The Hockey Roundup is back! As we’ve mentioned on the podcast, we’ll be reintegrating hockey and basketball into our segments as football winds down and with Spring Training being a month away. Matt and I covered the Sixers on the last episode and long-time readers know he’s been better with the NBA than I have. Hockey has always been my area of, attempted, expertise in the Thunderblog arena so here we are. With my beloved Philadelphia Flyers 42 games in and on their bye week, this seemed as good a time as any to bring back the Hockey Roundup. Next week, I’ll likely return to the weekly posts you may remember but today, I’ll be recapping the first half of the season for the Eastern Conference and giving my commentary. The West will come out on Thursday.
Note: All standings will be as of Tuesday afternoon so if any changes have occurred from Tuesday night’s action, please excuse me.
- Tampa Bay Lightning (63 Points)–By far the best team in the division and probably in the conference, the Lightning sport the best goal differential in the league at +52–+22 better than the 2nd place squad (Vegas). Unsurprisingly, Nikita Kucherov has been incredible with the league’s best 59 points (27 goals and 32 assists). Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy has been lights out for Tampa as well. With one the deepest lineups in the NHL, don’t expect Tampa to go anywhere. Especially considering the large lead they have on the rest of the division.
- Boston Bruins (53 Points)–The team to allow fewer goals per game than Tampa, the Bruins are firing on all cylinders coming into the midpoint of the season. Tuukka Rask has been on his head all season, the veterans are all scoring in bunches, and one the best rookie D-men is emerging as an absolute STUD (Charlie McAvoy). Boston is on a good trajectory but likely won’t catch Tampa. I’d expect them to take the #2 in the Atlantic.
- Toronto Maple Leafs (53 Points)–The Leafs’ young core has looked better and better all season with Auston Matthews and William Nylander leading the charge. The addition of Patrick Marleau has added a veteran presence to a team that should be dangerous for years to come. Given how good Boston has looked, I’d think the Bruins edge the Leafs for the #2 and Toronto comes in at #3 for an incredible first-round matchup.
- Detroit Red Wings (41 Points)–The Wings are six points out of the second Wild Card at the moment and have the rest of the three Metro teams to overcome if they’d want to secure a playoff berth. Nothing seems the really be clicking for Detroit as their aging veterans and young studs keep them in an interesting spot as to how they move forward in years to come. 4th in the division is probably their ceiling and they’ll likely miss the playoffs.
- Florida Panthers (40 Points)–A team that absolutely should be better than this given their skating talent on paper, Florida has had to deal with a lot of injuries. Seemingly the biggest impact has been replacing Roberto Luongo with James Reimer in net. With Luongo potentially coming back in early February, the Panthers could make a push for 4th in the ATL, but the playoffs are pretty much out of reach at this point.
- Montreal Canadiens (40 Points)–Montreal lost eight of their first ten games and hasn’t been able really to shake that start. The skaters are exactly a murderer’s row, but even absolute snipers like Max Pacioretty have had down years. Pacioretty’s name has been thrown around in trade rumors so it’ll be interesting to see if MTL pulls that trigger.
- Ottawa Senators (37 Points)–Mark Stone and Erik Karlson have been the only bright spots for the Sens this season. That includes trading for Matt Duchene from Colorado as he’s only put up 10 points in 26 games in Ottawa.
- Buffalo Sabres (29 Points)–The Sabres are still a long way from coming out of the basement. The city did just host the World Junior Championships so at least they got a first-hand look at the best prospects.
- Washington Capitals (55 Points)–Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Ovechkin is tied for the league-lead in goals, the rest of the squad around him looks SOLID, and Braden Holtby has been great. The Metro has been incredibly competitive in the first half but I’d expect the Caps to emerge as the division winner. The only knock I can give them is their lackluster road record.
- Columbus Blue Jackets (53 Points)–There’s a reason Sergei Bobrovsky has won a few Veniza trophies in CBJ and that’s because of how much he really has carried them. This year is no different as the Blue Jackets have an even goal differential ranking 27th in scoring and last on the power play. CBJ can certainly make the playoffs given the talent at the very bottom of the division. However, the offense will need to help Bob a bit more given the resurgences of the more talented teams still in the middle of the division.
- New Jersey Devils (52 Points)–After one of the better starts in the East, NJD slowed up a bit but they are for real, and YOUNG. The move to get Corey Schneider years ago is showing its dividends and then some while the trade for Adam Henrique earlier this years has been fantastic as well. Depending on how the two teams directly below the Devils play in the second half, New Jersey should still make the playoffs but the question will be where they end up seeding.
- New York Rangers (49 Points)–After a shockingly slow start, the Rangers used a 9-3 month of November to propel themselves right back into things. King Henrik has regained form and the very talented pool of Ranger skaters, both young and old, have produced one of the more balanced benches in the league. Chris Kreider’s injury hurts but shouldn’t sink NYR as they should return to the playoffs by year end.
- Pittsburgh Penguins (47 Points)–The Pens season encapsulates the Metro this season pretty well. The Penguins were in 7th place in the division coming into their game against the Flyers a week ago despite being three-games below .500, the lowest point of the season for them. Obviously, the usual suspects are leading way for the Pens with Kessel, Crosby, and Malkin right at the top. Now in the 2nd Wild Card spot, the two-time defending Cup Champions shouldn’t yield their postseason position for a third-straight. Frankly, they’ll probably just keep climbing the ladder.
- Carolina Hurricanes (46 Points)–The first team out of the playoffs has three games in hand on Pittsburgh. Teuvo Teravainen leads an older cast of skaters for the Canes but the key has seemed to be Cam Ward. Carolina is 11-5 with Ward in net versus an 8-19 record with Scott Darling. A Wild Card berth is likely the Canes’ ceiling and if Ward slips up or gets injured, Carolina should free fall.
- Philadelphia Flyers (46 Points)–With one more game played, the Flyers lose the tiebreaker to Carolina. I could honestly write ten thousand words about what I’ve seen out of the Flyers this year but I won’t for the sake of time. Giroux, Voracek, Couturier, and Gostisbehere have been STUDS and have the numbers to show for it. The rest of the team has shown its youth. Goalie Michael Neuvirth’s injury seemed to put extra pressure on Brian Elliot but with Neuvirth back and the platoon in force, we should potentially see better and more refreshed goalie play. Obviously losing ten-straight is never good, but the fact that the Flyers are only a point out of the playoffs at this point given their inconsistencies makes me optimistic. The youth just needs to continue to develop. Dave Hakstol will need to remind us all why Hextall loves what Hakstol brings to the table. I’ll stop the Flyers talk here since I know Matty D and I will likely cover them in full force on the next podcast.
- New York Islanders (46 Points)–The Isles’ poor play since December 1st technically puts them in last in the division because they’ve played more games than both Carolina and the Flyers. NYI has the offense to make a playoff push but made them move down the standings has been bad defense and goaltending. Obviously, that needs to tighten up considering the offenses within the division and the backloaded schedule against divisional opponents won’t help.
Atlantic: #1 Tampa, #2 Boston, #3 Toronto
Metro: #1 Washington, #2 New York Rangers, #3 Pittsburgh
Wild Cards: #1 New Jersey, #2 Columbus
Disagree with my picks? Let me know in the commentsFollow @geordo9