We are now entering the last portion of the season, and thought we would take a look at the top contenders for the Stanley Cup.
Goals for (7th) Goals against (8th), penalty kill (22nd), possession (10th)
The Blackhawks have just added solid pieces to their championship friendly core. Majority of the core that was there for their three Cups in six years is still in place, is still playing at a championship level, and they loaded up for another run at the trade deadline. They added Andrew Ladd, who solidifies their top line, along with Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise to strengthen their bottom-six. They are also going to get Marian Hossa back before the playoffs. They have Patrick Kane, the league’s leading scorer, the closest to him being Jamie Benn; who is 14 points behind. The Hawks also have arguably the best top-six and a solid D-core, which is going to help them come playoff time. Definitely will be exciting to see how Artemi Panarin performs in the playoffs.
The only thing would be their penalty kill. It isn’t nearly as good this year, but down the stretch will only get better with their additions (Weise, Fleischmann). Also, statistically, they aren’t nearly as strong as the previous Stanley Cup winning Blackhawks.
Goals for (1st), goals against (3rd), penalty kill (4th), possession (15th)
The Capitals have had a storybook season, but come playoff time can they beat the Blackhawks? The Hawks have more playoff experience on their team, but watch out for this Capitals team.
The Capitals have the best offense in the league (best goals per game in the league), are one of the toughest defensive teams (third in goals against, 10th in shots against, fourth on the penalty kill), and a team that is quite deep. The Capitals are looking dangerous this year, and would not surprise me if they made their way to the Stanley Cup Final.
The Caps didn’t do a whole lot to their team, adding Mike Richards as a free agent, then two minor deals to acquire Daniel Winnik, and Mike Weber.
Injuries could end up hurting the Capitals, for say if their blue line gets hurt. Other than that, Holtby has been a monster this season. If he keeps it up they could win it all, but what is he slows down come playoff time?
3. Anaheim Ducks
Goals for (23rd), goals against (4th), penalty kill (2nd), possession (3rd)
Nobody had a worse start to the 2015-16 season than the Anaheim Ducks, winning just one of their first 10 games and scoring only 10 goals (with four of them coming in one game) in the process. It seemed as if the season might be over before it even had a chance to get started.
Bob Murray had faith in his coach, and I applaud him for that. The Ducks have won 9 straight, and since that bad start to the season, are in a playoff spot. Bruce Boudreau is a great coach, and the Ducks just had an awkward start.
Since that 1-7-2 start, they put together a 33-12-6 run over the 51 games that have followed, a points percentage of .704. Keep in mind that only one team in the NHL this season (Washington) has a points percentage better than. 648. That record over the past 51 games would put them on a pace for 115 points over an 82-game schedule.
The Ducks have a great defensive core, and come playoff time that will help.
The Big 3 – (they don’t give up goals, they kill penalties, they badly outshoot their opponents) and after that first 10-game stretch they have scored at a top-10 rate.
The path to the Final where they might have to get through both Los Angeles and Chicago. That will not be easy. Goaltending could also affect them, come playoff time.
Goals for (9th), goals against (6th), penalty kill (7th), possession (5th)
The Lightning have definitely found their own, since have that rotten start to the season (8 wins in 20 games). Their offense continues to be top notch, and the team (despite the Drouin situation) seems focused, and ready for the playoffs.
The Lightning weren’t busy at the deadline, but getting back some of their players that were injured sure helps.
Even though all of the talent is still there, they don’t seem to be quite as good as they were a year ago. Washington has definitely passed them as the top team in the East at the moment. In order to get those favourable matchups, they must finish first in the Atlantic.
Goals for (16th), goals against (1st), penalty kill (14th), possession (1st)
Earlier in the year it looked like a runaway for the Kings in the Pacific Division. Give it to the Ducks and Sharks though, coming back and closing in on the gap.
The Kings are big, they’re deep, and they are talented. This is a much different Kings team than what we saw last season.
So what is not to like about their chances now?
Will be tough in the West, and not too sure if Kris Versteeg will fit in with their style of play too much. Other teams (Chicago, Anaheim) have improved more so than the Kings have this season.
Goals for (6th), goals against (10th), penalty kill (26th), possession (19th)
In terms of playoff performance, the New York Rangers have been, by far, the most successful team in the Eastern Conference since 2012.
Their 39 playoff wins since 2012 are not only the third-most in the entire NHL and tops in the East, they are 15 more than any other team in their conference (Boston is second with 24. Pittsburgh is third with 18). They have played in the Eastern Conference Final three times since 2012 and made it to the Stanley Cup Final once.
It has been a really successful run, but their Stanley Cup window is definitely starting to close, and if they do not win it this year, it might be a long time before they get back. It is a very expensive team that has a lot of players due raises after the season, a team that is getting older, and a team that has mortgaged its future to try and do everything it can to win a championship in the Henrik Lundqvist era.
They continued it this season by adding Eric Staal from the Carolina Hurricanes, and even though he is not the player he once was, he can still be useful. This is still a good team that knows how to play “playoff style hockey” in the sense that it can shut the game down, suck out all of the offense, and watch its goalie stop a ton of shots.
The Rangers hit a little bit of a slump in the middle of the season but have been stacking up wins over the past few weeks even though they have dealt with some pretty significant injuries to Ryan McDonagh (their best defenseman) and Rick Nash (their best forward, even though everybody seems to hate him). They will not be an easy out come April and May.
Dan Girardi and Marc Staal aren’t very good anymore. Will the Rangers be able to get it done, come playoff time?
7. St. Louis Blues
Rankings: Goals for (24th), goals against (8th), penalty kill (3rd), possession (14th)
They are a pretty good team. Only problem is, come playoff time can they get it done? Although they may be without their captain, David Backes after this season, and that will hurt. This Blues team needs playoff success, and they need it now.
Vladimir Tarasenko is a game-breaker offensively, and he has been incredible for them in the playoffs the past two years, but are they going to get enough offense from the rest of their lineup?
Goaltending also, hasn’t been as much of a problem as anticipated. Allen and Elliot have been a solid duo, but when it comes playoff time, can they handle it?
Offensive capability, coming from all throughout their lineup.
8. Dallas Stars
Goals for (2nd), goals against (23rd), penalty kill (24th), possession (2nd)
This team is fun. They score a lot of goals, they give up a lot of goals, and no lead for any team, no matter how big it is, is safe in a game they are participating in.
I just can’t see the Stars winning the cup this year.
They have a ton of money invested in goaltending (for two more years) that isn’t producing, and their big trade deadline upgrade to the defense was Kris Russell, a player who not only doesn’t really fit their style of play, but is probably a bit overrated simply because he blocks a lot of shots (he doesn’t really do much else). The reason he blocks a lot of shots, of course, is because he doesn’t do a great job getting the puck out of the defensive zone, and if a team like Dallas has to spend more time in the defensive zone that is not going to have a good ending for them.
Their offense is easily one of the best in the league. Their defense, not so much. the Dallas Stars have too much money invested in goaltending, an should be more so in their d-core.