This is a weekly feature in which I’ll look at the performances and narratives of the teams in the Atlantic Division.
There’s a four-way tie at the top of the Atlantic Division right now between the Red Wings, Leafs, Sens, and Lightning, while the Canadiens have struggled mightily. Which of these starts is legitimate?
1st: Toronto Maple Leafs
4-1-0 (8 points) / +7 goal differential / 56.8 CF% (4th) / 100.8 PDO (15th)
The Buds have picked up right where they left off last season and don’t appear to be suffering from any kind of sophomore slump. Through five games, the Leafs have scored 26 goals, the most in the NHL. Auston Matthews is leading the charge with five goals, but the scoring has been spread around nicely. 13 different skaters on the team have recorded at least one goal, and every forward on the team and scored except for Matt Martin and Eric Fehr.
But while the Leafs are scoring at will, they’re having a difficult time keeping the puck out of their own net. Their 19 goals against is the sixth most in the NHL, and Frederik Andersen’s .880 save percentage is bottom-five. In their only loss of the season against New Jersey last week, the Leafs outshot the Devils 50-31 but Andersen looked shaky. He had a poor start to last season too before finding his groove, so this isn’t something to worry about yet.
2nd: Detroit Red Wings
4-1-0 (8 points) / +6 goal differential / 49.7 CF% (16th) / 102.2 PDO (7th)
That moment when you realize the Arena is filled with Red Wings fans at a Coyotes HOME game ?? pic.twitter.com/cBsxT3CtoM— Bar South N Celly™ (@BarSouthNCelly) October 14, 2017
The Red Wings were supposed to be very, very bad this season, but have gotten off to a quick start. Through five games, they’re tied with the Leafs, Lightning, and Senators atop the Atlantic Division with eight points.
The driving force behind Detroit’s early success has been a deep and efficient offence and excellent goaltending from Jimmy Howard. Though the percentages, and well, logic looking at their roster, suggests this isn’t going to last. Detroit’s top six scorers are all shooting above 20 per cent, which never lasts, and Howard is playing to a .955 save percentage. We’ll see how they play against Tampa Bay and Toronto this week.
3rd: Tampa Bay Lightning
4-1-0 (8 points) / +4 goal differential / 50.9 CF% (13th) / 102.1 PDO (8th)
Last season was a major disappointment for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they missed out on the playoffs after spending three years as contenders in the Eastern Conference. But now that they’re fully healthy, the Lightning are rolling. They’re 4-1 through five games, and Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov are driving one of the most dominant lines in hockey.
Last week was particularly impressive because the Lightning had a commanding win over the Capitals, a gritty win over the defending champion Penguins, and a third-straight win over the Blues. Next week, Tampa will go on the road to play Detroit, New Jersey, and Columbus, a handful of interesting teams who might be overachieving to start the season.
4th: Ottawa Senators
3-0-2 (8 points) / +10 goal differential / 42.1 CF% (31st) / 103.8 PDO (4th)
He's baaaaaack. pic.twitter.com/tvvZEOUMQG— SensChirp (@SensChirp) October 15, 2017
The Senators dropped their first two games of the season in the shootout, but went on a Western road trip last week and caught fire. They edged out the Canucks 3-2 in a shootout win, then pounded the Oilers and Flames by a combined score of 12-1 to bring their record to 3-0-2 on the season.
Obviously the thing that jumps out about the Sens is their shot attempt differential, which ranks dead last in the NHL. The Sens are being outshot heavily, game in, game out, but because of The System, they’ve over-performed those metrics. The question is whether that system is actually legitimate and the Sens continue to baffle like they did in last year’s playoff run, or if they fall down like their percentage suggest they will.
But the fact they’re off to this strong start without Erik Karlsson bodes well for the Sens.
5th: Florida Panthers
2-2-0 (4 points) / +1 goal differential / 56.6 CF% (6th) / 98.4 PDO (22nd)
The funny thing about the Florida Panthers is that they’re deemed as an example of how hockey analytics don’t work. Last season, the Panthers went all-in on a stats movement but pulled the plus after like two months. They erased a decent chunk of those Corsi-driven player personnel additions last off-season, dealing away Rielly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, and Jason Demers.
Now, four games into this season, the Panthers have some of the best underlying numbers in the league. Every single player on the Panthers has a positive shot attempt differential, but they’re 2-2 largely because James Reimer and Roberto Luongo haven’t been all that good. But outshooting your opponents bodes well for success, though apparently that’s a controversial take in Florida.
6th: Boston Bruins
2-3-0 (4 points) / -4 goal differential / 51.7 CF% (10th) / 100 PDO (18th)
The Boston Bruins season has been weird so far. They beat the injury-riddled Predators in their season opener, but have dropped two games to the Colorado Avalanche and one to the Vegas Golden Knights. Their only other win was a thrashing of the very bad Arizona Coyotes.
So, through five games, they’re 2-3 and have only played Western Conference teams. As a result, it’s difficult to come to many conclusions about this Bruins team or where they stand within the division. They have solid underlying numbers, but Tuukka Rask has been worryingly bad, posting an .882 save percentage through four games. That said, Patrice Bergeron, the engine behind a lot of Boston’s success, has yet to play this season, so things will likely be different when he’s back.
7th: Montreal Canadiens
1-3-1 (3 points) / -9 goal differential / 57.9 CF% (2nd) / 89.9 PDO (31st)
Carey Price basically took the blame for the loss. Said he thought it was Habs best game of the year, but wasn't his best game of the year.— Аrpon Basu (@ArponBasu) October 15, 2017
It’s no surprise that the Habs have had a difficult time scoring. Through five games, they only have eight goals, which is to be expected for a team that acquired a winger to be its top centre and jettisoned all of its puck-moving defencemen in the span of little over a year.
The surprising thing about the Habs has been an inability to keep the puck out of the net. Their underlying numbers are fantastic, they don’t allow very many shots, which you’d expect based off of their solid, defensive blueline, but Carey Price owns an .885 save percentage so far through five games. If this team is going to be successful, it’s going to be because they’re impossible to score on, and that hasn’t been the case so far.
8th: Buffalo Sabres
1-4-1 (3 points) / -9 goal differential / 45.3 CF% (28th) / 99.1 PDO (21st)
Another year, another disaster in Buffalo. It’s probably a bit early to call this year a disaster, but the Sabres just won their first game on Sunday night after starting the season 0-4-1. Their underlying numbers are bad, the blueline has been a disaster, the goaltending hasn’t been strong, and the offence is top-heavy. It’s worth noting that Phil Housley’s new systems are going to take some time to settle in, but it’s hard to get optimistic about this Sabres team.