Last night the Atlanta Thrashers were spared the indignity of dropping yet another rung on the NHL standings ladder. Had the New Jersey Devils continued their winning ways against the Ottawa Senator they would have jumped over the Thrashers and moved them down to 12th place in the Eastern Conference. It would have also left them with the 6th fewest points in the NHL standing…just one position out of being a lottery pick team in this summers draft.
Instead, the last place Senators edged the Devils 2-1 and the Thrashers remain in 11th place in the east and just two clicks north of Lotterypickville’s city limits. It’s a distance that has continued to shrink over the last few weeks as we’ve traveled down the road that is the second half of this NHL season.
Going into tonight’s game in Carolina, Atlanta remains seven points out of a possible playoff spot. And while some still cling to the ever-fading hopes that a playoff run is possible, the sad fact here is that there is a much greater chance that they’ll have the team’s logo affixed to one of the ping-pong balls to determine the exact order of the first five picks in this June’s draft.
That’s because the Florida Panthers pulled to within two points of the Thrashers Tuesday night by snapping the Chicago Blackhawks eight-game winning streak with a 3-2 win. At the same time, the New York Islanders were knocking off the Toronto Maple Leafs in overtime.
New York now is but three points behind Atlanta, however they have played two more games.
Had the Colorado Avalanche found a way to knock off the Minnesota Wild last night, instead of losing 5-2,then we’d be looking at only being just three points ahead of the 28th place team in the league. Or, as some would say, three points away from having at least a chance at winning the number-one overall pick.
All this means is that unless they can find a way to pull some points from tonight’s tilt with the Hurricanes, the NHL standings floor could continue to creep up a little closer. Yes, only seven points separates the Thrashers from a playoff position… but seven points in the opposite direction is a spot in the bottom three and a chance for the #1 overall pick in the draft.
The Canes go into tonight’s matchup only one point south of the eighth place Buffalo Sabres and three north of the tenth place Leafs, so they’re fighting to keep their place in the list of teams still legitimately in the race. They haven’t played since losing 5-2 to the Hawks Friday night.
The Thrashers will go into the game without defenseman Dustin Byfuglien for the first time this season. He didn’t even make the trip to Raleigh with the team yesterday and is listed with a “lower body injury” and is day to day. Buff took a shot during Saturday night’s overtime win over the Panthers and seemed to be in a serious amount of pain on the bench afterwards, although he was bale to continue.
That was a good thing too, because he tallied assists on three of the team’s four goals Saturday night, including setting up Andrew Ladd’s winner in overtime. He also had the primary assists on both of Blake Wheelers goals and finished the game with a +2 rating with 9 shots on goal.
Byfuglien remains second on the team in overall scoring. His 19 goals and 30 assists for 49 points is just one behind Ladd, who has 25 goals and 25 assists.
Having Buff out of the lineup certainly doesn’t help. But the rest of the lineup will have to find a way to deal with it…or the buffer between them and Lotterpickville will continue to erode away.