Eastern Conference Playoff Preview
March 18, 2010 2 Comments
* – Division leader
1. *Washington Capitals – 103
It’s tough to find a weak spot in the Capitals’ game. With a fourteen-game win streak, this team is not slowing down. Some say they are a one-man team, with Ovechkin leading the way. However, without him in the lineup this season, the Caps have gone 6-2. The Capitals lead the league in goal differential with a plus-79 rating.
2. *New Jersey Devils – 87
Under new coach Jacques Lemaire, the Devils have had a rebirth, jumping atop the always-tough Atlantic Division. With the fewest goals against in the league, Lemaire has brought his defensive play back to New Jersey where it all started. Hall-of-fame goaltender Martin Brodeur has had a great comeback year, as he’s put up a .914 save percentage and leads the NHL in wins.
3. *Buffalo Sabres – 82
On the back of an MVP-worthy season from Ryan Miller, the Sabres are back on top of their division. With great contributions on the defensive side of the puck, the Sabres are second in the conference in goals against. They have ten players with 20 points or more, but no one over 70, giving the Sabres depth that they have not had in past years.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins – 87
The Pens have talent that has not been matched by any Pittsburgh team since the days of Jagr and Lemieux. Sidney Crosby has found his goal-scoring touch and currently leads the league with 45. The Penguins have 13 players with 20 points or more and six players with 40-plus; a number matched only by the Philadelphia Flyers. However, their defense has been inconsistent, often leaving Marc-Andre Fleury to fend for himself.
5. Ottawa Senators – 79
After falling off the face of the Earth following their Stanley Cup Final appearance in 2007, the Senators are once again challenging for the playoffs. After replacing Dany Heatley with Alexei Kovalev, the offense is slowly making its way back up to where it used to be. However, their defense and goaltending is lacking, as is shown by their minus-14 goal differential.
6. Montreal Canadiens – 78
Currently on a six-game winning streak, the season story is a goaltending battle of epic proportions. With the trade deadline behind us, the goal now is to win the starting position for the playoffs. Right now, Jaroslav Halak is most likely the go-to guy, with an impressive .923 save percentage and a winning record, something that Carey Price cannot claim he has.
7. Philadelphia Flyers – 77
Inconsistency has been the story for the Flyers, as they are on the brink of a mid-April tee time. With goaltenders Ray Emery and Michael Leighton out for the remainders of the season, the Flyers are stuck with Brian Boucher, who has not played well in big games since his departure from Philadelphia before the lockout. On the plus side, the Flyers are the only other team besides the Penguins with six 40-point players.
8. Boston Bruins – 74
Coming off last year’s storybook season in which the Bruins claimed the top spot in the Eastern Conference, they have struggled to regain their composure. Reigning trophy winners Zdeno Chara and Tim Thomas have failed to meet high expectations, while no one on the roster has more than 50 points. Losing Marc Savard will not help the cause, either.
9. New York Rangers – 71
The final team in the East with a chance to make the playoffs, the Rangers are riding on the wings of incredible seasons by Henrik Lundqvist (.919 save percentage) and Marian Gaborik (73 points). Sean Avery, after being a consistent healthy scratch, is becoming the pain-in-the-you-know-what yet again and the Rangers have responded.
Alan Bass is a writer for The Hockey News and THN.com. In addition to writing for Hockey54, Inside Hockey and Pro Hockey News, he has also worked for the Philadelphia Flyers. He is the General Manager of the Muhlenberg College hockey team as well. You can contact him at BergHockey24@gmail.com.