The perennial powers in the Eastern Conference are mostly living up to their potential. It is the bubble teams, and the wild cards that are making life so interesting. I doubt anyone outside the Francosphere predicted the Canadiens would lead the Eastern Conference at any time, and yet they do. Predicting the Capitals as a basement dweller might have been a little easier, but it still counts as a surprise.
Washington Capitals: We know Adam Oates is a first year head coach. We know he didn’t get a real training camp to break everyone in. We know if McPhee fires him the general manager is probably writing his own pink slip at the same time. We know Mike Green still can’t stay healthy to save his life.
Buffalo Sabres: We know that after hundreds of reminders as to how long he’d been in place Lindy Ruff who still has five years left on his contract is no longer the Sabres head coach. We know the team’s identity is still unknown even to the men on the roster. We know they desperately need to improve at faceoffs. We also know we’re not going to see major changes to way the team plays until the general manager departs and someone else brings in the right mix of talent and attitude.
Florida Panthers: We know that part of last years division championship was a perfect storm of divisional woes. We know that no team in the east has scored less. We know that some of their youngsters are starting to come along. We know the teams goaltending woes are a real big part of why they aren’t performing better despite the emergence of Huberdeau.
New York Islanders: We know that John Tavares is really god damned good. We know that Brad Boyes appears to have a pulse again. We know those two and Matt Moulson aren’t enough to save the team from god awful goaltending and substandard defense. We know Vishnovsky is very unlikely to stick around past the end of the season and tutor the teams young defenders.
Winnipeg Jets: We know the Southeast divisions least south or east team is not great offensively, but that their defense is worse. We know the Jets are somehow worse at home than on the road. We know that if only two of your top five goal scorers have a positive +/- 200 foot hockey probably isn’t happening. We know that the last time a goaltending tandem let a team to the Cup without either of them having a save percentage north of .900 was probably before most of the roster were allowed to cross the street by themselves.
Philadelphia Flyers: We know that this team is unbareably burdened by eight no trade and no movement clauses. We know this team has more ability that it is showing. We know the goaltending has again, been reminiscent of the 1980s. We know the tether for the front office and coach have got to be pretty short.
Tampa Bay Lightning: We know if the team could transfer 10% of the talent from their top forwards to their defense they’d be a juggernaut. We know if the team had a third and fourth line who anyone outside the city could name their defense might not matter. We know that Vincent Lecavalier is playing point per game hockey for the first time since George W. Bush was president. We know that Matheiu Garon is one of the best goaltenders in the southeast division this year.
New York Rangers: We know that not many people picked this team as a bubble team. We know that their powerplay can’t be properly described without using what some would call “unprintable words”. We know the offense as a whole can be called mediocre at best. We know Rick Nash somehow managed to play two games over a couple of days before he felt the hit from Milan Lucic that is blamed for his getting taken out of the lineup.
Ottawa Senators: We know this a very resilient team. We know Craig Anderson’s name should be etched onto the Hart and Vezina by early April if he stays anywhere near his current 1.49 gaa and .952 sv%. We know that despite the resilience and the absurd goaltending the team needs to either make a trade or find someone in the system to contribute outside the crease.
Toronto Maple Leafs: We know the Leafs have a coach who can get the individuals on the roster to play like a team. We know James Riemer is still built out of balsa wood and bubble gum. We know Phil Kessel is probably due a goal scoring explosion sometime real soon. We know a 4.4 shooting percentage is not something anyone associates with Kessel, even when he has one. We know that Grabovski is either being unforgivably misused or just having an off year after having been in the top three in scoring for the team the last two years.
Pittsburgh Penguins: We know this team can’t hold onto a shred of discipline when playing their cross state rivals. We know they can score. We know balance isn’t how this team is build. We know they are going to have to do something really creative to get under the cap next year and have a contender.
Boston Bruins: We know Brad Marchand is contributing big time. We know Nathan Horton is a UFA at the end of the season. We know the powerplay is still “a work in progress” despite success in recent games. We know they’ve played the least games so far of any team in the NHL.
Carolina Hurricanes: We know the team has their fair share of offensive talent. We know Justin Faulk is the future of the teams blueline. We know they lead their division by being more evenly mediocre than the other teams in their division.
Montreal Canadiens: We know believers in karma will point to the last two season and say this is just an evening of the scales. We know those folks would be better served to point to the vastly underrated Tomas Plekanec and the rookie Alex Galchenyuk who have pushed the Habs offense from 20th last season to 9th th