NHL Atlantic

The State of Every NHL Atlantic Division Team at the Olympic Break

Steve MacfarlaneFeatured ColumnistFebruary 11, 2014

The State of Every NHL Atlantic Division Team at the Olympic Break

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    New look, but the same old story.

    With the Olympic break upon us, it's time to look at the Atlantic Division's eight teams and what their futures may look like once NHL action resumes.

    With realignment hitting the Eastern Conference this season, the Florida teams were tossed in with a cluster of Canadian teams and their closest American counterparts. One is thriving, the other sinking.

    No one is surprised with which club has come out on top so far. Behind the division leader, however, there is plenty of movement to come with just a single point separating three squads.

    Five of these eight teams are currently in a playoff spot, but there are plenty of games—and potential changes—to come before the end of the regular season.

    Check out these slides for a closer look at the Atlantic Division in order of their current spot in the standings.

     

Boston Bruins

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    Mark Zaleski/Associated Press

    Current Status

    Heading into the break for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games at 37-16-4, the Boston Bruins have a comfortable lead atop the Atlantic Division standings and sit second in the Eastern Conference behind the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Despite playing without defensive leader Zdeno Chara—who skipped the last two games before the break to be Slovakia's flag bearer—the Bruins pounded the Ottawa Senators 7-2 in their final contest, setting a season high for goals scored with a dozen Bs earning a point.

    They went 8-1-2 over their last 11 games.

     

    Greatest Strength

    For the Bruins, depth and goaltending are the keys to their continued success this season.

    With defenseman Dennis Seidenberg out for the season, the Bruins are relying on some young guys to pick up his minutes and responsibilities. Dougie Hamilton and Tory Krug are among the best blue-line prospects in the league, and Matt Bartkowski has impressed Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli.

    Offensively, the Bruins boast eight players with at least 12 goals on the season so far, and nine have earned 30 points or more.

    They don't have significant star power without an Alex Ovechkin or Sidney Crosby type, but they have 13 different game-winning-goal scorers as evidence of their ability to get key contributions from different members on a regular basis.

    In goal, Tuukka Rask leads the league with five shutouts and is in the top 10 in save percentage and goals-against average. With 25 wins, he's earning every penny of that fat contract he signed in the offseason.

     

    Biggest Problem

    In only his second season as a starter in the NHL, Rask has never played more than 45 games and is just two shy of that heading into the break. He'll be the go-to goalie for Team Finland in the Sochi Games and then come back to a compressed schedule down the stretch.

    There's not much time for rest in there, and the Bruins are not planning on sitting Rask more often in the near future.

    if Rask falters over the remaining couple of months, the Bruins might lose their shot at home ice for the playoffs.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Current Status

    It's been a pretty stunning season for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    Not because they sit second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference at the break, but because they've racked up that 33-20-5 record with a previously unproven goaltender leading the way and their biggest superstar out with a broken leg.

    When Steven Stamkos snapped his leg on Nov. 11, many assumed the Lightning's season was going to take a turn for the worse.

    But the team has adapted with an impressive collection of young players showing that they have a bright future—some even chosen to represent their countries in the Sochi Games—and goalie Ben Bishop standing tall between the pipes with a Vezina-worthy season.

     

    Greatest Strength

    The team seems to have really come together in Stamkos' absence, with veteran Martin St. Louis leading the way offensively despite losing his linemate.

    The good news is that there's a chance Stamkos will come back shortly after the Olympics, which could mean even more production from St. Louis and better matchups for the forwards who get bumped down the lineup and face weaker competition.

    Their defense has performed above expectations as well, with Viktor Hedman, Matt Carle and veterans Sami Salo and Eric Brewer helping the team to an 11th-best 2.45 goals against per game.

     

    Biggest Problem

    They've succeeded even in the face of serious injury so far, but that could be the very thing to derail their season.

