Let’s be honest for a second here – it’s the Blue Jackets’ world and we’re all just living in it. Now that they’re finally playing at (relatively) full strength, the guys from Columbus are starting to resemble the team that made the playoffs and pushed Pittsburgh in the first round a year ago. Speaking of the Penguins, just imagine what that roster could do if they were ever all healthy and on the ice at the same time. Imagine it, because it’s starting to seem like we may never actually see it.
Evgeni Malkin and Patric Hornqvist return… just in time for Kris Letang to be forced out of the lineup. And then Malkin starts missing games again too. That group could do serious damage in a playoff series – or they could miss the postseason entirely if they don’t get it together real soon.
1. New York Rangers (49-21-7, 105 points; Last Week: 1)
Just when you think it can’t get any better for the Rangers, you notice that Derick Brassard is kicking in a career-high 58 points. This week, he posted two more goals and two more assists because, you know, he can. So now they have roughly ten forwards, six defensemen and two goalies all contributing on a fairly consistent basis. This is not the team to face in the first round of the playoffs.
2. Washington Capitals (43-25-10, 96 points; LW: 4)
Last week, they were fourth in the division. This week, they’re second. Such is life in the Metro if you’re not the Rangers. Just a few days ago, there was speculation the Caps could get run down by the Bruins and Senators and miss the playoffs entirely if they weren’t careful. They responded with an impressive three-game winning streak though, ousting both the Rangers and Canadiens along the way. In doing so, they’re ahead of that wild card spot (for now), which is good because that would mean a matchup with the Rangers or Canadiens.
3. New York Islanders (45-27-6, 96 points; LW: 2)
Here’s the thing about the Isles: they’re not a fluke, and they could pose problems for someone in a seven-game series. But they’re redefining the phrase “stumbling down the stretch”. Since Feb. 16, they’ve won eight of 22. Since March 10, they’ve won two of 10. Not exactly intimidating.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins (42-24-11, 95 points; LW: 3)
All of a sudden, the game on April 7 against Ottawa has some extra spice to it. The Penguins are probably too talented to miss the playoffs, and they could still go on a run if they landed the right matchup in the opening round and gained some momentum. But they haven’t had momentum for awhile now, and the Sens – just five points back at the moment – are actually winning games, while Pittsburgh just cannot seem to get into any sort of rhythm outside of Sidney Crosby.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets (38-35-4; 80 points; LW: 6)
Credit the Blue Jackets, who are finishing strong after a brutal first half marred by injuries. It was clear a couple months ago that this group wasn’t making the playoffs, but they’re doing everything they can to close out the season on a high note, rather than drop deeper into the draft lottery. They’ve won eight straight and 11 of their last 12, knocking off quality opponents like Detroit, Anaheim, Chicago, Vancouver, St. Louis and the Islanders – among others – along the way. Not surprisingly, few goalies have been better than Sergei Bobrovsky (10-1, 2.39 GAA, .928 save percentage) in that stretch. Those numbers are Devan Dubnyk-like.
6. Philadelphia Flyers (31-29-17; 79 points; LW: 5)
The Flyers are 8-17 in games that have gone to overtime this season. Who loses 17 games after regulation? If they had won just half of those… well, they’d still probably miss the playoffs. But at least it would be close. Outside of Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux, this has been a forgettable season in Philly.
7. New Jersey Devils (31-33-13, 75 points; LW: 7)
The opposite of Columbus, New Jersey has dropped six straight and hasn’t notched more than two goals in a game since beating Buffalo 3-1 two weeks ago. Losing is tough on the fans; losing without at least scoring a couple goals to get excited about is downright brutal.
8. Carolina Hurricanes (28-38-11, 67 points; LW: 8)
The more I run the NHL Draft Lottery Simulator, the more the ‘Canes seem to end up with the McDavid pick.
This Week’s Three Stars
1. Alex Ovechkin, WAS – Five goals and one assist over four games.
2. Cam Atkinson, CBJ – Four goals and two assists over four games.
3. Sidney Crosby, PIT – Two goals and three assists over three games.