With each passing week the playoff race is getting more intense in the Western Conference. It is becoming increasingly clear that there will be at least a couple good teams that won’t make the playoffs this year in the West.
With that in mind, I spoke with writers from Mile High Hockey, Hockey Wilderness, Defending Big D, Fear the Fin, Anaheim Calling, and of course a fellow writer from Matchsticks and Gasoline.
I asked each site for two reasons why they respective team both would and wouldn’t make this year’s playoffs. I split up the answers into two articles, the second of which will come out on Friday. Today we have why each writer believes their team WILL make the playoffs.
*Please note that these opinions were gathered prior to play on Tuesday
Two Reasons Why Your Team will Make the Playoffs
Matchsticks and Gasoline - Calgary Flamees
from Mark Parkinson
Plain and simple, Mike Smith has been the reason, short of that little burst of offence in late December and early January, the Flames are in a playoff spot thus far. In his last 7 starts Smith has allowed 2 goals or less 7 times. He’s lost 3 of those, all in overtime or a shootout. Smith’s emergence as the Flames true #1 has been a little surprising, but he has carried the team through 50 games, starting 40 of those. As of this writing Smith is 10th in the league in wins (20), 3rd in shots against (1291), 3rd in Saves (1195), 16th in Save % (.926) and he’s allowed 96 goals on the season. I’m not sure what else he could do, but carrying the Flames to the playoffs would be huge.
The West Isn’t That Good
The Flames could sneak into the playoffs just from the mere fact that the West isn’t as good once you get out of the top 4. Vegas, Winnipeg, Nashville and St. Louis will most likely, barring some disaster, hold on to their spots and cruise to the playoffs. The rest of the West is WIDE open. Fifth place through 11th place are only separated by 3 points. To prove the point: the Flames have lost 4 in row in extra time, they’re still in 7th place. LA has lost 7 out of their last 10 and they are 1 point behind Calgary. The West isn’t pretty if you aren’t in Vegas, but if you play average hockey for the rest of the season, you could make the playoffs. Hear that Flames?
Mile High Hockey - Colorado Avalanche
from Tom Hunter
If the Avalanche get anywhere near the playoff this season, it’s going to be because Nathan MacKinnon carries them there. He leads the league in 5v5 and primary points and has to be the Hart Trophy favorite at this point. His line with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog is responsible for 40% of the Avs’ offense. When they don’t score, they don’t win.
The Avalanche currently have the second youngest lineup in the NHL. Between Sam Girard, Tyson Jost, Alex Kerfoot Anton Lindholm, and J.T. Compher, the rookies have been carrying a big load in Denver. Since coming over in the Matt Duchene trade, Girard has looked like anything but a 19-year old rookie. He’s been playing in the team’s top-4 and has had a major impact on the powerplay - especially while Tyson Barrie has been out.
Up front, Alex Kerfoot has been a revelation. Signed from Harvard as an NCAA free agent, Kerfoot has been Colorado’s biggest offensive threat outside of the top line. He has 32 points through his first 45 games in the NHL and has shown the ability to drive possession from his line while playing either wing or center. To add to the regulars, Dominic Toninato - another NCAA free agent signing this past summer - is up with the team now and he has been absolutely incredible from a defensive perspective. Playing a checking winger role, Toninato leads the team in CF% and scoring chance suppression through his 13 games.
Hockey Wilderness - Minnesota Wild
from Joe Bouley
This Roster has had Past Success
This team is still mostly the same team that led the Central Division and most of the Western Conference last year. While some of the talent is aging, there still is a good amount of solid NHL talent on this team. If the Wild do make the post season, they will have returned to the scoring form of yesteryear.
Another reason they make the post season is the Devan Dubnyk has a phenomenal second half. He’s capable of carrying the team on his back for a few months as he did just that in 2015 when the Wild made the trade for him in January of that season. He went 27-9-2 in that stretch to pull the Wild out of a free fall in the Western Conference to a Wild Card playoff berth. He also posted a .941 save percentage from October through December of last season. Had it not been for a terrible month of March, we would have been a Vezina Trophy Finalist. If the Wild get back to the post season, it will be because Devan Dubnyk goes on an absolute tear in the second half.
Fear the Fin - San Jose Sharks
from Sie Morley
The assistant captain has stepped into his own as a leader after the departure of Patrick Marleau over the summer. He will drag the kids kicking and screaming into playoffs singlehandedly if he has to. With 36 points in 44 games, he can and will make it happen.
Because that’s what the Sharks do
The expectation in the room is to make playoffs. This team knows how to do it and in their entire history, they’ve only failed to make the post-season six times. The Pacific Division is weak and the Sharks are good against them.
Defending Big D - Dallas Stars
from Taylor Baird
Dallas is very good at suppressing shots against this season (the Hitch Effect). That should give them more success than not in matchups remaining on the schedule, but they’ve got to find a way back to that game after two ugly losses (Toronto Maple Leafs prior to All-Star Break, Los Angeles Kings in first game after All-Star Break)
Dallas has the talent to score goals, and their power play is among the top teams in the league. John Klingberg leads blueliners in defense, so they’re not just relying on their big three forwards (Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov) to pot goals, either.
Anaheim Calling - Anaheim Ducks
from CJ Woodling
The Ducks have Ryan Getzlaf who is currently producing at a greater than point per game pace despite missing a good portion of the first half of the season due to injury. As many people know (especially Flames fans), he has the ability to control the pace of the game, and with great complementary pieces like Rickard Rakell and Corey Perry, the captain has the capability to drive the Ducks into the playoffs.
The only reason the Ducks remained within shooting distance of a playoff spot when literally half the team was dead was because of the goaltending tandem of John Gibson and Ryan Miller. They almost single-handedly kept the Ducks in games and gave them a chance to win despite an anemic offense that had Derek Grant centering the top line. Now, with a fully healthy squad, that tandem can lock down night in and night out.
Jewels from the Crown - Los Angeles Kings
from Eric K.
Anze Kopitar and Drew Doughty
Doughty at his worst is still better than 95% of the league’s defensemen, and when he hasn’t been throwing tantrums or yelling at Matthew Tkachuk, he’s been at his best. Meanwhile, Kopitar’s bounceback isn’t a surprise, but he’s finally answered Kings fans’ calls to shoot more and has been brilliant at both ends of the ice.
Jeff Carter is coming back at some point
The Kings have gotten more goals than in years past due largely to offense from unexpected sources, but Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli have yet to really take off, and you can’t rely on Trevor Lewis forever. The good news? Carter, who’s been out for 40+ games after suffering a skate cut on his leg, can pick up the slack, and Pearson and Toffoli will benefit in a big way from Carter’s return.
I’d like to say thanks to each of the writers for contributing to this piece. Stay tuned for Part 2 later this week!