The first half of the NHL season has come and gone.
All Star weekend has now come to a conclusion.
We are half way to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This should mean that the playoff picture is starting to sort itself out. But that is not true, at all.
In fact, every single team except two (sorry Colorado and Arizona) is within a stone throw of a playoff spot. Some teams have pebbles and most certainly will hit their target, and others have boulders that may require a bunch of help to get into their desired location. But needless to say, the parody throughout the league is going to make for some much watch hockey down the stretch.
So how did we get here?
This year the NHL has been a roller coaster of story lines. All the injuries that have plagued some teams from the git go, rookies that have made huge impacts for just about every team, higher scoring games, goalies that can’t break out of funks…the list goes on.
But the underlying factor is in the NHL any team can win on any given night. Outside of some double digit winning streaks from the Blue Jackets, Flyers, and Wild, nobody has been unbeatable. In fact if you take a look at the current winning streaks around the league you’ll find that only 3 teams have put together three straight wins, the current longest streak in the league. Those teams? The Philadelphia Flyers, Edmonton Oilers, and Arizona Coyotes. On the flip side you will also notice that only three teams have lost 3+ games in a row: the Detroit Red Wings (4 games), Carolina Hurricanes (5 games), and Colorado Avalanche (7 games). Because of this, it is making the standings incredibly tight and every point worth that much more meaningful.
On any given night, a team could start with 4 teams ahead of them and depending on how the night plays out, they could jump every team ahead of them. Currently there is a four way tie at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Those teams have 49 points. The three teams ahead of these have 50, 51, and 52 respective points. The Flyers are holding onto the last Wild Card spot with 56 points and the Bruins are clinging to the 3rd spot in the Atlantic also with 56 points. In the West, after you remove the Avalanche (28 points) and Coyotes (38 points), there are four teams with playoff hopes on the outside looking in. Two of them have 50 points, the two others have 52 points, and the teams currently sitting in the wild card spots have 53 points. You could put an asterisk here however as not every team has played the same amount of games due to teams having a “bye week” this year. Still, there is very little room for error among these teams heading into the final months of the regular season.
How will this all get sorted out?
In the Metropolitan and Pacific division, the top three teams in each look to have a firm grasp on their spot baring a total collapse. If these teams can continue their winning ways against the teams hanging around, especially with an abundance of divisional games left for many of these teams, then the standings will start to become a little more clear.
The other two divisions may be a full on fight to the finish.
If you cut the Atlantic division in half and placed the bottom half on top of the four teams currently winning the division, it would look more like what many expected the division to finish up looking like at the end of this year. Currently the teams are as such: Montreal, Ottawa, Boston, Toronto, Florida, Tampa Bay, Buffalo, Detroit. The top four teams were absent from the playoffs last year while the only team that didn’t make the playoffs last year that currently resides in the bottom is Buffalo. Only seven points separates 3rd place Boston from last place Detroit, and Boston has played at least 2 more games than each team below them. In fact only a single point separates Boston from Toronto and the Maple Leafs have a whopping 5 games in hand.
Much of the same can be said for the Central as well. The black and blue division appears to be Minnesota’s to lose or the Blackhawks to win, but outside of that the 3rd spot is up for grabs. Nashville has staked their claim in it now having won 7 of their last 10 games but three points behind them is St. Louis, who currently holds one of the two wild card spots in the West. Then, it’s Dallas who has a split profile through 50 games with a record of 20-20-10 for a total of 50 points, followed by a Winnipeg team also with 50 points but in 52 games played.
One solid winning streak from any team following this All-Star weekend could go a long ways to solidifying a playoff spot.
But if the first half of the season tells you anything, it’s to expect the unexpected. Be sure not to miss out on what will be a fantastic finish to the regular season.