1. New York Rangers
This has been arguably the best team in the East all season, and I see no reason for that to change. They have the best goalie in all of hockey in Henrik Lundqvist, and one of the best defenses in the game. With as many big names that this team has, especially on offense, you would think that their powerplay would be ranked a lot higher than 29th. Luckily for them, however, they still lead the Eastern Conference in points despite their lack of production with a man advantage. Barring any major injuries to key players, I expect this team to play pretty deep into the playoffs.
2. Boston Bruins
The Bruins have hit a major rut recently, and are only 2 points ahead of Ottawa for their division lead. Over their last 10 games, Boston is a meager 4-5-1. That’s just not going to be good enough heading into the last 14 games of the regular season. I know that they have suffered some injuries lately, but the Bruins are going to have to find a way to get 2 points on a nightly basis more often than not from here on out. If they don’t, Ottawa could end up surprising everyone by winning the division.
3. Washington Capitals
They play in by far the weakest division in hockey. They have just 74 points on the season right now and trail Florida by one point for the division lead. There are a lot of issues concerning the Capitals this year, but their offense has the potential to put themselves in front of Florida and win the division. Expect to see them turn up their game here in the last month of the regular season.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
With the way they are playing right now, it is possible that they could find themselves overtaking the Rangers for first in their division and first in the conference before it is all said and done with. Sidney Crosby said the other day that he hopes to be back in the lineup this Thursday. If he can come back and play anywhere close to the way he is capable of playing, Pittsburgh might just become the best team in hockey. However, that is all a big unknown. Until Crosby proves that he can play effectively, I don’t see them passing up New York.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
These guys lead the entire NHL in goals per game, averaging 3.22. That is the reason why they have been able to keep themselves in the top 5 of the Eastern Conference all year long. Their goaltending has been sub-par most of the year, which should be concerning to the Flyers, but it has been better in the past few game. The Flyers need to hope that Bryzgalov can continue his strong play heading into the final month of the season and the playoffs.
6. New Jersey Devils
This was arguably the most disappointing team last season. This year, however, they have been playing much more like we expected them to. They are second in penalty killing in the NHL, which is an area of the game that they are going to have to stay strong at come playoff time. Martin Brodeur is not his old self, but he is still an above average goalie. He knows what it takes to win a Stanley Cup, and I expect him to step up his game once the playoffs begin.
7. Ottawa Senators
They might just be the biggest surprise in the NHL this year. Last year, they finished third to last in the Eastern Conference. Like I said earlier, they trail Boston by just 2 points in the division. If Boston continues to struggle and Ottawa stays hot, they could take over the number 2 spot in the conference. Jason Spezza is having a great “bounce-back” year this year after struggling a bit last season. They also have Erik Karlsson, who leads all NHL defenseman with 69 points (25 more than the next closest), leading their defense. Their biggest problem is goaltending. Look for this to really hurt them in the playoffs.
8. Winnipeg Jets
This is pretty much a toss-up between 3 teams: Florida, Winnipeg, and Buffalo. I’m saying that Winnipeg finishes in the number 8 spot because of the fact that they will have a throng of playoff-hungry fans supporting them during each home game down the stretch. Winnipeg fans had their hockey team taken away from them in the mid-90’s, and they want nothing more than for this team to make the postseason. Don’t be surprised to see the Jets’ players absorb that same hunger for the playoffs. This team will do everything it can to make sure they are playing in the postseason.