With less than three weeks remaining until the start of the post season, it’s going to be tough waiting until April 8th before being completely immersed in so many awesome playoff skirmishes. Until then, we’ll have to settle for the battles by teams trying to punch their playoff dance cards.
It feels like it has taken a while to get here, but it finally looks as though Islanders defenseman Ryan Pulock is starting to deliver on his potential. He has six points in his last five games and is scoring at a 37-point pace on the season.
In his final season of junior hockey, Pulock recorded 23 goals and 63 points in 66 games. At the end of that season, he managed to get in three AHL contests, recording one point. The next season, he scored 17 goals and 29 points in 54 AHL matches. The following year, he regressed with only seven goals and 24 points in 51 AHL contests, but he did manage to play in 15 NHL games, recording four points. He added three points in six playoff games for the Isles.
Last season, Pulock had 15 goals and 46 points in 55 AHL games, but only dressed for one NHL contest. This season, he’s finding his way with the big club, recording 26 points in 58 matches. The pending restricted free agent will no doubt re-sign with the Isles and will have just turned 24 years of age when next season gets underway. His arrival may challenge Nick Leddy for power play ice time.
Team by Team Quick Hits by Conference
Riley Nash is outscoring his namesake Rick by a wide margin, 17-8, over their last 18 games. The 28-year-old Riley is in the midst of a career season and is on pace to finish with 46 points.
Sam Reinhart started the season with 13 points in his first 44 contests, but over the next 28 games, he has 29 points. He’s been getting a ton of minutes on the top power play unit.
Wings winger Justin Abdelkader is on pace to finish with 37 points. The campaign started very promising with 17 points in the first 23 games, but then he fell off the pace with only eight points in the next 33 contests. He’s now back on track in March, recording six points in nine matches.
Aleksander Barkov has 28 points in his last 22 games and with 22:18 minutes per game, he leads all NHL forwards in average ice time.
In what is a write-off season for the Habs, one player is only three points back of his career best in points and has a legitimate shot at his first 30 goal campaign. Good thing Brendan Gallagher is under contract for another three seasons and his $3.75M cap hit is an absolute bargain for what he brings to the rink every day.
Matt Duchene has been putting up points at an elite level since January 5. He has 33 points in as many games. That’s a far cry from last seasons 41 points. Just a hunch, but next year, he would be a decent bet to surpass 70 points and set a new career high.
The trade bringing J.T. Miller to Tampa from the Rangers has worked out very well for Miller. He has 10 points in his last eight games. I can’t imagine the Lightning having the funds to sign the pending restricted free agent after back-to-back 56-point campaigns.
Mitch Marner has had an up-and-down season. He started with six points in his first 14 games, then 23 points in his next 24 contests. There was another lull around the turn of the calendar year, where he recorded six points in 15 matches, but after that, he’s been on a tear, registering 25 points in 19 games. Once he evens things out, he’ll be a consistent point-per-game player for a long time.
Hurricanes defenseman Jaccob Slavin has seven points in his last nine games. He will finish with close to 30 points but will be all but undraftable in salary cap leagues next season when his cap hit goes from $742,500 to $5.3M per annum. That’s not good bang for your buck for a 30-point defenseman who doesn’t get regular power play minutes, hits or rack up penalty minutes.
It took Thomas Vanek four games to get going in Columbus, but he now has seven points in his last six contests.
Over the last two weeks (seven games), eight Devils players have at least five points, including veteran Brian Boyle.
Anders Lee has seven points in his last seven matches. He followed up last years career best 34 goals and 52 points with 35 goals and 55 points so far this season. With a little luck, he could finish with 40 goals.
Rangers defenseman Neal Pionk has six points over his last four matches. In his last nine games, he has averaged nearly 23 minutes of ice time per contest and in the last two, he has received a plethora of power play minutes.
Wayne Simmonds may not hit 20 power-play points for the first time in five seasons. Mind you, he does have six points in his last five matches, although he only has one power-play point over the last 11 contests.
Pens oft-injured Patric Hornqvist has scored at a 0.67-points-per-game pace over the last five seasons. When he plays, he’s fantasy gold thanks to him being a staple on the league’s top power play unit.
Caps Defenseman Dmitry Orlov has six points in his last eight matches. He has already set new career highs in goals, blocked shots and average time on ice. When this season is done, he could also top his previous best in points, shots on goal and hits.
I have no idea how to handicap the Eastern Conference playoffs this year. The defending champ Pens attempting an impossible three-peat and Tampa Bay, so talented, adding significant depth down the stretch. By not winning the President’s Trophy again this season, the Capitals have less pressure this year, but do they have enough depth to make it past the second round this year?
No way anyone but the most ardent Bruins fan picked the team to challenge for the best record in the Eastern Conference. Do they have the right blend of veterans and youth to bring it home? Not likely, but the future looks very bright in Beantown.
While I really like what Toronto has done over the last couple of seasons, I don’t see them challenging for the Cup this season. The rest of the playoff contenders, the Flyers, Blue Jackets, Panthers and Devils, while they could surprise and upset a team, none of them are ready for an extended playoff run. Can’t wait for the post season.