- Neil Greenberg, NHL
Unlike last year when they made the Stanley Cup final, don't expect the New Jersey Devils to sneak up on anyone in 2013. They sit atop the Eastern Conference and have lost only once in regulation.
While Zach Parise departed for big money in Minnesota, the Devils' offense has not skipped a beat, averaging 2.75 goals per game, a slight increase from last season (2.6). The forwards on the first power-play unit -- David Clarkson, Patrik Elias, Ilya Kovalchuk, Travis Zajac -- have been especially prolific, posting 17 points, fifth best in the league.
On the defensive side, Adam Henrique is back from injury and netminders Marty Brodeur and Johan Hedberg have been solid and sometimes downright brilliant (288 saves on 311 shots against combined). The penalty kill has also been sparkling, sitting sixth in the league in efficiency at 86.2 percent.
One more reason to take New Jersey seriously? Puck possession, as estimated by the number of shots generated relative to opponents. The Devils continue to tilt the ice, putting 52 percent of all unblocked even-strength shots in tied-score situations in their favor.
When you add it all up, it paints a pretty clear picture -- the Devils are almost certainly playoff-bound.
As discussed last week, the cutoff for the top eight spots in a 48-game season will fall around 54 points. Based on their current play, 1,000 season simulations put the Devils over that threshold 95.2 percent of the time. But what about the other teams in the NHL? Here's a look at four more contenders, plus three teams likely to drop off after the quarter-season mark and three more who should start investigating early tee times.
Playoff Odds: 99.7 percent