inside the standings

Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky

Atlantic Division Watch (March 16)

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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 16 -March 23rd)

1. Philadelphia Flyers (43-19-7 for 93 pts; 69 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: @ Atlanta (Thursday), @ Dallas (Saturday), and home vs. Washington (Tuesday)

Thoughts: There was a time, not so long ago, when the Flyers looked like they were slipping a little bit and showing some chinks in their armor. Since getting destroyed 7-0 by the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the Flyers have had 7 points in their last 4 games. If it weren’t for a colossal collapse against the Thrashers, they wouldn’t have lost since. Looking long-term, the team is learning to play without Chris Pronger for the next 3-4 weeks. If they can thrive during this period, they’ll be that much better during the playoffs.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (41-22-8 for 90 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. NY Rangers (Sunday), @ Detroit (Monday).

Thoughts: Even though the Flyers have been getting back on track, the Penguins have been able to keep pace and are still only 3 points from the Eastern Conference lead. In case anyone hasn’t heard, their captain Sidney Crosby has missed 2 months with a concussion but has begun skating recently. Everyone knows it’s good to get a captain back—and Crosby is an above-average player. Just like that Wayne Gretzky guy who scored a few points.

3. New York Rangers (37-30-4 for 78 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. Montreal (Friday), @ Pittsburgh (Sunday), home vs. Florida (Tuesday).

Thoughts: The Rangers keep showing signs that they want to break out. They traveled to San Jose and won a hard-fought victory in a shootout. They dismantled the Islanders. But on the other hand, they played in Anaheim and were completely destroyed. The secret for the Rangers to make the playoffs is simple: just play the Islanders 10 more times.

4. New Jersey Devils (33-32-4 for 69 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Won three in a row.

Week ahead: @ Ottawa (Thursday), home vs. Washington (Friday), @ Columbus (Sunday), @ Boston (Tuesday).

Thoughts: The Devils have climbed from the NHL’s cellar to 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Is there anyone in the East that would scare the conference’s elite more than the Devils? If they sneak into the 8th spot, the reward for a team like the Flyers or Capitals could be the Devils—the team that hasn’t lost since Christmas. Unfortunately, not all the news is good news for the Devils these days. With each win, they are completely ruining their draft positioning.

5. New York Islanders (27-33-11 for 65 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: They’ll be on the road all week visiting Carolina (Friday), Florida (Saturday), and Tampa Bay (Tuesday).

Thoughts: Being in last place in the Atlantic Division is one thing. Being in 14th place out of 15 teams in the East is another. But getting pounded by the rival Rangers? That might have been the low point of the season thus far (you know, if you want to ignore Trevor Gillies involvement with the organization). The good news is simple: they have not lost focus like the Devils—they’re well on their way towards another high draft pick this summer. That would be called “staying the course.”

Central Division Watch (March 15)

Colorado Avalanche v Nashville Predators

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 15 -March 21st)

1. Detroit Red Wings (41-20-8 for 90 pts; 69 Games Played)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Home vs. Washington (Wednesday), @ Columbus (Thursday), @ Nashville (Saturday) and home vs. Pittsburgh (Monday).

Thoughts: There isn’t much for the Red Wings to play for, being that the Vancouver Canucks are way ahead of them for the top seed while Detroit holds a comfortable six-point lead over Chicago. At this point, it’s all about finishing strong and healthy.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (38-24-8 for 84 pts; 70 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Dallas (Thurs) and away vs. Phoenix (Sun).

Thoughts: Is there a single team in the West that wants to deal with the Blackhawks? They’re looking like a serious threat to the other contenders, as they showed by beating the San Jose Sharks handily last night. To contrast my previous point about Detroit, Chicago could actually make up some ground against the Red Wings being that they have three games left in the season.

3. Nashville Predators (35-24-10 for 80 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Two wins in a row.

Week ahead: Three home games – vs. Los Angeles (Tues), vs. Boston (Thurs) and vs. Detroit (Sat) and one road game against Buffalo (Sun).

Thoughts: The Predators have 10 of their next 13 games at home, so they have a fantastic chance of making it into the top eight in the West by the end of the season. As you can see, those games won’t all be cakewalks, though. All four of the teams they play could very well make the playoffs too in 2010-11.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (32-27-9 for 73 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Home vs. Boston (Tues), home vs. Detroit (Thurs), @ Minnesota (Sat) and home vs. New Jersey (Sun).

Thoughts: The Blue Jackets seem like they’re on the borderline between still being in the playoff picture and being out of it. Much like Nashville’s week, Columbus will face four potential playoff teams going forward. It’ll be interesting to see if they have a real chance by next week.

5. St. Louis Blues (31-29-9 for 71 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Three road games – vs. Anaheim (Wed), Los Angeles (Thurs) and San Jose (Sat).

Thoughts: The Blues won three of their last four games, but any final glimmer of hope should probably be gone after this week. The Ducks, Kings and Sharks are all likely to beat St. Louis – and they need to – so it’s likely they won’t end up with much more than 71 pts next week.

Tampa Bay chases Reimer from Leafs net, beat Toronto 6-2

Vincent Lecavalier, Steven Stamkos, Keith Aulie, Colby Armstrong, Joey Crabb

When you lean on a goalie as much as the Toronto Maple Leafs have been with unexpectedly effective rookie James Reimer lately, you need to anticipate the occasional stumble. Tonight’s game presented one of those situations, as the Tampa Bay Lightning put a damper on Toronto’s playoff hopes with in a 6-2 win.

Tampa Bay 6, Toronto 2

Aside from a 4-2 dagger from Vincent Lecavalier (his 18th goal of the season) and a Dominic Moore tally (No. 13 for the versatile center), the Lightning succeeded by getting goals from unusual sources. Mattias Ritola scored two goals three minutes apart in the second period, including the eventual game winner. Nate Thompson and Mike Lundin also scored a goal each for the Bolts.

That’s not to say that Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis were non-existent, though, as both piled up two assists in the third period.

Dwayne Roloson earned his 20th win of the season, making 30 out of 32 saves for the Lightning. Reimer didn’t make it through the whole contest, getting pulled a little less than nine minutes into the third period after allowing five goals on 29 shots. Jean-Sebastian Giguere allowed one goal on seven shots to finish off the game.

With this win, the Lightning pulled themselves to within three points of the Southeast Division lead behind the Washington Capitals. Both teams have played 70 games and won’t meet again in the regular season. If nothing else, Tampa Bay improved their chances of gaining at least a round’s worth of home ice advantage, as they only trail the fourth-place Pittsburgh Penguins by one point and one win.

The Leafs remain tied with the Atlanta Thrashers at 70 points at 10th place, although Atlanta is technically in ninth since they have a game in hand. They’re also only two points ahead of the hard-charging New Jersey Devils, a team that has two more games remaining than Toronto.

There’s still hope for the playoffs in Toronto, but the Lightning made that outlook a lot less promising.

Southeast Division Watch (March 14)

Vincent Lecavalier, Alex Ovechkin

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.