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"Sabres/Northeast Division Buzz"
Twitter @SabreHess • 28 Years Old • Male
Welcome to my first Northeast Numbers column of the season. We're only a few games into the new year, but I figured it was the right time to take our first glance at the numbers and gauge these teams.

Records:

Toronto 3-0-1 (3 ROW)
Buffalo 3-1-0 (3 ROW)
Boston 2-3-0 (1 ROW)
Montreal 1-2-1 (1 ROW)
Ottawa 1-4-0 (0 ROW)

Toronto is off to a fast start, and equally important they are 2-0 against their Northeast division rivals having beaten both Ottawa and Montreal in regulation. Those two games have been the only intra-divisional tilts thus far, though Montreal hosts Buffalo tonight. Interestingly this is the Sabres only divisonal matchup in October. By the end of the month every team in the NE besides Buffalo will have played multiple divisonal games.

Rankings:

5-5 Goals for and Against:

Buffalo: 10g / 5g (+5)
Toronto: 10g / 5g (+5)
Montreal: 9g / 6g (+3)
Boston: 7g / 7g (E)
Ottawa: 6g / 14g (-8)

Perhaps more surprising than Toronto and Buffalo's impressive 5-5 play, or Ottawa's difficulties is that the defending champion Bruins are EVEN 5-5 through 5 games. I know it's early, but this was a team that thrived at even strength last season. Last season Boston scored 177g and surrendered and Eastern Conference best 126g at even strength for a differential of +51. When they get their 5 on 5 offense going look for this team to take off.

Power-Play:

Ottawa 30% 6g in 20 opportunities (1 Short-handed goal against)
Buffalo 20% 3g in 15 opportunities (2 Short-handed goals against)
Montreal 12.5% 2g in 16 opportunities (1 Short-handed goal against)
Toronto 5.3% 1g in 19 opportunities
Boston 5% 1g in 20 opportunities

It's incredible that in a combined 51 PP opportunities the Senators, Sabres, and Canadiens have surrendered a total of 4 shorties this early in the season.

Penalty Kill:

Boston: 89.3% 3g allowed in 28 times short-handed (1 short-handed goal scored)
Buffalo 86.7% 2g allowed in 15 times short-handed
Toronto 83.3% 3g allowed in 18 times short-handed (1 short-handed goal scored)
Montreal 79% 4g allowed in 19 times short-handed
Ottawa 68% 8g allowed in 25 times short-handed (1 short-handed goal scored)

Ottawa may have a red-hot power-play to start this season, but it's effect is canceled out by an equally abysmal penalty-kill. If you consider the short-handed goals for and against, Ottawa is +5 on the PP and -7 on the PK. When your PP is operating at a 30% clip you have to be better than -2 on special teams.

Individual Leaders:

Goals:

Phil Kessel 6g (4 games)
Thomas Vanek 3g (4 games)
Luke Adam 3g (4 games)
Milan Michalek 3g (4 games)
Drew Stafford 3g (4 games)

Phil Kessel is off to a tremendous start, not only does he have 6g in 4 games, but he is a +6 which is nice to see for a player who takes a lot of flak for his defensive zone (or lack thereof ) effort. Also of note, 3 of the top 5 goal scorers are on the Sabres, which is a nice indication of how balanced and potent their scoring is. That should serve them well as the season wears on.

Assists:

Erik Karlsson 6a (4 games)
Thomas Vanek 4a (4 games)
Jason Pominville 4a (4 games)
Tyler Seguin 4a (4 games)
Christian Ehrhoff 4a (4 games)

As with the goals, the Sabres also have several players with an assist per game average thus far. Erik Karlsson might leave something to be desired in his own end from time to time, but the guy is an absolute treat to watch pass the puck. In a division where there are quite a few good puck moving defensemen, Karlsson's ice vision is unparalleled.

Assorted Leaders:

Face-off % - David Steckel 65.4%
Hits - Chris Neil 20 hits
Blocked Shots - Dennis Seidenberg 15 blocked shots
Shots - Thomas Vanek 20 shots
+/- Rating - Dion Phaneuf +8
Penalty Minutes - Chris Neil 29 PIM

Goaltenders: (minimum 2 starts)

Tim Thomas 4gp 1.98gaa .932%
Ryan Miller 3gp 2.35gaa .928%
James Reimer 4gp 2.49gaa .917% 1SO
Carey Price 4gp 2.96gaa .880%
Craig Anderson 4gp 5.07gaa .853%

The Northeast divison boasts some of the best goaltending in the league. Tim Thomas and Ryan Miller are already putting up spectacular numbers, while James Reimer continues to impress in Toronto. If Reimer can hold his own in this divison, Toronto becomes a definite playoff contender. Carey Price is off to a slow start, but as the frequency of games increases I expect him to get into a groove and get back to last season's form. Obviously Ottawa is in a rebuilding mode, and with a young team the defense and goaltending usually suffers, but Craig Anderson needs to be better than a 5.07gaa and an .853% save percentage. Those kind of numbers are unacceptable even on a young team playing for a lottery pick.

