Teams at the top of their divisions seem to have one thing in common, they’re healthy. When you have your top players in 85-95 percent of your games you will usually see that positively affect the team’s points columns.
Injuries can instantly bring a contending team to its knees. The NHL demands a team to have superstars and a strong supporting cast in order to be successful. There is no room for average and for that reason teams throughout the league will constantly be on the lookout for the next Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin.
The Penguins have managed to stay in the mix without Crosby who still leads the team in points with 66 even with missing 23 games. He actually still ranks seventh in the league in scoring with 23 games less than the leader Daniel Sedin who has 79 points through 64 games.
Rangers forward Marian Gaborik can’t stay healthy for more than five games at a time and he is showing no signs of finishing the season as the point leader on the team. The Flyers are holding strong on the top and it can’t be a coincidence that all the top players have played almost every game this season. Even the Devils have been able to string some wins together lately and a lot of that has to do with the lack of injuries on the team.
As usual there is always an exception to the rule and the Islanders are that exception unless you place all the blame on Rick DiPietro’s history of injuries. Other than that, most major players on the Islanders have seen action all season but they have been unable to climb out from under the rest of the pack.
The Devils, although going out in style, are also going to be watching the NHL playoffs from their living rooms this season. Maybe a coaching change a month earlier would have made the difference?
The Rangers have been decently consistent but most of that is attributed to their goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist and Martin Biron have been solid all season. But with Biron out with a broken collarbone , Lundqvist will be working overtime.
The Rangers’ offense hasn’t been able to consistently post three-plus goals a game forcing Henrik and Marty to keep them in games more than they probably should have to. Every year it seems to be a similar story with the Rangers. They’ll make the playoffs as the seventh or eight seed and maybe they can squeak by the first round but that’s about it.
The Penguins will need Crosby to return as soon as possible if they want to finish as a top seeded team in the East. Through the last ten games they only have three wins and with many teams very close in points, they can easily slip down the ranks unless they string together some wins over the final eighteen games. Crosby should be back relatively soon, but this seems like his “injury prone season” that many stars go through during their careers. With Crosby back in the mix the Penguins instantly become a top contender for the cup.
The Flyers are solid and arguably the best team in the league right now. Their offense is scoring, their goaltending is winning games and it seems they’ve been able to ride off of last year’s high when they made a strong run at the cup. It would be hard to say we won’t see the Flyers represent the East in the cup finals this season against maybe Vancouver or Detroit. Their scoring is spread out pretty evenly amongst Claude Giroux, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards and Daniel Briere that its tough for opposing teams to prioritize who to defend first.