- The Boston Bruins remain the top team in the NHL with an impressive team stat line. 1st in goals allowed (224), 1st in goal differential (+51T), 2nd in PP% (25.1%), 3rd in PK% (84%). The “Perfection” line of Pastrnak, Bergeron and Marchand continues to be the best line in the league, with Pasta leading the league in goals (48). Tuukka Rask leads the NHL in GAA (2.18) and is 3rd in SV% (.926). The trade deadline additions of forwards Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase appear to have added even more depth to an already deep group. The Bruins appear focused and on course to make their 4th Stanley Cup Final in the past 10 seasons and erase the memory of last years game 7 loss in the finals.
2. Much like 2019 the St.Louis Blues are hitting their stride heading down the stretch. They are tops in the Western Conference (92 points) and have won 9 pf their last 10. All this without their leading goal scorer Vladamir Taresenko who has been out since October after undergoing shoulder surgery. He is expected to return at some point for the playoffs, or sooner, which is bad news for those trying to topple the reigning Stanley Cup Champions. Last years standout rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington (2.56 GAA, .911 SV%) has not been stellar this year and has often been outplayed by backup Jared Allen (2.31 GAA, .922 SV%). He is, however, 2nd in the NHL in wins (30), and the Blues appear ready to bring their heavy brand of hockey back to the playoffs to defend their crown.
3. You wouldn’t have imagined to see them here a few months ago, but the Philadelphia Flyers are, well, flying in the East. 9-1 in their last 10 games (including 8 wins in a row) they are tied with Washington for 1st in the Metropolitan Division. Head coach Alain Vigneault who was hired at the end of the 2019 season (5 years $25 million) has the Flyers playing hard hitting, hard checking, four line hockey. 5th in Goals per game (3.34), 5th in shooting percentage (10.7%), 1st in shots allowed (28.7) and 1st in Faceoff percentage (54.5) there is not much the Flyers do poorly. Goaltender Carter Hart who missed nearly a month in early 2020 had been playing better (9th in NHL GAA 2.43). They are the hottest team in the East and nobody wants to face that come playoff time.
4. Like Philadelphia in the East Vegas may be the hottest team in the West not named the Blues. 8-2 in their last 10 games including wins over Tampa Bay (5-3) Washington (3-2) St.Louis (6-5OTW) and division rival Edmonton (3-0) and Calgary (5-3). Currently leading the volatile Pacific Division they are first in the NHL in shots per game (34.3) and 3rd in shots allowed (29.4) and made a big splash at the trade deadline picking up D Alec Martinez (via LA) and depth forward Nick Cousins (via Montreal). Most importantly, they acquired G Robin Lehner from Chicago. Vegas‘ backup goaltending had been just a step above EBUG status. 35 year old Marc-Andre Fleury has been less than stellar with a 2.79 GAA and .905 SV%, yet has the 6th most wins (26) and most shutouts (5T) among NHL backstops. Lehner gives them a legitimate 1B (1A?) and turns what might have been a potential weakness into a strength.
5. The Tampa Bay Lightning could easily find themselves at the top of this list. They have left behind the slow start to the season and own the 2nd best record in the East. 1st in the NHL in goals per game (3.51) 1st in shooting percentage (11.3%) 5th in power play (23.7%) and 7th in goals allowed (2.78) they are a deep team with one of the best goalie in work horse Andrei Vasilevskiy. The loss of Steven Stamkos to abdominal surgery is crushing. The trade deadline pick ups of Blake Coleman (via NJ) and Barclay Goodrow (via SJ) will need to not only bring physical play but try and fill the large void. Still, as good a team as their in the NHL. A potential 2nd round meeting with Boston will be the test to see if they have what it takes to go all the way.
6. The Colorado Avalanche just keep finding ways to win despite NUMEROUS major injuries. Forwards Mikko Rantanen(Out since Feb 17) Nazem Kadri (Out since Feb 10) Matt Calvert (Out since Feb 15th) Defenceman Cale Makar (Injured Feb 29th) Goaltender Philipp Grubauer (out since Feb 15) are all currently out. Yet the Avs are still 8-1-1 in their last 10 and have the 2nd most points in the West Conference (90). If they can FINALLY have a healthy roster come playoff time (especially getting Grubauer back) this group could find themselves in the Conference Final and a very good chance of playing for the Stanley Cup in June.
7. The Washington Capitals appeared to be cruising earlier in the year. They were well ahead in the Metropolitan Division and were firing on all cylinders. But 4-4-2 in the last 10 and 3 losses to the Flyers in 2020 find them tied atop their division. Still, there is no need to panic in the Nations capital. They still boast one of the most potent offences in the league, led by the ageless Alex Ovechkin who is one goal behind Pastrnak as he tries to win his 9th(!!) Rocket Richard Trophy as the NHL’s top goal scorer. John Carlson leads all NHL defencemen in points (75) and the Caps play a heavy, hard hitting style of hockey that suits the playoffs well as they proved in 2018 when they hosted the Cup. Concerns on defence (18th in goals allowed per game 3.09) might be the biggest challenge heading into April.
8. The Dallas Stars just might be the most underrated team in the NHL. Defensively they are among the best (2nd in goals allowed per game 2.5) and the goaltending tandem of Anton Khudobin and Ben Bishop are a big reason why. They have fell into a funk as of late losing 5 in a row and going 3-4-3 in the last 10. Head coach Rick Bowness will need to right the ship if he hopes to get bring this team deep in the playoffs. Don’t forget the Stars had a 3-2 series lead on the Blues last year and lost game 7 in double overtime (2-1) to the eventual Champs.
9. There may be reason to cheer in Edmonton this year, and for years to come. After years of underachieving this years edition of the Oilers is one of the most exciting in hockey. Led by Leon Draisitl (110) who leads the the Art Ross trophy race over teammate Connor McDavid (96 points) by 14, they are as fun to watch as any team in recent memory. No surprise they are 1st in the NHL in Power Play percentage (29.6%), but surprising they are also 2nd in the NHL in penalty kill percentage (84.8%). History shows special teams will serve a team well come playoff time. G Mike Smith (2.94 GAA, .903 save %) will need to be much better though to give this team a chance.
10. If the Penguins were your car in your driveway, there would be a big greasy puddle beneath it. They are leaking oil, and fast. The Pens started 2020 on a tear racing up the Metropolitan standings and looked poised to win the division. But just 2-8 in their last 10 games, the dynamic centre combo of Crosby and Malkin will need to find a way to right the ship if they even are going to make the playoffs. Young goaltending sensation Tristan Jarry (10th in SV% .921 and 9th in GAA 2.43) may very well be the teams MVP this season. The acquisitions of Jason Zucker (via MIN) Patrick Marleau (via SJ) and Connor Sheary (via Buf) were meant to bolster this team for a deep playoff run. Hard to imagine them not making it, but with 14 games left in their regular season and 3 games against the Carolina Hurricanes and 3 versus the New York Rangers, they could easily find themselves on the outside looking in.