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Peter’s Picture: The NHL Landscape Vol. 14

The Daily’s Peter Knowles gives a professional hockey update

By

It’s time to recap what went on in the NHL over the past two weeks — including a hot Sidney Crosby, Matthews and McDavid reaching milestone numbers, a cold Jets team, the Kraken officially joining, celebrating an American legend and a much clearer playoff picture.

Sidney Crosby quietly delivering another elite season… 

Heading into this season, many folks around the league thought the Penguins would struggle to make the playoffs, myself included. Their division is absolutely stacked with playoff-caliber teams and the Penguins are coming off of a disappointing season last year where they fell to the Canadiens in the play-in tournament prior to the start of the playoffs. With forward Sidney Crosby at the helm, however, we should never count this team out.

Having already clinched their spot in the postseason, the Penguins are in a battle (and currently winning that battle) to take first place in the East division. Crosby leads the team with 23 goals and 60 points in 53 games this season, and the team is getting forward Evgeni Malkin back from injury this week. Their netminders Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith have been surprisingly solid this season, a big reason for the team’s success. One of the more eye-popping stats from this year is that the Penguins are 20-4-2 at PPG Paints Arena. In other words, the Pens do not lose at home. They have seven wins in their past ten games and are tied with Washington in points for the lead in the East and guaranteed home-ice advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Given their insane record at home, it would be a huge advantage if they could capture that first seed heading into the playoffs.

More than likely it is looking like the Penguins will not be facing the Capitals in the first round, leaving the Bruins and Islanders jockeying for the third seed. With just one game remaining against the Sabres that they will be favored to win, the Penguins will likely put themselves in a great spot to claim the top spot. But that might not be enough, though, since the Capitals have a game in hand. This division is certainly one to watch in the playoffs. Every game will be so tightly contested and rough — there are years of hatred built up among all four playoff teams.

Matthews and McDavid chase milestone numbers… 

Part of the reason Sidney Crosby has been overlooked in many conversations this season is the play of these two young superstars in Canada. Forwards Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews will finish first and second for the Hart Memorial Trophy, awarded annually to the player judged most valuable to their team. Although these two will keep saying the right things in interviews about how the individual milestones are not important and the team comes first, it is hard to ignore the opportunity that lies ahead in the final weeks of the season for both.

Matthews currently sits atop the league with 39 goals in 48 games, and has four more games to pick up another and hit the 40 goal mark. His scoring pace this season is so difficult to comprehend. If you tune into a Toronto Maple Leafs game, there is a very, very good chance you will see Matthews pot at least one goal. With an eight-goal lead, he is a lock for his first career Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy and become the second American-born player to ever lead the league in goals, only ever done by forward Keith Tkachuk in 1997. He is officially overtaking forward Alex Ovechkin as the league’s best goal-scorer.

Meanwhile in Edmonton, Connor McDavid is approaching 100 points on the season, currently sitting at 93 points in 51 games, good for nearly two points per game. McDavid has demonstrated this season that he is the single most dominant player in any major sport. Yes, he is more dominant than Patrick Mahomes, more dominant than Leo Messi, more dominant than LeBron and more dominant than Mike Trout. Unfortunately, the NHL as a league has failed miserably to market a talent that only appears once every few generations. He has five more games to get seven points, which should be easy for him.  

The Jets are cold at the wrong time… 

Just a couple of weeks ago, the Winnipeg Jets were neck and neck with the Maple Leafs for the first seed in the North division. Then, when the two teams met on April 22 and 24, the Jets got sent into a tailspin that they have just barely started to correct.

The Jets lost the two meetings handily, but also suffered two devastating injuries.  Their big depth center Adam Lowry suffered a head injury during a check to the head from Leafs forward Alex Galchenyuk that knocked him out for four games — all losses. In the second game against the Leafs, Jets winger and goal-scorer Nikolaj Ehlers was also injured. He is one of their more skilled players and has 21 goals in a breakout season.  

Before Wednesday’s 4-0 win in Calgary, the Jets were on a seven-game losing streak where they got outscored by a total score of 28-10. With their win Wednesday, they did clinch their spot in the playoffs, but they went from being in contention for the first seed to now battling with Montréal to avoid the fourth spot in the North, which would mean a first round tango with the North’s hottest team in Toronto.

Welcome to the NHL, Seattle… 

Last Friday the Seattle Kraken completed their $650 million payment to officially become the 32nd franchise in the NHL. The team can now sign and trade players, although don’t expect much action until the offseason given the trade deadline has already passed. This is an exciting moment for hockey fans and the city of Seattle!

Ryan Miller calls it a career… 

Last week the Michigan native announced that this would be his last season in the NHL. At the time of his retirement, Miller is the winningest American-born goalie in NHL history and 18th overall among all goalies, sitting at 391 wins. 

Miller started his career in Buffalo in 2002, where he spent his first 11 seasons and holds the franchise record in games played and wins. Miller also led team USA to a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and was on the team again in 2014. After Buffalo, Miller spent time in St. Louis and Vancouver on the Blues and Canucks before his current and final NHL stint with the Anaheim Ducks. 

Clearer playoff picture…

Every day the playoff picture becomes clearer across the league. While there are still mathematically speaking three spots left to be clinched, the only one that is actually still up for grabs is the final spot in the Central, which can belong to Nashville if they win either of their final two games against the Carolina Hurricanes. If the Preds lose their two games in regulation, the Stars would need five points, which can be done by winning two and losing one in regulation in their final three games. If the Predators lose one of their games in regulation and the other in overtime, the Stars would need to win all three games. If the Predators lose both games in overtime, the Stars would be eliminated. The high-stakes nature of these games make them my picks for what to watch this week!

In every other division, the teams are set but the matchups are not. The Capitals, Penguins, Bruins and Islanders will be the four teams battling it out in the East. In the West, the Blues recent run has solidified them as the final playoff team, joining the Golden Knights, Colorado Avalanche and Minnesota Wild. In the North, the playoffs will feature the Maple Leafs, Oilers, Jets and Canadiens.

Peter’s Power Rankings: The Top 10 Teams Right Now.

Last ranking in parentheses.

  1. Carolina Hurricanes (5)
  2. Vegas Golden Knights (2)
  3. Minnesota Wild (9)
  4. Tampa Bay Lightning (6)
  5. Florida Panthers (7)
  6. Colorado Avalanche (1)
  7. Washington Capitals (8)
  8. Boston Bruins (3)
  9. Toronto Maple Leafs (10)
  10. Pittsburgh Penguins (Not ranked)

What to watch this week…

Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning: Thursday, May 6th at 4 p.m. PT

Carolina Hurricanes at Nashville Predators: Saturday, May 8th at 5 p.m. PT

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Peter Knowles '22 is a staff writer in the sports section. He is a Psychology major from Valencia, California and plays on the Stanford Hockey team. Contact him at pknowles 'at' stanforddaily.com.