This time of year everyone is ranking teams and trying to handicap the most productive teams in the playoffs. I have been watching a stat that might be as good an indicator as any. Here I will rank the teams in each conference based on goal differential. This stat is a good indicator because it shows how many easy games a team has had during the season. Too many easy games could mean that a team might not be playoff ready and have had too many hard games means that a team could be exhausted for the playoff run.
In the Eastern Conference there are 4 levels of teams. Out in front is Washington with a +79 which is staggering. They are playing at a level where the game seems easy to them. I am concerned about their playoff readiness. Their defense is suspect in the shutdown areas and their goaltending is unsettled. If their offense slows down a touch, they could be in for a tough series. The second group in the Eastern Conference are the Devils (+ 22), Penguins (+17), Flyers (+17) and Sabres (+12). I feel that all of these teams are used to playing playoff quality games and finding ways to win. All of these team have had extended periods of both good and bad performances. This means that any could make a run deep or be out in 4 games. The next level are the pretenders of Montreal (-1), Boston (-3), and Rangers (-9). At least two of these teams will be in the playoffs and be dispatched in quick order by the top teams in the East. These teams all struggle to score and keep the puck out of their own nets. Not a good formula for the playoffs. Finally are the rest of the teams Ottawa (-14), Atlanta (-20), Florida (-23), Carolina (-25), Tampa Bay (-28), Islanders (-31), and Leafs (-48).
In the Western Conference there is more balance. There are three elite teams Chicago (+53), Vancouver (+49), and San Jose (+46). There are three more Colorado (+26), Los Angeles (+24) and Phoenix (+19) that are all what would be considered overachieving teams. They were all predicted to miss the playoffs and they will be happy to get in and maybe win a round. There are another set of teams Detroit (+1), Calgary (+3), Nashville (-4), St Louis (-4), Minnesota (-7). This group is dangerous just because who they are. Detroit – enough said and they will find a way to beat San Jose somehow. Calgary is Jekyll and Hyde. The others will not make the playoffs. Then there are the train wrecks out west of Anaheim (-18), Dallas (-21), Columbus (-43) and Edmonton (-69).
So what does this all mean? I like Washington to win the Eastern playoffs. Their offense is 3 lines with 2 excellent lines. They have enough scoring depth to overwhelm everyone in the east – even Pittsburgh. Out West I liked Chicago, but they are getting hurt and falling apart lately so I am picking Vancouver because I like Luongo to gain from the Olympics and the fact that San Jose has never pulled it together in the playoffs before. Living in the DC area, it would be fun to see the Caps win the cup, but I think Vancouver will find a way to win the Cup.
Good Night and Good Hockey!
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