NHL Week in Review (March 30-April 5)

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The NHL playoff race is coming to an end with only a few games left and one week of the season remaining for teams to make their move. Teams are not in the single digits in terms of games remaining and many of the playoff spots have been taken. In the Western Conference the division leaders have all solidified their spots in the playoffs with only the two wild card spots remaining. Nobody has clinched their division yet though as the race among the best teams in the league continues on for the last week of the season. Meanwhile in the east there are still four spots remaining including the last two spots in the division leaders and the wild card spots. The number of team with a realistic shot at the playoffs in both conferences is shrinking fast as only a few teams remain as potential playoff teams. There has been plenty of heartbreak and joy in this previous week as many teams saw their hopes dashed or would continue to fall further out of the picture. For many teams and fans the frustration would continue to build as their teams failed to make any real run at the playoffs. The Maple Leafs would show promise winning two important games only to lose to Winnipeg in their last game at home essentially ending their hopes. The Phoenix Coyotes would lose their grip on the wild card spot in the West falling just out of the playoffs and now needing to fight their way back in. Meanwhile the New York Islanders, Calgary Flames, and Winnipeg Jets would join the list of mathematically eliminated teams continuing their time at the bottom of the league for another season. As frustration builds for those teams eliminated the fans around the league are looking for someone to blame for their team’s failure. Whether it is the head coach or the general manager fans are looking for their teams to make changes and return to the playoffs. In Washington the frustration of missing the playoffs for the first time in 7 years has led many fans to look at their leader on the ice. Alexander Ovechkin has taken a lot of heat in the past few weeks for his role in the Capitals’ position in the standings. The spark plug for his name being put up as a scapegoat was in the Capitals game against the Dallas Stars. With the Stars leading 3-0 the game was essentially over and Alexander Ovechkin seemed to know it all too well. As the Stars began skating into the Capitals’ zone Ovechkin is seen behind the play gliding with no urgency to get back to help in the defensive zone. As he glided along Ray Whitney skated by him and into the zone to receive a pass and dish the puck out to Dustin Jeffrey for Dallas’ fourth goal of the game. Ovechkin’s lack of urgency on the play was frustrating for fans and for his coach who claimed that Ovechkin quit on the play. It was a lack of effort that is not a rare sight for the captain of the team as Ovechkin sits at a -36 this year and has never really had any interest in playing defence. Generally that has been fine as long as he puts up points and leads his team into the playoffs but when he can’t lead his team to the playoffs his mistakes and lack of defensive play begin to become big stories. It is just another example of what the playoff race holds for teams that don’t make the playoffs. The teams that make the playoffs are generally seen as well run teams that have either been there a while or are coming into their own and extending their season. The teams that don’t make the playoffs are seen as the exact opposite and because they missed the playoffs people want answers as to why they missed the playoffs. Fans and media call for the jobs of top brass while in Washington they begin to wonder if Ovechkin deserves to wear the C on his chest. Yet Ovechkin has rarely changed his playing style since entering the NHL and fans have loved him for what he does well and the first season that something goes wrong his style is no longer acceptable. It is the same as any other team out of the playoffs this year after making it in the last few seasons. Whatever was working is no longer working and everything needs to change. The successful teams will not fall under the pressure though and will make their adjustments in what will be a long offseason to try and earn their way back into the playoffs as most of these teams need to figure out how to fix their team without blowing it up.

 

Overtime:
(Thoughts on the past week in the NHL)

Varly’s Season
Semyon Varlamov has had a season to forget off of the ice with a court case that was eventually thrown out but on the ice he has had a great season in leading the Colorado Avalanche to the playoffs and tying head coach Patrick Roy’s franchise single season win record with his 40th

Bernier Down Again
The Maple Leafs broke their 8-game slide this week but would also lose starting goalie Jonathan Bernier for the second time in the last three weeks leaving many to wonder if James Reimer can lead the team to the playoffs in what seems like a tough task

Murray Takes a Seat
Douglas Murray has rarely been suspended as one of the last stay at home defenceman stays out of the hot seat but a terrible play this week would see him get a 3-game suspension for his dirty hit against Mike Kostka

 

NHL Playoff Outlook

Eastern Conference
Division Leaders:
1. c-Boston Bruins (113)
2. d-Pittsburgh Penguins (103)
3. p-Montreal Canadiens (97)
4. p-Tampa Bay Lightning (93)
5. New York Rangers (91)
6. Philadelphia Flyers (87)
Wild Card:
7. Detroit Red Wings (88)
8. Columbus Blue Jackets (85)
In the Hunt:
9. New Jersey Devils (84)
10. Toronto Maple Leafs (84)
11. Washington Capitals (83)
12. Ottawa Senators (80)
13. Carolina Hurricanes (79)
Out of the Running:
14. New York Islanders (73)
15. Florida Panthers (62)
16. Buffalo Sabres (51)

Western Conference
Division Leaders:
1. p-St. Louis Blues (111)
2. p-Anaheim Ducks (108)
3. p-San Jose Sharks (107)
4. p-Colorado Avalanche (106)
5. p-Chicago Blackhawks (103)
6. p-Los Angeles Kings (96)
Wild Card:
7. Minnesota Wild (92)
8. Dallas Stars (87)
In the Hunt:
9. Phoenix Coyotes (86)
10. Nashville Predators (81)
11. Vancouver Canucks (81)
Out of the Running:
12. Winnipeg Jets (80)
13. Calgary Flames (73)
14. Edmonton Oilers (63)

c-Clinched Conference
d-Clinched Division
p-Clinched Playoff Berth

 

Key Scores:
Anaheim Ducks 5 – 4 Winnipeg Jets (OT)
– The Ducks would continue to push against the St. Louis Blues for the President’s Trophy and for the Western Conference title with their win against the Jets while Winnipeg’s playoff chances took a big blow

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 – 3 Boston Bruins (OT)
– The Leafs had just broken an 8-game losing streak that sent them out of the playoffs and made many lose hope for the playoffs but a win against the Bruins would reignite the hope pushing them somewhat closer to the playoffs

Detroit Red Wings 3 – 2 Buffalo Sabres
– The Red Wings would take the win against the eliminated Sabres and would extend their lead in the wild card race as the two points would help them to get closer to the playoffs in their first year in the East

Colorado Avalanche 4 – 0 St. Louis Blues
– Semyon Varlamov would pick up his 40th win of the season tying a franchise record held by head coach Patrick Roy but more than that the young Avs would gain some confidence heading into the playoffs beating the best team in the conference

 

Next Week:
St. Louis Blues vs. Chicago Blackhawks (Sunday April 6th; 12:30 pm ET)
– The Blues are sitting at the top of the league right now and hoping to secure that President’s Trophy as they take on long-time rival the Chicago Blackhawks who have struggled to continue their dominance this year

Detroit Red Wings vs. Buffalo Sabres (Tuesday April 8th; 7:00 pm ET)
– The Red Wings are hoping to lock up their playoff spot as they take on the Sabres who are still trying to figure out where to go from here as they sit in a lottery spot hoping to eanr the top pick in the draft and assisting their rebuild

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Dallas Stars (Wednesday April 9th; 8:00 pm ET)
– The Stars would just squeak past the Phoenix Coyotes to take a playoff spot this week but are hoping that a win against the Blue Jackets will lock up their spot while the Blue Jackets are hoping to do the same in the east

Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Ottawa Senators (Saturday April 12th; 7:00 pm ET)
– By this time in the season the Maple Leafs may very well be eliminated from the playoffs and if that is the case this last game of the season becomes more for pride and bragging rights in Ontario as both teams look for a promising exit on the season

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