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NHL Who’s Hot, Who’s Not: Contenders vs Pretenders

Dichotomy Between Elites and Everyone Else is Stark

Despite plenty of parity in today’s NHL, there is a clear divide between the legitimate Stanley Cup contenders and everyone else. As the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs comes to its climax, the elite teams feature stars producing at the championship level while the bubble teams stumble over themselves. Expect these groups to feature on the NHL news in opposing capacities.

Who’s Hot

David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins - Maddie Meyer/AFP
David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins - Maddie Meyer/AFP

Forwards

  • David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins:
    The Bruins just won the Presidents’ Trophy and will have home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Pastrnak has been leading the charge for Boston as he scored the overtime winner to clinch the trophy.
    Boston’s star player has four goals in his last three games. He also has 11 for the month and has 19 points in total during this span. Connor McDavid may be running away with the Hart Trophy, but Pastrnak should be right behind him.

  • Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton Oilers:
    Speaking of the Oilers, the team has been even hotter than Boston. Edmonton is 12-2-1 in March and leads the league in goals with 68 (4.53 per game). It’s been largely the trio of McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Draisaitl who are responsible.
    The German superstar has 28 points this month. He’s also had multi-point games in six of his last seven outings. With 16 total points here, 10 came on even strength. And while he’s scored just three goals, two came against Vegas, which Edmonton is trying to catch for the division title.
  • Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs:
    Matthews is heating up at the right time. The reigning Hart Trophy winner has five goals in his last four games and nine in his last 11. But what’s even more impressive is how he managed to score two goals on 15 shots in Toronto’s loss to Carolina last Saturday.
    Toronto’s offense needs to pick it up and is averaging just 3.21 goals this month. It would be struggling more on the NHL betting lines without Matthews. That’s why he’s the team’s MVP.

Defensemen

  • Bowen Byram, Colorado Avalanche:
    The Avalanche have an embarrassment of riches on the blue line. Lost in the Cale Makar and Devon Toews hype is Byram. The former fourth-overall pick is in his third season and if his last few games are a sign, he’s due to start breaking out.
    Byram has scored a goal in three straight games – all on even strength. His 21.4 shooting percentage is not sustainable. But he’s also put up 14 shots total versus just two in his previous four games. He’s being aggressive on offense and it is paying dividends.
  • Justin Faulk, St. Louis Blues:
    St. Louis has been on a bit of a run lately. The Blues are 6-1-1 in their last eight games and Faulk has been a catalyst for the team’s offense from the blue line. The 31-year-old has nine points in his last four games with seven coming from even strength.
    Faulk even put up a season-high three points in St. Louis’s win over Vancouver. And on the road, the Blues have been a profitable team to bet on online despite goaltending issues. Production from the back end, led by Faulk, has carried this team.

— NHLPA (@NHLPA) March 31, 2023

  • Quinn Hughes, Vancouver Canucks:
    Not to be outdone by his brother in New Jersey, Quinn Hughes has been on a serious tear lately. He tied Faulk with three points in Vancouver’s overtime loss to St. Louis, which marked his fourth multi-point game in his last seven.
    The Canucks have been a lively NHL pick. They’re doing it through the significantly improved defense, namely on the penalty kill. But production from Hughes and the top players is how Vancouver is putting up 3.71 goals per game in the last two weeks.

Goalies

  • Linus Ullmark, Boston Bruins:
    Ullmark returns to the “Who’s Hot” list after his buddy, Jeremy Swayman, made it in this same spot last week. But Boston’s 1A starter cannot be ignored: he’s posted a4-1-0 record in his last five starts with a ridiculous 95.9 save percentage (SV%).
    The Swede is the runaway favorite to win the Vezina Trophy. He leads the league with 46 goals saved above average and his 93.8 SV% is the best for a goaltender (with 25+ starts) since Tim Thomas in 2010-11.
  • Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers:
    Returning to the “Hot” list is the Rangers’ Shesterkin. He played just two games in seven days but stopped 57 of the 61 shots he faced. The Rangers did lose to the Devils, but the score would have been more lopsided had Shesterkin not stood on his head once again.
    Shesterkin is in Vezina form yet again. In the last 30 days, no goaltender that has played 10+ games owns a better SV% (93.2 percent) than him. He’s gearing up to rematch a compatriot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

  • Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning:
    The compatriot of Shesterkin is Vasilevskiy. The Lightning netminder was on the “Not” list last week. He and Tampa Bay have had a rough month. But if the last three games are any indication, Tampa Bay is starting to enter “playoff mode”.
    The Lightning nearly beat Boston on the road and then shut out Carolina. Vasilevskiy has allowed just three goals from the 96 shots he faced in his last three starts. He’s had some bad outings, but in his last seven starts, his SV% is up to 93.4.

