Southeast Division Update: Winnipeg leapfrogs Carolina for first place

The Hurricanes weren't even close to being in a "must-win" situation last week, but they did have a chance to take control of the Southeast Division by defeating Washington twice and Tampa Bay on the road. They ended up winning only one of those three games and have now let the surging Winnipeg Jets take over first place in the division. Some might say that this is a sign that the Hurricanes need to basically "win-out" the rest of the season in order to make the playoffs, but would you believe it if I said the Winnipeg Jets need to win more of their remaining games than the Hurricanes to get to 55 points? Because this is true.

Standings watching is hard to do at this time of the year and it can make people think a situation is far more serious than it appears. Yes, Winnipeg has one more point in the standings than the Hurricanes. They've also played two more games and still have to play Carolina three more times before the end of the season. If Carolina is still in the same position at that time of the year, then this is when we can talk "must-win" and start to panic. Now? Not so much. Carolina fans just need to hope that the last week was only a bump in the road for the team and that they can go better than .500 for the rest of the season.

Team GR PE Available Needed Point%
Winnipeg 19 32 38 23 60.5%
Carolina 21 31 42 24 57.1%
Tampa Bay 20 25 40 30 75.0%
Washington 20 25 40 30 75.0%
Florida 19 20 38 35 92.1%

GR = Games Remaining, Pts = Points, Avail. = Points available, Needed = Points needed to 55, Point% = Percentage of games they need to earn points to get to 55, Div. = Divisional games remaining 

Winnipeg has only 19 games left, so they are going to need slightly more of their remaining games in order to get to 55 points, which is what the estimated cutoff point is for the playoffs. Carolina, on the other hand, is in somewhat of a better position where they need to win about 57% of their games to get there. That gives Carolina an advantage for now, but it can easily dissipate depending on how this next week goes for the Hurricanes. The only divisional game they have is the Panthers and their other games are against the Rangers & Devils who are both gunning for a playoff spot. Meanwhile, the Jets have four home games this week and two of them are against the Washington Capitals. No doubt that the Jets have a favorable matchups this week, so Carolina will make sure they can keep pace with them even with the games in hand.

Going by this along with each team's performance this season, Carolina still has the most favorable odds to win the division.

Team GF GA FenClose 5v5 Sh% 5v5 Sv% PP SF/60 PK SA/60
Winnipeg 77 85 50.36% 8.5% 0.91 41.8 39.9
Carolina 82 76 52.73% 9.6% 0.922 49.9 60.5
Tampa Bay 92 84 43.89% 11.4% 0.91 38.3 49.2
Washington 78 85 46.21% 7.8% 0.919 46.2 61.9
Florida 70 109 50.70% 7.3% 0.891 48.4 49.3

The Jets are a good team, but the Hurricanes have been playing better at even strength and should be able to beat them in the season series. Goaltending is still a bit up in the air for them, though since Dan Ellis & Justin Peters have been fantastic in some starts and a little below average in others. Special teams are still the team's major weakpoint, though. Their penalty kill has been giving up way too many shots and their powerplay is just…broken. Their SF/60 rate indicates that they might be getting a bit unlucky, but it's hard to agree with that when you've seen how bad it has looked for the past few weeks. It's more than just bad luck and it could have a big effect on where Carolina finishes in the standings. Their strong play at even strength is encouraging enough to make me believe that Carolina can finish in first place but the special teams are just a mess. 

This is basically a two-team race now. Carolina may have given the Lightning and the Caps some hope in the past week but both teams need to gain points in 75% of their games the rest of the way. They would need to go something like 13-3-4 in their remaining 20 games to get to the cutoff point and that's very unlikely to happen when you look at both teams' underlying numbers. I would expect the race between Carolina and Winnipeg to stay this close until they play each other again on March 30th. Then we could see one team start to pull away from the other but Carolina still needs to post a good record the rest of the way to stay in the position they are now.

Stats courtesy of Behind the Net