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Deep East can see movement in final stretch

By: Andrew McGill

As the second half of the NHL season commences, it’s crunch time for many teams in the Eastern Conference. With just over 30 games remaining for every team, the pressure of the playoff push is now bearing down on all of them Eastern Conference and nearly every team is in the hunt. This is where teams have to either claw and grind for a playoff spot, or realize that this year isn’t the one and examine their rosters at the trade deadline.

Evgeny Kuznetsov provides the Capitals depth up front that they have never had before.

Evgeny Kuznetsov provides the Capitals depth up front that they have never had before.

So let’s start off with the best team in the NHL, the Washington Capitals. Barring a historic collapse, Washington is a shoe in for the playoffs, and if they continue at their pace the President’s Trophy, as well. For the Capitals, the question is how do they not collapse in the playoffs, like they are so prone to do. It’s like the great saying goes, “There are three things that are certain death, taxes, and the Washington Capitals crashing and burning in the playoffs.”

Dating back to 2008, nine of the 11 series the Capitals have played have gone to game seven. That’s the entire Alex Ovechkin era, and it’s also a lot of intense battles to fight in. Evgeny Kuznetsov is arguably the most solid second line center they’ve had and if he can continue his dominance into the playoffs and take pressure some pressure off of Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom the Capitals will be the team to beat in the East.

Nine points behind the Capitals sit the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are a team with the perfect mix of youth and experience, characterized perfectly by the Huberdeau-Barkov-Jagr line, whose average age is 28 despite Jonathan Huberdeau and Aleksander Barkov being 22 and 20, respectively. Florida will be a playoff team, but many of their high-end guys aren’t proven in the playoffs just yet.

After the Panthers, the East becomes somewhat of a log jam with seven teams within seven points of each other. The Rangers currently sit in third with 59 points and should be a playoff contender, but need all the help they can get with their depth guys and really need to be more dominant on the road. They currently have a 9-13-3 record on the road and need to improve on that during this half of the season.

The New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins all have 58 points and sit in fourth, fifth and sixth, respectively. The Islanders have quietly had a good season this year, but have lost some questionable games this season. They have 58 points through the least amount of games, 48, and boast good home and road records.

Loui Ericksson and a high-powered Bruins offense makes Boston a contender in the East.

Loui Ericksson and a high-powered Bruins offense makes Boston a contender in the East.

The Bruins and Red Wings sit in identical positions and have a bunch of aging veterans, with a mix of some talented youth. While the Bruins have the second best offense in the conference, their defense is a bottom dweller. If they want to make a deep playoff run, they may have to some offense in order to bolster their defense at the deadline.

The Pittsburgh Penguins fill out the eighth spot entering the second half. They have struggled in over time this season, suffering seven overtime losses and posting a 1-3 record in the shootout. They are improving, but can’t leave points on the table as often as they do if they want to get into the playoffs because they will have teams on their heels.

The Devils also have 57 points, however the Penguins having two games in hand on the Devils. The Devils have improved greatly from last year and have shocked some to their play, due to the help of Cory Schneider. They are a team to look out for to make a push in the second half.

The outside shots to make the playoffs seem to be the Carolina Hurricanes, Philadelphia Flyers, Ottawa Senators and, somehow, the Montreal Canadiens. The Habs started off the season as one of the best teams in the league, but have fallen 13th in the conference. It goes to show how important Carey Price really is, with reports that Price still isn’t close to a return things in Montreal look dreary.

The Hurricanes and Flyers both have some potential of making a run and grabbing a playoff spot in the East, we all saw what the Senators did in the second half of last season, but so far neither team has shown enough continued consistency to warrant a playoff spot.

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Andrew McGill

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