    Their top center in Stamkos' absence, Valtteri Filppula, broke his ankle before the break. Bishop has been out of the lineup recently with wrist, head and upper body injuries. And rookie Tyler Johnson has been limping for the last week or so after blocking a shot.

    The Lightning have also assumed Stamkos would return after the Olympic break. If that fails to happen, there could be a mental letdown.

Montreal Canadiens

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    Paul Sancya/Associated Press

    Current Status

    The Montreal Canadiens are third in the division with a 32-21-6 record and 70 points—edging the Toronto Maple Leafs for that spot with their 29 wins in regulation or overtime as the tiebreaker.

    It hasn't been the smoothest ride, but they headed into the Olympic break on a hot streak after an inconsistent start to 2014 thanks to the strong play by netminder Carey Price, who was named the NHL's first star of the week for his efforts.

     
    Greatest Strength

    There's no doubt who holds the key to the playoffs and any success that follows them there. Price is right.

    The Habs need their starting goaltender to be the difference in nearly every game, and he rewarded their faith during a stellar stretch of play leading up to the Sochi Games—where he'll compete with Roberto Luongo to be Team Canada's top option between the pipes.

    In his last six starts, Price stopped 203 of 210 shots for a .967 save percentage while posting two shutouts.  


    Biggest Problem

    There are a few obstacles in their path to the playoffs. The biggest may be their lack of secondary scoring.

    They average fewer than 2.5 goals per game, and the Canadiens are one of only two teams being led in scoring by a defenseman—P.K. Subban for the Habs and Erik Karlsson for the Ottawa Senators.

    Behind their current top line of Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher, there hasn't been much in the way of chemistry. The return of an injured Alex Galchenyuk, who broke his hand in early January, could help there.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Abelimages/Getty Images

    Current Status

    The Toronto Maple Leafs are hot one month and cold as ice the next.

    But thanks to a very steamy last couple of weeks, they find themselves in fourth place in the Atlantic Division with a 32-22-6 record and 70 points.

    The Leafs won two straight heading into the Olympic break and are 7-2-1 over their last 10 games, with star forward Phil Kessel netting eight goals and 17 points in that span to put himself into the NHL's top five in scoring with 31 goals and 34 assists in 60 games.

     

    Greatest Strength

    Goaltending is always a huge factor in the NHL, and the Maple Leafs have only been as good as their tandem of Jonathan Bernier and James Reimer have allowed them to be. And Bernier has taken control of the starting role recently after a tough December and early January.

    In his last 12 starts, Bernier has won nine times and earned an overtime point in another. He's posted a save percentage lower than .900 just twice in that span.

    Considering the Leafs continue to average the most shots against per game with 36.2, they need their netminders to be at their best every night.


    Biggest Problem

    One of their great strengths is also their biggest weakness. Although Kessel is having a career year, on pace to hit the 40-goal mark for the first time, the Leafs are too dependent on their star for offensive production.

    If Kessel or winger James van Riemsdyk—who will team up for the Americans in Sochi—get injured down the stretch, they may not be able to get the goal production they need to support their goaltenders.

    Nazem Kadri is the only other Leaf with 40 points, and while he and Mason Raymond are nice secondary options, they haven't shown the ability to be reliable consistently in bigger roles.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Chris O'Meara/Associated Press

    Current Status

    The Detroit Red Wings are not the dynasty they used to be.

    Clinging to a wild-card playoff spot at the Olympic break, the Wings put together a 26-20-12 record and 64 points but are in a tight race for one of the final berths in the postseason with about five other Eastern Conference teams.

    Joe Louis Arena is no longer a terrifying place to play. The Wings have been mediocre at best at home this season, and it's a major factor in their fall from the league's elite.


    Greatest Strength

    Their head coach Mike Babcock might be their greatest asset.

    The Team Canada bench boss at the Olympic Games will have his team ready to play at its best down the stretch regardless of what challenges they face.

