Quite a few teams played their 50th game yesterday, nine to be exact, so I decided to split today’s entry into two entries, one for each conference. Here’s the Eastern Conference, where the Thrashers, the Lightning, and the Capitals all hit the 50 game mark.
Atlanta Thrashers (22-21-7, good for 51 points): There was a time there when the Thrashers looked really primed to be a playoff team and then maybe, just maybe, Ilya Kovalchuk would stick around. However, they’ve been playing poorly lately, their 4-4-2 stretch over their last 10 is actually an improvement, and now making the postseason will be a struggle. They are still scoring a bunch, but their defense and goaltending is really letting them down. When you’ve scored 155 goals in 50 games but have a minus-9 goal differential, obviously you have problems keeping pucks out of your net.
Kovalchuk is leading the way, naturally, with 30 goals and 56 points. A resurgent Maxim Afinogenov is next with 42 points. Additionally, the Thrashers have found all this offense with Slava Kozlov, Bryan Little, and Todd White all having bad seasons. If those guys were playing like they did last year, you might be looking at the highest scoring team in the league. Johan Hedberg has been the better goalie with a 2.60 GAA and a .913 SV%. Ondrej Pavelec has pretty much fallen off a cliff performance wise. The Thrashers really need a good run of play, otherwise even if they are in the playoff race they’ll likely need to trade Kovalchuk or end up like the Panthers did last season.
Tampa Bay Lightning (20-20-10, good for 50 points): If you need any further proof how weak the East is this season, the Lightning is a sterling example. This is not a good team. They have a minus-26 goal differential. Yet, they are only a few points out of a playoff spot. Well, 10 OTLs will do that for you. They may technically be in the race, but I see pretty much zero chance this team makes the playoffs.
They have four very good players in Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier, and Ryan Malone. St. Louis leads the way with 55 points, Stamkos has 26 goals. After those four players, this team has pretty much nobody. Not one good defenseman, especially not with Victor Hedman hitting a wall. Neither goalie has been any good either. Remember Antero Niittymaki’s surprise start to the season? Well, he’s now down to a 2.79 GAA and a .906 SV%. This team is going nowhere. They’ve just been able to stave off that fact for a while.
Washington Capitals (32-12-6, good for 70 points): There are high scoring teams, and then there are the Washington Capitals. 191 goals in 50 games! The next highest scoring team is San Jose, who have scored 174 in 52. Of course, they’ve let up their fair share of goals, but nobody matches offense with this team. The Southeast Division is theirs. They will need to hold off New Jersey and/or Buffalo, potentially, for the conference, however.
Alex Ovechkin is truly an amazing player. He has 32 goals and 68 points… in 42 games. He might still win the Art Ross with all that missed time. Stunning. Nicklas Backstrom and Alexander Semin are doing fine as well. Mike Green has rounded into form (12 goals, 50 points). This team even has scoring depth beyond that. They have a minor concern in net right now, with Semyon Varlamov still hurt and Jose Theodore playing mediocre at best. However, a top three seed in the East in all but locked down already, so if they get Varlamov healthy for the playoffs, look out. This could be the year for the Capitals.