Observations:

Obviously I would have to live in a cave to not be aware of and impressed by the Maple Leaf's hot start. I can't fault them for not winning road games as they haven't played any, and I can't take a jab at the soft schedule because they are 2-0 against NE divisional opponents. Kudos the Toronto so far, it's a long season, and there's plenty of room for improvement (power-play) but it's a great start for the blue and white. Boston is going to be fine, they just need to find their offense, maybe it's a cup hangover, or maybe it's the long stretches of days off between games. Either way, once they get Lucic rolling they'll be right back in contention. Buffalo has been a bit of a Jekyl/Hyde team so far, looking dominant for stretches and clueless in others. If they can avoid the mistake prone shifts (like 2 short-handed goals against vs CAR) they'll be fighting for the division lead all year long. Montreal is becoming Carey Price's team, as he goes, so they go. While the defense and goaltending have struggled a bit, so have the Habs. Once they tighten things up and Carey Price returns to form the wins will come. Ottawa needs to establish more of a forecheck and keep the play out of their own end to give Anderson a bit of a reprieve. If they can chip in a few more goals at even strength, and improve their penalty kill, then they can reap the rewards of their deadly power-play.

Four games into the season do I stand by my preseason picks of Toronto and Montreal missing the post-season. Hell yeah I do, Toronto will come back to earth and Montreal will struggle with consistency. Remember, I also picked Boston to win that division and I still am. Four games aren't enough of a measuring stick for me to deviate from my selections. I'll revisit this column in a few weeks and we'll see then.

Follow me on Twitter @SabreHess

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Filed Under:   Buffalo Sabres   Toronto   Boston   Montreal   Ottawa  
October 18, 2011 10:05 AM ET | Delete
Eff the Leafs !
October 18, 2011 10:15 AM ET | Delete
Don't worry the leafs wil have a 2-10-3 streak soon... I mean Timmy may be out for the rest of the year!
October 18, 2011 10:30 AM ET | Delete
Leafs will make the playoffs, sneak into 8th. Im even saying they make it to the second round!!
October 18, 2011 11:05 AM ET | Delete
@sasho- It's one thing to be enthusiastic about your team, predicting a playoff birth maybe, but the second round? What evidence is there to support this is a possibility at this point? Kessel and Lupul are not Gretzky and Messier, the Leafs will struggle.
October 18, 2011 12:56 PM ET | Delete
After four games, is there really evidence to say they won't?Yeah, I'd rather not bet on the Leafs making much noise... but there's not enough of a sample size to lay claim to evidence in either direction yet. Season is like 5% over.
October 18, 2011 3:55 PM ET | Delete
Lol, a sabres fan chirpnig about lupul and kessel? you have roy and vanek... your offense is pretty good, but stop thinking you're the cream of the crop, because if one of them get's injured you're screwed.
October 18, 2011 3:56 PM ET | Delete
oops chirping*, also it's funny how you think so highly of the sabres but how the leafs are going to instantly suck now. Shows your bias blatantly :)
October 18, 2011 4:25 PM ET | Delete
October 21, 2011 6:16 AM ET | Delete
Conquest, have you not seen our rosters the past few seasons? WE ALWAYS HAVE A KEY PLAYER INJURED. Get your facts straight before you try to prove a point.
October 21, 2011 6:17 AM ET | Delete
By the way, he's right.. Toronto is an overachieving team at this point. Reimer is off to a hot start and will cool down. Hell, I'd take Enroth over Reimer. It's too early to judge, but if you want to go against a Sabres fan, wait until you guys are ahead of us in the standings, because you aint anymore.
October 21, 2011 11:57 AM ET | Delete
Yes. Jonas Enroth is clearly the more proven and talented net-minder. Another argument won for the Sabres!
October 22, 2011 2:44 PM ET | Delete
You have players hurt, but yet magically they're going to be fine this season and you have an amazing offense? Get real; sabres fans overrate their players just as much, if not more than leafs fans. Of course you'd take enroth; keep playing up your team and being bias. I'll go against whoever i want, you can't honestly think i care what team i'm talking about? You're a typical sabres fan over-evaluating his team and being a homer, so get over it.
October 23, 2011 2:05 PM ET | Delete
and the Leafs are ahead in the standings again. Did you enjoy your moment in the sun?
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