I love watching hockey at the end of the season. The teams always work hard, and the players are always more emotional.
In some ways, it can be just as exciting as playoff hockey.
The unfortunate part is that the hard work these teams put in doesn't always pay off. Some teams get outplayed, while others simply blow it. Playoff time is make or break, and one game can mean the difference between fourth and fifth, first or second, or the dreaded eighth and ninth.
With that said, here are my thoughts on the three coldest teams in the NHL.
For the first month of the season, the Penguins played like the Stanley Cup Champions they are. They had a ton of confidence and intimidated many of the teams they played against.
Recently, however, they've had trouble. In their last eight games, they have only won twice. In doing so, they have given the division lead—and a top three playoff spot—back to the New Jersey Devils.
Offensively, the Penguins are ranked fifth in the NHL, with 2.99 goals per game. Recently, this offense hasn't been as productive. During their last eight games, they've only averaged 2.5 goals per game—and they haven't given their defense much room for error.
The Penguins rely on their offense to win because their defense isn't as good as it could be. It's actually ranked 20th in the NHL and allows 2.84 goals per game. Recently, however, they've had an even tougher time keeping the puck out of the net. They are actually averaging more than three goals per game defensively.
Once you combine these two factors, you can see how the Penguins haven't been playing well. The offense and defense are both cold—which makes them No. 3 on my list.
Philadelphia has suffered from a couple of crucial injuries. One of the injuries was to the team's leading scorer, Jeff Carter. He is going to miss the rest of the regular season.
However, the two most critical injuries are to Ray Emery—regular starting goalie—and Michael Leighton—backup goalie. Both are out for the rest of the season—and as a result, the Flyers will have to rely on Brian Boucher.
Boucher isn't the goalie you want in the net when your team is fighting for a playoff spot. His career save percentage is 89.9, and his career goals-against average is 2.72. He has a little bit of experience, but he's never been a go-to guy. The most games he's ever played in a season is 45—during the 2002-03 season with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Yes, the Flyers are having trouble with injuries, but that's not why they're No. 2 on the list. In fact, it barely has to do with Boucher.
It has to do with the fact that Philadelphia has other players who have the ability to step up—and they haven't.
Just because the Flyers are missing their leading scorer doesn't mean that they don't have any players who can score. They still have Mike Richards (28 goals) and Danny Briere (24 goals), as well as many other players who have 10 goals or more. As a team, they haven't stepped up in Carter's absence—and this is the biggest reason why they are losing games.
In their four most recent games, the Flyers have only scored six goals. However, three of those came in the overtime loss to Minnesota. More importantly, they were shut out by Ottawa and only scored a combined three goals in the back-to-back games against Atlanta, who has the third-worst defense in the NHL.
These are games the Flyers have to win—against teams that they can beat—and they're not. As a whole, the team has not stepped up—even though they have players that can. Until this happens, their cold streak won't get any hotter.
Defense is the biggest reason the Sharks have been losing. During their five-game losing streak, they allowed 24 goals. The defense simply hasn't been solid—and Evgeni Nabokov has definitely not played his best hockey. I even saw one blogger from the FanBall Sports Network who wrote that it was time to bench Nabokov and put in the backup goalie.
My personal belief is that Nabokov lost a lot of confidence after not performing well in the Olympics. I think that this trickled into the regular NHL season—and the Sharks suffered from it.
However, the offense hasn't been itself, either. In fact, the 4-1 victory over Minnesota is the second time in the last seven games that the Sharks scored three or more goals. On the season, they have averaged 3.15 goals per game—but during the last seven games, they have only averaged 2.29.
It's possible that the Minnesota game is signaling the turnaround that the Sharks need. But they need to beat teams better than the Wild for me to be convinced that their slump is over. For now, their long losing streak and underperforming play is going to get them No. 1 on my list.
See more of my NHL opinions at Tips for Hockey.