Monday, March 13, 2017

Weekend wrap: You can't touch a Flame when it's red hot

Welcome to the home stretch.

We’re officially four weeks away from the NHL regular season being over. Four weeks from now, we’ll be spending Monday morning digesting an unusually busy weekend featuring 24 games packed into Saturday and Sunday. We’ll know who’s in and who’s out, and who’ll be playing who. A season’s worth of speculation, second-guessing and (in some cases) self-delusion will be over with, and 14 teams will be clearing out their lockers.

Now, we just have to get there. There's still a lot to sort out between now and then.

One welcomed factor: The Games Played column has finally evened out. With the exception of the Hurricanes, who are a non-factor at this point, every team is within two games played of everyone else. We're all done with bye weeks too, so those days of "they're six points back but have five games in hand" are mercifully over.

The race for the final playoff spots in either conference will get most of the attention, although it's not shaping up to be quite as wide a field as we thought we'd be getting. There are currently only three teams sitting outside of a playoff spot by five points or fewer; the West is especially sparse, with only the Kings so much as within eight. That could still give us some decent races down to the wire, but it's an odd sight given that it was only a few weeks ago that almost everyone was still in it, or at least close enough to pretend they were.

It looks like we will get some decent battles for the division crowns; first and second spot in three of the four divisions are separated by one point or less. The race for the Presidents' Trophy will be a good one as well, with the faltering Capitals still leading the way but a half-dozen teams within range to chase them down. And we all know how much NHL teams care about the Presidents' Trophy, right?

Mix in tight races for the Art Ross and Rocket Richard, add the usual jockeying for Hart, Norris and Calder votes, and factor in battles for seeding and home ice, and there's plenty left to play for at the top of the league. And at the bottom, draft-lottery watchers will be focused on... [double-checks how far back the Avalanche are]... well, there's plenty left to play for at the top of the league.

We've got four weeks to figure it all out. For today, it's on to the power rankings.

Road to the Cup

The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup–favourite status.

5. San Jose Sharks (41-20-7, +31 true goals differential*): Three wins in four for the second straight week has them pulling away as the only division leader with any margin for error.

4. Minnesota Wild (43-18-6, +59): They dropped three of four on the week, and have now three times in their last seven after not having done so all season.

>> Read the full post at Sportsnet




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