This may be the year the Eastern Conference is officially weaker than the Western Conference. For years the Rangers, Canadiens and Islanders were top 15 teams in the NHL, but this year the Western Conference seems to be a little tougher and tighter in terms of the playoff race.
Taking a look at the Eastern Conference Metropolitan Division it is heavily dominated by three teams the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs and Washington Capitals. It has been a major shock to the East that the Pittsburgh Penguins are a non playoff team right now as well as the Flyers being out of contention and struggling this season. Another big surprise is the Canadiens start, coming out now 35 games into the season and being in the second wild card spot and six points out from the three seed in the Atlantic.
The Atlantic division playoff teams
The Buffalo Sabres are off to a surprising start, yet after going on their win streak, they dropped six straight and now are 3-4-3 in their last ten. Are we sure the Sabres are legitimate playoff contenders? Or will they be out of the race come March? Personally after seeing what the Sabres have done and are capable of, they can easily be a playoff team. Realistically they need to stay above .500 for the next month or so to stay in the race and when it continues to tighten up and get closer, they will pull a few games out of their back pocket and make a push. With that, I don’t think they stay #3 in the Atlantic though, the Bruins are five points behind and have yet to hit their full stride this season. If the Bruins get healthy soon, they will knock the Sabres out of three, but this means Bruins stay three and Leafs stay two it will be another Bruins vs Leafs first round match up. The Leafs are not catching the Lighting (54), the Lightning have essentially clinched first place and will have an easier first round than other teams. Out of the Atlantic I think we see Lightning (1), Leafs (2), Bruins (3), Sabres (4), Canadiens get bumped out of the playoffs by either the Penguins or Islanders. Which brings me to the second part of this article.
The weak Metropolitan playoff teams
The Metropolitan is extremely weak, of the four divisions in the NHL the Metropolitan is by far the weakest. The Capitals with 43 points lead the Metro, yet in any other division would be third in the division. The Metro is basically run by the Capitals who lead the division by just four points but I do not see the Capitals dropping out of that one spot. The Blue Jackets come in at number two (39 points) and they have been very inconsistent this season, they struggle to stay consistent and string together wins over multiple games and number three is the Islanders (38 points) who are on three-game win streak and surprising a lot of people right now. Based off what we have in front of us right now, I would have to assume the Islanders get knocked out of three by the Penguins and top three in the Metropolitan are Capitals (1), Penguins (2), Blue Jackets (3), the Metro is so weak that the Penguins can start of the season below .500 and still be in contention for a playoff spot. Out of the Metro it will probably be Capitals (1), Penguins (2), Blue Jackets (3), Islanders (4).
Playoff prediction in the Eastern Conference:
Tampa Bay Lightning (1) vs New York Islanders (WC2)
Washington Capitals (1) vs Buffalo Sabres (WC1)
Pittsburgh Penguins (2) vs Columbus Blue Jackets (3)
Toronto Maple Leafs (2) vs Boston Bruins (3)