Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The NHL playoff race begins

DET:C 49 32 13 4 68 114 OTT:NE 47 33 10 4 70 122
DAL:P 48 31 15 2 64 109 CAR:SE 48 33 11 4 70 120
CGY:NW 49 29 15 5 63 105 PHI:A 49 30 11 8 68 114
NAS:C 49 31 12 6 68 114 BUF:NE 48 30 15 3 63 108
VAN:NW 50 28 17 5 61 100 NYR:A 50 28 15 7 63 103
LAK:P 52 30 19 3 63 99 NJD:A 50 26 19 5 57 93
COL:NW 50 28 19 3 59 97 TBL:SE 49 25 20 4 54 90
EDM:NW 49 25 18 6 56 94 TOR:NE 48 24 21 3 51 87
SJS:P 46 23 17 6 52 93 MTL:NE 46 21 19 6 48 86
ANA:P 47 21 16 10 52 91 ATL:SE 50 23 21 6 52 85
MIN:NW 49 24 21 4 52 87 BOS:NE 49 20 21 8 48 80
PHX:P 50 24 24 2 50 82

We've arrived at Day 111 of the NHL's 196-day regular season and already we're down to a 23-team race for the playoffs. In the West, say so long to Chicago, Columbus and St. Louis. Joining the pool for draft lottery candidates in the East are Florida, the Islanders, Washington and Pittsburgh. Aside from the hapless Blues, who will miss the playoffs for the first time in 25 years, they're all familiar names.

Who's going to make it? Well, those teams projected to have 105 points or more are, at this point, not going to miss the playoffs. Barring total collapses, Vancouver and the Rangers should also be safe. There go another ten clubs from the race.

Thirteen teams remain and here's how they stand.

Trending Up
1. New Jersey. The Devils are, in short, the hottest team in the NHL. 10-1-0 in January so far, New Jersey still isn't scoring a ton, but it hasn't seemed to matter. And, don't look now, but Martin Brodeur has been one of the league's top netminders with a 1.60 goals-against average in that span. Playoffs: They're in and may move as high as 4th in the East.

2. San Jose. Many expected Joe Thornton to improve the Sharks, but I'm not sure they expected this. San Jose is 15-5-2 with Big Joe, who has scored on a 123-point pace since arriving. Over 82 games, that would win him the Art Ross. Playoffs: With the most games left to play, they're all but in.

3. Colorado. 11-2 in their last 13 and David Aebischer is playing fantastic.

Playoffs: At this rate, they'll win the division. Of course, so could three other teams.

4. Anaheim. At first glance, it would seem the Ducks have been hemoraging talent in an effort to open cap space for next season. At second glance, they've picked up points in nine of their last 10 games. Playoffs: No, but only because it's a logjam. Anaheim's overtime/shootout record is one of the league's worst.

5. Boston. The fact they're even in the race is unbelievable. Since Tim Thomas came on the scene, they haven't lost. Of course, he's only started six games this season, but a 1.93 GAA and .930 save percentage? And, of the games I've seen, it's no fluke. Playoffs: Do Montreal and Toronto both implode?

Trending Down
1. Montreal. They've won just nine of their last 30 games, and their starting goaltender appears in the midst of a breakdown.

Playoffs: Stick a fork in them.

2. Toronto. They're tired, beat up and they've lost seven of their last eight (and six in a row). This is a tough call as the Maple Leafs have been streaky all season, but what the team really needs is for Mats Sundin to return from injury. He came back three months ago you say? Playoffs: They're in the mix with Atlanta until the end, but only because the bottom of the East (Senator fodder) is a wasteland.

3. Edmonton. In the West, and the Northwest in particular, there's no room for lapses. Not with 30 games to play. The Oilers, they're lapsing. They've won four in the last 13, and only one in the last six. The goaltending carousel has yet to stop and now secondary scoring is drying up. Playoffs: It depends. Will they win the tiebreaker?

On Course
1. Tampa Bay. They certainly don't look like the Stanley Cup champs. This team is a mess, and coach John Tortorella looks like he's on his way to a heart attack. Playoffs: Yes. 13 of their remaining games are against the East's bottom four.

2. Atlanta. Yes, this is a much improved team with Kari Lehtonen in the nets and playing well, but the Thrashers have also had one of the league's weakest schedules so far. Playoffs: It's them or the Leafs.

3. Minnesota. In the bottom of the Northwest Division, the Wild are also 11 points from leading it. Manny Fernandez has been phenomenal and stands to triple his salary as a free agent in the offseason. Playoffs: Nope.

4. Los Angeles. After a red-hot start in which they rocketed to the top of the conference, the Kings have been all over the place as of late. 23 of their remaining 31 games are against the Pacific and Northwest Divisions, against whom they're 19-8-2. Playoffs: They're in a dog fight with red-hot San Jose and sliding Edmonton.

5. Phoenix. When you're on pace for an 82-point season, being 'on course' ain't going to cut it. Playoffs: They'll need a huge, gut-busting run to do it, but with 14 of their last 21 on the road, it doesn't look good.

Thanks to Zorak for the standings.


At 11:30 a.m., January 25, 2006, Anonymous pete said...

I won't quibble with most of your projections, save a few.

Toronto, I still think, will squeak in. And get bounced in the first round.

I'm not ready to "stick a fork" in Montreal either. Sure they're tanking. But a bunch of teams have been streaky this season. I'm less confident about them than I am Toronto, but they're not done yet. They've got the scoring and, theoretically, the goaltending to make the playoffs in the East. The Habs can win 7 of their next 9 and we'll all forgett their current woes.

Jersey? Yeah, yeah, I know. 10-0-1. But this ain't the same old Devils. They may well squeak into the playoffs, but since when does have a good 3 week stretch make you a lock for the post season? They haven't convinced me yet.

I think Atlanta's in, too. Their top 6 forwards stack up against anyone else's when healthy. Sure, the D is a sieve. But with even average goaltending i think they'll make it. And Lehtonen gives them slightly above average goaltending.

The Champs in Tampa could be in trouble.

At the end of the day, I think there's 5 teams that might hoist the Cup this year. Detroit, Nashville, Calgary, Ottawa, or Philly.

San Jose, if they make it in, could be a dark horse. Everyone else is going to need an absolutely Giguere-esque performance to do any damage.

At 1:15 p.m., January 25, 2006, Blogger gspm said...

Great summary.

At 3:52 p.m., January 25, 2006, Blogger J. Michael Neal said...

Where has Tim Thomas been for the last decade? He was phenomenal in leading Vermont to the NCAA semifinals in 1996, along with Martin St. Louis and Eric Perrin. Then, no sign of him. I figured he was one of those outstanding college players whose game just doesn't translate to the pros (among netminders, see Stauber, Robb).

And yet, here he is, playing every bit as well as I thought he would ten years ago. Where did the guts of his career go?

At 5:34 p.m., January 25, 2006, Blogger ninja said...

The Eastern matchups are tasty

At 10:52 p.m., January 25, 2006, Blogger Josh said...

Sell out. I'll keep reading though.


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