With two consecutive wins and some help with other teams’ losses, the Carolina Hurricanes have pushed back up into playoff position in the middle of the pack of Metropolitan Division teams.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe takes a shot at handicapping the current situation.
The Atlantic Division
As has been the case for awhile now, it looks like only the three required teams will make the playoffs from the Atlantic Division. The Florida Panthers and Detroit Red Wings are hanging around .500 and therefore still in range at 4-5 points back, but at this point in the season that gap would require a big winning streak to move up the ladder. For now, I am considering the Eastern Conference wild card race to be a Metropolitan Division event.
The Metropolitan Division
In a class of their own (Capitals)
Last time I checked in on the playoff standings, I considered the Washington Capitals to be in. As the top team in the division and with a sizable lead, the Caps are still in and not a concern for the Hurricanes.
Trying to join the Capitals (Penguins, Flyers, Devils)
Below the Capitals are three teams that currently sit a notch above the collection of teams competing for the last wild card slot. Measured in games above .500, the Pittsburgh Penguins are +9, the Philadelphia Flyers are +9 and the New Jersey Devils are +7.
The group is not equal though. I view the Penguins as a team that figured it out and is starting to pull away from the pack. The Pens’ 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games supports this assertion. The Flyers are also making a push to join the Capitals with a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games. But the upstart Devils are a different story. They are still up a few points on the pack but are struggling a bit with a 3-7 record in their last 10 games. The Hurricanes play the Devils twice this week, so they have a role to play in trying to pull them back into the pack.
The pack battling for the final (possibly two) playoff spots (Hurricanes, Blue Jackets, Islanders, Rangers)
Below the second tier is the remainder of the Metropolitan Division and a collection of teams that have had their share of ups and downs recently.
In terms of points, the Hurricanes currently sit in the final playoff spot, but if one adjusts for games played, the Hurricanes are more or less tied with the Blue Jackets who are down one point but with a game in hand. Also still in the mix are the Islanders and Rangers. The group in total is trying to find a higher gear right now. The Hurricanes 5-4-1 record in their past 10 games does not stand out as overly impressive, but that mark is actually tops among the final four teams in the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets have faded at 3-6-1 as have the Rangers at 3-7-0, and the Islanders have only managed to tread water at 4-4-2.
Netting it out
Sticking with my comments from before the season even started, I see the Penguins and Capitals as playoff teams. The Flyers are making a run to join them right now.
But I see the Devils as a team that is vulnerable and with the potential to join the pack and in the process put both wild card slots up for grabs.
At the end of the day, I think the last one or two playoff teams will be the team(s) that get hot and can do more than push along at .500 or slightly better.
Short-term, it would be great to beat the Devils twice this week and ultimately pull them back into the pack.
My 2 cents from a Canes perspective
I think the Capitals, Penguins and Flyers could all potentially pull away. That leaves the Hurricanes battling to win one of the two wild card slots. My best guess is that neither the Rangers or Islanders will be a factor in the. The Rangers will seemingly be trade deadline sellers which does not suggest a playoff chase. I just do not see the Islanders as good enough defensively to win in crunch time as things tighten up a bit. I keep hoping the young Devils team ultimately fades, but at a more basic level, I think the Hurricanes will be in a dog fight with the Blue Jackets and Devils with only two of the three teams making the playoffs.
What say you Canes fans?
The Monday Coffee Shop will likely have some Metropolitan Division handicapping too, but until then…
1) Which teams, if any, in the Metropolitan Division are certain (or close) to make the playoffs?
2) Which teams do you see fading during crunch time?