Another week in and we’re just getting closer to the postseason. All I can say is I am glad that not every team has played the next milestone of games to eliminate a team from postseason contention because the races for the final spots in each conference is really close. Especially in the Western Conference, it feels like a different team that could be going home every week. Along with that, it feels like there are playoff matchups going on every night. These are some fun times in the NHL and the answers to many questions are starting to hit the surface. Let’s take a look at a few of them on the latest Nerdy 30+1.
31. Buffalo (82-game standings points pace: 64 points, Last Week: 31) 30. Ottawa (Pace: 69 pts, LW: 30) 29. Arizona (Pace: 68 pts, LW: 29) 28. Detroit (Pace: 73 pts, LW: 27) 27. Vancouver (Pace: 70 pts, LW: 28) 26. New York Islanders (Pace: 79 pts, LW: 26) 25. Montreal (Pace: 72 pts, LW: 25) 24. New York Rangers (Pace: 80 pts, LW: 24) 23. Edmonton (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 22) 22. Chicago (Pace: 78 pts, LW: 23) 21. Calgary (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 21) 20. Carolina (Pace: 84 pts, LW: 20) 19. Dallas (Pace: 90 pts, LW: 19)
- 18. Washington (Pace: 104 pts, LW: 18)
- 17. Florida (Pace: 93 pts, LW: 17)
We start these rankings by looking at a Florida team that may or may not be losing steam. After going 8-2-1 from February 27th through March 17th, the Panthers have “only” gone 4-1-2 since then. That is still highly respectable, but it just goes to show the hole they have started in before making this push towards the postseason.
Consider that just before the All-Star break, the Panthers had only a 3.4% chance of making the playoffs. Now those odds have ballooned to just less than 30% after peaking at 78% back in March. Plenty of this goes to show how weak the bottom half of the playoff picture the Eastern Conference has been, but plenty of that has to do with this Panthers team taking advantage of it too. Sadly, the rest of their schedule is going to be absolutely miserable. They’ll have to go through the proverbial Hades three times that is the Boston Bruins, with Carolina, Nashville and Buffalo added to that misery. Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils have to play the New York Islanders, Montreal, and the New York Rangers before finishing the season with Toronto and Washington. By the time we finish off next week, New Jersey might clinch the final spot.
I do feel for the players on this team because Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Vincent Trochek, Evgeni Dadonov and Roberto Luongo have all had tremendous seasons. That’s a strong foundation to build upon, but I genuinely worry the higher echelons of Florida’s front office don’t have what it takes to make the correct moves for the future. I would like to see the Panthers get better in defense and they seriously need to get much better than James Reimer as a backup goaltender. But otherwise, things are looking bright for this team no matter how this season finishes for them.
- 16. Anaheim (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 16)
- 15. Colorado (Pace: 96 pts, LW: 15)
- 14. New Jersey (Pace: 95 pts, LW: 14)
- 13. Columbus (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 13)
- 12. Philadelphia (Pace: 97 pts, LW: 12)
So the New Jersey Devils have a shot at making the playoffs for the first time since those infamous months where Ilya Kovalchuk leaving the team unceremoniously and Zach Parise leaving for Minnesota. However, this team genuinely might still not be very good. In both defense and attack, the Devils sit in the bottom ten in the NHL based off of even strength shot attempts. However, unlike in seasons past, they might actually be good when it comes to putting pucks in the back of the net. With an even strength shooting percentage of 8.1%, New Jersey sits tenth in the league in that category and that is why their 14th best goal total of 232 looks much rosier than what it should be.
Taylor Hall is having a brilliant season with 86 points, while Will Butcher, Nico Hirschier, and Jesper Blatt have given a youth infusion that has been needed for years. On the downside, this team is still quite terrible in defense and their goaltending has been surprisingly worse. In fact, it actually looks like Keith Kincaid has taken the reigns from supposed world beater Corey Schneider for the starting netminding job. Since solidifying that role, Kincaid has guided the Devils to a 15-6-1 record while he’s been between the pipes and has saved 91.9% of his total shots faced. The underlying numbers still don’t totally wow you, but if anything, the 28-year old has provided some stability for an organization that’s been demanding it on the whole roster for some time.
On the backend, it’s quite strange to see Butcher, owner of 40 points this season (granted, 20 of it has come off the power play), playing third pairing minutes with Ben Lovejoy. While it’s understandable to shelter such a young player playing his first season in the NHL, eventually, you have to give such a talent more challenging roles. Meanwhile, John Moore and the ageless Andy Greene are playing well over 17 minutes of even strength ice time every night for some reason. Poor Sami Vatanen.
Speaking of feeling sympathy, poor Marcus Johansson! With so much promise being given to New Jersey’s forward corps, the former Capital still hasn’t played since being concussed by Brad Marchand on January 23rd. He is returning to practice with hopes of making it to the postseason as he will surely be a welcome addition to the Devils’ offense and their power play. With him playing, the Devils could get better, but I don’t know if that will be enough for them to make it past the first round. Either the Devils will play Washington or your choice of Tampa or Boston and it is quite obvious who they would prefer to play. Sadly, it just feels like this team has a shelf life that could only go so far. However, there is at least a future with this team and it has been quite a while since something like that has been said about them.
