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16 weeks into the season, plenty of teams are starting to reach 50 games played. The Atlantic and Central Divisions are still in play. Aside from Pittsburgh, the Metropolitan Division is still very topsy-turvy. The Pacific Division is fairly well-spaced, though Anaheim still hasn’t gotten a very significant lead over Chicago for the West title. Even with the playoff picture starting to come into view, virtually everything is very much up for grabs, so let’s look at what would happen if the playoffs started as of Wednesday, January 22 before the day’s games:
The Ducks finally lost a regulation home game, to Winnipeg. They still have 20 home wins, though, and are dangerously powerful. The Wild have a four-point lead for the last spot, but also have three games out-of-hand over Phoenix. The Wild are still 7-3-0 in their last 10, but despite three road wins in that stretch remain 9-13-3 overall away from home. In a prolonged series with the likes of Anaheim, things will likely be too difficult for the Wild.
While Los Angeles has hit a bit of an iffy patch, San Jose has won four straight to firmly establish themselves as #2 in the division. It was even before, and now San Jose is getting a little bit better. And they still control home-rink advantage.
Vancouver has won two straight (vs Calgary and @ Edmonton), but has been having problems before that, including giving up nine goals to Anaheim in one game. Chicago‘s offense continues to regularly put up maximum goals with minimum stumbling. Vancouver can win, but Chicago’s making it highly unlikely.
Both sides have continued to win more often than not, but St Louis hasn’t dimmed their offensive prowess at all. Colorado is good themselves, but are sorely lacking compared to the Blues. The Blues are still the best team in terms of supporting their defense with offense, and that could overwhelm the Avs in the end.
Quietly, the Blue Jackets have won a muscular seven straight games to squeak their way into the standings. However, they’ll probably want to get even better on defense to give themselves more breathing room. They’ll need it against the Penguins, who have won all four games against Columbus to date by a combined score of 14-6, giving Columbus no points and shutting them out once (in Columbus). Until further notice, the Penguins remain one of the East’s elite teams.
The series-of-the-week in the Metropolitan Division this week around features the Rangers at #2, the Rangers now being up to .500 at home. New York has also been getting their offense going lately, and hope trading defensemen with Nashville will jump-start things even more. The Flyers have been playing a similar game lately, but haven’t been stringing together quite as many wins, hence the reason why they’re at #3. The Flyers have been in this spot for a little while now, but could find themselves down in quick fashion if New York can somehow manage to hold the momentum down.
Toronto has won six in a row, which follows a four-game losing streak. One of those wins was in Boston, though the Leafs still had to work hard for it. Tuukka Rask has been having issues, but Chad Johnson has won both starts in net for Boston this week. If extra rest and competition for starts can help motivate Rask out of his slump, the Maple Leafs so-so chances of moving on go way down.
Tampa Bay continues to keep pace over Montreal, who themselves need their three games-in-hand over Toronto to keep the #3 spot. These two are fairly close themselves, but Tampa’s offense remains their decided edge over Montreal. Montreal will need a new strategy to keep close to an even better Tampa team that should be healthier come playoffs time.
Tags: Anaheim Ducks, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Columbus Blue Jackets, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, NHL Playoffs, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, San Jose Sharks, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Vancouver Canucks