Scouting potential 1st round playoff opponents


The Stanley Cup Playoffs begin soon, and with most teams having about 10-11 games remaining, the playoff picture is beginning to come in focus.  We know Washington will be the #1 seed, Buffalo is a pretty good bet to win the Northeast Division and be the #3 seed, and one of the Pittsburgh Penguins or New Jersey Devils will win the Atlantic Division (and snag the #2 spot) and the loser of that race will likely be in the #4 slot.

After the jump, let's look at the two scenarios for the Penguins and look at the handful of teams that could be the first round opponent.

Pittsburgh has 2 more points than New Jersey, but they have a game in hand, so it's basically a dead heat in the last ten games.  To keep things as simple as possible, let's look at the the standings:

Position

Team

Points

Games Left

1*

Washington

106

10

2*

Pittsburgh

90

10

3*

Buffalo

86

12

4

New Jersey

88

11

5

Philadelphia

79

11

6

Ottawa

79

10

7

Montreal

79

10

8

Boston

76

11

9

Atlanta

75

10

10

NY Rangers

72

10

It seems that the top four teams are locked in (Pittsburgh and New Jersey to possible flip #2/#4 seeds), but there's a lot more to be decided in the bottom half of the playoffs.  Everything's up for grabs, from positioning to the more important question of who's in and who's out.  For this debate, we'll assume any team in the top 10 of the Eastern Conference could bump up to the #7 seed.

Logo_philadelphia_flyers_medium 

Prognosis: The Philadelphia Flyers have gotten stellar play out of goalie Michael Leighton, but he's injured for the next 8-10 weeks with a high ankle sprain.  With Ray Emery on the shelf too, the Flyers will turn to Brian Boucher for their playoffs hopes.  They currently sit in 5th, but with several teams right on their heels, it'll be a challenge for them to stay there.

Last ten games: 4-4-2

Pittsburgh's record against them:  4-1 (one more game left to be played)

The Good (for Pittsburgh): If the Flyers' fans still cringe thinking about Martin Biron in a playoff series against Pittsburgh, Brian Boucher can't inspire too much confidence.  Also the two straight playoff victories might have the Pens in Philly's pysche.

The Possible Hangup (for Pittsburgh): Any team with offensive players like Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Simon Gagne and defenders like Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn has enough arrows to take down a higher seeded team.

 Logo_ottawa_senators_medium

Prognosis: A team in free fall, Ottawa's dipped down right in the pack since the Olympics break.  They've only scored 16 goals in the nine games in March (1.77 goals/game) and have been held to one goal or less in six of those nine games.  Things may not be clicking at the moment, but there's still time to get the ship righted.

Last ten games: 2-7-1

Pittsburgh's record against them:  2-2-0

The Good (for Pittsburgh):  The Penguins out-scored 12-3 in the two wins on the season, and Ottawa didn't have much an answer for the Pens offense.  Brian Elliott, the presumptive playoff goalie, has a grand total of 78 NHL games and 0 of them have come in post-season play.

The Possible Hangup (for Pittsburgh): Then again, Pittsburgh lost by a combined score of 10-2 in the two L's and didn't look too hot in those games, so maybe we'd have to wait and see.  As poor as Ottawa has looked on this little slide, they do have players like Mike Fisher, Anton Volchenkov that can play, lead and inspire in big moments.

 Logo_montreal_canadiens_medium

Prognosis: The opposite of Ottawa, Montreal is a team on an upswing lately, and they should be -- all of the teams they've played since the Olympics ended are all either bubble or non-playoff bound teams (except for San Jose, whom Montreal lost to 4-1).  This week will be a crucial one: The Habs play four games, two of them against Eastern Conference leaders in Buffalo and Jersey.

Last ten games: 7-2-1

Pittsburgh's record against them:  3-1-0

The Good (for Pittsburgh):  Divide and conquer: Carey Price hasn't seen game action since giving up three goals in the first period of a game on March 7th.  Don't think that if the Pens can sneak a few by Halak that the media, fans and maybe even some players might be wondering just who the starting goalie should be.

The Possible Hangup (for Pittsburgh): Montreal has the 2nd best power play in the league, and Halak hasn't stumbled yet.

 Logo_boston_bruins_medium

Prognosis: They've had goal scoring woes all season, and post-Olympics the Boston Bruins have scored 2 or fewer goals in six of their eleven games, and only scored more than three goals on two occasions.  As has been well reminded, they're without the services of arguably their most skilled forward in Marc Savard.  If Boston makes it, they're going to have to figure out a way to generate some offense.

Last ten games: 5-4-1

Pittsburgh's record against them:  3-1-0

The Good (for Pittsburgh):  Boston's lack of goal scoring (1 goal in two games versus Pittsburgh in March) make a potential playoff matchup seemingly a favorable one for Pittsburgh.

The Possible Hangup (for Pittsburgh): The B's have given up 24 less goals on the season than the Penguins, so they may not be scoring, but they're used to playing defense and low-scoring games; two tenets of playoff hockey.  Zdeno Chara is a big minute eater that presents matchup problems.

Logo_atlanta_thrashers_medium  

Prognosis: The little team that could, despite trading away superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk, the Atlanta Thrashers have shown no quit and continue chugging along.  They've gotten timely goaltending from Ondrej Pavalec and Johan Hedberg, and somewhat quietly Nikolai Antropov has put up career high numbers.  No one's betting on Atlanta or really giving them much attention, and they probably wouldn't have it any other way.

Last ten games: 5-4-1

Pittsburgh's record against them:  2-0-0 (two more games to be played)

The Good (for Pittsburgh):  Dating back to years past, Pittsburgh has a very good record against the Thrashers.  There's also ATL's huge lack of playoff experience, individually and collectively as a franchise.  Also, as a team playing catchup in the playoff chase, if they make the post-season, it could be one of those "happy to be there" moments that leaves them with little gas in the tank.

The Possible Hangup (for Pittsburgh): That Atlanta, who's not "supposed" to make the playoffs, might not know that they're not "supposed" to win.  The team with nothing to lose and playing with house money can be a dangerous opponent.

 Logo_new_york_rangers_medium

Prognosis: The Rangers are a tough team to figure out; one night they'll look like a surefire playoff bound team, the following night they barely look like they belong on the same rink as a NHL team.  Their inconsistency is maddening: they have the worst home record in the East (15-17-6), stud forward Marian Gaborik has 37 goals, only one other player has more than 37 points (that would be Vinny Prospal). 

Last ten games: 3-5-2

Pittsburgh's record against them:  5-0-1

The Good (for Pittsburgh):  The Pens have had a lot of success at getting to Henrik Lundqvist and the Rangers defense, scoring 27 goals in the six games of the season seres (4.5 per game). 

The Possible Hangup (for Pittsburgh): Gaborik takes flight, Lundqvist gets back to his Kingly days, Sean Avery pesters everyone in sight.  It wouldn't be pretty.

 

Most likely, one of those logos will be Pittsburgh's first round opponents, barring a tremendous collapse or rally by various teams out there.  Anyone you'd like to see the Pens avoid?  Any teams that are ripe for the picking or a potentially "easy" slide to the second round?

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