Welcome back everyone. It was an interesting week in the NHL Atlantic Division. The Maple Leafs found their winning ways with Auston Matthews out, Tampa Bay made a statement out West, and teams in the bottom half of the division tried to avoid falling too far behind as the quarter mark of the season approaches.
Next week, Murphy’s Hockey Law will bring you our thoughts on each teams playoff outlook with an in-depth look at how each team has performed to start the season and what their future looks like as the holidays approach. You will not want to miss that. But for now, let’s jump into the division.
No Matthews, No Problem?
Last week, things did not look good for the Maple Leafs. They were in the middle of a major slump, having lost five of six. They bounced back with a win against the Golden Knights to start the week, but suffered a blow when it was announced Auston Matthews suffered an upper body injury and would miss time. A tough loss at an even tougher time, so how would the team respond? With a game against the Minnesota Wild and then a home and home with the Boston Bruins, the Maple Leafs finished the week 4-0-0.
During this streak, the Maple Leafs have looked great. I have been vocal about their goaltending all season and how it has been their weakest area. However, this past week, Frederick Andersen and Curtis McElhinney looked great. Andersen was in net for the 4-3 win over Vegas, the 4-2 win over Minnesota, and the 3-2 win over Boston, stopping 93 of the 100 shots he faced. For the second leg of the home and home with the Bruins, McElhinny got the nod and was nearly perfect in a 4-1 win, stopping 38 of 39 shots.
Toronto sits in second place and don’t play until Thursday when the New Jersey Devils visit. The four days off will give Matthews some time to get healthy and get back on the ice. Don’t let the headline fool you, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a much better team when he is in the lineup. With him back and the goaltenders playing the way they are, somebody might be finally ready to challenge the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Winning Out West
The Tampa Bay Lightning have not only led the Atlantic Division throughout the majority of the season, they’ve also been the best team league wide. This past week, the Lightning took a business trip out West for three games against San Jose, Los Angeles, and Anaheim. After taking care of the Sharks 5-1 on Wednesday night, the Bolts handed the Kings a 5-2 loss the next night. Very impressive to go across the country and play as well as they did on back-to-back nights.
After beating the Ducks 2-1 on Sunday night, the Lightning returned home with a 14-2-2 record and sit atop the league with 30 points and show no signs of slowing down. Not with the way Stamkos, Kucherov, and Vasilevskiy continue to play night in and night out.
– A team that we should be keeping an eye on is the Ottawa Senators. A light workload this past week had the Senators only playing a home and home series with the Colorado Avalanche on Friday and Saturday night, where they took both games 4-3. Those two wins bring the Senators record to 8-3-5. 21 points through 16 games lands Ottawa third place in the division with games in hand over the two teams ahead of them.
– The Boston Bruins roller coaster of a season continues. All year, the team has battled through injuries. However, they now find themselves in their toughest test of the season. This last week, the team went 0-2-1 in games against the New York Rangers and Toronto Maple Leafs. These three losses leave the Boston Bruins record 6-6-4. This week, they head on a West Coast road trip for games against Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose.
Unfortunately, Brad Marchand and Anders Bjork will not travel with the team when they depart, but they haven’t been ruled out for the game Wednesday night.
– Frustration is running rampant in Buffalo as the Sabres went 1-1-1 last week bringing the overall record to 5-9-3. Jack Eichel, who had 11 points through the teams first nine games, has not scored in the teams last 10 games and only has three assists in that span. Eichel vocalized his frustration after Friday’s 4-1 loss to the Florida Panthers, stating, “Yeah, I’m frustrated. I’m obviously not producing. I don’t feel like I’m making an impact. It’s tough. It’s frustrating, you know?”
This week they continue a road trip with games in Pittsburgh and Detroit before returning home to play the Carolina Hurricanes.