With just a month left in the regular season, it’s a good time to break down the NHL wild card and lottery races. In terms of the Eastern Conference, neither the current wild team, the Detroit Red Wings, nor Pittsburgh Penguins should feel secure. In terms of the Western Conference, it’s a two team race between the Colorado Avalanche and the Minnesota Wild. In terms of the lottery race, there are a lot of ping pong balls in the air.
Eastern Conference Wild Card Race
Currently the Penguins occupy the first wild card spot with 76 points but right behind them in the last playoff spot are the Red Wings at 75 points. Both teams have 17 games remaining. Believe it or not the Philadelphia Flyers are right on the heels of both current wild card teams. The Flyers are at 73 points, so they are two points behind Detroit and three behind Pittsburgh. Keep in mind the Flyers have a game in hand on both teams.
If Philly is going to land one of hose precious wild card playoff slots they will have to greatly improve their play on the road. The Flyers currently have a 13-14-4 away from the Wells Fargo Center. Of the Flyers 17 remaining games 10 are on the road. The Flyers play the Red Wings two more times and still play Pittsburgh three more times. The last week of the season the Flyers play Detroit once and the Penguins twice.
In terms of the Penguins and Red Wings, they square off one more time this season. Detroit’s schedule is probably in the best position of the three teams. Detroit has the most home games left of the three teams (eight games) and on paper have the easiest schedule. Outside of their games with the Penguins and Flyers, Detroit’s toughest remaining games are with the New York Rangers (twice), Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers.
The Penguins have to improve on their mediocre road record just like the Flyers. Pittsburgh is 14-14-4 away from the Consol Energy Center, and nine of their remaining 16 games are away from home. In addition, the Penguins still have two games remaining against each of the top three teams in the Metropolitan division, in the Rangers, the New York Islanders and the Washington Capitals.
Mathematically the Carolina Hurricanes at 71 points and the Ottawa Senators at 70 points are still in the race, but on top of being further behind than the Flyers, both teams have fewer games left than the teams they are chasing. It’s going to take a tremendous finish by either the Hurricanes or Senators to land in the playoffs.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) March 9, 2016
Western Conference Wild Card Race
Out West it’s far less complicated. It’s a two team race between the Avalanche and the Wild. Going into action today Colorado leads Minnesota by just two points. After their big win versus the Anaheim Ducks last night, the Avalanche are at 74 points while the Wild are currently at 72 points. However, Minnesota has a game in hand on Colorado.
Minnesota and Colorado square off one more time on Saturday, March 26th, when the Wild visits the Avalanche. In terms of remaining schedules, Minnesota has the advantage. Of Colorado’s remaining 13 games, eight of them are on the road. The Avalanche still has to face the Nashville Predators and the St. Louis Blues two more times. In addition Colorado has games left against the Dallas Stars as well as arguably two of the top three teams in hockey in the Capitals and the Ducks.
The Wild have seven road and home games left in their final fourteen. While Minnesota’s schedule is a bit softer than Colorado’s they still have to square off against the defending champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, two more times, as well as games against the L.A. Kings, San Jose Sharks and the Red Wings.
Which teams winds up with the final playoff spot in the Western Conference could come down to the final weekend of the regular season. Who makes the playoffs between these two teams could come down to the ROW tiebreaker. Colorado currently has a two game lead over Minnesota, 32 to 30.
— Colorado Avalanche (@Avalanche) March 10, 2016
Ping Pong Ball Race
In all likelihood the Toronto Maple Leafs will win the dubious honor of having the least amount of points in the league this season. Currently the Leafs are at 55 points and have a four point lead, if you will, over the team in 29th place. I feel very confident that the Winnipeg Jets, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames and the Arizona Coyotes will finish in the bottom five. The question is: In what order?
Keep in mind that with the new lottery rules, a team could slide back three spots in the first round of the draft. Many NHL insiders believe there is a separation in this year’s draft after the top four. So the team that winds up with the worst record will be guaranteed a top four selection. For these teams though, the prize they are all hoping for is Auston Matthews.