NHL Division-By-Division Power Rankings: Southeast Division Weak No More
Three weeks and one calender month into the 2010-2011 NHL season, we’ve already begun to be able to pick out the surprises and disappointments of the year.
Teams like Buffalo and New Jersey, two top-ranked teams from the Eastern Conference last season, have both struggled to get going and posted a combined 0-8-2 home record, while franchises such as Montreal, Boston, and Tampa Bay have burst onto the stage with a combined 20-7-2 record.
Meanwhile, in the West, Nashville, Edmonton, and Dallas started out strongly but have faltered lately, while, on the other hand, youthful squads such as St. Louis, Colorado, and Los Angeles have already begun to prove their legitimacy.
But how does the NHL look from a divisional standpoint? Which five-team groups have been the toughest to play in so far, while which divisions have struggled despite their highly-competitive reputation?
Here’s a look how each of the six NHL divisions has stood up against each other after three weeks of action.
6th: Northwest Division
Total Combined Points: 55
Total Combined Goal Differential: minus-4
The Northeast Division, which was not the best division around last season, has been even more pitiful so far this year. Their best team, Colorado, is just 6-4-1 for 13 points, tied for worst among the six division leaders. The division itself does not have a single team with a positive goal differential, although Colorado and Calgary are both even in that statistic.
Vancouver, last season’s division champion, is 5-0-1 at home in the newly-named Rogers Arena, but their 0-3-1 road record spoils that number. Minnesota, meanwhile, dropped both of their NHL Premiere games and are still trying to recover, while Calgary has lost back-to-back games after beginning the season a respectable 6-3-0. Finally, Edmonton, after instilling a bit of confidence among fans with a 2-0 start, didn’t win a single game out of their next six before stopping the skid last Friday.
In fact, except for Colorado, every other Northwest division team has a worse record at the moment than Columbus, the Central division’s last-place team. If they want to produce more than one playoff team for ’10-’11, the Northwest Division needs to get back into gear quickly.
5th: Northeast Division
Total Combined Points: 55
Total Combined Goal Differential: even
While the Northeast Division hasn’t been partically bad, they’ve entered some unpredictable seas as the top two finishers from last season are now the bottom two teams in the division standings.
Defending champion Buffalo is in fifth and last place with a miserable 3-7-2 mark, including no wins in five home games. Ottawa, the sixth seed in the conference from last April, is just 4-6-1 and hasn’t been able to get it going on the road, where they are 1-3-1.
Meanwhile, Montreal has gotten off to a hot start with a 7-3-1 record along with Boston, who’s been led by the suddenly-incredible Tim Thomas, part of the reason thay’ve allowed only 11 goals in eight games, ten goals less than the second-least scored on team. Those two teams have also experienced another common success; winning on the road, where they are a combined 8-1-0.
In the middle sits Toronto, who’s faltered after an incredible 4-0-0 start to lose five of their last six games. The Leafs are also right in the middle of goals differential, as they are currently even in that category along with the division as a whole, which is offset by the Canadiens’ and Bruins’ combined plus-17 rating and the Senators’ and Sabres’ combined minus-17 rating.
4th: Pacific Division
Total Combined Points: 57
Combined Goal Differential: minus-1
The most dominant conference in the West for several seasons running is in danger of losing its title.
The producer of the top seed and three of the top six teams in the conference in 2009-2010, the Pacific Division, currently has only one team in the top six. That would be the young Los Angeles Kings, who rose from 14th in ’08-’09 to sixth last season and are currently the top team this year at 8-3-0; good enough for 16 points. They are also one of just two teams that are undefeated in their home arena.
However, it’s a four-point drop from them down to second-place Dallas, a remade team that began 4-0, although with just one regulation win, but has now lost four of six and three of the last four. Below them is San Jose, who may be tied for the fewest games played out of the 15 Western conference teams, but have won only two of five at the Shark Tank and are only 5-3-1 overall.
