Who else was thrilled to wake up on Wednesday morning and see the Hurricanes not in a wild card slot but instead up to third place in the Metropolitan Division?
The standings can and will change quickly with even a short winning or losing streak given how close the teams are, but that is still a great position to be in after game #63.
In that vein, today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a look at the situation and competition for winning a playoff berth.
In the Atlantic Division, the Lightning, Maple Leafs and Bruins have built a fairly sizable gap over the next group which is led by the Canadiens. In addition, the Sabres are still on the fringe of the playoff chase but are now 7-9 points back and trending in the wrong direction. Certainly the Sabres could climb back into it, but for right now I am counting only the Canadiens among the teams competing for the wild card slots.
In the Metropolitan Division, the gap is smaller. The Islanders and Capitals are the top tier right now though they are only up 4-5 points which makes them vulnerable to being caught by the pack with any losing streak. But for right now, I will count them as the top tier for the division. Below them, the Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and Penguins are in the thick of the playoff hunt. Below them, the Flyers are 6-7 points back. At least for right now, I am going to group the Flyers with the Sabres as a team that is not quite in the hunt right now.
When one nets it out, Montreal, Carolina, Columbus and Pittsburgh are competing for three playoff spots. That is significant because the Hurricanes do not need to beat out a certain team. Assuming no new entrants from below the Hurricanes just need to beat out one of the other three teams.
The Canadiens are the team stumbling the most right now with only a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games. The Canadiens added at the trade deadline but only depth type players. Montreal has a favorable schedule short-term with six out of their next nine games against teams not in the playoff chase, but the team does have a tough ending run for the 2018-19 season.
My 2 cents: The Canadiens have been mostly treading water of late as the Hurricanes swim up and hopefully soon past them. I think they are prone to continuing to struggle.
The Penguins are a respectable 5-3-2 in their last 10 games but have been unable to find any kind of real rhythm to vault up to where they usually are in the standings. On the one hand, one could figure that eventually elite players like Crosby and Malkin will lead the way upward. On the other hand, this team is 64 games into the 2018-19 season and has yet to really find a higher gear. The team did improve with the early addition of Nick Bjugstad, but added only aging depth for the blue line.
My 2 cents: The blue line and goaltending have been suspect for the Pens making them vulnerable.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets are a respectable 6-4 in their past 10 games. But the team is significantly different after an aggressive all-in trade deadline that saw the team add top-tier rentals Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. The Blue Jackets are a significantly better team on paper than they were a couple weeks ago, but the question is whether they can find the chemistry and cohesion quickly.
My 2 cents: I think ultimately Columbus’ aggressive trade deadline provides enough additional fire power to push into the playoffs.
No doubt, it is the time of year for scoreboard watching. But all the Hurricanes need to do is keeping win at a pace similar to what they have been since the start of 2019. There is not need for over the top heroics. The Hurricanes just need to keep the same course.
What say you Canes fans?
1) Which of the three competitors is most vulnerable?
2) Where do you predict the Hurricanes land in the standings and playoff picture once the 2018-19 regular season is over?
3) What are your thoughts on Pittsburgh, Columbus and Montreal?