NHL East

NHL+East

The NHL season has hit the all-star break, meaning that the year is already past its halfway point.  As always in the NHL, there are mid-season surprises.  Several teams and players are performing above expectations, while others are not producing at the level expected.  As the games, goals, and points stop for about a week, and all-star captains Eric Staal of Carolina and Nicklas Lidstrom of Detroit strategize as to who they plan to select in the all-star game fantasy draft, it is certainly a fun time.  But it also provides a rare opportunity to take a breather from all of the hockey action and reflect on how the season has gone so far.

            Eastern Conference

The two teams attracting the most attention in the Eastern Conference have been the Philadelphia Flyers and the New Jersey Devils; but for different reasons.  The Flyers are having one of the best seasons in team history.  The Flyers are getting points where it was expected, their three offensive guns—Mike Richards, Danny Briere, and Jeff Carter have scored 47, 45, and 44 points respectively.  Surprisingly however, youngster Claude Giroux is tied with Richards for the lead in team scoring.  The defense just got big-man Chris Pronger back from injury and rookie goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has been stifling opponents with an impressive .920 save percentage.  The Flyers are a solid team and their record shows it.  They are in first place in the East and are on pace for a 116-point season.  The Devils meanwhile, are in the basement of the East.  After making the playoffs for each of the past 15 seasons, their streak is very much in jeopardy.  Ilya Kovalchuk must still be thinking about the 100-year contract (or something like that) he was initially offered by the Devils because he only has 29 points on the season.  Hall of Fame goalie Martin Brodeur is finally heating up and has New Jersey on a four-game win streak with points in their last seven contests, but it might be too little too late for the perennial Stanley Cup contenders.  The owners in New Jersey will have some difficult decisions to make in the off season in an effort to revamp this proud franchise.

The Southeast Division, which is criticized for being one of the weakest in the NHL year in and year out, is collectively having a marvelous season.  The Tampa Bay Lightning are second in the East with 67 points.  With Steven Stamkos, the NHL leader in goals and points, alongside talented veterans like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, the Lightning have become legitimate contenders this season.  Also residing in the Southeast are the Washington Capitals and Alex Ovechkin who are always a threat, and the young but talented Carolina Hurricanes and Atlanta Thrashers who are fighting with each other for the eighth and final playoff spot.  The last-place Florida Panthers are only six points out of the playoffs.  The Southeast Division has the highest average point total out of the three Eastern Conference divisions.   

Other playoff teams like the Pittsburgh Penguins, Boston Bruins, New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, and Buffalo Sabres cannot be overlooked. 

The Penguins are still on pace for their best post-lockout season, even after losing superstar Sidney Crosby to concussion symptoms that have lingered for about a month.  In fact, the Penguins have not been healthy all season.  Their four superstars; Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, and Marc-Andre Fleury have all been in the lineup together only twice this season.  Steady play by Fleury and great secondary scoring has kept Pittsburgh in the hunt for a conference title.  When the Penguins get healthy, do not be surprised to see them storm to the top of the standings.  The Bruins, Rangers, and Canadiens all have solid teams capable of making a run to the finals like the Flyers of last season.  Each of these three teams has great goaltending and enough offensive firepower to claim home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs if they start playing well consistently.  The Buffalo Sabres are finally starting to play well; the defending Northeast Division champions have won seven of their last ten.  The young scoring ability, with Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy, Tyler Ennis, and Jason Pominville gives them a chance to get back in the race for the playoffs.  If Buffalo does make it into the postseason and goalie Ryan Miller gets hot, the Sabres can be a very dangerous team to play against.

Here’s how I see it shaking out in the East:

1.  Philadelphia Flyers

2.  Washington Capitals

3.  Montreal Canadiens

4.  Pittsburgh Penguins

5.  Boston Bruins

6.  Tampa Bay Lightning

7.  New York Rangers

8.  Buffalo Sabres

9.  Carolina Hurricanes

10.  Atlanta Thrashers

11.  Ottawa Senators 

12.  Florida Panthers

13.  New Jersey Devils

14.  Toronto Maple Leafs

15.  New York Islanders