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Thursday, March 30, 2023

NHL Bubble Watch: Assessing remaining schedules for playoff-hungry teams

The trade deadline has passed, with 19 trades made on March 3 alone. Some teams are satisfied with their results, others probably less so. The one thing all teams now have in common is that trade rumors have been put on hold and the only thing to worry about are wins and losses.

In this article, we’ll take a look at eight teams that still have work to do in the playoff race and how their remaining schedules can help or hurt their aspirations.

Edmonton Oilers

Record: 35-22-8, WC Wildcard 1

Games remaining: 17

(Full program here)

You’d think that a team that employs the likes of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl would spearhead the playoffs every year. They currently sit in the No. 1 wild card spot in the West, nine points ahead of the top non-playoff team, the Nashville Predators. It’s a convincing lead, but the Predators have four games in hand against Edmonton.

The Oilers have a normal schedule for the remaining 17 games of their season. These games will be spread over 35 days. They will have two separate back-to-back games, with the first starting March 27 on the road against the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights. The second straight game will be on the road again, this time against the Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks on April 4-5.

Nine of their remaining 17 games will be on the road. Additionally, nine of the 17 games will be against teams not currently in the playoffs, with seven of their opponents in a mad rush for Connor Bedard.

Winnipeg Jets

Record: 36-25-3, 3rd Central

Remaining parts: 18

(Full program here)

The Jets are in a similar position in the standings as the Oilers, except they are in a slightly worse playoff position. They currently sit in the third center slot, six points ahead of the Predators, but the Predators have three games in hand on them.

Of their last 18 regular season games, the Jets will be on the road for 10 of them. They are in a good position for the home stretch but they will have to improve their record a bit on the road. Right now, the Jets are 15-15-1 on the road versus 21-10-2 at home.

The rest of the season is evenly spaced out with only one back-to-back remaining on the schedule. They will face the Sharks on April 10 at home and then face the Wild on the road the following night. They will play current non-playoff teams for 10 of their last 18 games, including two important games against the Predators, who are the underdogs at best to win the race after selling several key veterans before the trade deadline.

Colorado avalanche

Record: 34-21-6, WC Wildcard 2

Remaining parts: 21

(Full program here)

Few teams have a tighter end-of-season schedule than the Avalanche. They currently sit in the second wild-card spot, one point behind the Jets in points but with three games in hand. After a slow start to the season due to catastrophic injuries, the Avalanche have regained their footing and will likely challenge for the Stanley Cup once again.

Of their remaining 21 games, 11 will be on the road. Whoever prepared the NHL schedule made sure the Avalanche wouldn’t make the playoffs this year. Eight of their remaining matches will come in four separate straight games.

The first is March 15-16 on the road against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. Then, later in the month, there will be another back-to-back road game against the Coyotes and Ducks. On April 8 and 9, they will be on the road again for a meeting with the Kings and Ducks. The last back-to-back on the program will take place in the last two games of the season. In this one, Game 1 is at home against the Jets, Game 2 is on the road against the Predators. The Avs play five games between April 8 and April 14 in a grueling streak to end their season.

However, 13 of their last 21 games will be against current non-playoff teams.

Nashville Predators

Record: 31-23-7, 9th Western Conference

Remaining parts: 21

(Full program here)

It won’t be an easy road for the Predators to make the playoffs this year, but it would be a lie to say they’re out of contention. According to MoneyPuck.com odds, the Predators have an 18.1% chance of making the playoffs.

Much depends on their remaining schedule. Eleven of the last 21 games will be at home, which is good because the Predators have a solid 16-11-3 home record this year.

The Predators don’t have back-to-back games in March, but they do have a few in April. They will play three games in four days against the St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars and Vegas Golden Knights. In addition, the last two games of the season will be consecutive at home against the Wild and the Avalanche.

Two-thirds of their remaining schedule will be against current playoff teams.

New York Islanders

Record: 32-25-8, EC Wildcard 1

Games remaining: 17

(Full program here)

By ranking points, the Islanders are first in the Wild Card by four points. But in percentage points, the race is much closer. The reason for this discrepancy is that the Islanders had a busier forward schedule and will have a less busy schedule over time to allow other teams to catch up with them in games played.

The Islanders caused a stir before the trade deadline when they acquired Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks. They’re trying to hold on to a Wildcard spot for the rest of the season. It will be tough with a few hungry teams with ongoing games nipping at their heels.

Nine of their remaining 17 games are on the road and the majority of the remaining games are against current playoff teams as well. They also have a few back-to-backs to contend with. First, they take on the Kings and Ducks on their road trip to California. Later in the month, they will face the Blue Jackets and Columbus Sabres. This last game will be crucial, as will tonight’s meeting with the Sabers.

bison sabers

Record: 32-26-4, 9th Western Conference

Remaining parts: 20

(Full program here)

The Sabers have been one of the most exciting teams to watch in the NHL this year. Right now, they’re just behind the Islanders for the final playoff spot in the East. There are six teams chasing the final two spots in the East. But the bottom two teams, the Panthers and Capitals, are slowly losing ground and could soon be considered out of contention for the playoffs.

Somehow, despite all the success the Sabers have had this year, they still have a terrible home record. They are 13-16-2 at home and the only reason they are close to the playoffs is their road record of 19-9-2.

Of their last 20 games, 12 will be on the road. If current trends continue, the Sabers will have an unusual advantage in the latter part of the season. They have two straight streaks in the last 20 games, one of which ended tonight in New York against the Islanders.

The other back-to-back game on the schedule is scheduled for mid-April on the road against the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils. Eleven of their remaining games will be against current playoff teams, although two of those games will be against the Islanders with whom Buffalo is technically tied in the standings.

Ottawa Senators

Record: 32-27-4, 10th Eastern Conference

Remaining parts: 19

(Full program here)

The fact that the Senators are currently in the thick of the playoff race is almost unbelievable. After another poor start to the season, they somehow came back and are now fourth in the Wildcard race, three points behind the Penguins.

Like most teams, the Senators play better at home and this year they are 19-12-2 in Ottawa. Due to the way the schedule was set up, the Senators have played 33 home games and 30 on the road this year. This means that their remaining schedule will be busy.

Twelve of their remaining 19 games will be against current playoff teams. They also have two back-to-backs on their schedule. The Senators will play two road games against the Penguins and Boston Bruins on March 20 and 21. These games will be crucial for their chances in the playoffs. They will also face the Maple Leafs and Blue Jackets on April 1-2.

According to MoneyPuck.com, their playoff odds currently sit at 24.1% while factoring in their tough schedule.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 31-22-9, EC Wildcard 2

Remaining parts: 20

(Full program here)

The Penguins are one of the teams at the heart of the Eastern Conference wildcard race. In point percentage, they currently sit in the No. 1 wild-card spot with a small cushion between them and the Senators and Sabers.

In what could be one of the last dances of the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era, the Penguins certainly want to make the most of this season. They acquired Mikael Granlund, Nick Bonino and Dmitry Kulikov at the deadline to try again to run for the cup.

They have a favorable home/away schedule for the rest of the season. Twelve of their last 20 games will be at home in Pittsburgh and with a 16-9-4 home record, it’s looking good for them.

The Penguins have a few consecutive games to consider. The first will be a few road games against the Avalanche and the Stars later this month. Then, in early April, they will play two home games against the Bruins and Flyers.

Additionally, 11 of their last 20 games will be against current non-playoff teams. They also have three games scheduled against the New York Rangers. These two teams last met on Dec. 20, and Pittsburgh won 3-2.

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