With the trade deadline behind everyone, playoffs are on everyone’s mind. We are less than a month away and these are three of the top teams in contention for a Stanley Cup.
1. Nashville Predators
The Preds made it to the finals before losing to the Penguins last year. This team is looking to amend that loss and finish some unfished business. They still have hockey’s best defensive quartet in Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis, Mattias Ekholm and P.K. Subban. They’ve added Kyle Turris and Nick Bonino at center. Mike Fisher returned on a mid-season return from retirement making a hugely successful run for the team, meaning this team can roll four effective lines.
There are some weaknesses though: The Preds’ top two scorers are defensemen. This says how good Subban and Josi are. Another problem is that Filip Forsberg has lost time to injury. They could overcome their issues but their weaknesses are a reminder that Nashville doesn’t have elite firepower up front.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
The team knows how to create their own destiny. They are able to place themselves in a strong place to repeat their win from last year. No team can compare to Crosby and Malkin as a 1-2 punch down the middle. Put Phil Kessel on his own line, and it makes it impossible for teams to match their shutdown lines against the Pens. Head coach Mike Sullivan‘s gameplan has his blueliners keep things simple and move the puck quickly up ice. That strategy has been crucial to the past two Cup champion squads.
There are still weaknesses: Injury-prone Matt Murray had Marc-Andre Fleury as a safety net last year, and Fleury was a crucial contributor across the first couple rounds of the playoffs. Matt Murray is close to returning but who knows how his injury will affect him.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
The Bolts were already the NHL’s best, most talent-rich team before the trade deadline and arguably still are the best. Goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is the Vezina Trophy frontrunner. Kucherov leads the league in scoring. Victor Hedman is in the thick of the Norris Trophy hunt. The team has standout players but when an entire team is a standout the team is unstoppable. The only hope for other teams was Nikita Kucherov’s upper-body injury but even that was revealed to be minor. Tampa leads the league in points percentage and goals per game. It has the No. 3 power play, allows the fifth-fewest goals per game and ranks sixth in adjusted 5-on-5 Corsi.
Weaknesses are hard to find for this team and they really are the team to beat. They do have one of the worst penalty kills at 77.8 percent and did not acquire any help for that department at the deadline. The big problem is if they are able to stop teams that have a stronger offense and are able to counteract the challenges penalty kills mean.
Overall these 3 teams have a chance at taking it all. Each of these teams has strong players and strong defensive skills. The big thing is who will show up in playoffs.