- 11. Los Angeles (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 11)
- 10. St. Louis (Pace: 98 pts, LW: 10)
- 9. Pittsburgh (Pace: 99 pts, LW: 9)
- 8. Toronto (Pace: 105 pts, LW: 6)
It wasn’t that long ago that the St. Louis Blues were on the brink of being eliminated from these power rankings. From the beginning of February up until March 8th, this team went 1-5-2, were outscored 35-14 during that span, were shut out three times in said eight games and decided it were only better than Buffalo in even strength shot generation (53.3 attempts per hour) during that span. Oh, and let’s not forget they traded one of their better players in Paul Stastny in the process. Oh, and Scotty Upshall, Carl Gunnarsson, and Jay Bouwmeester joined Robby Fabbri in either the season-ending or long-term injury list. So yes, this team was an absolute mess. Did I forget to mention Mike Yeo is coaching this team?
Welp, fast forward more than three weeks later and St. Louis is back to normal. I guess. This team is still among the most underachieving when it comes to generating offense, but their defense has righted the ship back into a top ten unit during the team’s winning run of form. Consider that from March 10th onwards, the Blues have won eight of their last nine games and have outscored opponents 32-17. Plenty of that also has to do with the fact that Jake Allen, who has had a pretty poor season most of the year, is bouncing back thanks to a 91.9% save percentage and going six for nine in quality starts. The rest might end up being the start of a condescending conversation. What if I were to tell you that it’s a good thing that Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson are done for the season with injury?
The problem with making such a statement is wishing bad things upon people I don’t know at all, and that is definitely something I’m not intending here. In fact, I’m sure Bouwmeester and Gunnarsson are very nice people once I get to know them. But the problem is they are two of St. Louis’ worst defenseman from a puck possession standpoint. In fact, Yeo and his never-ending wisdom thought it was a good idea to pair up Gunnarsson with Alex Pietrangelo on the team’s top unit, while Bouwmeester was either part of the dragging down process with Pietrangelo or partnering with the much more mobile Colton Parayko.
With them out of the lineup, it has forced Yeo to go ahead and partner Pietrangelo with Joel Edmondson on the top unit and has started to give the 21-year old Vince Dunn some tougher assignments on the team’s second pair with Parayko. The results have been fantastic with the Pietrangelo-Edmondson pair generating 54.3% puck possession and only 45.9 shot attempts against per hour. Meanwhile, the Dunn-Parayko pair has absolutely shredded everyone in sight, thanks to a 59.9% puck possession ratio and only giving up 45.2 shot attempts per hour at even strength while the two are on the ice. Finding these advantages and sticking to them will guide the Blues to bigger and better things. As long as Yeo doesn’t get in the way of things, this could end up becoming not only a dangerous team that is peaking at the right time, but they will be a difficult team to face come playoff time.
- 7. San Jose (Pace: 103 pts, LW: 7)
- 6. Minnesota (Pace: 102 pts, LW: 7)
- 5. Winnipeg (Pace: 111 pts, LW: 5)
- 4. Nashville (Pace: 118 pts, LW: 3)
- 3. Vegas (Pace: 110 pts, LW: 4)
- 2. Boston (Pace: 113 pts, LW: 2)
- 1. Tampa Bay (Pace: 115 pts, LW: 1)
Throughout the past month, San Jose has gone on to become the hottest team in not just the Pacific Division, but also the hottest team in the entire NHL that isn’t named Columbus. But the question, as always, when it comes to such streaks is whether or not it is legitimate. Since February 27th, the Sharks have gone 14-3-1 and have outscored teams 59-38 in the process. So it looks like they’ve done a great job playing in all phases of the game, but it actually doesn’t look like the case when you look at it through a microscopic lens.
For starts, Martin Jones has been fine during his team’s rich vein of form, but the 28-year old has only saved 91.8% of his total shots during that time and has had five games where he has saved less than 90% of his shots. As a result, the team’s PDO at even strength is still strong at 1024 during this hot streak, but plenty of that is tied to the Sharks’ white-hot shooting more so than their goaltending.
All year, San Jose has become a much better team offensively even if Joe Thornton has missed all but 47 games this season due to a torn MCL. After only being able to convert 16.7% of their power play opportunities last year, this season’s Sharks team has been able to perform much more towards the league average at 20.4%. Previously, head coach Peter DeBoer almost had no choice but to rely on the top unit which usually averaged over three minutes a night, while no one else was able to sniff two minutes per contest. Nowadays, the likes of newly acquired Evander Kane, Kevin Labanc, a much healthier Tomas Hertl and a more resurgent Joonas Donskoi and Mikkel Boedker are coming in and providing the necessary depth required for a strong power play unit to work with. As a result, there is more diversity to San Jose’s shooting on the man-advantage and has provided much more arsenal than they ever experienced last season.
Speaking of the always controversial Kane, the former Sabre has come in and lead the team in ice time and put up 14 points in 15 games while replacing Thornton to being Joe Pavelski’s sidekick. That being said, San Jose’s wins have come against Edmonton, Chicago and Calgary twice, an unsure St. Louis side, Detroit, Calgary, Vancouver, New Jersey and a weaker Vegas side once. Their four losses have all come against fellow hot streak teams in Columbus, Washington, a much better St. Louis team and Nashville. Will that all mean that the Sharks are phony? They are still in the bottom half of the league in even-strength shot prevention, so will that come to roost when they have to play against a Los Angeles, Vegas or Anaheim in the postseason? Or how about any of the elite Central division sides? Either way, we’ll find out more about them once the playoffs begin.