The season began with the Northwest haveing the advantage with 3 playoff teams (Wild, Canucks and Flames) and one should have (Avalanche). But in the early going, things have really shifted around.
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The #1 division was a close call between the Northeast and the Central. The two divisions are historically strong on top and weak at the bottom but the lower teams have really picked it up this year. The slight decision goes to the...
1. Central Division
They have collectively picked up 97 points in 80 games. The Detroit Red Wings (13-3-1) are still tops in the West but the terrible trio of Columbus, Chicago and St. Louis have picked it up. Nashville (8-7-1) has survived the loss of many of their players and hang around the .500 mark. Columbus (8-5-3) is lead by Pascal LeClaire who has the best GAA and the most shutouts with 5. Chicago (10-7-0) has become an offensive juggernaut thahks in part to rookies Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. And St. Louis (7-7-0) has played great defense and is third in the league in GA (34). Overall, this division used to have three pushovers and now has no teams with fewer points than games played.
2. Northeast Division
This surprise division just lost to the Central as it has one more point (98) in two more games (82). They also have one team under .500 (Buffalo) that killed their title hopes. Of course, the league leading Ottawa Senators (14-2-0) are excellent as usual thanks to great goaltending (32 GA) and a monster offense. Montreal (9-4-3) is doing well much to the joy of the oft depressed Habs fans. The Bruins (8-6-2) are squeezing out the points using the solid goaltending duo of Fernandez and Thomas. The Leafs (7-7-4) are...meh, and give up the most goals (65) which is disappointing after the much touted pickup of Toskala who has gotten no defensive help. The only weak link is the losing Buffalo Sabres who's loss of Drury and Briere hurt more than they let on and are tied for the least points in the NHL (13). The traditionally weak teams such as Boston and Montreal have stepped it up and made this divison stronger through the bottom.
3. Atlantic Division
Although this division comes nowhere near the prior two with only 86 points in 79 games, it is the best of the rest. The Flyers (10-6-0) lead the division and are top 5 in the conference in GF (49) and GA (38). The Rangers (9-7-1) started off awful, are dead last in GF (34) but have turned it around in the last ten thanks to the least GA in the NHL (30). The Islanders (9-4-0) have only played 13 games and have 18 points to show for it as Ted Nolan has engineered this low profile team to success. The Penguins (7-9-1) started slow but Crosby and the offense is coming around, though they give up too many goals (53). And the Devils dynasty (6-8-2), as well as Marty Brodeur's excellence, is coming to an end and have not scored much (37) and given up a lot (47). This divison is really bunched up at just above average but may improve on bad starts from high expectation teams (NYR, PIT).
4. Southwest Division
The preseason favorites have only picked up 87 points in 83 games this season. The Avalanche (11-5-1) have built on last seasons late success and are 3rd in the NHL in scoring (55). The Wild (9-5-1) started off great and are slowing down because of injuries to Demitra and Gaborik (surprise?) among others. The Canucks (8-8-0) still dont score much and cant win at home (2-6-0) as hopeful fans begin to dispair. Calgary (6-8-3) has given up a ton of goals (56) and cant seems to win games (6 out of 17). And the Oilers (6-10-1), who gave up 17 goals more than they scored, remain the laughingstock of the West with the (tied for) worst record in the NHL. You never really know who will be good in the division but so far, there have never been 4 teams that mount an impressive effort on a consistant basis.
5. Pacific Division
This division also has high expectations after harboring 3 playoff teams last season. But they have a losing record with 82 points after 83 games. San Jose (8-7-2) has been right around average in offense and defense, surprising for a top team in both catagories last season. Dallas (7-7-3) has given up 50 goals and this great defensive team, along with Marty Turco, has been anything but stingy. Last years champion Ducks (7-8-3) dont score, like the Sharks, and dont defend, like the Stars and are worse than the two with a losing record. Los Angeles (8-8-0) is improved offensively, thanks to Michael Cammalerri, but give up as much as they score (52). And the Phoenix Gretzkys (7-8-0) are still bottom-feeders although a bit better than usual. This divison is hovering below average as only the Sharks have more points than games played.
6. Southeast Division
No surprise here as the worst teams tend to gather near the Gulf of Mexico. The divison has a collective 81 points in 85 games...ugh. The Hurricanes (10-4-3) are the only bright spot as they seem to have regained their form from 2006 as Eric Staal and Co. lead the league in goals (64). The only other .500 team is high powered offense Tampa Bay (8-8-1) and they cant keep the puck out of their net (54 GA). Florida and Atlanta (7-10-0) are horrible with the former unable to score (43 GF) and the latter unable to defend (64 GA). Washington is unspeakable (6-10-1) becuase Ovechkin cant lift a 40 goal team when he scored over 25 percent of the 40. Yeah, this division has one good team and then its all downhill, making it the worst NHL division again.
As a recap for those of you sane enough not to read through all of this.
1. Central 46-29-5
2. Northeast 44-28-10
3. Atlantic 41-34-4
4. Northwest 40-36-7
5. Pacific 37-38-8
6. Southeast 38-42-5
P.S. Thanks to Cheifwigams for the correction
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