Who’s Not

Forwards

  • Dillon Dube, Calgary Flames:
    Had Calgary not found it so laborious to score, the team may have already overtaken the floundering Winnipeg Jets for the West’s final wild-card spot. And yet, Calgary is just 22nd in the NHL in goals per game (3.07) despite being fifth in shots per game (34) this month.
    Dube is the poster child of these struggles. He had 17 goals on 110 shots (15.5 percent) prior to March. But this month? He has one goal on 28 shots (3.6 percent). He also has just one assist in his last six games and is -7 in this span.
  • T.J. Oshie, Washington Capitals:
    Once upon a time, Oshie was one of the NHL’s best two-way players. But age and injuries have left him as a shadow of the player he once was. He has two points in his last seven games but is -8 during this span.
    In fact, Oshie has recorded a negative plus/minus in seven of his last eight games – even in games where he scores. Once a great player, his deteriorating play is now detrimental to his team.

  • Martin Necas, Carolina Hurricanes:
    The Hurricanes are one of the five best teams in the NHL. Many NHL predictions have them advancing to at least the conference finals. So it’s a bit surprising to see Necas, one of the team’s young stars, on the wrong side of this “Hot and Not” list.
    Necas has a career-best 68 points this season. But in his last three games, all of which Carolina lost, he’s had just one assist and was a -3 in total. In fact, he was on the ice for three of Tampa’s four goals in what was a pivotal matchup.

Defensemen

  • Rasmus Sandin, Washington Capitals:
    The party is over for Sandin and the Capitals. Acquired from Toronto, the young defenseman put up 12 points in his first nine games as a Capital. But he has just one point in his last four games and has recorded just two shots on goal in over 85 minutes of ice time.
    Washington is most likely out of the playoffs. But if the team is to go on one last run, Sandin will need to be a difference-maker for the defense.
  • The Jones Brothers, Chicago Blackhawks:
    Chicago is on a rocket ship to the top of the NHL Draft Lottery. Both Seth and Caleb Jones have all but checked out and are doing the opposite of what defensemen are supposed to do.
    Caleb has two points and is -7 during this seven-game losing skid for Chicago. And Seth? The $76-million dollar man also has two points but with a -11 rating.

  • Kevin Shattenkirk, Anaheim Ducks:
    To be fair to Shattenkirk, the entire Ducks team can be put on this list. This squad is making the argument for relegation in the NHL with its overall porous defense. But as the veteran of the corps, he gets singled out for this reason.
    The 34-year-old has two assists and is -5 during Anaheim’s six-game slide. He also has just one even-strength point in his last 12 games, during which Anaheim Ducks has won just two.

Goalies

  • Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida Panthers:
    As Florida makes a final desperate push for the playoffs, it may have to do it without Bobrovsky. He’s listed as “sick” on the injury list and that may be a blessing in disguise as he has been in poor form lately.
    Florida’s supposed leading goaltender has allowed four-plus goals in his last three starts, all of which the Panthers lost. He had a hot start to March but is saving just 87.1 percent of the shots he’s faced since March 10.
  • Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets:
    It feels like an injustice putting Hellebuyck as the only Jet in this “Not” list. After all, he’s been the only reason why Winnipeg has not entirely dropped out of the playoff race. But the former Vezina Trophy is just tired from carrying his team.
    Hellebuyck is 1-2-0 in his last three starts with an 89.7 SV%. He’s not getting any support from the Jets’ top players and the 3-0 loss to San Jose, the NHL’s worst team this 2023, could be the backbreaker.
  • Jordan Binnington, St. Louis Blues:
    If the Panthers are better off without Bobrovsky, the same can be said for St. Louis and Binnington. The team is still finding ways to beat the NHL odds thanks to its offense.
    In his four games since returning from suspension, Binnington has an 88.1 SV% and has let in three or more goals in three of his four starts. Maybe he can start another fight so Joel Hofer can return to the crease.

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