NHL playoff races: Penguins heat up, Senators and Sabres in danger zone
The East has teams still hoping for a sniff of a wild-card spot, while the West is more about jostling for position.
The 2022-23 NHL campaign is entering the home stretch, with only a month remaining before the end of the regular season. Here's a look at how the league's most relevant playoff races shifted last week, with some teams falling out of the mix.
(Editor's Note: Some teams are mentioned multiple times due to being involved in both division and wild-card races. All standings are up to date heading into the games on March 13.)
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Current East wild-card teams
Pittsburgh Penguins (78 points, 66 games played, .591 points percentage): Heating up 📈
When you zoom out, the big picture isn’t the prettiest for Pittsburgh. Focus on the present, however, and you’ll note the Penguins have been playing well. Catching the Rangers (84 points in 66 GP, .636%) is likely too big of a dream, but Pittsburgh feels warmly insulated from those just outside the East playoff picture.
The Penguins have been hot lately, and even got some offense from Mikael Granlund (one goal, one assist) on Saturday.
New York Islanders (76 points, 68 GP, .559%): Trending up 📈
A regulation loss to the Capitals ended a three-game winning streak, and gave Washington at least a pinch of optimism. Nonetheless, the Islanders have been taking care of business, even with Mathew Barzal’s absence nearing a full month.
Although the Islanders approach a three-game road trip, it’s all against California teams — a journey that’s gone from harrowing to feeling shame if you get anything less than two wins and five of six standings points.
Fighting for one of two East wild-card spots
Florida Panthers (73 points, 67 GP, .545%): Making a push, paying for procrastinating. 📈
If you rank potential first-round opponents with at least a chance of upsetting the Bruins, the Panthers may rank first. With each slump, such a chat felt like a waste of time, but maybe these Cats woke up?
Sleepwalking earlier hurts a bit extra because the Panthers don’t have any games remaining against the Penguins or Islanders. Theoretically, Florida may need to do some scoreboard watching and finally deliver on expectations to make this work.
Washington Capitals (71 points, 67 GP, .530%): Shaky, but buoyed by beating the Islanders.
Washington offered the definition of a playoff bubble record in three games: 1-1-1. That said, the regulation win came against the Islanders, breathing at least some life into the fading former giant’s playoff chances. Darcy Kuemper deserves credit for keeping them in the mix with a strong March (5-3-1, .938 save percentage).
Ottawa Senators (70 points, 66 GP, .530%): Way down 📉
Take a look at the Senators’ schedule from this week forward:
The Senators could easily be the underdog in every game until they host the Flyers on March 30. Not great.
That upcoming schedule pours extra salt in the wound formed from losing a game apiece to Chicago and Vancouver this past week. The party may be over for the Sens.
Buffalo Sabres (69 points, 65 GP, .531%): Fun Cinderella run is going the way of the pumpkin. 📉
Every now and then, hockey fans receive a stark reminder that it’s dangerous to assume your team is going to get two points (or even one) out of each game in hand. The Sabres only generated one out of eight possible points this week, with a 10-4 loss to the Stars really cementing Buffalo’s slide.
That slippage could continue next week, with three of four games against strong opponents (at Toronto, Washington, Philadelphia; home vs. Boston).
At least they didn’t cash in any meaningful poker chips at the trade deadline.
Detroit Red Wings (69 points, 66 GP, .523%): Hanging in there, sort of.
Look, if you can go 50-50 with the historically brilliant Bruins, you shouldn’t beat yourself up too much. The Red Wings won one of those two games, and also beat the lowly Blackhawks. It’s likely too late for a push, although they’ll improve their argument if they clear next week’s hurdles (at Nashville, home against the Avalanche and Panthers).
Race for the Metropolitan Division's No. 1 seed
Carolina Hurricanes (94 points, 65 GP, .723%): Slightly down. 📉
The battle for the first spot in the Metropolitan Division got more interesting, particularly after the Devils beat Carolina on Sunday. The Canes are still generally on an upward trend, as they won four in a row before dropping back-to-back weekend games against the Golden Knights and Devils.
New Jersey Devils (94 points, 66 GP, .712%): Making real push for Metro title. 📈
The Devils are on a three-game winning streak and have won four of five. New Jersey hasn’t lost consecutive games since the calendar flipped to 2023.
That said, it would be understandable if the Devils cool off ever so slightly thanks to a challenging upcoming schedule. Tough tests could keep New Jersey sharp, but a lack of “easy wins” may swing things in Carolina’s direction.
Race for the Central Division's No. 1 seed
Dallas Stars (85 points, 66 GP, .644%): Mostly up. 📈
The Flames narrowly ended Dallas’s three-game winning streak last Monday, but the Stars responded by dropping a whopping 10 goals on the Sabres and beating the Kraken in overtime. They’ve won the first two games of a six-game road trip, and see Seattle a lot. A division title isn’t in the bag, but the Stars are in a prime position to secure that spot.
