We won’t know what the playoff picture will look like until the end of the season, but the Eastern Conference standings show a clear group of eight teams.
In the Atlantic Division, the Panthers, Lightning and Maple Leafs are locks to make the playoffs, and the Bruins are a pretty good bet as well. The Red Wings are seven points behind the Bruins (all numbers through Monday), who also have four games in hand. The rest of the teams (Ottawa, Buffalo and Montreal) aren’t even in the equation.
Things also look to be locked up tight in the Metropolitan Division, as the Penguins, Hurricanes, Rangers and Capitals all have at least 60 points. The Blue Jackets are next with 47.
The Islanders are the only other team in the picture. They have 40 points but have played only 42 games, the fewest in the league, and they have a better chance of making the playoffs than the Red Wings or Blue Jackets.
Still, the Islanders will miss the playoffs nine out of 10 times in this spot, but don’t tell that to the players. Ryan Pulock is back in the lineup, and the team has strong goaltending. Their underlying metrics (shot attempt for percentage, expected goals for percentage) are good, particularly at even strength, but the team ranks 29th in goals per 60 minutes according to Evolving Hockey, and there isn’t an easy solution to their scoring woes.
The Islanders were a below-average team on offense entering the season, and they’ve gone away from the style of play that, in my opinion, made them so successful in the past. Islanders games have seen increases in the overall number of shot attempts and expected goals compared to previous seasons, and although there’s still time to clean things up, it’s likely too late.
The Metropolitan Division is stacked, and even though the Islanders will probably win games at a higher rate down the stretch, don’t expect that to do anything but hurt their draft position.
It’ll be interesting to see how the Islanders handle the trade-deadline period. If they don’t sell off assets, that likely means they think they have a chance. I don’t believe the Islanders will be a good bet most nights, though. They’re a subpar team relying on goaltending more than ever. There are only five teams that have allowed fewer goals per 60 minutes, but the 2.38 goals they score aren’t close to enough. They might do all right over the next few games, but I’ll be hoping teams such as the Kings, Ducks and Avalanche are priced short when they hit the road next week.
In the Western Conference, there’s a bit more fluidity. The Avalanche are the clear favorites to win the Central Division, with the Predators and Wild sitting securely behind them in playoff spots. In the Pacific Division, the Golden Knights, Flames and Oilers will likely battle it out for first place, but the Oilers need to pick things up unless they want to be fighting with the Kings and Ducks for a playoff spot.
Remember to check out the daily NHL betting market report at VSiN.com for picks and betting advice.