First Quarter NHL Playoff Predictions
Though the 2015/16 season is still young, with most having played about a quarter of their overall games, but teams are starting to show their grit.
Big teams like Pittsburgh, Anaheim and Chicago all had quite miserable starts to the season but have now either bounced back or are in the process of doing so.
The season is long, and there’s always the trade deadline and playoff push to come. As it stands there are a few very strong contenders for the playoff spots.
Editor’s Note: this article uses statistics compiled on 23/11/2015
Probably the Eastern Conference’s top Stanley Cup contenders. They started off incredibly well, winning 9 of their first 9 games; then it seemed as though disaster had struck, when Carey Price picked up an injury. But rookie keeper Mike Condon came in to help the Habs to 7-2-2.
Detroit Red Wings
The Motor City residents have been fairly inconsistent in these early stages with rookie Dylan Larkin providing a huge boost to their goal scoring. The 19 year old American improves in each game.
Now that Pavel Datsyuk is back the Red Wings will begin to be more and more consistent. Plus, they’re basically guaranteed to make it, as they have done in the last 24 consecutive seasons.
Boston were also one of the strugglers at the start of the season and, due to losing stars like Milan Lucic and investing heavily in this year’s draft class, people doubted their playoff potential. Their season began with 3 losses but since then they’ve gone 9- 5-1 with Bergeron, Krejci, Rask and Eriksson all playing very well.
New York Rangers
Despite star forward Rick Nash struggling to score in most games this season, the Rangers are in no way having trouble scoring. Little Zuccarello has exploded back onto the scene with 18 points after 19 games, playing consistently well in each contest. Then of course there’s The King between the irons. Henrik Lundqvist is still pulling off unbelievably athletic and eccentric saves.
Great 8 has broken the Russian scoring record and not only does he have his main man Nicklas Backstrom still in form but his compatriot, Evgeny Kuznetsov, is leading the team on points, and has flourished in the new 3-on-3 overtime.
The additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams has greatly improved the calibre of the team and netminder Braden Holtby (.922 SV%) has consistently gone into “beast mode” this season.
New York Islanders
Big JT is still leading the Islanders but his team mates are pulling their weight a lot more this season. Okposo, Nielsen and Nelson are all sporting point tallies close to that of Tavares. The Calvin de Haan – Johnny Boychuk defensive line has worked well this season, with the latter performing as one of the best in the league.
Eastern, Wild Card
In the summer, the addition of Phil Kessel looked like a great move, but coach Mike Johnston had to fiddle the lines around so much that superstar Sidney Crosby has seen his point production decline by more than half.
But soon Sid the Kid will be returned to Kunitz and Hornqvist and once again he will tear through the league. It’s just a matter of when.
They had a great, and unexpected, run at the playoffs last season and it all looks to be coming together in the Panthers’ defence. Former first rounder Eric Gudbranson has found success alongside Willie Mitchell and Aaron Ekblad has developed his commanding play from the blue line. To top it all off, they have veteran keeper Roberto Luongo who has already made over 450 saves this season.
Unless a stray meteor happens to fall from space and directly impact the Stars’ bus, they’ll make the playoffs (and even if it did, I doubt it’d stop Seguin or Benn from scoring). Once again the Dallas duo have been on the war path, securing 55 points in just 20 games. Defenseman John Klingberg has been a blue line maestro managing 18 assists already.
They made some brilliant transactions in the off-season. Bringing in Stanley Cup winning two-way forward Patrick Sharp has shored-up the defensive efforts big time and, Lehtonen has responded very positively to the inclusion of Antti Niemi, who is still terrible on the ice but is having a priceless effect on Kari.
In American football they have a saying that the defence wins championships. It’s not quite that simple in ice hockey, but if it was, the Preds would win the cup this year.
Not only do they have the im-Pekka-ble Rinne in net but 5 of their top point scorers are defensemen. Then there’s James Neal, who they acquired quite cheaply from the Pens last season, who is revealing his talent once again, but this time in a yellow jersey.
The Stanley Cup winners have seen a lot of turn over this season, losing big names like Sharp and Saad, and promoting a few of their younger skaters to the higher lines.
Greatly helped by the rampage of Patrick Kane, the Blackhawks made it through a difficult start and the team is now gaining more consistency in their play.
Los Angeles Kings
The Kings came into this season as Western Conference favourites to make the Stanley Cup final, and they’re doing well to prove their backers right.
After the worst of opening games (losing 5-1 to Cali’ rivals San Jose), then another poor loss to the Coyotes, and then another loss, by shutout, to the Canucks, the Kings bounced back with a 7 win streak and alternate win – loss at the start of this month.
Everyone’s skating very well, with Lucic providing that extra bit of bite that they lacked last season. Their only issue is that Anze Kopitar is struggling a bit, but one can only assume that he’ll find his form soon and further boost his team.
San Jose Sharks
Another side who have profited greatly from their offseason transactions. Acquiring Joel Ward and Paul Martin were great moves and new keeper Martin Jones, traded in from the Bruins, has exceeded expectations.
Captain America (Joe Pavelski) has flourished in his new role and is leading the team on points. What’s more is that Logan Couture will return to the line up soon, which will be a massive boost to the Sharks.
The Sharks have been at the top of the Pacific Division after winning all 6 of their games on their recent road trip.
The early season struggles looked to subside when Perry and Getzlaf were recombined on line 1. But the Ducks are still flailing, despite actually improving their play. The Twins will sync-up again soon enough, and then the Ducks will surge up the league.
They have a very well rested home stand coming up at the end of November, leading deep into December, here they’ll get their much earned rest and get some fluidity flowing again.
Western, Wild Card
St. Louis Blues
Of course Vladimir Tarasenko is an incredible talent and will probably average a point per game this season, but the Blues lost a major source of scoring when Oshie went to the Caps and Tarasenko will have dry spells.
They’ve received a huge boost from rookie Colton Parayko netting 12 points but his scoring won’t be consistently high all season either. Luckily they have found that Jake Allen is a top keeper, rocking a .935 SV% after 14 games.
The Wild are 7-1-0 at home, making the Xcel Energy Center into a fortress. Unfortunately they struggle on the road. In the month of November they’ve recorded 2 away losses, a home loss, an overtime away loss, one away win and 2 home wins.
This is despite them having every single Sunday and Monday off this month, and only one tired game. They have a good enough team to get into the playoffs but their inconsistency will cost them an automatic spot.
There are some fairly obvious exclusions from this list, such as: Stanley Cup finalists Tampa Bay Lightning; the Ottawa Senators; Vancouver Canucks and; Arizona Coyotes.
With regards to the final four, they’ve been in good form in the early stages but I doubt they can keep it up.
Then there’s the inclusion of Florida Panthers instead of Tampa Bay Lightning. TBL have struggled to score all season, which is the main aspect that got them to the playoffs. Then their keeper Ben Bishop, the reason they made the final, has been underperforming this season. These two elements have combined to give them a -2 goal difference after 21 games.