What's up with the Atlantic Division?

November 20, 2018 - 4:23 pm
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The Buffalo Sabres are generating all sorts of hype as a surprise team in the NHL, as they're fourth in the league in points (28) at the quarter-mark of the season. While Buffalo is just two points out of the top spot in the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic Division is still going strong. Five of the top ten teams in the NHL are from Buffalo's division, while the Sabres are still just third in their own division, looking up at the Toronto Maple Leafs (30) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (29) in the standings. Right behind the Sabres are the Montreal Canadiens (26) and Boston Bruins (25). Even the Ottawa Senators, 6th in the Atlantic, are shocking the league by keeping pace with 21 points, which would be good for 4th in the Metropolitan and Pacific Divisions. 

What is going on with the entire Atlantic Division? Will the Sabres be able to keep their pace up? Which Atlantic Division teams will taper off? Time to take a look around the Atlantic and see what Buffalo's rivals have been doing this season: 

Toronto Maple Leafs - 1st in the Eastern Conference, 1st in the Atlantic Division (30 points) 

Toronto has been widely perceived as a team that will win track meet types of games 5-3 on a constant basis. However, in addition to being 3rd in the league in goals for (74), Toronto has been surprisingly stout defensively, with a goals against that is 5th in the league (53). While Toronto has a defensive corps that can be suspect, goaltender Fredrik Andersen has been a steadying presence in goal for Toronto. 

The Leafs are so dynamic and deep that they're still so potent offensively without injured center Auston Matthews and winger William Nylander holding out for a contract. Matthews is expected to still miss another two weeks with his shoulder injury. The Leafs have more questions surrounding Nylander, who may sit out the entire season. Nylander has until December 1st to sign a contract, or he will not be allowed to play this season. 

Toronto looks like the scariest team in the East, but luckily Buffalo still tends to play their hated rivals so well, despite their lack of success recently. If Buffalo drew the Leafs in the postseason, the rivalry would be revived and kicked up to a whole new level of hatred. The two teams will open their season series on December 4th. 

Tampa Bay Lightning - 2nd in the Eastern Conference, 2nd in the Atlantic Division (29 points) 

The defending division champs and Cup contenders have not missed a beat with another deep lineup and one of the best top-to-bottom rosters in the NHL. Tampa is once again the most dangerous with the puck, leading the league in goals for (76). However, Tampa may now have a problem with goaltending, as Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy suffered a broken foot and will miss another 4-5 weeks. 

Despite the injury to Vasilevskiy, the Lightning still have a stellar roster featuring Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonaugh. Tampa is not only star studded, but can roll four lines for any situation. 

Buffalo beat Tampa in their first meeting this season, but it wasn't pretty. Buffalo had to hold on to take a 2-1 win over the Lightning on November 13th. 

Montreal Canadiens - 5th in the Eastern Conference, 4th in the Atlantic Division (26 points) 

Many pundits expected Montreal to drop off due to a weakened roster that saw the Habs trade away Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. However, Montreal has gotten scoring from the newcomers in those trades: Max Domi (25 points) and Tomas Tatar (17 points). Montreal is also getting scoring from plenty of other players, including Jonathan Drouin, defenseman Jeff Petry and center Jasperi Kotkaniemi. 

While the Canadiens are known for having an elite goaltender in Carey Price, the defense is rather leaky. Montreal is 5th worst in the league in goals against (70). Montreal is clearly missing defenseman Shea Weber, who is close to returning from injury and looking at a potential December return. 

The Sabres have already beaten the Canadiens twice this season, while Montreal got one point in an overtime loss. The two teams play again on Friday afternoon. 

Boston Bruins - 6th in the Eastern Conference, 5th in the Atlantic Division (25 points) 

Boston frustrated the Sabres on opening night, sending the fans into a spiral before the season could get rolling. While the Bruins are a solid team with a defensive structure, they're now looking at several big injuries to important players in their lineup. Top center Patrice Bergeron is out for at least a month along with defensemen Zdeno Chara. 

Boston still boasts the league's stingiest defense with only 49 goals allowed on the season. However, the Bruins look like a top-heavy team in their scoring, relying on Bergeron, David Pastranak and Brad Marchand to carry the offensive output. With Bergeron out, Boston's already poor scoring depth will be tested. 

Boston's goaltending has been solid, but that has been more due to the surprise play of Jaroslav Halak, who has outperformed starter Tuukka Rask and started the majority of Boston's games this season. 

Boston is 1-0 against Buffalo after the season opening 4-0 beat down the Bruins handed Buffalo to start the Sabres season. 

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