The first quarter of the 2015-2016 NHL regular season is officially behind us. For better or worse, there have been plenty of surprises early on that has to have people second guessing who will make the postseason this spring.
At this point all of our preseason predictions can most likely be thrown out the window. Early Stanley Cup favorites look more like teams who could be playing golf early. While some teams have really stepped up their game and could make it further than anyone originally imagined.
I have already hit the reset button on the Western Conference and re-predicted what the playoff picture will look like. Now it is time to do the same for the east.
1. Montreal Canadiens
Montreal has been the best team in the NHL to this point and it is hard to picture them losing the number one spot in the atlantic. The Habs have an abundance of point producers in the likes of Tomas Plekanec, Max Pacioretty, and P.K. Subban, and it does not seem to matter who they put in net. They will obviously need a healthy Carey Price to contend for the Stanley Cup but fans can look for continued success from Mike Condon this season.
The Canadiens may struggle to stay as hot as they have through the first quarter of the season. However, they have created enough separation to sit comfortably at the top of the division.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
The reigning Eastern Conference champions currently find themselves on the outside looking in regarding the playoff picture. Outside of Steven Stamkos, the offense has struggled to produce with any consistency and coverage regarding the team’s star and where he will be next season has been a distraction.
Expect all of this to change and for the Lightning to once again become a presence in the Atlantic. I just cannot believe that a team so close to a Stanley Cup last season can just totally regress and miss the postseason. This team has the talent to contend for the cup this spring and will start to prove it as they make it all the way to second place in the Atlantic Division.
3. Ottawa Senators
The battle between the third spot in the Atlantic Division could possibly come down the wire. There are three teams in particular (Ottawa, Boston, Detroit) with equal amounts of talent, and it will be hard for any of them to gain any sort of separation from the others.
When it is all said and done, I expect the Senators to finish in third place in the division. Ottawa will most likely be active participants close to the trade deadline in search of a true number-one center. Acquiring this piece could give them the extra firepower they need.
1. Washington Capitals
So far this season, all of the hype in the east has surrounded the Rangers and the Canadiens. Pay attention to them all you want but the best team in this conference is the Washington Capitals. They have all the necessary pieces to sit atop the Eastern Conference and hoist the Stanley Cup late this spring.
It is the Capitals’ year and they will edge out the Rangers for the number one spot in the Metropolitan Division.
2. New York Rangers
The Rangers will continue to be contenders for the division title and the Stanley Cup as long as they have Henrik Lundqvist in net. He continues to be the only constant for the blue shirts and luckily he plays the most important position in all of hockey.
The offense is going to have to demonstrate that same level of consistency if New York wants to go deep into the postseason. However, I do believe this team has what it takes to easily end the season in second place in the division and possibly the conference.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins have not had the start they were expected to have but still sit in third place in the division. I find it hard to believe that a team with this much talent will continue to struggle. They may never catch up to the Capitals or Rangers but Pittsburgh should be able to remain the third best team in the division. Now whether they can be successful once they are in the postseason is a horse of a different color.
This is where things are going to get a little interesting. Before the season started I was one-hundred percent confident that five teams heading to the postseason would be coming from the Metropolitan Division. Right now, I can’t say that I feel the same way. The New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, and Boston Bruins all have legitimate chances of being a wild card team. Like third place in the Atlantic Division, I can see these two teams not being determined until all teams have played 82 games. When it is all said and done, I expect Detroit and the Islanders to be the two wild card teams. Look for the Bruins to stay in the race, while the Devils lose ground as the season progresses.
John Gove is an experienced hockey writer who admires the game at all levels. Currently, John is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers.