Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
With another Thanksgiving in the United States come and gone, most NHL teams have completed about one-third of their 2019-20 season. In the past, it was generally believed that teams who were in a playoff position at this point in the season would remain in playoff position and those that were out would remain out. In Part 2 (see Part 1 HERE) of a multi-piece look, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes a look at the current status of teams in the Atlantic Division.
The fortunes of the Atlantic Division could be described in the following words: there are the Boston Bruins and then there is everybody else.
The Boston Bruins are currently leading that division by an overwhelming margin. They have 46 points, 15 more points than any other team in the Atlantic. Of their 20 wins, 18 of them were decided in regulation, with only two wins in overtime. As of this writing, they have won eight games in a row. They are currently the front-runner for the President’s Trophy, which is awarded to the best regular season team in the NHL, as they have one game in hand over the Washington Capitals, who they are tied with in points. Some of their statistics may not be sustainable for the entire season. Their PDO (Save Percentage plus Shot Percentage) is 103.5, which will likely regress downward before the year is complete. The team’s Shot Percentage is 11.0%, the top percentage in the Eastern Conference. Their Expected Goals For and Expected Goals Against are both better than expected, so regression would likely be plausible. Goalie Tuukka Rask currently has a save percentage of .933, far above his career average of .922. The B’s best player, David Pastrnak, currently leads the league in goals and has a shot percentage of 22.5%. The Bruins have a power play conversion of nearly 34%, which is extremely high. Boston will likely finish first in the Atlantic Division, even if their current performance will likely level off. Boston has an overwhelming lead over the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres, who each have 31 points (which is less than the fifth place team in the Metropolitan). Division.
The Florida Panthers are considered to be in second place in the Atlantic Division as they have one game in hand over the Buffalo Sabres, with whom they are tied with 31 points. The team is lead in scoring by Jonathan Huberdeau and Alexander Barkov, and the team leader in goals is offseason signing Brett Connolly, a former Washington Capital. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the team’s marquee free agent signing, has been a great disappointment so far in terms of performance. He currently holds a Save Percentage of .884, which is only better than Jonathan Quick among NHL goaltenders. This is a far cry from his Vezina Trophy season of 2016-17 and significantly worse than his career save percentage of .918. With Bobrovsky having an off-season in performance, the Panthers are under-performing compared to their advanced statistics. Judging from possession statistics, the Panthers’ performance should trend upward.
The Buffalo Sabres are tied with the Panthers in points but behind them in the standings since they have played one more game. The Sabres got off to a terrific start this season, having a 9-2-2 at the end of October. But like last season, the team has not played as well since that hot start. Their recent record of 4-4-2 has been somewhat mediocre; however they are in third place by virtue of recent bad play by the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs. They are “technically” in playoff position at the moment, but close behind them are Montreal, Toronto, and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Captain Jack Eichel is leading the team in goals with 17 and points, as expectedm unequivocally the best start of his career. Eichel holds a Shot Percentage of 16.3, which is better than his career average of 10.4%. The question will be whether his improvement is a true improvement or whether his shot rate will regress. He is still on track for a career-best season. The team has a PDO of 102.1 which will likely regress downward.
The Montreal Canadiens are in fourth place and just one point behind the Panthers and Sabres. The team had a decent record midway through November, however they recently went through an eight-game losing streak. They have a respectable offense that is seventh in goals scored. However, they are ranked 27th out of 31 teams in the number of goals given up. Number one goalie Carey Price is struggling with a Save Percentage of .899. While there a number of other goalies struggling this season, this is a worse than expected performance from Price, upon whom the Canadiens are so dependent.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are tied with Montreal in points and just one point behind the Panthers and Sabres, but as a result of Montreal having one game in hand, they are currently in fifth place. During November, the Leafs lost six games in a row, including a particularly embarrassing 6-1 loss against the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the team’s lackluster performance, the team fired Head Coach Mike Babcock, and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe. Since replacing Babcock, the Leafs have won four out of their last six games and the players seem to be much happier with the coaching change.
The Tampa Bay Lightning are off to a mediocre start this year and are currently in sixth place in the Atlantic Division, just two points behind the Florida Panthers and Buffalo Sabres who are tied in points for third place, and just one point behind Montreal and Toronto. The Lightning seem to be caught in a treadmill. They seem to have a trend of winning two or three games in a row and then losing the next two or three in a row, putting them back where they started. Captain Steven Stamkos is scoring below his normal rate and has just seven goals for the season. Additionally, his Shooting Percentage is 10.4%, which is significantly below his career average of 16.7. The team’s actual Goals For and Goals Against are not far from the predicted values, based on possession statistics. Given their talent level, a hot streak could get them back in the playoff picture.
Given that only two points separate the teams from second place through sixth place, expect the order of the teams to change as the season progresses.
The Ottawa Senators, who are in the rebuilding process, are in seventh place. They have lost their last five games in a row. Jean-Gabriel Pageau has the team lead in goals, while young defenseman Thomas Chabot, has the team lead in assists.
The Detroit Red Wings are currently in the Atlantic Division cellar and have lost their last eight games in a row. This year has been a Murphy’s Law type of season for the Red Wings, in which they are not only losing games, but losing players to injury. Regulars in the lineup currently out with injury include Justin Abdulkader, Danny DeKeyser, Trevor Dailey, Anthony Mantha, and Jimmy Howard. Earlier this year, Mike Green and Patrik Nemeth were injured. Aging defenseman Jonathan Ericsson suffered an injury, was waived by the team, and sent to the minors, but is now back with the Red Wings. They are now a minus-56 in goal differential for the season so far. Detroit’s main hope is to win the draft lottery and earn the right to draft potential number one pick Alexis DeFreniere.
By Diane Doyle