NHL Week in Review (March 4-10)

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The NHL season is drawing to a close and teams continue to battle for the elusive playoff spot and their chance to hoist the Stanley Cup. With a number of teams looking to get into the top eight there are the obvious teams that seem destined to make the playoffs and make an impact. The Vancouver Canucks, New York Rangers, Detroit Red Wings, St. Louis Blues, and Pittsburgh Penguins all look to be in that category this year. Then there are the teams in the middle that might make some noise if they get hot like Philadelphia, Nashville, and Chicago. The most exciting race is at the bottom of the playoff race as a number of teams battle for the 8th and final playoff spot and it continues to heat up for both conferences. There is also another race going on even further down the rankings that does not get a lot of focus at this time of year. This is the race for last place and it is a race that nobody wants to win but does have some benefits though as the winner, or loser, of this race will get the first draft pick in the draft. The race for the top pick comes down to the last five teams in the league and has since the NHL established the Draft Lottery. In the lottery the bottom five teams all have a chance at the #1 pick after their names are drawn. The Lottery involves all 14 teams that did not make the playoffs into a draw where no team can drop further than one spot and the team that is drawn moves up four spots. The teams are placed into the lottery more times the lower they finish in the standings. The bottom five teams are the only teams that have the ability to move up to the top spot and have a much higher likelihood of this with more entries into the lottery. This year the prize in the draft lottery is not a sure thing this year as there is no one can’t miss prospect in the draft. There are two top picks that may lead to some debate as Nail Yakupov and Mikhail Grigorenko top the draft rankings this year. As the season comes to a close the five teams that will be looking to draft one of these two players this will not be trying to lose but will have no shot at the playoffs and have only the draft to look forward to. The Columbus Blue Jackets are the front-runners as they have been unable to win anything this year and have 22 wins to show for it. They have played much better lately though and may play themselves out of the bottom of the league. Meanwhile the Edmonton Oilers have struggled again after taking the first pick last year and they could be on their way to the first pick again if the Blue Jackets pass them. Montreal will likely not have a shot at finishing last in the league but they will be put into the lottery with a good shot of getting the top pick. It is unfamiliar territory for the Montreal Canadiens who are sitting in 28th place and would have the third pick if nothing changes. The Islanders are experienced in being a the bottom and are there again as they sit in 27th but still have a shot to get out of the bottom five, although they may not want that. Carolina is in the same position as they sit in 26th but are tied with the Islanders for points and still have a chance to get out of the bottom five. On the bubble sits the Toronto Maple Leafs who after a promising start to the season have fallen to within a few points of the bottom five. Rounding out the bubble will be the Anaheim Ducks and Minnesota Wild who may all fall to the bottom five and have a chance at the top pick. Ultimately this race is one that nobody wants to win and one that no team or player should aim for but if you’re are going to be bad earning the first overall pick in the draft is a pretty good consolation prize. It is not the most watched race at this time of the year but it deserves some attention as these teams and fans look towards the draft with their seasons essentially over the race becomes that much more important.

With the bottom of the league looks for their newest player as they prepare for the draft some teams are also looking for new players. One of these teams is the Pittsburgh Penguins as they look for a familiar face to return to the lineup. Sidney Crosby has been one of the biggest stories in the NHL over the last year as the centre of the concussion controversy. After suffering a concussion near the end of the 2010-11 season Crosby spent months rehabbing and became the poster boy for concussions in the NHL. He was set to return earlier this year and did so with much fanfare. That was until he was hurt again only a handful of games since returning. Since then Crosby learned that he had injured his neck and has been out for the rest of the season. That is until now as Crosby is set to return any day after being cleared for contact this week and has started to practice with the team. With Crosby’s imminent return the Penguins will once again have the best player in the NHL back just in time for the playoffs. One of the biggest questions for them though is what will happen to the best player in the NHL this season Evgeni Malkin. Malkin has come into his own this season with Crosby out of the lineup as he has been able to take on the burden of leading the team. Malkin has not been able to do this with Crosby in the lineup and as much as the Penguins would love to see both Crosby and Malkin dominate the competition it does not seem to be possible. That of course is yet to be seen as Malkin has now come into his own and may not go back to being a role player when Crosby returns. If Malkin can keep up his play with the addition of Crosby the rest of the NHL will be on notice in the playoffs. If Malkin does fall back into his role-playing ways the NHL may still be on notice as Crosby will be sure to fill the spot. Either way the best player in the NHL will be back for the playoffs and whether or not he and Malkin can find a way to work together and become a force the Penguins will still be one of the best teams in the playoffs and if they can get together there will be little that can stop them on their way to another Stanley Cup.

