7. San Jose Sharks
The Sharks have a surprise MVP candidate in Joe Thornton. Thornton has put together an impressive season for a player his age. The Sharks are led by a veteran group in Thornton, Joe Pavelski, Brent Burns and Patrick Marleau. The biggest question mark for the Sharks will be Martin Jones. Jones was third in the league with 37 wins, a .918 save percentage and a 2.27 goals-against average. Jones will be starting for the first time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. While Martin was solid all regular season, the playoffs are a different kind of animal.
6. Dallas Stars
The Stars were impressive during the regular season, as they lead the league in goals scored. However, they have the worst defensive record of any playoff qualifier. The Stars’ offense will be getting back Tyler Seguin for the playoffs, but he did partially tear his Achilles and should not be the same player. Their goaltending situation does not inspire much confidence as Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen have a combined .906 save percentage. The Stars have enough to beat the Wild in the first round, but that might be about it.
5. Chicago Blackhawks
The Chicago Blackhawks get the benefit of the doubt from many people because of their recent playoff success. This team is different than previous incarnations. Their defense is very suspect, and they do not possess the puck as much as in years past. The 2015-16 Blackhawks had the team’s lowest Corsi-for rating in the Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews era. The Blackhawks’ offense is dependent on Kane producing points. When he does not score, neither do the Blackhawks.
4. St. Louis Blues
The Blues will have to excise some playoff demons this season, otherwise it could spell the end of coach Ken Hitchcock in St. Louis. The Blues have been a high seed the last three years in a row and have lost in the first round of playoffs. The Blues need great goaltending from Brian Elliott to get to the ultimate place.
3. Anaheim Ducks
The Ducks have overcome a horrific start to their season to battle back in the Western Conference. The Ducks won their fourth consecutive Pacific Division title. They are led by a strong young goalie duo of John Gibson and Frederik Andersen. This duo won the Jennings Trophy this season behind their strong young defense. The Ducks’ offense will have to be led by Ryan Kesler, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf. Could this be the year?
2. Los Angeles Kings
The Kings are trying to set up their own “dynasty” by winning their third Cup in five years. The Kings lead the NHL in shot attempts in 5-on-5 situations at 56 percent. That means they possess the puck the most in the NHL at even strength. The Kings are led by Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick.
1. Washington Capitals
The Capitals were the best regular-season team wire to wire. The Capitals have a core led by Niklas Backstrom, Niklas Backstrom, Braden Holtby and Evgeny Kuznetsov. The Caps lead the NHL with 120 points and were the Presidents’ Trophy winners. Ovechkin had another 50-goal season, making him the third player all time to score 50 goals or more in seven seasons. Holtby tied Martin Brodeur‘s single-season wins record in net. The Capitals should just hope they fare better than the last time they won the Presidents’ Trophy.