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The Daily Puck: Eastern Conference A Fine Mess

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci

Dan Pennucci has covered hockey for Rotowire since 2002 and is the author of Blue Line Buzz since 2011 as well as being the co-author of Morning Skate. He also is a contributor to Talking Red, a New Jersey Devils blog and podcast. He is an English teacher and formerly wrote for The Coast Star in Manasquan, New Jersey where he and his sports section won several New Jersey Press Association awards. Dan Pennucci is a supporter of the New Jersey Devils, Washington Nationals and Chelsea FC. He's attended sporting events in six countries.

There’s Pittsburgh. (Okay, Boston too).

Then there’s everyone else.

Almost literally. The logjam of teams vying for the Eastern Conference’s remaining playoff spots border on the ridiculous much more than the sublime. In a nod to the mediocre, the jetsam the Eastern Conference will let into its tournament looks even more preposterous when held up in stark contrast to the Western Conference, where only a handful of Eastern teams not named Pittsburgh or Boston would be guaranteed a ticket.

Leading the charge of the middling are the other seven teams in the Metropolitan Division after Pittsburgh, well six, if you don’t count the Islanders. No one in the Metropolitan seems to want the final two guaranteed playoff spots and they’ve shown a slight interest in the East’s two wild card spots.

Philadelphia made a statement on Saturday with a 2-0 shutout of Los Angeles and the Rangers feasted on local rivals this past week winning both Yankee Stadium contests, thrashing the Devils a week ago and beating the Islanders Wednesday and then again on Friday, albeit indoors. The Rangers sit with 63 points, 13 behind Pittsburgh after the Pens’ loss to Phoenix Saturday evening, while Philadelphia vaulted up to 60 with its win Saturday.

The Flyers’ tenure in the third spot did not last long however, as Columbus’s win over Florida Saturday ties them with Philadelphia, jumping Sergei Bobrovsky’s former team due to having more wins. (28-27).

Here’s where it gets absurd: the four teams behind Columbus (Philadelphia Carolina, Washington and New Jersey) are separated by a mere three points. To recap: five teams are separated by a mere three points for the Metropolitan Division’s final playoff spot.

As for the conteders:
Carolina- The Canes are getting outstanding play from Anton Khudobin in goal, filling in wonderfully for Cam Ward, and the team’s scorers such as Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin are producing. Beat St. Louis on Friday

Philadelphia- Steve Mason shut out Los Angeles on Saturday.

New Jersey- The Devils are somehow still in the hunt for the playoffs. They’ve lost 12 games in either overtime or a shootout, going 0-for-11 in the skills competition, boasting just a 1-for-26 scoring mark. (Seriously, one goal all year, from a rookie too, Reid Boucher) Carolina and Philadelphia beat two of the West’s best teams last week; the Devils lost in overtime to Nashville and needed overtime to beat Dallas on Tuesday.

Washington- The Caps need some semblance of consistency in the crease. They care very little if it’ll come from Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth. The Caps face Detroit again on Sunday in a pivotal game and they need to start picking up points.

Factoring in the teams scrambling in the Atlantic Division such as Ottawa and Detroit, and the dash for the final spot is going to feature some ugly hockey from desperate teams. Considering Montreal sits in the seven spot with 64 points, that last wild card is a deadly game of musical chairs.

Projected Goalie Starters (all times Eastern)
For updates on the projected goalies later in the day, check our Projected Goalies Grid

Detroit Red Wings (Jimmy Howard) at Washington Capitals (Braden Holtby), 12:30 PM
Winnipeg Jets (Ondrej Pavelec) at Montreal Canadiens (Peter Budaj), 1:00 PM

Injury News For Teams Playing Sunday

Detroit Red Wings
Johan Franzen, C - Dealing with a concussion, remains out and will not play in Olympics for Sweden.

Stephen Weiss, C - Skated with the team this week, recovering from a sports hernia.

Pavel Datsyuk, C - Practiced Saturday, a return is imminent for the Russian wizard.

Washington Capitals
Brooks Laich, C - Laich (groin) did not practice Saturday afternoon and is considered a game-time decision for Sunday's game against Detroit, Chelsea Janes of The Washington Post reports. (2/1/2014)

Mike Green, D - Will play Sunday after leaving Friday's game with a possible concussion.