 

NHL Playoff Picture

Eastern Conference:

1. *New York Rangers (91)

2. *Boston Bruins (83)

3. *Florida Panthers (75)

4. Pittsburgh Penguins (87)

5. Philadelphia Flyers (85)

6. New Jersey Devils (83)

7. Ottawa Senators (81)

8. Washington Capitals (74)

 

9. Winnipeg Jets (72)

10. Buffalo Sabres (72)

11. Tampa Bay Lightning (69)

12. Toronto Maple Leafs (68)

13. Carolina Hurricanes (67)

14. New York Islanders (65)

15. Montreal Canadiens (64)

 

Western Conference:

1. *St. Louis Blues (95)

2. *Vancouver Canucks (92)

3. *Dallas Stars (81)

4. Detroit Red Wings (91)

5. Nashville Predators (87)

6. Chicago Blackhawks (81)

7. Phoenix Coyotes (78)

8. Colorado Avalanche (76)

 

9. San Jose Sharks (75)

10. Calgary Flames (74)

11. Los Angeles Kings (74)

12. Minnesota Wild (68)

13. Anaheim Ducks (68)

14. Edmonton Oilers (59)

15. Columbus Blue Jackets (51)

 

*Division Leaders

 

Key Scores:

Chicago Blackhawks 2 – 1 Detroit Red Wings

– This Central Division rivalry is an intense one and with the Red Wings looking to keep a hold on the top spot and stave off the St. Louis Blues they ran into a speed bump in the Blackhawks who are beginning to look good heading into the playoffs

 

Boston Bruins 5 – 4 Toronto Maple Leafs

– The Maple Leafs saw a big shot to their playoff hopes as the initial thrill of the new coach wore off and the Leafs looked they their old selves as they began a tough part of the schedule losing to the playoff bound Boston Bruins team

 

Calgary Flames 5 – 3 Winnipeg Jets

– The Winnipeg Jets were looking to hold on to their 8th place spot but they could not get past the Flames who won the game thanks to a great performance by Mikka Kiprusoff as they look to add another team to the western conference playoff race

 

Philadelphia Flyers 1 – 0 Toronto Maple Leafs (SO)

– The Toronto Maple Leafs continued to lose traction in the playoff hunt as they could only manage to take one point against the Flyers who pulled off the shootout victory and continued to prepare for the playoffs

 

Next Week:

Anaheim Ducks vs. Colorado Avalanche (Monday March 12th; 9:00 pm)

– The Colorado Avalanche are looking to make the playoffs and are in a tight battle with the L.A. , Calgary, and San Jose and a win against Anaheim will help them keep up but the Ducks will be looking to spoil the party

 

Pittsburgh Penguins vs. New York Rangers (Thursday March 15th; 7:00 pm)

– The battle for the Atlantic conference is heating up and with Sidney Crosby potentially making his return the Pens will be trying to put the pressure on the Rangers who have stumbled as of late but remain the best team in the NHL

 

Washington Capitals vs. Winnipeg Jets (Friday March 16th; 8:30 pm)

– The Caps and Jets are both looking for the same thing, the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference and the battle will take place on the ice as the Jets look to make an impression in the first year back in Winnipeg and the Caps look to save face in a bad season

 

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators (Saturday March 17th; 7:00 pm)

– The Leafs hopes are all but gone for a playoff run but the Battle of Ontario rages on as the Leafs and Sens will always try to get the win when they face each other and the Leafs will be looking to hurt the Sens hold on a playoff spot

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