The Pittsburgh Penguins sit a top the Eastern Conference with 22 points at the 15 game mark. Playing in just an awful division, barring an injury to Sidney Crosby, the Penguins will be pegged all season as the favorites to earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference for the second straight year.
The interesting dynamic, though, is the new playoff format. Under the new format, the top three teams in the Atlantic Division and Metropolitan Division are guaranteed playoff spots, while the two “wildcards” is what adds the new dynamic.
How the placement of playoff teams work is the division leader in each conference with the most points plays the wild card team with the fewest points and the division leader with the second highest amount of points plays the wild card team with the most points.
With how bad the Metropolitan Division is, and it really is, watching Carolina and Philadelphia last night was like watching an AHL game, it’s a near guarantee that five playoff teams are going to come out of the Atlantic Division, a significantly stronger division.
Based on the Standings, here’s how things breakdown right now:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning – 20 Pts
2. Toronto Maple Leafs – 20 Pts
3. Detroit Red Wings – 20 Pts
4. Boston Bruins – 17 Pts (Wild Card)
5. Montreal Canadiens – 17 Pts (Wild Card)
6. Ottawa Senators – 14 Pts
7. Florida Panthers – 10 Pts
8. Buffalo Sabres – 7 Pts
1. Pittsburgh Penguins – 22 Pts
2. Washington Capitals – 16 Pts
3. New York Islanders – 15 Pts
4. Carolina Hurricanes – 13 Pts
5. New York Rangers – 14 Pts
6. Columbus Blue Jackets – 10 Pts
7. New Jersey Devils – 10 Pts
8. Philadelphia Flyers – 9 Pts
Going off the current standings the first round playoff matchups would be:
1. Pittsburgh vs Montreal (Wildcard)

2. Tampa Bay vs Boston (Wildcard)
3. Toronto vs Detroit
4. Washington vs New York Islanders
Way these divisions are shaking out, the new wildcard system likely won’t be pegging the top team in the conference against the team with the lowest amount of points among the qualified playoff teams.
The Penguins are in New York tonight and Beau Bennett is very close to returning to the lineup. Bennett has traveled with the team and will take part in the morning skate. He will return by Saturday at the latest.
The Rangers have won three of four games but it doesn’t look like the coaching change will suddenly make this team re-emerge as a top contender in the Eastern Conference. Personnel issues remain.