B/R NHL Roundtable: Which Playoff Contender Will Miss Out in the West?April 14, 2022
B/R NHL Roundtable: Which Playoff Contender Will Miss Out in the West?
And down the stretch they come in the Western Conference.
With a little more than two weeks remaining in the 2021-22 NHL regular season, the playoff picture out West has several teams battling it out for the final postseason berths. As of Wednesday morning, the Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings and Dallas Stars would be in, while the Vegas Golden Knights, Vancouver Canucks and Winnipeg Jets would fall just short.
Will the Golden Knights miss the playoffs for the first time in franchise history? Are the Kings going to falter at the final hurdle after losing Drew Doughty for the rest of the season?
It's time for another B/R NHL Roundtable, as four of our writers got together to debate which teams will fall short of the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs.
Don't agree with their opinions? Give us your own takes in the comments, and tell us who you think will miss out.
On paper, the Nashville Predators are a near-lock to make the playoffs.
MoneyPuck.com gives the club a 94 percent chance, while SportsClubStats.com has them sitting at 97 percent. But they play the games for a reason, and the push for playoff positioning in the Western Conference could still have this team on the outside looking in.
To make the postseason, the Predators will likely need between 96 and 99 points. As per SportsClubStats.com, 96 points will get them into the playoffs approximately 94 percent of the time, while 99 points are where they reach 100 percent. The Predators have 89 points, so recording another seven across their remaining nine games shouldn't be too difficult.
Or at least it wouldn't be if Nashville's upcoming stretch wasn't so brutal. According to Tankathon.com, the Predators have the fifth-toughest remaining schedule in hockey, and no squad pushing for a playoff berth outside of Winnipeg (whose chances are dire at best) has a more difficult route to get there.
Nashville will take on the Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Tampa Bay Lightning, St. Louis Blues, Edmonton Oilers, Arizona Coyotes, Chicago Blackhawks and Calgary Flames...twice.
That is a who's who of teams you don't want to be facing right now. Colorado is the most complete team in the NHL. The Wild are tough as nails since their trade deadline makeover. Tampa is, well, Tampa. The Blues are the hottest team in the conference (along with the Avs), Edmonton is jostling for a postseason spot too and Calgary is a dark horse to win the Stanley Cup.
The only real gimme contests that the Predators have are against the Coyotes and Blackhawks. With that schedule and the fact that Nashville hasn't won more than three games in a row since January, there's room for some concern here.
Los Angeles Kings
Sorry, Los Angeles. We're just not that into you.
But that's nothing against the Kings or what they've achieved this year.
They were tied with the San Jose Sharks for sixth in an eight-team division last season and shared an irrelevant 25th overall with the Sharks as well. Things have changed dramatically in 2021-22, however, with their 45 points at the midway point putting them within striking range of first in the Pacific Division—fueled by a balanced attack that featured four players with at least 10 goals and six with at least 20 points.
Goaltending was a plus too, with the tandem of Jonathan Quick and Cal Petersen combining for 19 wins, three shutouts and the group as a whole posting a 2.73 goals-against average that was ninth in the league.
They've stayed the course through the subsequent 34 games too—the goaltending is still 11th overall with 2.83 GAA, and they now boast an offense with eight double-digit scorers—but it's not like the rest of the West has stood still while they've held ground.
Calgary and Edmonton have been among the league's best teams since mid-January and have passed the Kings in the Pacific, and the team is feeling the hot breath of the Vegas Golden Knights thanks to a recent stretch in which coach Pete DeBoer's team earned points in seven of 10 games.
Vegas entered Wednesday three points behind and with a game in hand, and a dip to fourth in the division would place Los Angeles squarely in the sights of both Nashville and Dallas, the teams holding down the West's wild-card positions. The Predators were a point better than the Kings with two more games to play than L.A., and the Stars were dead even with a pair of their own in hand as well.
Add the fact that Los Angeles will be without veteran defenseman Drew Doughty—its top-scoring blueliner and a leading voice in the locker room—thanks to season-ending wrist surgery. The forecast doesn't get any brighter with the slew of lesser-experienced bodies being run out as replacements.
A schedule in which the Kings play zero current playoff teams in their final six games won't hurt, but it won't be enough to offset pursuers that, at this point in time at least, are simply better.
The Winnipeg Jets reached the Stanley Cup playoffs over the past four years. However, they're poised to miss the cut this season.
With 81 points and eight games remaining in their schedule, the Jets are seven points behind the Dallas Stars for the second wild-card berth in the Western Conference and eight behind the Nashville Predators, who hold the first wild-card spot. Both teams have a game in hand. The Vegas Golden Knights and Vancouver Canucks also sit ahead of the Jets.
If the Jets are going to make it, they must win almost all their remaining games while the clubs ahead of them lose most of theirs. That's a tall order for a team that has struggled with consistency throughout this season.
The Jets haven't had much difficulty putting pucks in the net. Their 3.08 goals per game rank 16th in the league. They're also middle of the pack on the man advantage with a power-play percentage (21.6) ranked 14th.
Kyle Connor is enjoying a career-high performance with a team-leading 85 points while sitting tied for fifth in the league with 42 goals. After overcoming a shaky first half of the season, Mark Scheifele has 70 points in 67 games.
Pierre-Luc Dubois is close to matching his career-high of 27 goals and 61 points. Nikolaj Ehlers has 49 points in 54 games, while Paul Stastny reached the 20-goal plateau for the first time since 2013-14.
Their defensive game, however, is another matter. The Jets allow the ninth-highest shots-against per game at 32.9, their goals-against per game (3.08) ranks 18th, and their penalty-killing percentage (74.7) is 29th.
Winnipeg used to rely on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to bail them out, and while the 2019-20 Vezina Trophy winner is doing his best this season, he could be wearing down from the heavy workload he's faced since 2016-17. He's allowing the second-worst GAA and the worst save percentage in his career.
Unless the Jets significantly improve defensively over their remaining games, they'll end this season outside the playoff picture.
Vegas Golden Knights
The Vegas Golden Knights, a perennial playoff contender since their inception, entered the season prepared to make their most ambitious, aggressive run at the Stanley Cup yet. They were a consensus Cup favorite, with DraftKings Sportsbook listing them on October 12 as tied with the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second-best odds (+700) to win it all.
And that was before November's massive trade for Jack Eichel. It was not only a substantial addition but also an ostensible status symbol. The franchise was all-in.
It would have been exceptionally difficult to imagine that this same team would be gasping for air in mid-April, with serious questions about whether they would make it to the postseason at all.
Vegas sits at 85 points with eight games remaining, three behind Dallas for the final wild-card spot and three behind Los Angeles, who are third in the Pacific. Vegas does have two games in hand on the Kings, but Dallas has one on the Golden Knights.
A lot has gone wrong for Vegas this season—most prominently injuries. Eichel's was accounted for upon his acquisition, but Mark Stone, Reilly Smith, Max Pacioretty, Nicolas Hague and Robin Lehner are among the team's top players to have missed a substantial number of games.
The Golden Knights are still dealing with excessive injuries, and now they're on the outside looking in. Yes, they have been in good form recently, winning six of their last eight, but they have faced extremely soft competition, with Vancouver, Seattle, Chicago and Arizona accounting for seven of those games. The schedule the rest of the way is less generous, and they're running out of time to make up ground in the standings.
Per Dom Luszczyszyn's statistical model at The Athletic, the Vegas Golden Knights have just a 47 percent chance of making the playoffs this season.
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