Minnesota Wild (84 points, 67 GP, .627%): A mostly promising ascent. 📈
To management’s chagrin, the Coyotes have been frisky lately, but Minnesota still must regret settling for a loser point instead of a win on Sunday.
Nonetheless, the Wild have been on a tear for close to a month, as they’re now on an impressive 13-game point streak (10-0-3). This surge pushes the Wild into what currently looks like a two-team race for the Central Division crown, yet a) it’s rarely safe to totally discount the Avalanche and b) Minnesota’s schedule looks challenging in the near future.
Winnipeg Jets (79 points, 67 GP, .590%): Possibly back on track after scary skid. 📈
Following an ugly 2-7-2 stretch, the Jets seemingly righted the ship last week. Granted, only getting an OT point against the sunken Sharks is disappointing, but taking road games against the Panthers and Lightning should fuel some positive thoughts.
Colorado Avalanche (78 points, 64 GP, .609%): Won the games they should win.
Falling 5-2 to the Kings at home isn’t ideal, but the Avalanche didn’t botch layups against the Sharks and Coyotes. While a Central Division title doesn’t look likely, the Avs will probably dislodge the Jets, and may even snag second place.
Naturally, it’s all about hanging in there and getting healthy for a team still roundly believed to have the highest ceiling in the West.
Pacific Division's No. 1 seed race
Vegas Golden Knights: (88 points, 67 GP, .657%): Gave themselves a small buffer for the top Pacific spot. 📈
Raise your hand if you had already heard of Jiri Patera before he won his NHL debut and pushed Vegas’s winning streak to three games on Sunday. Raise it (or keep it up if you’re a hardcore fan or liar) if you’d also been particularly aware of Pavel Dorofeyev, who recorded his first NHL goal and assist in that same win.
It hasn’t always been pretty, but Vegas has been atop the Pacific more often than not this season. If the Bellagio serves as a Fountain of Youth for Jonathan Quick, then watch out.
Los Angeles Kings (85 points, 67 GP, .634%): Up quite a bit. 📈
Since the Predators have been surprisingly scrappy, let’s give the Kings a partial pass for that shootout loss, which ended their five-game winning streak. The Golden Knights cannot rest on their laurels on the Pacific throne, as the Kings have six games remaining on their seven-game homestand.
The early returns on trade deadline additions Joonas Korpisalo and Vladislav Gavrikov seem promising, too. Just ask Sean Walker.
“He’s already saved my ass a couple of times.” - Walker on his new defensive partner Gavrikov #GoKingsGo pic.twitter.com/z3J8wdld9e
— Russell Morgan (@NHLRussell) March 3, 2023
Seattle Kraken (81 points, 66 GP, .614%): Could stand to create more distance ahead of the Oilers.
After sweeping a four-game road trip, the Kraken began a homestand with a win versus the Ducks. They ended the week a middling 1-1-1, however.
Their schedule swings back to being road-heavy soon, which may be hazardous or … somehow beneficial (remarkably, the mythical sea beasts have compiled a 21-9-3 away record so far this season).
Edmonton Oilers: (80 points, 67 GP, .597%): Slightly up. 📈
Falling 7-4 to the Maple Leafs ended the Oilers’ road trip on a sour note, but Edmonton ended Boston’s 10-game winning streak and dampened the Sabres’ playoff hopes. With one game left against the Kraken along with two apiece versus the Kings and Golden Knights, the Oilers can influence the Pacific Division races in big ways.
Aside: here’s a vote for strategically resting Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl. Yes, they are young, but they also regularly top all forwards in ice time. Keeping them as fresh as possible borders on no-brainer territory in a West without a clear juggernaut opponent to avoid.
To be clear: any smart team would ask similar questions if their playoff spot is already virtually (or officially) secured.
Hoping to stay in race for West wild-card spots
Nashville Predators (73 points, 64 GP, .570%): Odds look pretty bad, but they aren’t just giving up.
A surprisingly hot 7-2-1 stretch is mostly undermined by a soft schedule, but hey, that’s still pretty scrappy for a team that sold off major parts at the deadline. With three straight games at home and six of eight in Nashville, the Predators have a chance to remain relevant even longer (though the schedule goes from cushy to tough starting next weekend).
They’re probably toast, which likely isn’t the end of the world for management and savvier fans. That said, it would be a fun and quirky story if they somehow squeezed into the playoffs.
Calgary Flames (73 points, 67 GP, .545%): Every upset loss digs a deeper hole.
Answering a five-game losing streak with wins in three or four would normally inspire a sigh of relief. But that one loss happened against the Ducks — in regulation.
Flames playoff chances drop from 42 percent to 28 percent. Inexcusable loss https://t.co/bhvrzWoias
— dom 🕰️ (@domluszczyszyn) March 11, 2023
That loss is more baffling in context of their three recent wins over the Stars, Wild, and Senators. It’s just been that sort of season for the Flames.
Making matters worse, of the three teams in believable striking distance (Avs, Jets, Oilers, Kraken), the Flames only have a head-to-head match against Winnipeg.
It may just be too late for the Flames.