NHL Off the Post: March 16th

by Sean Murphy

Thursday, Mar 16, 2023
With just over a month until the puck drops on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, it's a good time to take stock of some key happenings from around the league. Here's a look at four teams and situations to consider in your daily hockey handicapping in the coming weeks.

The defense rests

It's been a while since we've seen a team turn in as bad of a two-game stretch defensively as the Canadiens just displayed in (stunningly) splitting a pair of matchups with the Avalanche and Penguins earlier this week. In those two contests, the Habs were outshot by a wide 76-41 margin, allowing a whopping 12 goals along the way. There's no relief in sight with a two-game in three-night trip through Florida to face the Panthers and Lightning on deck. Note that the 'over' is now 14-8-1 in Montreal's last 23 games including 5-1 over its last six. You would have to go back to February 28th to find the last time the Habs held an opponent to fewer than four goals (that performance came against the lowly Sharks). Also of note, the Habs won't play another non-playoff contending team until a home date with the Blue Jackets on March 25th.

Oil rush

While we successfully faded the Edmonton Oilers during their stop in Toronto last Saturday night, there's no denying they're playing some of their best hockey of the season, winners of five of their last seven games, scoring 32 goals over that stretch. Don't sleep on Edmonton's savvy pre-trade deadline acquisition of defenseman Mattias Ekholm. He's been a rock on the blue line since being brought over to shore up the Oilers leaky defense corps. Edmonton has a favorable schedule down the stretch as it won't travel East on a single occasion over its final 14 regular season contests. It should also benefit from facing the Sharks and Ducks, two of the league's worst teams, five more times. Edmonton currently sits in third-place in the Pacific Division with just a single-point cushion over the fourth-place Seattle Kraken.

Resisting the urge

Much to the chagrin of their faithful, the Canucks have gone on an improbable late-season tear reeling off five straight victories to all but drop themselves out of the running for coveted Draft day prize Connor Bedard (who continues to break records with the WHL's Regina Pats). It's certainly a case of 'too little, too late' in terms of a playoff push although perhaps the Canucks are building something positive for the future under the guidance of new head coach Rick Tocchet. The return of goaltender Thatcher Demko has given them some much-needed consistency in the crease. Demko has recorded a sterling .934 save percentage in his last four games while the team has gone 5-1 in his six starts since coming back from injury. Vancouver will be tested over the next couple of weeks as it faces a grueling seven-game in 11-night stretch that will include stops in six different cities, beginning with Thursday's clash with the Coyotes in Arizona.

Coming up aces

The Vegas Golden Knights were in rough shape as the calendar flipped from January to February but we've witnessed a sharp turn-around since as they've gone an incredible 13-4 over their last 17 games. They were the benefactors of a messy situation with the rival Los Angeles Kings giving up on veteran goaltender Jonathan Quick. The Knights acquired him after he had been cast off to Columbus prior to the trade deadline. Quick has made four starts for the Knights and they've won all four of those contests. Vegas has put itself in good position to not only win the Pacific Division, but finish atop the Western Conference standings - currently holding a three point advantage over both the Kings and Stars (with all three teams having played 68 games). In an interesting scheduling quirk, four of the Knights next six games will come against the Flames and Oilers. Unfortunately for Vegas, only three of its final 14 regular season contests will come against non-playoff contending teams (the Blue Jackets, Canucks and Sharks). 

All photographic images used for editorial content have been licensed from the Associated Press.

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