The holiday break is upon us. Teams are able to spend time with family and get some much deserved rest. I hope our Murphys Hockey Law audience was able to do the same. This week, let’s take a look at where each team sits in the division as we are on the cusp of a new year.
NHL Atlantic Division Notebook
Tampa Bay Lightning – 54 points
The Tampa Bay Lightning continue to dominate play. With a record of 26-7-2, their 54 points is best in the league. At the end of November, the Lightning “stumbled” a little bit, losing four of six games. A few eyebrows may have been raised, thinking “was there hot start a fluke?” Well, it most certainly was not a fluke. In December, they are 9-1-0 with a great chance to finish the month with three more wins in games against Montréal, Philadelphia, and Columbus.
The Lightning’s powerful offense leads the league in goals for and has done so for most of the year. Mix that in with the way Andrei Vasilevskiy has kept pucks out of the net, this team is a clear-cut favorite for the Presidents Trophy and has a firm grip on the Atlantic Division.
Toronto Maple Leafs – 45 points
The Maple leafs have had a few ups and downs this year, but have ultimately played well enough to occupy the second spot in the Atlantic Division. Auston Matthews, the reigning Calder winner and young leader for the Maple leafs, has been a vital piece to the team success but has missed 10 games this year while battling injuries. Most recently, the team lost four of the six he was out.
Their young core with Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, and the Morgan Rilley have had a strong year and all four are in the team’s top five, but with all other teams in the division having games in hand on them, Matthews needs to stay healthy. He has such a pivotal role in the team success that they cannot afford him missing many more games.
Boston Bruins – 43 points
The Boston Bruins have come on strong as of late. After going 13-3-1 in their last 17 games, they have propelled themselves into third place in the division. They sit just two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and have three games in hand. The majority of their injury ridden first quarter has returned. Tuukka Rask has found his game and the net has been nearly impenetrable for the opposition.He is 8-1-1 in his last 10 starts.
David Pasternak, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand have become a force since forming a line a little over a month ago. All three styles of play complement each other so well, that they have become one of the best lines in the entire league. Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk are putting together solid rookie campaigns. David Krejci has spent almost half of the year on the IR but when he is on the ice, he has managed to put up 5-9-14 tallies in only 18 games. If he can get healthy and stay healthy, you’ll be a huge addition in the second half.
If the injury report can stay vacant, I truly believe this team can make the playoffs and compete against anyone.
Montréal Canadiens – 36 points
As we get to the Montréal Canadiens, who are fourth in the division, we start to see teams that are going to have to have a drastic turn around in the new year. The Canadiens have struggled all year to string together multiple weeks of good hockey. They have shined at moments like a completely different team at other times. Last week they were dealt a blow when Shea Weber went down with a foot injury and his timetable to return is unclear.
Carey Price is having the worst year of his career with a save percentage just over .900 and a goals against average above 3.00. The addition of Jonathan Drouin (5-13-18) has not had the impact as they had hoped. With the year young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev is having in Tampa Bay, Montréal is looking like the loser in that trade. Prices struggles and the fact that the offense ranks 25th in the league, mixes up the perfect concoction for missing the playoffs.
I think the Canadiens will be a team to watch around the deadline. I’m not expecting them to clean house, but I can see them moving a piece or two for a prospect or draft pick to help add to the young core they have in Drouin, Philip Danault, Brendan Gallagher, and Alex Galchenyuk.
Florida Panthers – 35 points
The Florida Panthers went into the holiday break with a three-game winning streak, however they will need to put together a 10 to 15 game winning streak for them to get back in contention. Things aren’t totally dark down there though. They have one of the better young groups in the league. Vincent Trocheck (24), Jonathan Huberdeau (24), and Aleksander Barkov (22) are the top three point getters on the team, all having 32 or more, shining a bright light on the future.
Were they have struggled is between the pipes. They rank 27th in goals against. James Reimer and Roberta Luongo have not played well enough to take over that number one role and cement themselves as the starter. Luongo, who had been playing better has been on the IR since the beginning of December with a lower body injury and is expected to be out a few more weeks.
If the Panthers could find a true number one goaltender, they have the young talent to good for years to come.
Detroit Red Wings – 33 points
Last season, the Red Wings had their postseason appearance streak of 25 consecutive seasons snapped and it’s looking like it will be at least another year before they get back. That’s what will happen with two losing streaks of six or more games, in just 35 games this season.
Jimmy Howard and backup Petr Mrazek have struggled mightily this year. Their offense hasn’t been any better, ranking 27th in goals for. What is encouraging though, is that Dylan Larkin (21) and Anthony Mantha (23) are playing great hockey and lead the team in points. It’s time to get some more young bodies accustomed to the game and ready to be the Red Wings of the future.
Ottawa Senators – 30 points
The Ottawa Senators have slid down the standings over the last month and a half. They are currently in seventh place in the division. Unfortunately, that’s what happens when you go 3-12-3 over an 18 game stretch. Earlier this year, they traded away a hefty haul for Matt Duchene in attempts to have another scorer join Mark Stone. However, in his 20 games with the Senators, he has only five points.
This holiday break could not have come at a better time for the Senators. Goaltender Craig Anderson missed time with an illness, Bobby Ryan missed time with an injury to his finger, Gabriel Dumont suffered in ankle injury, and Dion Phaneuf stepped away from the team to handle a personal issue. With this time off, it will give guys the chance to get rest and treatment and hopefully return for the game Wednesday against Boston.
Buffalo Sabres – 25 points
The Buffalo Sabres occupy the last spot in the Atlantic division and only the Arizona Coyotes have a worse record than them throughout the league. The teams rebuild is still a couple years away from being finished but it’s hard not to think about the future they could have with adding on to the young group they already have. All eyes will be on the Sabres and Evander Kane as the deadline gets closer.
Although playoffs are out of the question, they will have something to look forward to this weekend when they take on the New York Rangers in the Winter Classic that Citi Field; the home of the New York Mets.