Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Things to look for in the last weeks of the NHL regular season

I'm not very good at these prediction things. I mean, I can feel an upset coming on from time to time, but I think I pick way too many. Congratulations, Canada. And hey Pittsburgh, we got our own OT hero too.

Now, things to watch for as the last quarter of the season has begun to unfold...

The Rocket Richard race
Ovechkin: 42 goals. Crosby: 42 goals. No one expected this. Ovechkin has played in fewer games, thus meaning his pace is higher, and the Caps' remaining schedule is easier than Pittsburgh, so it says here Ovechkin wins the race with 57 goals to Crosby's 54.

The President's Trophy race
The Capitals lead San Jose by a single point and Chicago by three (Chicago has a game in hand). Keeping in mind that Washington really got into this with that fourteen-game winning streak, and it's not too likely that they can hang on, except for a few things. San Jose and Chicago will be playing more in the West, where Detroit, Anaheim, Dallas, and others will be tougher to beat. Washington has one of the easiest remaining schedules as it, the league's best home team, gets to play most of it's remaining games at Verizon Center. It says here that they lose it by a few points to San Jose, but since we all know San Jose will by golfing before my AP exams, then Washington will have four-round home ice advantage.

The trade deadline
Alright, so it's like...tomorrow. Some teams already got started--New Jersey acquired Ilya Kovalchuk, Pittsburgh traded for Jordan Leopold, Chicago got involved with a futures-goalie swap, and Nashville got Denis Grebeshkov. What will the Caps do? George McPhee's shopping list probably goes along the lines of: Dan Hamhuis (Nashville), Scott Niedermayer (Anaheim), Tomas Vokoun (Florida), Anton Volchenkov (Ottawa--though they're almost certainly buyers, not sellers), Jan Hejda (Columbus). Don't expect any of these names to be donning red, white, and blue come the weekend, but GMGM shouldn't be staying pat either.
An under the radar type move like the one for Jason Chimera is a possibility (Todd Marchant from Anaheim anyone?), or a defenseman dump, since quite frankly, Green-Schultz-Poti-Pothier-Morrisonn-Alzner/Carlson has to be the way to go, and at that, screw the extra year you'd get of JC's contract, he's calm and already a winner, get him in DC in the playoffs. A 2nd line center could also be a possibility, but Brendan Morrison I think will bounce back given the nice Olympic break he had.

The effect of the Olympics
Will Ryan Miller be emotionally drained? Will Alex Ovechkin look to redeem himself? Will Brain Rafalski show signs of long-term fatigue? Will Mike Green look to cement his spot in Sochi this season itself? Time will tell.

The playoff race
Basically here, it's all about Detroit and Anaheim. Those two teams are going to be the only dangerous "underdogs" come playoff time--don't pick against either in the first round, yes, even if they draw San Jose or Chicago. But of course, both need to make the playoffs first. With Detroit getting healthy and Anaheim having a successful Olympics--Jonas Hiller was great in net for Switzerland, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, and Scott Niedermayer won gold with Canada, Ryan Whitney won silver with USA, and Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu won bronze with Finland--both should make the postseason on a roll. Look out.

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