Inside the Eastern Conference Standings – December 26

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Every now and then, we’ll take a look at each conference’s standings to see if there are any trends or quirks that explain why some teams are failing and others are overachieving. Obviously, these results will reveal bigger truths once we advance later into this season … but it’s still fun and interesting to take a peek at bigger picture numbers.

Want to compare and contrast? Check out the November and October editions of the Eastern Conference standings analysis.

Which teams are the hottest and coldest? Which teams are road warriors and who depends too much on home cooking? Let’s take a look.

Tampa Bay should rise.

With Atlanta briefly stealing the top spot normally held by Washington, Tampa Bay kinda-sorta slipped under the radar. If there’s one team that should be even better going forward, it’s the Lightning because:

  • They hold two games in hand over the Caps and Thrashers.
  • Most importantly: they’ve only played 14 games at home versus 21 on the road. They have 27 games in Tampa Bay for the rest of the regular season versus only 20 more away from their arena.

Carolina and Florida are justified in a little schedule griping.

Much like Tampa Bay, Carolina and Florida are dealing with some odd early season scheduling. Unlike the Lightning, those teams sit outside the playoff picture to boot.

Along with playing overseas, the Hurricanes have played 14 games in Carolina versus 19 on the road. They cannot complain much louder than the Panthers, though, as Peter DeBoer’s squad played 13 games in Sunrise and 20 away from home so far.

Philadelphia and Washington must face the possibility of a 4/5 seed series.

Because they’re both facing stout divisional competition and will face more road games than home contests going forward. The Capitals have played in the most games (37) of any team in the East (although the Thrashers played in 37 as well). Washington already played 21 at home, so they’ll face five more road contests.

The Flyers must face the Penguins’ push, Pronger’s injury and more road contests (five more as well) too. Then again, they have 10 wins on the road already so they don’t have to worry as much as the Capitals, who own a 7-8-1 away record so far.

Who knows how that will shake out, but unbiased hockey fans would surely get a treat if those two teams met in the first round.

Road warriors

The Penguins (12-4-1) and Rangers (12-6-0) are the best teams in the league at bringing their shows on the road. Again, the Flyers are pretty efficient away from Philly too (10-2-3) while the Lightning are scrappy but not elite away from Tampa Bay (10-8-3).

This indicates that the Atlantic Division teams are going to be tough outs in the playoffs.

A long season in Long Island

The Islanders have played the least games (32) of any team in the NHL. If any fan base could get a fast forward button, it would probably be theirs (or the Devils’ fans, I guess).

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Overall, I think that the Capitals might be in a little trouble (at least as far as winning a division title is concerned) while the Flyers might face a bump in the road. The Lightning could move up while the Hurricanes and Panthers probably have the best chance among the teams outside of the top eight to make a run for the playoffs.

Oh, it wasn’t quite bold print worthy, but with Boston’s two games in hand and the Canadiens facing three more games on the road than at home for the rest of the season, the Northeast Division race could be awfully interesting too.

And, yes, the far-off possibility of a Flyers-Capitals first round series does get me kind of excited.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

    Ilya Mikheyev
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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.