Mikhail Grabovski, C - Skating on his own while recovering from an ankle injury.

Jack Hillen, D - Practiced Saturday while recovering from a leg injury.

Tomas Kundratek, D - Out for the season with an ACL injury.


Winnipeg Jets
Jim Slater, C - Recovering from a sports hernia. Remains out.

Matt Halischuk, RW - Halischuk (forearm) is back skating for the Jets.

Grant Clitsome, D - Out for the season following back surgery

Paul Postma, D - Playing in the AHL on a rehab assignment.

Evander Kane, LW - Out until after the Olympics with an infected hand.

Montreal Canadiens
Michael Bournival, C - Bournival did not play Saturday due to the flu, a possibility for Sunday.

Alex Galchenyuk, C - Practicing on his own while recovering from a broken hand.

Ryan White, RW - White (upper body) returned to the ice Friday and practiced with teammates, could play Sunday.

Davis Drewiske, D - Remains out with a shoulder injury.

Hot
Antoine Vermette, C, Phoenix- Quietly the Coyotes’ veteran center has been one of the league’s hottest scorers over the last two weeks, riding a seven-game points streak, with 10 points over that span including a goal in five of those six tilts. These numbers are buoyed by a hat trick against Vancouver last week. He’s likely available in most leagues and can be a boost to most owners, especially in deep positional leagues and daily leagues.

Ondrej Palat, W, Tampa Bay- Palat saw a five-game points streak snapped in Saturday’s win over Montreal, putting up nine points in those five games. He’s cashing in on opportunities but there’s little track record at the NHL level of him continuing this pace. He’s a short-term fix in a good situation, just don’t expect multi-point games to roll in as often as they had been.

Alexander Semin, RW, Carolina- One of the more skilled players in the league on the ice and as an utter frustration on rosters everywhere, Semin seems to have taken his initial exclusion from the Russian Olympic team personally, slamming home five goals in the last seven games with eight points over that span. He has since been added to the Russian team after injury befell one of the KHL players on the roster. Semin iced Friday’s win over St. Louis with an empty-netter and figures to factor into any of the team’s success as they battle for a playoff spot.

Nathan MacKinnon, C, Colorado- Last June’s first overall pick and the presumptive favorite for the Calder Trophy, MacKinnon is finding his stride in Denver while the Avs are aiming to further secure a playoff spot. He posted multi-point games four times in the last seven contests, including bagging a goal and two assists in Saturday’s romp of Buffalo. MacKinnon has goals in three straight games. He’s an elite talent and should continue producing, albeit with a slight recorrection approaching.

Cold
Nicklas Backstrom, C, Washignton- One of the league’s top setup men when on his game, Backstrom has a mere three assists in the last 11 games. These are mere human numbers from a playmaking dynamo alongside the league’s premier goalscorer. Backstrom does have two assists in the last three games, including one against Detroit on Friday, the same squad he faces Sunday afternoon.

Niklas Kronwall, D, Detroit- One of the Wings’ most important players, owners and Red Wing fans would like to see a bit more production from Kronwall, one of the NHL’s steadier two-way defenseman. He has a modest three points in the last 12 games, including a six-game points drought which began with the Winter Classic on New Year’s Day. Considering the ice time Kronwall receives, (24:11/3:30 on the power play), Kronwall will have plenty of chances to get his name on the scoresheet. However, the Wings are dealing with injuries to some of their stronger offensive players, but Kronwall is a player who can create offense. His numbers have little room to go but up.

Recommended Pickup
Jamie McGinn, LW, Colorado- The Avalanche exploded on Saturday in a 7-1 win over Buffalo, a game in which McGinn featured prominently, scoring twice and assisting on another. Those two goals give him four tallies in the last five contests and six points over that span. He’s talented around the net and sits with 14 goals on the season. He jumped onto radars briefly in 2012 when he was traded to Colorado from San Jose on Deadline Day with 13 points in 18 games but has not approached that scoring rate in his time with the Avs. He’s playing with Matt Duchene for the time being and likely will remain with the top six. Give him a look for some quiet production.