As you make your way down the winding, bumpy road that is any NHL season, it really is important to cease and take a appear around when in a even though. Catch your breath, gather your bearings, survey what road is left ahead.
One factor to appreciate at this juncture is how up-in-the-air issues seem to be around the league. We’re far adequate into the season to have somewhat of an idea which teams and players will be worth keeping an eye on, but not far enough to know the precise destination of these players and teams … or their competition.
There are a number of intriguing races to monitor over the final couple of months. Let’s take a look at a couple of of the very best ones.
The Rocket Richard
Through the initial half of the season it looked as although David Pastrnak may pull away with the Rocket Richard as the league’s major purpose scorer. He led the NHL with 29 targets in the 1st half, but it has since grow to be a three-player race for the title — and the Bruins winger is at the moment in third.
Here’s how items break down right now:
Yeah, that is 34-year-old Alex Ovechkin top the pack … again. Ovechkin’s incredible current surge, in which he’s scored 14 targets in seven games, has vaulted him to the prime of the leaderboard. He’s led the league in every of the past two seasons and has eight Rocket Richards in total.
Ovi projects to finish with 61 goals in 80 games played. That would be his second-most prolific scoring season ever, behind the 2007-2008 season when he finished with 65 targets. Meanwhile, Auston Matthews projects to finish with 59 although Pastrnak is pacing 57 — both profession highs for the two young forwards.
Prediction: Just before the season, I predicted Pastrnak would finish atop the targets list with Matthews and Ovechkin correct behind him. I’ll preserve Pastrnak at the top but revise to say Ovechkin finishes ahead of Matthews.
Top of the Atlantic
Coming into the season the Atlantic was largely projected to be a 3-group race with the Lightning, Bruins and Maple Leafs all vying for the prime 3 spots. But Boston got off to a supremely hot start whilst the Leafs and Bolts struggled mightily out of the gate, permitting the Bruins to create up a luxurious division lead in the very first half.
Even so, Tampa Bay has rediscovered its status as 1 of the league’s most dangerous and potent teams. The Lightning have managed to get close enough to Boston to seemingly make issues interesting down the stretch. Tampa has been the best group in the league given that the commence of December, going 22-six-2 and earning 77 percent of its attainable points in that 30-game stretch. At the moment, the Lightning are just 5 points behind Boston, who sit atop the complete league, and Tampa has a game in hand.
Thinking about the property-ice issue and the prospective 1st-round playoff matchups, it could be a dogfight down the stretch. The Bruins have gotten comfy in that best spot but the Lightning have been so impressive over the past few months that their footsteps are not possible to ignore.
Prediction: Bruins hold off the Lightning, finish in 1st by 3 points or fewer.
The East wild card
Never let the leading of the Atlantic distract you from the fact that there’s some other interesting jockeying going on in that division. Behind the Bruins and the Lightning, the Maple Leafs and Panthers are separated by a single point as they battle for the third Atlantic playoff spot.
Both teams are powerful but flawed, but either one of them would be a truly tough draw in the first round of the postseason, which tends to make winning the Atlantic that a lot much more crucial for Boston and Tampa. But this battle is so fascinating since there is a possibility that only 1 playoff spot will be up for grabs here.
The Metropolitan division is stacked this year and, as it stands, six Metro teams rank above the Panthers and Leafs in the league table. There is a affordable possibility that a Metro group slots into both wild-card spots, leaving only the top 3 teams from the Atlantic in the playoff picture.
It’ll be enthralling not only to watch the Leafs and Panthers duke it out for the remainder of the year, but also see how items continue to shake out in the Metro. The Capitals and Penguins sit atop that division (and clearly appear like the ideal two squads) but the Islanders, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes and Flyers are all inside 3 points of every single other. It need to be a wild finish with plenty of playoff scenarios in play about the end of the season.
Prediction: Panthers finish third in Atlantic. Hurricanes finish third in Metro. Leafs get first wild card. Islanders get second wild card.
Considerably of the discussion about the Calder Trophy, which annually goes to the NHL’s top rookie, has surrounded two stud defensemen — Colorado’s Cale Makar and Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes. Both have a compelling case for the award:
Makar’s edge in points per game could benefit him, but the defensive aspect leans in Hughes’ favor. While each players lead their respective teams in shot attempt share, the most significant trump card for Hughes is his deployment. He averages a lot more TOI per game (21:36 to Makar’s 20:38) and gets more defensive zone begins than his counterpart in Colorado.
This race is nevertheless extremely close and that is simply because each guys have been wonderful. Whether it is fair or not, this could eventually come down to who puts up the bigger quantity in the point column by the end of the regular season.
Prediction: Makar by a nose.
A wide-open Pacific
While it really is undoubtedly the worst division in hockey this year, the Pacific could be the most exciting. Bad parity is nevertheless parity, and the leading five teams in the Pacific are at the moment separated by five points or less. It really is quite much anyone’s division as we head down the stretch:
- The Vegas Golden Knights are most likely the best of the bunch (at least on paper) but they’ve battled inconsistencies all year long and have been disappointing sufficient to expense Gerard Gallant his job behind the bench
- The Vancouver Canucks presently lead the pack and they’re a enjoyable young team, but they haven’t been great adequate away from home
- The Oilers are a roller coaster, but they can go as far as Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl will carry them
- The Coyotes are heavily dependent on its top-notch goaltending to overcome an offense that relies on the contributions of a couple of players
- The Flames’ offense took a nose-dive since their top players weren’t in a position to replicate the profession years they delivered final year, but they are nevertheless in the hunt
So, what occurs next? I do not have a damn clue. It is quite effortless to speak your self into or out of any of these teams. Logic says Vegas is the very best bet, but logic doesn’t usually win… especially in hockey.
Prediction: Vegas 1st, Vancouver second, Oilers third.