With a few days off since the latest set of back-to-backs the rest of the league, mainly the Metro, has had a chance to catch up in games played this week with the Penguins.
By the time the puck drops in Brooklyn on Tuesday night every team in the Metro will have 10 games or less remaining and the final standings are anything but certain. Currently the standings sit as:
Note that the Florida Panthers are challenging New Jersey for the final Wild Card spot as they are currently sitting with 77 points in 69 (nice) games played. If the playoffs started today the bracket would feature Washington-Columbus, Tampa-New Jersey, Pennsylvania. This post is going to look at the Metro teams and their remaining schedules as we start to get closer and closer to the best time of the year. Quick aside, the Bruins beat Tampa Bay last night and are now 2 points back with one in hand for the top spot in the East.
We will look at the remaining schedules in the order of the standings so without further ado, here we go:
3/18 @Philadelphia, 3/20 Dallas, 3/22 @Detroit, 3/24 @Montreal, 3/26 @NYR, 3/28 NYR, 3/30 Carolina, 4/1 Pittsburgh, 4/2 @St.Louis, 4/5 Nashville, 4/7 New Jersey
The Caps are playing every other day for 9 of their remaining 11 games with travel in between. Between the game tonight against the Flyers and Tuesday against Dallas the Caps most likely drop one since both of those teams are fighting for their lives. They then benefit from a soft 5 game stretch from 3/22-3/30, I don’t think it is too generous to assume they win 4 of those 5. The tilt with the Pens is the second half of a back-to-back for Pittsburgh so that also swings in the Caps favor.
Realistic final 11 record: 7-3-1
Projected points: 104
3/20 @NYI, 3/21 Montreal, 3/23 New Jersey, 3/25 Philadelphia, 3/27 @Detroit, 3/29 @New Jersey, 3/31 Montreal, 4/1 Washington, 4/5 @Columbus, 4/6 Ottawa
As documented multiple times 6 of the Pens remaining 10 games come from back-to-back scenarios. Considering their season trend of splitting them we will assume they will do the same with these 3 even though the second games of two of the splits are against weaker opponents (so we will say they lose one in OT). The highlight on the schedule is the 2 matchups with New Jersey as that team has given the Pens a fit this year in the other two meetings.The tilt with Philadelphia could potentially be a do or die game for Philly. Lets assume they beat Philly, split the remaining games with New Jersey, win both of the back-to-back game this week and go to overtime against Washington.
Realistic final 10 record: 6-3-1
Projected points: 100
3/18 Washington, 3/20 @Detroit, 3/22 NYR, 3/25 @Pittsburgh, 3/27 @Dallas, 3/28 @ Colorado, 4/1 Boston, 4/3 NYI, 4/5 Carolina, 4/7 NYR
Tonights game will be telling of how into this run the Flyers are. A loss tonight could really jeopardize their postseason hopes thanks to a tough road back-to-back against playoff hopeful Dallas and Colorado two days after playing the Penguins. Out of those first 6 games the Flyers will be fortunate to win 3 and with the way they are playing I don’t think they do that so I will put them at 2-3-1 in the first 6. Boston is the hottest team in the league right now, which leaves Philly with 3 must win games against teams not making the playoffs, does Giroux have the goods to lead this team to a solid finish? My hatred for Philly says no, my hockey gut also says no.
Realistic final 10 record: 4-4-2
Projected points: 93
3/19 @Boston, 3/20 @NYR, 3/22 Florida, 3/24 St.Louis, 3/27 @Edmonton, 3/29 @Calgary, 3/31 @Vancouver, 4/3 Detroit, 4/5 Pittsburgh, 4/7 @Nashville
The Blue Jackets are currently streaking having won their last 7 in a row. They are also sitting pretty considering their upcoming opponents. The tilt against Boston will challenge their winning streak but overall Columbus plays 7 of their remaining 10 games against teams out of the playoffs. The Blues and Flames are still fighting for a birth (they are 3 and 4 points out of the Wild Card, respectively) so one of those games may sneak by Columbus. Lets assume they drop one of those and win one of the 3 against Boston, Pittsburgh and Nashville.
Realistic final 10 record: 7-3-0
Projected points: 97
3/18 @Anaheim, 3/20 @San Jose, 3/23 @Pittsburgh, 3/24 Tampa, 3/27 Carolina, 3/29 Pittsburgh, 3/31 NYI, 4/1 @Montreal, 4/3 NYR, 4/5 Toronto, 4/7 @Washington
6 of the Devils final 11 opponents are playoff bound teams and Anaheim is tied for the Wild Card spot in the West, making 7 of the final 11 against teams with better records than New Jersey. The next 4 games is the toughest such stretch that any of the Metro teams have and one that could easily determine the fate of New Jerseys year. In my opinion the Devils go 1-3 in the next four because of the travel and the back-to-back. I already said the Devils and Pens would split their remaining games, and Carolina, NYI and the Rangers should be wins with a drop in the back-to-back against Montreal. To finish we will give the Devils a split between Toronto and Washington.
Realistic final 11 record: 6-5-0
Projected points: 94
3/19 @Montreal, 3/20 @Ottawa, 3/22 @Columbus, 3/24 Arizona. 3/26 @NYI, 3/28 @Toronto, 3/29 @Ottawa, 3/31 @Boston, 4/2 Carolina, 4/3 Nashville, 4/5 Boston, 4/7 Buffalo, 4/8 @Boston
The Panthers have 3 sets of back-to-backs remaining and 6 of their remaining 13 games are against playoff bound teams, 3 of those games are against Boston. An 8-5-0 finishing record isn’t an overshoot for the Panthers, however with 8 of their remaining games being on the road I am hesitant to give them more than 8 wins down the stretch.
Projected points: 93
With these projected points the final standings fall as:
New Jersey 94
Florida 93 ROW 40
Philadelphia 93 ROW 38
The Flyers currently have a 2 game advantage in the ROW tie break over the Panthers however if the predictions above are anywhere close the Panthers could pull ahead in this tie break category and sneak in. Despite what some have you believe the Penguins are in a very good position in terms of taking home ice into the playoffs at least for the first round. There are a lot of good games lined up tonight and tomorrow that could start to change the momentum of some of these teams. Buckle up kiddos, 4 months ago I thought I would be talking about the Wild Card race right now.