February 2012 NHL Power Rankings: Who's Making the Move in the East?

The Eastern Conference playoff race finally got interesting.

Last month, we asked the question, "Did the Islanders play well enough in January, given the competition, to be a playoff team?" The answer was yes, indeed!

This month? Well, not so much. So instead, I switched my attention to the other playoff bubble teams. Which playoff bubble teams have the momentum going into the final full month of the season?

But first, the usual monthly summary. Here's how teams fared in February:

February 2012 Power Rankings

Winning
W L OTL Pts Pct PWR
1. Phoenix 11 0 1 23 0.958 2936
2. Vancouver 9 1 4 22 0.786 2715
3. Detroit 8 3 2 18 0.692 2133
4. St. Louis 11 4 0 22 0.733 2124
5. NY Rangers 9 3 1 19 0.731 2062
6. Colorado 7 3 2 16 0.667 2051
7. Buffalo 7 3 3 17 0.654 1987
8. New Jersey 8 4 1 17 0.654 1907
9. Carolina 6 1 4 16 0.727 1903
10. Ottawa 7 3 2 16 0.667 1902
11. Calgary 5 2 5 15 0.625 1891
12. Anaheim 8 4 3 19 0.633 1881
13. Pittsburgh 8 4 1 17 0.654 1862
14. Nashville 6 4 3 15 0.577 1825
15. Dallas 8 5 3 19 0.594 1785
16. Tampa Bay 7 5 2 16 0.571 1649
17. Florida 8 5 1 17 0.607 1592
18. Winnipeg 7 5 2 16 0.571 1562
19. NY Islanders 6 6 2 14 0.500 1506
20. Edmonton 6 6 1 13 0.500 1449
21. Boston 5 7 1 11 0.423 1292
22. Philadelphia 5 7 1 11 0.423 1265
23. Los Angeles 5 7 2 12 0.429 1205
24. Columbus 5 7 1 11 0.423 1179
25. Washington 6 7 1 13 0.464 1177
26. Montreal 5 8 1 11 0.393 1138
27. Chicago 5 9 0 10 0.357 1123
28. Minnesota 4 7 2 10 0.385 1077
29. Toronto 4 9 1 9 0.321 1004
30. San Jose 5 8 1 11 0.393 948

In a month where the Isles needed to knock the NHL's socks off to be considered a playoff possibility, their performance was... "meh." Not terrible, but not nearly good enough. And yet, at the end of 3/4/12, the Isles stood a mere 5 points out of 8th.

There has been plenty of discussion as to whether the Islanders have any chance in heck of making the playoffs. I'm not going to make any more cases for or against peoples' optimism (I really do hope they make it, despite what my recent number crunching seems to indicate). But to make some use of the above info, I'm going to compare the playoff bubble teams (as of 3/4/12) along with how well those teams have been faring lately. For the purposes of this little exercise, let's just look at the last playoff spot and everyone behind them up to and including the Isles:

Buffalo: Hottest of the Bubble Teams

GP Pts Rank
8. Winnipeg 66 70 18
9. Washington 65 69 25
10. Tampa Bay 65 68 16
11. Buffalo 65 68 7
12. Toronto 65 67 29
13. NY Islanders 66 65 19

"Rank" is the team's power ranking for February, which I hope is a decent indication of how well teams have been playing recently, taking quality of competition into account. Clearly, Buffalo has been the hottest of the bubble teams. It only narrowed its gap with eighth place Winnipeg by one point over the month (albeit with one less game played), and yet it's ranked 11 places higher, thanks to the quality of their victories.

And teams who are playing well against better teams typically enjoy that momentum as they play the lower ranked teams. They're still several places and points behind, but if I had to pick one currently on-the-oustide-looking-in team to get into the playoffs, I would be hard pressed to pick someone else.

Look at the rest of this field, for example... only one other team -- the Lightning -- has played well enough in February to be called a playoff team, ranking 16th. Washington and Toronto have been awful. All other teams on this list, however, outperformed the Isles last month, and the Isles have the most ground to cover.

Improbable, but not impossible.

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