. Louis) in every remaining game this season.

2. Dallas Stars (37-23-8 for 82 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Los Angeles (Sun), San Jose (Tues) and Chicago (Thurs).

Thoughts: After going 3-0-1 in a four-game road trip, the Stars began their seven-game road trip with a regulation win and a shootout loss. With five games left on that stand, the Stars can make some serious waves. Of course, Dallas will then play five games in a row on the road, so we’ll see how it goes.

3. Los Angeles Kings (38-25-5 for 81 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Away vs. Dallas (Sun), @ Nashville (Tues) and home vs. St. Louis (Thurs).

Thoughts: The Kings are 6-2-1 in their last nine games. After they play in Dallas and Nashville, the team will play their next five in Los Angeles. It could be a really up-and-down month in the Pacific Division, as we’ve discussed before.

4. Phoenix Coyotes (35-23-11 for 81 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Four away games – against Anaheim (Sun), Calgary (Tues), Edmonton (Thurs) and Vancouver (Fri).

Thoughts: After a serious bit of stumbling, the Coyotes seem like they’ve gotten things together by going 2-0-1 in their last three games. They face a tough week that might challenge their rebuilt momentum, though, with four road games against three tough teams. Sunday’s game against the Ducks might be the biggest of all, although Tuesday’s contest against the Flames is important as well.

5. Anaheim Ducks (37-26-5 for 79 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Two home games: vs. Phoenix (Sun) and St. Louis (Wed).

Thoughts: After this week, the Ducks play six of their next eight games on the road. This team is incredibly streaky yet resilient, but their mediocre 16-15-3 away record indicates that the end of March might cause some serious damage to their playoff hopes. Then again, this team keeps beating the odds, so you never know.

Northeast Division Watch (March 11)

Andrej Sekera, Brad Boyes, Nathan Gerbe

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Northeast Division outlook (March 11 -March 18th)

1. Boston Bruins (38-20-9 for 85 pts; 67 Games Played)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Islanders (Friday), Columbus (Tuesday) and Nashville (Thursday).

Thoughts: There are two basic ways the Bruins can react to all of the Chara-broiled controversy: they can either shrink away from physical play for fear of criticism or take an “us against the world” mentality. If their feud with the Canadiens wasn’t already bitter, this certainly made it so, but the bottom line is that Boston still has the inside track to take the Northeast.

2. Montreal Canadiens (37-24-7 for 81 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Away vs. Pittsburgh (Sat), home vs. Washington (Tues) and home vs. Tampa Bay (Thurs).

Thoughts: For unbiased fans, it’s tough to root against the Habs (but for once, it’s tough to root for them for reasons beyond their gorgeous uniforms and rich history). Hopefully Max Pacioretty will play again some day, but it certainly won’t be anytime soon. Don’t expect Montreal to get much sympathy on the ice, either, as they play three playoff-quality teams this week.

3. Buffalo Sabres (33-26-8 for 74 pts; 67 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Toronto (Sat), home vs. Ottawa (Sun) and home vs. Carolina (Tues).

Thoughts: The Sabres are finally in the top eight, as their hard work and the struggles of others allowed them to slide into seventh place. In fact, they’re actually in much better shape than the eighth-place Rangers because they’ve played in two less games. Instead of the previous notion that the bottom spot in the East coming down to Buffalo, Carolina and whatever other bubble teams made it into the conversation, things seem even more complicated.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (29-29-10 for 68 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Three straight losses.

Week ahead: Home vs. Buffalo (Sat), home vs. Tampa Bay (Mon), @ Carolina (Wed) and @ Florida (Thurs).

Thoughts: If the Leafs are going to make a legitimate run, they’re going to need the Sabres and other teams to stumble. They have a good chance to trigger that response, as they play Buffalo on Saturday and Carolina on Wednesday. Of course, losing three games in a row won’t help that cause.

5. Ottawa Senators (24-34-9 for 57 pts; 67 GP)

Current streak: Away vs. Tampa Bay (Fri), @ Buffalo (Sun), home vs. Pittsburgh (Tues) and home vs. New Jersey (Thurs).

Thoughts: Trading for Craig Anderson might hurt their chances of landing the best pick possible, but if they keep him around, it might just be worth it. Playing the next four games might make that discussion moot anyway, because it’s very possible they can go 0-for-4 this week.

Atlantic Division Watch (March 9)

Darroll Powe, Marc-Andre Fleury

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Atlantic Division outlook (March 9 -March 15th)

1. Philadelphia Flyers (41-19-6 for 88 pts; 66 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Toronto (Thursday), home vs. Atlanta (Saturday) and @ Florida (Tuesday).

