The trade deadline came and went and there were many winners and losers. The main story coming from the winning side is the addition of Ryan Miller to an already stacked St Louis Blues team. Since his acquisition the Blues have won five straight games and have overtaken the Anaheim Ducks as the number one team in the league. And while the West is stacked with other Cup contenders it is hard not look at the Blues with their balanced lines, great top four and now elite goalie as the favorites.
The great part about the move from an emotional standpoint is that it sends a message to everyone in the locker room and even the fanbase that management is ready to go for it. And while Miller’s numbers may be marginally better than Halak’s (their own GM says it may only make them a few % better) it gives everyone the belief that they can go for it.
If you look at the standings it is clear there are eight solid teams that will make the playoffs. Two of them are in the East (Pittsburgh and Boston) and six out West. (Stl, Chicago, Colorado, Anaheim, San Jose and LAK.) I want to break these into a few different groups as we head down the stretch because there is a 98% chance the Stanley Cup winner is coming from this group.
Trending up: Blues and Kings: The Blues made the major splash adding Miller/Ott but the Kings added Gaborik to their top six. LAK have won eight games in a row coming off the Olympic break and all of their pre Sochi problems seem to have gone away. As their own coach says what makes them so good is not their defense but the fact they always have the puck. So if they are getting consistent scoring and Quick is on his game they will be a tough out. Their biggest issue moving forward is that they will most likely have to play either the Sharks or Ducks first round. So their road will consist of beating three cup contenders just to get to the Final.
Meanwhile the Blues have yet to lose a game to a Central Division opponent (they are 18-0-1) but are only 1-8-0 against the California teams. Meaning they should be alright until they get until the WCF but will no doubt have trouble when they get there.
Trending down: Penguins and Ducks: This is hard for me to write since I love each of these teams for different reasons. The two faced off last Friday night with the Pens winning in a shootout 3-2 despite being outshot 31-17. The Pens won again last night against the Caps despite being outshot 33-20. They are winning despite their Corsi numbers being awful and are winning because of great special teams and goaltending. (Basically the Pens are the new Leafs. Hooray!) The good part for the Pens are in the East so their margin for error is greater than out West.
For the Ducks a regression to the mean is happening as they had an unbelievable home record through January but have since lost six of the last eight on the Pond. Add to that they didn’t add the big name at the deadline despite freeing up cap space. Each of these teams were the frontrunners for Kesler so both might look back and be upset they didn’t pull the trigger.
Steady as she goes: Blackhawks and Bruins: The two Cup finalist from a year ago are both in good shape heading into the playoffs. While they have some injury issues (Hossa, Seidenberg) there is nothing really holding them back from getting them back to the Finals. The Hawks biggest threat is that they are in the West and if they don’t catch the Blues will have to face a good young Avs team that could draw them into a long series.
The Bruins have the best seat at the table than anyone. They are running away with their division and have won five straight and should catch and pass the Pens for the top seed in the East. It is too difficult to project who they will play in the early rounds but they won’t see a team of equal depth and skill until the Final. It sucks.
Wildcard: Avalanche: They did just lose PA Parenteau for the season last night but with all their talent up front it may not matter. Patrick Roy has turned his young group of forwards loose and they look like the Pens/Hawks a few years ago with all their skill. A first round matchup with the Hawks looms and will be the most fun series to watch with all of the skill on the ice. I don’t think they can get past both the Hawks and Blues but these young kids don’t really know any better.
The Sharks: Sharks: They are the Sharks
Around the League
1. Rich Peverley is okay: Scary stuff last night in Dallas
2. The Canucks blew a 3-0 lead and lost 7-4: The ship is officially sinking out West and it is doubtful the Canucks make the playoffs. But hey at least Roberto Luongo got out. Not so much for Kesler.
3. Jordan Nolan should have gotten more than one game: He basically assaulted someone
4. The Florida Panthers had the best line change ever
5. Speaking of incompetence, the Islanders are the Islanders: You know nothing Garth Snow
6. Devils get let off the hook for Kovy: Blah
7. Lidstrom’s number got retired: There is no doubt he could come back for them right now and play. He would get hurt like everyone else but still.
Games this Week
Tuesday Caps at Pens 730 NBCSN: Pens can help slam door on Caps playoff hopes
Wednesday Bruins at Canadiens 730 NBCSN: No Carey Price it sounds like
Thursday Rangers at Wild 8 NHLN: This is a random matchup but is with two playoff teams
Friday Preds at Hawks 8 NHLN: The Preds aren’t good but Seth Jones is
Saturday Pens at Flyers 1 NHLN: Mmmmm Hate
Sunday Pens at Flyers/Wings at Hawks 1230/7 NBC/NBCSN: Mmmm double hate