The Biggest Question Marks for NHL Teams That Have Clinched a Playoff Spot

Allan Mitchell@@Lowetide_Featured ColumnistApril 4, 2014

The Biggest Question Marks for NHL Teams That Have Clinched a Playoff Spot

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    The long season is almost over, and for 10 teams an NHL playoff spot is secure. There's still work to do: staying healthy, tweaking lines and pairings and working trade-deadline acquisitions into the lineup.

    Every team also has at least one question mark. The GM may have addressed it at the deadline, but it's still a worry. A few call-ups have been given a chance to fill a hole. Are the solutions working out?

    Here are the biggest question marks for NHL teams who have already clinched a playoff spot.

10. Montreal Canadiens' Offense

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The Montreal Canadiens have a tough time scoring goals. This has been a problem all season long.

    How They've Addressed It: The Habs acquired Tomas Vanek at the trade deadline in an effort to improve the offense.

    Is It Working? The trade has worked very well. Vanek has scored six goals in the 11 games since the deadline, and Montreal is 8-2-0 in their last 10 games. The Canadiens are in a much better position entering the playoffs because of the acquisition.

9. Tampa Bay Lightning and the Martin St. Louis Saga

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    The Biggest Question Mark: Fallout from the Martin St. Louis trade had to be a major concern for the Tampa Bay Lightning leading up to the playoffs.

    How They've Addressed It: The Lightning inserted Ryan Callahan straight into the lineup, and he's adjusted well. He's playing with Ondrej Palat and Valtteri Filppula, as outlined by, and has scored 11 points in 15 games.

    Is It Working? The trade took away an elite scoring winger and brought back a talented role player. Callahan has scored four goals in the last five games and is helping Tampa Bay in a variety of roles. The offensive gap between St. Louis and Callahan hasn't shown itself yet, so the solution is working for Tampa Bay.

8. Los Angeles Kings' Offense

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The Los Angeles Kings are an outstanding defensive team, but they have more trouble scoring than any of the Stanley Cup contenders. 

    How They've Addressed It: Marian Gaborik was a deadline pickup, brought in to help Los Angeles ice two solid scoring lines. 

    Is It Working? The scoring is up in the last month. At the deadline, the Kings had 154 goals in 63 games or 2.44 goals per game. Since then, Los Angeles is averaging 2.80 goals per game. Gaborik can't claim credit for the entire surge, but he is 3-7-10 in the 15 games since the deadline.

7. Chicago Blackhawks' Injury Worries

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The Chicago Blackhawks are the defending Stanley Cup champions. The 'Hawks are young, skilled, deep and appear ready to drive deep into the postseason. The only real worry is injury.

    How They've Addressed It: Chicago didn't make any major moves at the deadline, believing they had enough depth to survive injuries. The club received some significant injury news this week, as Jonathan Toews suffered an injury. The Associated Press quotes 'Hawks coach Joel Quenneville as saying it's an "upper-body injury," and Toews will be ready for the playoffs.

    Is It Working? The rest should help, and as the article suggests, Andrew Shaw will get Toews' minutes until he's ready. The Blackhawks are one of the few teams in the league who can survive this kind of loss for an extended period. They won't be Stanley Cup champions without their captain, so the time to recover is vital for the team.

6. Colorado Avalanche in One-Goal Games

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The Colorado Avalanche do very well in one-goal games, despite being a subpar possession team, as outlined by Extra Skater. 

    How They've Addressed It: The Avalanche were a terrible one-goal team last year. The nature of these games is they may fluctuate wildly from team to team each season. An example would be the Chicago Blackhawks this year, a fine club having a tough time in one-goal games.

    Is It Working? The Avalanche have enjoyed good fortune this season, and Patrick Roy has seen playoff success in one-goal games in his past. The 1992-93 Montreal Canadiens had an incredible streak to the Stanley Cup with Roy in goal. It will take a similar run of luck for Colorado to have playoff success this spring.

5. San Jose Sharks Going All the Way

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The San Jose Sharks are perennial Stanley Cup contenders but have never made it to the finals.

    How They've Addressed It: The Sharks have a strong team with excellent depth and have used their minor league team as needed. They didn't make a major move at the trade deadline and will try to overcome their own past this spring.

    Is It Working? The Sharks are a winning organization, but they won't get their report card until later in the year. A deep playoff run won't be enough—this team needs to make it to the finals.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins in Goal

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The Pittsburgh Penguins have goaltending issues. Marc-Andre Fleury struggled last season in the playoffs, and the memory of the June 3, 2013, Boston game remains.

    How They've Addressed It: The Penguins have stayed the course this year. Backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff has been used sparingly, and no additions were made at the deadline. Tomas Vokoun's blood-clot worries continue, with Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette describing his return as questionable.

    Is It Working? Fleury's numbers this season are a close match for his performance during the regular season last year. However, his playoff production is the worry, and we won't know the answer for a few more weeks.

3. Anaheim Ducks' No-Name Defense

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The Anaheim Ducks lead the toughest division in the NHL. The club doesn't get respect for being a power in their conference, partly due to a blue line that lacks a marquee name.

    How They've Addressed It: The Ducks did address it at the deadline, acquiring veteran Stephane Robidas for the long haul.

    Is It Working? Robidas is a brilliant addition to the club, and he's played very well since coming over at the deadline. The Ducks are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and look ready for a lengthy push into the postseason. 

2. Boston Bruins' Blue-Line Depth

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The Boston Bruins' defense is thought to be too thin, especially with Dennis Seidenberg apparently lost for the season.

    How They've Addressed It: The club acquired veteran Andrej Meszaros at the deadline and have continued to count on youngsters Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli told Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe he hasn't ruled out Seidenberg's return during the playoffs.

    Is It Working? The Bruins are on a roll that stretches back several seasons, and their patchwork is holding the defense together. If they can keep things in check until Seidenberg returns, another Stanley Cup is possible.

1. St. Louis Blues and Goaltending

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    The Biggest Question Mark: The St. Louis Blues are built to go deep into the playoffs. Although it was not obvious based on their record, the organization felt goaltending was an area of need.

    How They've Addressed It: The final addition came at the deadline, with the acquisition of Ryan Miller from the Buffalo Sabres. The Blues are clearly going for it this year.

    Is It Working? Miller won seven games after arriving in St. Louis and has provided consistent play for the Blues. There's little doubt he has delivered so far, and the veteran has played in pressure situations many times.