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NHL Conference Contemplations – March 21, 2021

There is hardly a dull moment in the NHL. While looking around the NHL at each of the divisions, we ask ourselves a couple questions. In the past week, which conference has the best goalie who continued his dominance in the NHL? Will it be possible for a team in sixth place currently to make the playoffs? How has one Russian’s return impacted his roster? (Disclaimer: All statistics and stat lines are from March 21 before games were played.)

North: Can Calgary Catch Up in the North Division?

Despite their current position in sixth place in the Scotia North, the Calgary Flames are only four points behind fourth place Montréal Canadiens . Holding a 3-1 advantage in their four games against the Canadiens, could the Flames find themselves in the Playoffs?

Calgary’s largest inhibitor is their consistency. It is a tossup whether they will take the full points over any opponent, even against the Ottawa Senators. Losing to the Senators 1-5 and 1-6 in the last four weeks does not help your case. Despite that, they are on the upswing, 7-4-2 across their last 13. Among those wins are regulation victories over the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Edmonton Oilers, two of the top teams in the NHL.

On another positive note, their penalty kill is sitting at 80%, better than everyone else in the Scotia North. With a pair of battles in the coming week against Ottawa, it will be crucial to earn all four points. Just 24 games remain in their regular season. The Canadiens have a difficult closing stretch across their final 25, having to play Edmonton and Toronto six times each.

Central: The Best Goalie in the NHL

As the first goaltender to 20 wins this season, the Tampa Bay goaltender is not just the best in the Central Conference, but the whole NHL. In my assessment, he leads the race for the Vezina Trophy. Andrei Vasilevskiy has previously won the award, which is given to the top NHL goaltender, in 2018-19. During that season, the Russian grabbed 39 wins over 53 contests, with 6 shutouts and a save percentage of .925.

Vasilevskiy has played 24 of 30 games so far this season and has a save percentage over 93 percent. In his last 11 games played, he is a flawless 11-0-0 which tied a franchise record. But, in four of the last six contests, Vasilevskiy has let in three or more goals.

His closest competition is the Avalanche goaltender, Philipp Grubauer. Grubauer has a lower GAA by .12 at 1.74 compared to Vasilevskiy’s 1.86. The German goaltender also has two more shutouts. But Tampa Bay’s #88 leads the league among goalies with more than five games in save percentage.

Can Vasilevskiy stay as the front runner for the Vezina Trophy? Only time will tell, but the way things are going right now, he seems unstoppable. If he wins, he will be just the seventh goaltender to win the award more than once in 40 years.

Check out this article on the rest of the NHL Midseason Awards!

East: Can the Rangers Rebound with Panarin’s Return?

In Artemi Panarin’s first game back (March 13) after taking a leave of absence, he grabbed an assist in the Rangers‘ 4-0 win against Boston. In their very next game, Panarin picked up one goal and two assists in a 5-4 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers. Continuing his points streak, in a 9-0 win over Flyers, he scored another goal and one more assist during the rout. In the Rangers’ 1-2 loss to the Washington Capitals, he scored his team’s only goal. His streak finally snapped in the following game on March 20, but the Blueshirts still picked up the win.

In the recent nine games without him, the Rangers went 4-5-0. During this span, the Rangers scored 28 goals but allowed 39 goals against in his absence. But with him, things are a different story. Their record with Panarin in the lineup is 3-1-1, scoring 21 goals while letting in just eight.

The Rangers sit roughly six points out of playoff contention. But with the Boston Bruins having a couple upcoming games postponed, now would be a great chance to grab some points. An important win against the Capitals helped boost their positioning as they hope to climb up the MassMutual East Division. Additionally, their coaching staff, David Quinn, Jacques Martin, David Oliver, and Greg Brown will hopefully be returning from COVID protocols. In their absence, the Rangers have gone 2-1-1 with an emphatic 9-0 win over Philadelphia. That is both the greatest number of goals scored and the largest victory margin by an NHL team this season. With things heating up in the Eastern Conference, will they be able to catch up and make the NHL playoffs cut?

West: Colorado Stays Frosty in NHL

In Colorado’s previous four games, their offense has racked up 23 goals. Most recently, their 6-0 win over Minnesota saw six different goal scorers. On their recent 19 goals, 13 have been scored by unique players. Their 6-0-0 record in recent games has boosted their spot in the standings to just behind Vegas. They sit three points behind the leaders in the Honda West and three above third place Minnesota.

The NHL has some great goaltenders, especially in the Western Conference. This has been one of the Avalanche’s biggest contributors to their success. Philipp Grubauer has been one of the best goalies in the NHL this season, right behind Vasilevskiy. Grubauer is second in wins with 18 over his 25 games this season. With 565 saves and 5 shutouts, he gives his side a chance to win in almost any matchup.

The Avs have just one regulation loss to each of the other teams in the division apart from Vegas. The Golden Knights have defeated them twice, but Colorado also has two wins against them. Minnesota and Anaheim both took the Avalanche to overtime and came away with victories. But in neither of those contests did the Avs have Grubauer in goal.

Check out last week’s post here!

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