Yesterday I blogged about the Western Conference teams in the hunt for the Calder Cup and this evening I am back in more familiar territory in breaking down and handicapping the Eastern Conference. Same concept as yesterday, record, power play, penalty kill, top three scorers, an overview of how the team fared in the regular season and its first round playoff date and a record against that team. Don’t forget about my new category this year called, “How they’ll win it” in place of the Calder Cup Odds from years past.
Off we go…after you jump through…
Hartford Wolf Pack
Record: 43-24-5-4 // 95 pts., 1st Place Northeast Division (3 seed)
Power Play: 17th // 16.9%
Penalty Kill: 23rd // 81.6%
Top 3 Scorers: Chris Bourque 29-37-66 / Oscar Lindberg 28-28-56 / Danny Kristo 22-24-46
Overview: Hartford took advantage of a Syracuse Crunch team that wanted nothing to do with the Northeast Division klead anymore and overtook the Crunch for the division in the final weeks. The Wolf Pack have stuck around all season.
First Round Opponent: Providence Bruins
Record vs. the Bruins: 3-1
How They Win It: Hartford is my dark horse pick to make it out of the East. It’s a veteran savvy team that knows how to beat its first round opponent. If the Wolf Pack get hot they can compete with any of the teams in the playoffs.
Record: 46-22-5-3 // 100 pts., 1st Place East Division (2 seed)
Power Play: 9th // 18%
Penalty Kill: 1st // 87.5%
Top 3 Scorers: Tim Kennedy 11-48-59 // Casey Wellman 25-59-54 // Chris Conner 19-33-52
Overview: Took control of the East Division at the start of 2015 and never looked back. Went on a tear in early 2015 which helped. Waiver claim of Jim O’Brien sparked Hershey at the same time.
First Round Opponent: Worcester Sharks
Record vs. the Sharks: 2-1-0-1
How They Win It: Continue the harmony of all three positions on the ice, goal tending, defense and forwards. Sharks, Penguins and Monarchs seem to matchup well, but the benefit of home ice over all of the teams except Manchester is a huge asset.
Record: 50-17-6-3 // 109 pts., 1st Place Atlantic Division (1 overall seed)
Power Play: 1st // 20.7%
Penalty Kill: 16th // 83.6%
Top 3 Scorers: Brian O’Neill 22-58-80 / Jordan Weal 20-49-69 / Colin Miller 19-33-52
Overview: Monarchs were the best team in the AHL from the jump and only but for a few hiccups carried the banner as the number one overall seed all season.
First Round Opponent: Portland Pirates
Record vs. the Pirates: 9-2-0-1
How They Win It: Do not get complacent. Making it out of the first round will be something that Manchester did not do last season, getting bounced as the 1 seed by the 8th seed Norfolk Admirals at the time. You don’t all of a sudden forget how to win hockey games when you’ve won 50 games as a team, so as long as the Monarchs don’t play loose, here is your odds on favorite to win it all.
Record: 39-28-7-2 // 87 pts., 4th Place Atlantic Division (8 seed)
Power Play: 27th // 23.9%
Penalty Kill: 3rd // 87.3%
Top 3 Scorers: Alexandre Bolduc 23-29-52 / Brendan Shinnimin 22-25-47 / Jordan Martinook 15-28-43
Overview: Portland got in on the final day of the regular season, in the final period overcoming a two goal deficit against the Worcester Sharks. The Pirates outlasted the Falcons and Devils and were passed by the Bruins and Sharks.
First Round Opponent: Manchester Monarchs
Record vs. the Monarchs: 3-7-1-1
How They Win It: I’d love to know what was said during the second intermission in the visitors locker room inside of DCU Center in Worcester, Mass. Whatever it was propelled the listless Pirates into the playoffs overcoming a two goal deficit. Steep task lies ahead taking on the AHL regular season champion in round one and should Portland advance, the hills get steeper and steeper. But the Pirates have shown in the short term that they are up for overcoming anything, no matter how dire the consequences.
Record: 41-26-7-2 // 91 pts., 2nd Place Atlantic Division (6 seed)
Power Play: 7th // 18.7%
Penalty Kill: 10th // 85.5%
Top 3 Scorers: Alexander Khokhlachev 15-28-43 / Justin Florek 11-24-35 / Paul Carey 15-19-34
Overview: P-Bruins weren’t ever a serious contender to the Monarchs for the division lead and playing in a division that sent four teams to the postseason, the only division to claim that honor, there was a lot of good competition that the Bruins faced night in and night out.
First Round Opponent: Hartford Wolf Pack
Record vs. the Wolf Pack: 1-3
How They Win It: Close teams out. When the Bruins have had chances to close out teams in years past they failed, miserably. The Bruins are certainly talented enough to make it far in the playoffs but whether or not they have the killer instinct yet remains to be seen.
Record: 41-25-10-0 // 92 pts., 2nd Place Northeast Division (5 seed)
Power Play: 25th // 14.2%
Penalty Kill: 26th // 79.6%
Top 3 Scorers: Jonathan Marchessault 24-43-67 / Yanni Gourde 29-28-57 / Mike Angelidis 20-18-38
Overview: Crunch surged out ahead of the pack in the Northeast Division and looked to give Manchester a run for the top spot in the Conference then injuries happened and the Crunch were not able to overcome the personnel losses and limped to the finish line, losing 9 of the last 10 contests.
First Round Opponent: Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins
Record vs. the Penguins: 3-0-1-0
How They Win It: Play the underdog role and rope a dope teams into a sudden death overtime situation and win it there. Use the plan of what got you to the op of the Northeast Division and apply it again.
Wilkes-Barre / Scranton Penguins
Record: 45-24-3-4 // 97 pts., 2nd Place East Division (4 seed)
Power Play: 14th // 17.2%
Penalty Kill: 17th // 83.2%
Top 3 Scorers: Conor Sheary 20-25-45 / Andrew Ebbett 17-27-44 / Tom Kostopoulos 16-28-44
Overview: Penguins won a lot of games with team defense and the stellar play of rookie sensation Matt Murray, who had 12 shutouts and broke the shutout streak. Nothing flashy with John Hynes’ crew, get a lead and keep it.
First Round Opponent: Syracuse Crunch
Record vs. the Crunch: 1-2-1-0
How They Win It: Keep doing what has gotten them to the playoffs for thirteen consecutive seasons and the top defensive team for four out of five seasons. Eventually if you keep knocking, they have to let you in.
Record: 41-29-4-2 // 88 pts., 3rd Place Atlantic Division (7 seed)
Power Play: 12th // 17.4%
Penalty Kill: 13th // 84.5%
Top 3 Scorers: Bryan Lerg 13-28-41 / Evan Trupp 16-24-40 / Matt Taormina 11-27-38
Overview: Sharks needed final weekend of regular season to get it to the Calder Cup Playoffs but were locks before that, needing just a point to get in. Worcester played like a team determined to get into the playoffs. Now here, the sky is the limit.
First Round Opponent: Hershey Bears
Record vs. the Bears: 2-2
How They Win It: Grit and determination. After all, that is what go Worcester into the playoffs because not many had the Sharks as a playoff team to start the season.
Preview week is wrapped up Thursday at 3 p.m. with the Series Preview between the Penguins and Crunch.