The All-Star weekend has come to an end and appears successful on several levels. First, congratulations to Wayne Simmonds of the Philadelphia Flyers for winning MVP and to the Metropolitan Division on winning the 3v3 challenge. Over the weekend, we saw hockey legends like Wayne Gretzky behind the bench once again. We saw celebrities like Justin Bieber getting into the action on the ice. We even saw rival players like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin bonding together during such a fun and exciting time.
TIME TO GET SERIOUS
However, now comes the second half of the season. Now comes time for the playoff push. Now comes gut-check time for teams and players across the league. Let’s take a look at the Eastern Conference standings as of Monday January 30th.
The chart above is a snapshot of the current playoff picture if they were to start tomorrow. From the Atlantic division, you have the Montreal Canadians with a comfortable seven-point lead on second place Ottawa. However, Ottawa does hold three games in hand. Montreal has lead in the Atlantic, and sits towards the top of the league for the majority of the season so far. It is no surprise they are returning from the break atop the Atlantic and 5th in the overall league standings.
The Ottawa Senators have been in the playoff discussion for the majority of the season. A surprise to some, but they are second in the Atlantic coming back from the break. With 58 points, they are two ahead of third-place Boston, but hold five games in hand. Yes, you read that correctly. Five fewer games played!
BRUINS THREE-PEAT DISAPPOINTING SEASON?
Which brings me to the hometown, big, bad Bruins. After a disappointing shortcoming to the previous two seasons, it appears the Bs are once again in the same position. This up-and-down season currently has them third in the Atlantic. However, at this point, prior to their respective bye week, the Bruins do not control their own destiny. They are in third with 56 points. Yet, they have played five more games than 2nd place Ottawa and 5 more games than 4th place Toronto who are only a point behind.
With that being said, Toronto may be on the outside looking in as of now, but with rookie star Auston Matthews leading the way, the Maple Leafs are definitely a playoff contender.
Now to look at the Atlantic as a whole:
The Detroit Red Wings and Buffalo Sabres find themselves at the bottom of the standings with only 49 points. However, with only a seven point difference between that and the last playoff spot in the division (Bruins with 56), the division remains wide open. Now, while some of these teams seem more improbable than not to make the playoffs and are by no means playoff-caliber rosters, statistically speaking, it is open for anyone. One thing for the Atlantic teams to keep in mind, as I am sure they are, is the more than likely fact that the wild card spots may be filled with two Metropolitan teams, as it has for the majority of the season.
WHO WILL BE BEAST OF THE EAST?
With that, here is the Eastern playoff picture again:
On the Metropolitan side, you have the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. These four teams have been battling for the top three spots in the division for months. I think it is a safe bet to assume all four will make it to the postseason. If that is the case, one of them will find themselves in the wild card spot. Currently, it’s the Rangers with 63 points. The defending Stanley Cup Champions Pittsburgh Penguins are two points ahead and have a game in hand on the Rangers. But, they find themselves three points behind Columbus and seven points behind Washington.
With All-Star MVP, Wayne Simmonds, and superstars Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek leading the way, the Flyers have a legitimate shot at keeping the wild card spot they currently hold. Beyond that, though statistically it may be close, no other teams in the Metropolitan, including the Islanders or Hurricanes, seem viable options to being in playoff contention down the stretch.
Also to note, right now four out of the top five teams in the league are from the East. Number two ranked Minnesota Wild are the only team from the West. Number five ranked Montreal Canadians are the only team from the Atlantic Division.
As we return from the All-Star break, the playoff picture will continue to be a close race. Hopefully, the Boston Bruins can avoid missing out on a post season appearance for the third season in a row. The last time the Bruins missed a post season appearance for three or more seasons in a row occurred in the 1960s.