Phoenix, the division’s biggest surprise team from last year, has fallen to fourth with three overtime defeats already, giving him nine points but only three victories in ten games, and then the Ducks, who’ve been plagued with road games…road games that they’re losing (they’re 2-6 away from home).
In terms of goal differential, the division itself is in the negatives, albeit barely, in combined goal differential despite having three teams in the positives, a mark no other division can top at the moment. That minus-one rating could begin to be reflective of the division’s play, too, if they can’t get it going.
3rd: Atlantic Division
Total Combined Points: 61
Total Combined Goal Differential: minus-11
The Atlantic Division, which produced four of the top nine teams in the Eastern Conference last season, has been only average so far this season.
The Flyers, who lead the division with 15 points, are tied with both other Eastern Conference division leaders in that regard but have taken more games (12) to do so. The division also holds the worst combined goal differential at minus-11.
Most of the blame for that league-worst goal differential can be put on the shoulders of Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, who are 3-9-1, 0-4-1 at home, with a horrid minus-22 differential and just 20 goals scored, four less than the second-lowest scoring team in the conference.
The Islanders, who looked like the surprise team of the division after a 4-1-2 start, are now in second-to-last having suffered through four straight defeats. Their rivals, the New York Rangers, are an average 6-4-1 right now but have won only two of six games at home in Madison Square Garden. Pittsburgh is also reeling at home in the new Consol Energy Center, coming out victorious only two of their six contests there to date.
2nd: Southeast Division
Total Combined Points: 59
Combined Goal Differential: plus-7
As the title of this slideshow reads, the Southeast Division, typically a punching bag of the Eastern Conference and a typical producer of just one playoff team, is weak no more.
The somewhat-expected emergence of the Tampa Bay Lightning has given Washington, the division champion for three straight seasons, some competition at the top of the standings, and it appears that the rest of the division has improved, too.
The Bolts (15 points) and Caps (14 points) are in a tight battle for first place for now, and that’s probably reflective of the way it will be for most of the year. The two teams have seven wins apeice compared to just six total regulation losses and one more in overtime. They also pair up for a plus-14 goal differential, 7-2-1 home record, and three-game win streak.
In the middle is youthful Atlanta. They appear to be getting along fine…well, actually, better…than they did when Kovalchuk was around as they have 12 points in 11 games this season, a big improvement over their usual near-worst records.
Carolina, in the middle of a major rebuilding project, is only 5-6-0 but has fared decently considering their abundance of road games. It is worth noting, however, that in their two games in the RBC Center, they’ve been shut out 3-0 both times.
At the bottom is Florida, but only at 4-5-0, and the Panthers are actually the third team in the division with a positve goal differential. They should also be seeing more time in South Florida with just three home games to date.
In the end, the Southeast Division is finally looking like a worthy foe for the rivalry-filled, history-stuffed other Eastern Conference divisions.
1st: Central Division
Total Combined Points: 67
Combined Goal Differential: plus-9
Without question, the Central Division has been undoubtedly the fiercest, toughest division to play in through the first three weeks of the 2010-2011 NHL season.
In fact, the current last-place team, Columbus, has a winning record of 6-4. Sure, they have a minus-5 team +/- rating, but after all, it’s a winning record.
Ahead of them are Nashville and Detroit, tied at 13 points each. The Predators have been coming up short in overtime, but they’ve only lost two of 10 games in regulation. The Wings come in with a 6-2-1 record, including 4-1-1 at home, and a plus-six rating.
Chicago officially leads the division, but that’s only due to their whopping 14 games played, as they’ve only won seven of them. The true best team in the Central Division has been St. Louis; undefeated in five games at home, just one regulation loss in nine games, and a plus-9 goal differential, tied for the best in the conference.
It’s nearly impossible to deny the Central Division a spot atop the NHL divisional power rankings, at least today. They have the recent history – two of the last three Stanley Cup championships and five teams that have all made the playoffs at least once in the past two seasons – and the current statistics to thoroughly back up the ranking.
However, there’s still many, many more months go to in the NHL season. Check back at the end of November for another glance-over of the six divisions.