Doug Upstone wrote this for ScoresandStats.com
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been the best team in the NHL all season, but that title is being threatened not only in the league but their own division. Tampa Bay is only .500 in the past 10 games, which have mostly on the road and they return home to play on Feb.8th, where they will be home four of their next six contests.
The Lightning still have the best differential in hockey and are in the Top 6 in scoring and fewest goals allowed, but this section of pedestrian play has permitted others to close the gap.
One such club is second place Boston, who’s been incredible since the middle of November after a slumbering start. The Bruins had injuries problems to several key players to begin the season and was 6-11 SU. However, since Nov. 16th, Boston is 27-11 and has climbed to within a few points of Tampa Bay and could catch them having played a couple fewer games.
When the Bruins broke up the team that went to Stanley Cup Finals twice in three years and were champions in 2011, nobody was certain their draft methods would pay off. It turns out the B’s drafted quite well the new players have quickly melded with the veteran players like Brad Marchard, Patrice Bergeron, and David Krejci, for a nicely balanced mix of talent. There is nothing fluky about this team either, listed in the Top 6 in most key statistical areas.
Toronto remains a threat in third place but is far less consistent than the teams ahead of them. The Maple Leafs offense and defense plays a lot like nearby Lake Ontario. For extended period Toronto’s play is smooth and in sync on both ends of the ice. However, the Leafs will become unfocused and start playing choppy and their record will recede just like beach erosion. If Toronto is to become a more reliable wager in the coming month, goalie Frederik Andersen needs more stability between the pipes. After having a very solid season a year ago, he’s back to being the old up and down goaltender he’s been most of his career.
As far as the rest of the division, if you like to find teams to bet against, there is a cavalcade in the Atlantic.
Montreal as among the first teams like Chicago and Pittsburgh to a degree to embrace the modern version of playing with speed all over the ice. One difference, they still drafted players that were the same size from the last century. So when the rest of the teams began adding speed AND size, the Canadiens were immediately at a disadvantage and those players never improved. Montreal is in the mid-20’s for scoring and pucks that get past the goaltender.
After more than two decades of being the finest run franchise in hockey, Detroit is back with the rest of the pack. The locker room has factions and coach Jeff Blashill is trying to find a middle ground and it’s not working. Remember when the Red Wings were the most dominant team at home for years? Now they are 11-17 SU at the new Little Caesars Arena. (#pizzapizza)
Ottawa lost in Game 7 of the Eastern Finals in double OT last May, now they are a handful of points ahead of rebuilding Buffalo. Two sorry teams this season.