Simulating the Season: Power shifts in the Metropolitan, Wild’s wild comeback puts playoffs in sight

0
183


Welcome to Simulating The Season. In the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, the NHL has put the 2019-20 campaign on hold without a clear timeline for a return to action. As such, with the help of EA Sports’ NHL 20, we’re attempting to figure out what the rest of the season would have looked like had it not been postponed. Keep in mind, this is not a perfect science and the simulation does not take into account real world circumstances, including current injuries.

• • •

It was starting to feel like a matter of when, not if, the Philadelphia Flyers would overtake the Washington Capitals atop the Metropolitan Division. And now we have an answer: Sunday, March 15.

After beginning February a dozen points back of the Capitals and tied with the Columbus Blue Jackets four fourth in the Metro, the Flyers have set off on a charge up the standings. It began with four wins in five games to begin February, but Philadelphia kicked it into high gear with a run of nine-straight victories from mid-February to early March. Of course, the suspension of the NHL campaign threw a wrench in the Flyers’ momentum – that is, if a shutout defeat at the hands of the Boston Bruins hadn’t already done so – but Philadelphia’s digital roster picked up where their real-world counterparts left off.

Now, after downing the Tampa Bay Lightning in Thursday’s simulation and the Minnesota Wild in Saturday’s simulated games, the Flyers have leapt ahead of the Capitals on the strength of an absolute thumping of the Edmonton Oilers. Winners of 12 of their past 13 games, including three straight in our simulated season, Philadelphia has all the makings of a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

The Flyers’ jump into top spot in the Metropolitan wasn’t the only notable result from the division, however. With the Capitals not in action, the Penguins picked up a win and moved within four points of second spot in the Metro. With each team so close in the standings, the leaders, not to mention and who ultimately gets home-ice advantage in the matchup between the second- and third-seeded clubs, could be ever-changing until the final night of the season. Something to watch.

Elsewhere, an incredibly important head-to-head between the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators makes headlines. It looked as though the Predators, who were one point back of the Wild, were set to overtake their Central Division opponents in the wild-card race. A third-period comeback flipped the script, however, and put Minnesota within striking distance of a wild-card spot. Four big divisional games this week, including one against the Winnipeg Jets, could vault the Wild from outside the playoff picture to owners of one of the final two berths.

Here’s a look at Sunday’s simulated action:

STANDINGS

Montreal Canadiens – 6
Anaheim Ducks – 3

The Canadiens doubled up the Ducks in every single frame en route to a 6-3 victory. And Montreal wins despite Ryan Getzlaf’s best efforts to put Anaheim on his back. The Ducks captain scored and had three points, but mutli-point nights from Joel Armia, Shea Weber and Nick Suzuki made all the difference.

Three Stars
1. Joel Armia, MTL (1-1–2)
2. Ryan Getzlaf, ANA (1-2–3)
3. Shea Weber, MTL (1-1–2)

Buffalo Sabres – 1
Carolina Hurricanes – 0

One shot, one goal. That’s it. That’s all it took for Victor Olofsson to win the game for Buffalo, as Linus Ullmark stopped all 13 shots he faced. Buffalo had 33 shots, with Petr Mrazek giving everything he had with nothing in return. Carolina’s slide continues.

Three Stars
1. Petr Mrazek, CAR (32 saves)
2. Victor Olofsson, BUF (1-0–1)
3. Linus Ullmark, BUF (13 saves)

Vegas Golden Knights – 1
Colorado Avalanche – 0

It was a question of which netminder would crack first. Through nearly half the contest, the game remained scoreless as Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury and Colorado’s Philipp Grubauer put on a clinic. However, a Mark Stone blast in the second frame put the Golden Knights ahead 1-0 and that’s how the contest concluded. Full marks to Fleury, who was tested 33 times throughout the evening but refused to let any rubber elude him.

Three Stars
1. Marc-Andre Fleury, VGK (33 saves)
2. Philipp Grubauer, COL (29 saves)
3. Mark Stone, VGK (1-0–1)

 

Philadelphia Flyers – 7
Edmonton Oilers – 2

The Flyers keep on truckin’. Sean Couturier is on his way to getting a statue in Philadelphia after his three-goal, four-point performance gives him seven points in the past three games. Brian Elliott got the job done in the crease. With two goalies playing hot heading towards the playoffs, the Flyers, who leap into top spot in the Metro, are not to be messed with. Mike Smith won’t be popular on the flight home after allowing four goals on five shots in the third.

Three Stars
1. Sean Couturier, PHI (3-1–4)
2. Travis Konecny, PHI (0-2–2)
3. Matt Niskanen, PHI (0-2–2)

Minnesota Wild – 4
Nashville Predators – 3

Look away, Predators fans. After coming out of the gate flying and jumping out to a 3-0 lead by first intermission – Matt Duchene’s pair led the way – Nashville seemingly had this one in the bag. A second-period goal by Zach Parise gave Minnesota some life, but it was a third-period flurry that saw Mikko Koivu, Matt Dumba and Joel Eriksson Ek score in a span of seven minutes that flipped the contest on its ear. The Wild’s win is massive as it puts them three points up on the Predators and one point out of a wild-card spot.

Three Stars
1. Matt Dumba, MIN (1-1–2)
2. Matt Duchene, NSH (2-0–2)
3. Zach Parise, MIN (1-1–2)

 

Tampa Bay Lightning – 4
New Jersey Devils – 2

The first 40 was all New Jersey – a 2-1 lead, a 29-14 advantage in shots and a great outing from Cory Schneider. But a Nikita Kucherov hat-trick in the third tilted the scales in Tampa Bay’s favor and gave the Lighting more breathing room in the Atlantic. The Devils continue to struggle in the scoring department.

Three Stars
1. Nikita Kucherov, TBL (3-1–4)
2. Cory Schneider, NJD (23 saves)
3. Anthony Cirelli, TBL (1-1–2)

St. Louis Blues – 3
Ottawa Senators – 0

Prior to the suspension of the real world NHL campaign, Jordan Binnington had posted two blankings in his past eight games. And digital Binnington is keeping it up. His 29-save shutout over the Senators helped stretch the Blues’ lead atop the Central Division to four points.

Three Stars
1. Jordan Binnington, STL (29 saves)
2. David Perron, STL (0-2–2)
3. Vince Dunn, STL (1-0–1)

 

Pittsburgh Penguins – 5
New York Islanders – 3

Pittsburgh’s trade deadline acquisitions were on point tonight, with Patrick Marleau and Evan Rodrigues scoring a goal each in the third to break the deadlock. The Islanders will need to re-evaluate their defensive situation after allowing 40 shots while sending just 16 the other way.

Three stars
1. Zach Aston-Reese, PIT (1-1–2)
2. Patrick Marleau, PIT (1-1–2)
3. Anders Lee, NYI (1-1–2)

Vancouver Canucks – 4
Winnipeg Jets – 2

Here’s hoping the polygonal fans were in their seats by the time the puck dropped. The first period was full of action with the teams trading chances in a five-goal frame. But it was Brock Boeser who started scoring on the night and ended it. His goals bookended Vancouver’s output as the Canucks leapfrog the Jets and land in a Pacific Division playoff spot.

Three Stars
1. Brock Boeser, VAN (2-0–2)
2. Tyler Myers, VAN (0-2–2)
3. J.T. Miller, VAN (0-2–4)

 

Want more in-depth features and analysis? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.