Thoughts: Look, I don’t think the Flyers are going to lose their Atlantic Division lead to the scrappy but undermanned Penguins. Still, if Pittsburgh were to make headway, it would be soon. Philadelphia plays four of their next five games away from Cream Cheese Land. Granted, the Flyers have a nearly identical road (20-9-3) vs. home (21-10-3) record, but if you want straws to grasp … there you go.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (39-21-8 for 86 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. Montreal (Sat), home vs. Edmonton (Sun) and away against Ottawa (Tues).

Thoughts: The Penguins are turning heads with their all-out effort, although one cannot help but wonder how much damage they can really do during the playoffs in their current format. If they want to maintain their fourth seed, they better play well in the next week or so, because they finish the season with four of their last five games on the road.

3. New York Rangers (35-29-4 for 74 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: @ Anaheim (Wed), @ San Jose (Sat) and home vs. Islanders (Tues).

Thoughts: A late slump sunk the Rangers into a race with the Sabres, Hurricanes and x amount of bubble teams for one of the last two playoff spots in the East, so now they need to make the most of every game. The Islanders would be the cherry on the top of a tough week, but the Long Island gang has been awfully pesky lately. As most weeks, the Rangers should feel disappointed if they come away with less than four points.

4. New Jersey Devils (30-32-4 for 64 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Atlanta (Fri), home vs. Islanders (Sat) and home vs. Atlanta (Tues).

Thoughts: It’s been a long time coming, but I think I’ve stumbled on a good (if obscure) parallel for these Devils. Have you ever played a fighting game such as “Mortal Kombat” or “Street Fighter” in which you fought poorly until you were down to the “Danger” mark? You know, that spot when one more leg sweep or blocked jump kick would cause your doom? Those are the times when you’re most dangerous; you get to play with that sense of freedom and danger that you never play with when you’re running with a full bar of health. The Devils are really scary right now, but can they really dodge every fireball thrown their way for the next month?

5. New York Islanders (26-32-10 for 62 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Boston (Fri), @ New Jersey (Sat) and @ Rangers (Tues).

Thoughts: After Friday’s home game against the Bruins, the surprisingly surging Islanders play their next five contests on the road. Maybe they can sit in their hotel rooms and read the memo that they’re supposed to tank right now. Don’t get me wrong, the team’s probably tired of losing, but what good will moving up a few rungs on the ladder really do? Just saying.

Central Division Watch (March 8)

Chicago Blackhawks v Detroit Red Wings

Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Central Division outlook (March 8 -March 14th)

1. Detroit Red Wings (39-19-8 for 86 pts; 66 Games Played)

Current streak: Three losses in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Los Angeles (Wednesday), home vs. Edmonton (Friday) and @ St. Louis (Saturday).

Thoughts: For any Red Wings fans who might fear the concept of the Blackhawks taking the Central Division against high odds, look on the bright side: Detroit’s been better on the road this season. The veteran squad currently has a 22-9-4 record in away games, probably aided in some way by the fact that the team tends to draw their own fans during most – if not all – road games.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (37-23-6 for 80 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: Eight wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Florida (Tues), Tampa Bay (Wed) and Washington (Sun) plus one home game against San Jose (Mon).

Thoughts: So, could the Blackhawks actually take the Central? Probably not, but they do have one big thing going for them: three more games against the Red Wings this season. If they could pull off the unlikely feat of beating Detroit those three times in regulation, that would bridge the six point gap between the two teams in a vacuum. Again, it’s tough to imagine that happening, but it’s possible.

3. Nashville Predators (33-24-9 for 75 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Away vs. San Jose (Tues), home vs. Minnesota (Thurs), home vs. Colorado (Sat).

Thoughts: The Predators are stumbling badly right now, going 2-5-1 in their last eight games. They are still in the chase for a lower seed spot though, but every loss is going to hurt (especially if they fall in regulation). Thursday’s game against the Wild is the biggest of the week, but every game is big for Barry Trotz’s gang going forward.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (31-26-8 for 70 pts; 65 GP)

Current streak: Five straight losses.

Week ahead: Home vs. St. Louis (Wed), home vs. Los Angeles (Fri) and @ Carolina (Sat).

Thoughts: While the Predators still have an excellent chance to make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets are fading quickly. They’ve lost five games in a row after an impressive 8-1-1 run. There are going to be some disappointed teams once the West bubble bursts and it’s looking more and more like the Jackets will be one of them.

5. St. Louis Blues (29-28-9 for 67 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Columbus (Wed), home vs. Montreal (Thurs) and home vs. Detroit (Sat).

Thoughts: With all the quality teams in front of them, it’s almost certain that the Blues should be thinking about the draft more than the playoffs right now. Sure, a comeback might be mathematically possible, but it’s hard to imagine them even getting in the top 10 (let alone the playoff eight).