Put your hand up if you thought the Boston Bruins would be leading the Atlantic at the All-Star Break.
If you’re like many Bruins fans you’re pleasantly surprised to see the Bruins, 50 games into the 2019-2020 season, on top of the Atlantic. There were many people who thought the crushing defeat in game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals might be enough to break this team, leading to a poor regular season, but at this moment the Bruins have proven them wrong.
The B’s, who also sit 2nd overall (just 1 point behind the caps) have been bolstered by strong goaltending, an lethal powerplay and exceptional performances by the Bruins top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
But it’s not all rosy for the Bruins.
The Bruins, who shot out of a cannon to begin their season, have seen a once large division lead shrink quickly with the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers creeping closer and closer with games in hand. Boston, who has either been guilty of apathetic play or being gassed from the lengthy post season run, has seemingly giving points away lately, which may come back to haunt them if teams below them keep winning. And let’s not get started on the team’s performance in shootouts and OT this season.
Will the Bruins hang on and win a Atlantic Division title? A closer look at their competition may help to answer this question
Tampa Bay Lightning (GP: 48 Record: 29-15-4 PTS: 62)
The Lightning got spanked last year in the first round of the playoffs and it took them the whole summer plus the first two months of the 2019 - 2020 regular season to recover...and recover they have.
Since Dec 21, the Bolts are 12-3-0 which includes a 10 game winning streak (the Bruins since Dec 21 are 7-4-4). Led by a balanced scoring attack that includes 7 players in double digit goals, during their hot play the Lightning have exploded offensively outscoring its opponents 57-27 with some unreal scoring performance against the Panthers (6-1), Canucks (9-2) and the Lightning’s last game against the Jets (7-1).
In net, Andrei Vasilevskiy is once again doing his thing and the defense in front of him are once again a big, strong group capable of contributing in the offensive zone. Can the Lightning keep their torrid pace? If you look at the year they had last season, then the answer is yes. Whether or not they pass the Bruins might come down to the two head-to-head match-ups in early March.
Florida Panthers (GP: 49 Record: 28-16-5 PTS: 61)
Much like the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Panthers had a less than ideal start to the regular season, but as of late they’ve been red hot, winning their last 6 in row.
Many thought the Cats would be a good team with the acquisition of Sergei Bobrovsky and hiring of Joel Quenneville, and perhaps they are becoming that. Their offense is unquestionably their strongest asset as they currently sit tied for 1st overall in goals/per game with the usual suspects leading the way Barkov, Huberdeau, Yandle, Acciari.....what, wait Noel Acciari, the guy who used to be a Bruin? Yes, that Noel Acciari has 18 goals this season...crazy.
The Panthers are not without their issues though. Currently their biggest issue might be the health of their goaltenders. Bobrovsky is currently out with an upper-body injury, and Chris Driedger, who was doing an admirable job replacing Bob, just went down with a lower-body injury. Even when their goaltenders are healthy, the Panthers still give up a lot of goals. 3.27 per game to be exact; bad enough for 7th worst in the league. They will probably give the Leafs a run for their money for 3rd in the Atlantic, but top spot in the division may be out of reach unless they can stop letting in so many goals.
Toronto Maple Leafs (GP: 49 Record: 25-17-7 PTS: 57)
It is time to panic in Leaf-land right now! The Maple Leafs are currently sitting 4 points out of a wild card spot in the East and things do not look too promising for the Buds.
The Leafs, despite having one of the league’s top offenses have struggled for consistency all season long. So much so, that Mike Babcock, the man who was brought in to save the franchise, was fired after seemingly ‘losing the dressing room.’ His replacement Sheldon Keefe, seemed to be turning things around, however the team has struggled mightily as of late, losing 5 of their last 6 games before the break. It seems that Keefe upon becoming the head coach of the Leafs decided he was going to let go of the reigns Babcock had on his stars, and let them play their game. Unfortunately for Leaf fans, this means all offense and no defense. In those last 6 games mentioned above, the Leafs have surrendered 26 goals. Frederick Andersen, perhaps the Leafs' best player the last couple seasons, is already burnt out as well, with the Leafs failing to find a decent back-up to lighten the load.
Will the Leafs turn a new leaf in time to make the playoffs? The way things are trending in T.O the answer seems to be 'No.'
Buffalo Sabres (GP: 49 Record: 22-20-7 PTS: 51)
It must suck to be a Sabres fan. The last 3 years in a row, the Sabres have gotten off to fantastic starts, only to come crashing down faster than the temperature in Buffalo after Halloween. The Sabres lost 11 out of their 13 games in the month of November and their season was over.
Jack Eichel is the only bright spot in Buffalo again, meanwhile Sabres fans are already pissed about Jeff Skinner’s 72 million dollar contract. Will the Sabres rebound in the remaining 30 or so games to sneak into the playoffs? Probably safe to say 'No' here.
Montreal Canadiens (GP: 50 Record: 22-21-7 PTS: 51)
The Montreal Canadiens have won 24 Stanley Cups in their franchise’s history, and if the Canadiens continue to keep stinking up La Belle Province, they should have to start giving some of them back.
The Canadiens are a middle of the pack team this year. They sit 16th in goals scores, 19th in goals allowed, 11th in PP% and 21st in PK%. Carey Price, the once savior in net for the Habs, is average at best, and leading scorer Tomas Tatar, who has one year left on his contract, may be out the door by the trade deadline. The Habs could actually be having a great season this year...if it wasn’t a pair of 8 game losing streaks.
The Montreal Canadiens are in a classic ‘blow it up’ type situation, and sadly our good friend Claude Julien will probably be the first to go. To many Habs’ fans, the real problem with Montreal Canadiens is GM Marc Bergevin, who’s managed to hang on to his job, despite doing very little to improve he club. The Habs will not make the playoffs this year, and should be a big seller at the deadline.
Ottawa Senators (GP: 48 Record: 17-23-8 PTS: 42)
The Senators are a bad hockey team...but are slowing starting to rebuild. Are they in the playoff picture this year? Or next year? Probably not. But locking up Thomas Chabot, Colin White and most likely Brady Tkachuk is a good start. Erik Brannstrom also looks like he could be a solid dman down the road some day.
The Sens biggest issue has nothing to do with what happens on the ice, and everything to do with their ownership. Eugene Melnyk, the Sens owner, could very well burn this team to the ground or sell them in the very near future. The fact that an arena in downtown Ottawa looks like it will never happen, does nothing to build fan confidence in the Sens' future.
Detroit Red Wings (GP:51 Record: 12-35-4 PTS: 28)
Stevie Y has got his hands full trying to bring the Wings out of the gutter. The Red Wings are not good and won't be anytime soon. Having the worst GAA in the NHL combined with the lowest Goals/Per Game is not ideal. Hell, the Boston Pride have more wins in a shorter season than the Red Wings do right now.
The prospect pool is not great in Detroit, so the best possible move for the Wings for the rest of the year could be selling anyone of any value and tanking for Alexis Lafreniere.
One thing to watch out for though in Detroit is the possibility of Filppula or Athanasiou beating the all time record for worst +/- in NHL history (-82).
No matter what happens in the Atlantic it's going to be fun to watch. I'm picking the B's to finish 2nd, but where do you think the Bruins will finish this year?