We're just beyond the one third portion of the NHL schedule, and the divisional races are beginning to take shape. The Northeast Division is as tightly contested as they come as the entire division is separated by a mere 6 points. The next closest division races in the league are both 12 point margins in the Southeast and Pacific divisions. Here's where we stand in the Northeast:
(13 ROW, 33pts)
(11 ROW, 30pts)
(12 ROW, 29pts)
(9 ROW, 27pts)
(10 ROW, 27pts) (trail Ottawa due to games played)
To no-one's surprise, least of all myself if you had read the first edition of Northeast Numbers( http://my.hockeybuzz.com/...=128633&post_id=12069
) Boston has asserted themselves as the best team in the division. They are on an absolute tear having gone 13-0-1 in their past 14 contests. During this time span Montreal and Buffalo have failed to find any consistency in their games while Toronto and Ottawa continue to exceed expectations. It's still early, but the NE division looks to be a season long dogfight.
Let's revisit some statistical categories from the first edition and see where we are now.
5 on 5 goals for/against
Boston 62g/35g +27
Buffalo 50g/44g +6
Montreal 48g/43g +5
Toronto 51g/53g -2
Ottawa 50g/60g -10
Boston's 5 on 5 numbers are incredible considering they are a +27 in 24 games played. With an average of more than one 5 on 5 goal per game more than their opponent, they are hard to beat. Conversely, despite Ottawa's impressive start given their rebuilding status, it is clear that they are thriving on special teams, as a -10 at even strength through 26 games shows their lack of depth.
While Toronto and Ottawa may be lacking 5 on 5 scoring, they are both lighting the lamp often with the man advantage. Toronto leads the Eastern Conference in PP% and trails only Vancouver (26.1%) league wide. Montreal needs to find a way to improve their power play efficiency. As the only team in the division to yet score 50 goals at even strength, they need to take advantage of their power play time as much as anyone, and at 12.2% they aren't getting the job done. P.K. Subban and Mike Cammaleri have combined for a total of 0 PP goals.
As dominant as the Maple Leaf's PP has been this season, their penalty kill has been equally as poor. While they lead the Eastern Conference in PP% they are ranked dead last in the Eastern Conference in PK%, and trail only Chicago, Columbus, and San Jose for the worst PK% in the league. Montreal's PK% is tied for second in the league with Pittsburgh. Buffalo and Boston rank 5th and 6th respectively in the NHL.
Phil Kessel 16g
Milan Michalek 16g
Thomas Vanek 12g
Joffrey Lupul 12g
Tyler Seguin 12g
Kessel and Lupul continue to be the hottest duo in the league, and Milan Michalek's scoring prowess has been one of the bright spots of the season for Ottawa and the NHL. Scoring woes continue to be the story with the Canadiens as they are the only team not represented in the top 5 above, and they are the only Northeast team without a 20 point scorer thus far.
Erik Karlsson 21a
Jason Pominville 18a
Joffrey Lupul 18a
Phil Kessel 16a
Tomas Plekanec 16a
Jason Pominville is off to a hot start this season after receiving the Buffalo Sabres captaincy and he may top his career best assists total of 53 from the 07/08 campaign. Erik Karlsson is scoring at a torrid rate, he is currently on pace for 65+ assists on the season. While I expect him to cool down at some point, 50+ assists are not out of the question for the talented young Swede.
Face-Off %: David Steckel 58.3%
Hits: Nick Foligno 77 hits
Blocked Shots: Josh Jorges 73 bks
Shots: Phil Kessel 89 shots
+/- Rating: Tyler Seguin +20
Penalty Minutes: Zenon Kenopka 82 PIM
David Steckel led the division in FO% through the first 10 games, and continues to lead the division, with Patrice Bergeron and Paul Gaustad right behind him. Josh Jorge's shot blocking prowess is dominant in the Northeast division, as there isn't another player within 20 blocked shots of him. In fact the next closest in the division is fellow Montreal blue-liner Raphael Diaz with 53 bks.
(minimum 9 starts)
Tim Thomas 1.93 GAA / .936% 12 wins
Tuuka Rask 2.09 GAA / .924% 4 wins
Carey Price 2.23 GAA / .922% 10 wins
Jhonas Enroth 2.32 GAA / .925% 8 wins
Ryan Miller 2.78 GAA / .912% 6 wins
Jonas Gustavsson 3.22 GAA / .898% 8 wins
Craig Anderson 3.43 GAA / .894% 11 wins
Ottawa needs Craig Anderson to perform at a higher level if they are to have any chance at competing for a playoff spot in the second half. Sure the Senators have defensive deficiencies, but not to the point where Craig Anderson is surrendering nearly 3.5 goals a game. James Reimer did not make the above list as he has only started 7 games this season due to injury, through 7 starts Reimer a 2.80 GAA, a .905 save %, and 4 wins with 1 shutout. Those numbers would put him just behind Ryan Miller and slightly ahead of his teammate Jonas Gustavsson.
At the end of my first Northeast Numbers I predicted that Boston would right the ship and eventually go on to win the division. Twenty games later it seems that prediction is looking good. I did, however note that I don't see Montreal or Toronto having enough in the tank to reach the post-season, and that I felt the Sabres would be right on Boston's heels.
Though it is still early, I have to give credit to Toronto for continuing to play at a level far exceeding my expectations for the club. While they are only 4-5-1 in their last 10 games, they have weathered the storm with key injuries, especially to starting goaltender James Reimer.
The Buffalo Sabres also lost their starting goaltender for a stretch, and with Ryan Miller back in the crease I expect the Sabres to put together a string of victories and get soem separation with Toronto by new years. They need to play with more of a sense of urgency at home, and desparately need more of a contribution from off-season addition Ville Leino.
Ottawa is playing with house money, and I expect them to be alone in the bottom of the Northeast by the all-star break, unless they can continue to thrive on special teams. Montreal just needs an offensive spark, Carey Price and Josh Jorges can't save every shot every night, at some point they will either begin to click offensively, or look outside the organization for scoring help. Even when he returns from IR the Canadiens can't expect Scott Gomez to be the answer, and while P.K. Subban does have 11 points, he only has 2 points on the power-play.