    He still has superstars in Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk—who are both suiting up for their mother countries in Sochi, Russia for the Winter Olympic Games—and a cast of younger stars in waiting who have shown promise while both Zetterberg and Datsyuk have battled injuries this season.


    Biggest Problem

    Staying healthy has been difficult, to say the least.

    Datsyuk likely wouldn't be playing at the Olympics if it wasn't on Russian soil. Zetterberg, goaltender Jimmy Howard and veterans Johan Franzen, Stephen Weiss and Daniel Alfredsson have all missed chunks of time.

    In fact, the Wings have had just two players—Kyle Quincey and Drew Miller—dress in every game so far this season.

    They'll need to get healthy, and stay that way, to have a shot at the playoffs.

Ottawa Senators

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    Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

    Current Status

    It's been a disappointing year for the Ottawa Senators, who had high hopes before the season began after making the playoffs last year and upsetting the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round before losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    Through 59 games this year, the Sens have managed a mediocre 26-22-11 record, and their 63 points have them in 10th spot in the Eastern Conference.

    Their offense is among the top 10 with 2.81 goals for per game, but they are third worst in the league in goals against with an average of 3.14.


    Greatest Strength

    They have star power in Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris and Jason Spezza, so if they can find some chemistry and consistency over the next couple of months, they should continue to produce offensively.

    Blueliner Erik Karlsson paces the entire team in the points department, and in this case, it's not such a bad thing given that he's producing at nearly a point-per-game pace with 55 points in 59 games so far.

     

    Biggest Problem

    Goaltender Craig Anderson is a shadow of his former self.

    After putting together a career-high .941 save percentage last year, the Sens goalie is at .908 this season—below his career average of .914.

    Anderson is also allowing an average of more than three goals against per game. He's not getting a lot of support from forwards like Spezza and Milan Michalek, who have atrocious plus/minus ratings, but his play has been extremely inconsistent.

    If Anderson doesn't return to form, the Sens are in big trouble.

Florida Panthers

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    Gregg Forwerck/Getty Images

    Current Status

    It looks like the Florida Panthers will have another high first-round selection at the draft this spring.

    The Cats have earned just 51 points with a 22-29-7 record, sitting seventh in the Atlantic Division and 15th in the Eastern Conference.

    Any hopes of a wild-card berth have dwindled the last couple of weeks.


    Greatest Strength

    With a nice core of young players like rookies Aleksander Barkov, Nick Bjugstad and Jonathan Huberdeau, the Panthers are set up for success—just not this season.

    If they hang on to their many veterans in the hope of a playoff run, which is highly doubtful, then aging goalie Tim Thomas is their best hope to catch lightning in a bottle.


    Biggest Problem

    They look better on paper but seem to lack serious leadership. Part of that is because they know the team won't look very similar in a couple of months with ownership ready to wheel and deal.

Buffalo Sabres

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    Bill Wippert/Getty Images

    Current Status

    It's been a bumpy ride for the Buffalo Sabres, to say the least.

    Their general manager and coach were fired in November, and their starting goaltender is on the trade block. The Sabres are dead last in the league, and it isn't even close. With a 15-34-8 record (that's a paltry 38 points), the Sabres are in the cellar in both the Atlantic Division and the entire league. 


    Greatest Strength

    It would be a shock to see the Sabres do well after the Olympic break, especially given that it's likely Ryan Miller will be dealt by the deadline. Miller is their greatest strength, but he's also new GM Tim Murray's best trade asset in order to work on rebuilding this terrible team.


    Biggest Problem

    You can pick any spot on a team like this one, but the defense is among the very worst in the league.

    Christian Ehrhoff has been a bust since his arrival from the Vancouver Canucks, netting the same goal total of 14 in his final year in Vancouver in three seasons with the Sabres. First-round pick Tyler Myers has been a huge disappointment since his rookie season, and he's been mentioned in trade rumors the last few months.

    At this point, it's difficult to point to any positives in Buffalo.

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