NHL Division-By-Division Power Rankings: Southeast Division Weak No More
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Three weeks and one calendar month into the 2010-2011 NHL season, we're already able to pick out the surprises and disappointments of the year.
Teams like Buffalo and New Jersey, two top-ranked teams from the Eastern Conference last season, have both struggled to get going and posted a combined 0-8-2 home record. Meanwhile franchises such as Montreal, Boston and Tampa Bay have burst onto the stage with a combined 20-7-2 record.
In the West, Nashville, Edmonton and Dallas started out strongly but have faltered lately. On the other hand, youthful squads such as St. Louis, Colorado and Los Angeles have already started to prove their legitimacy.
But how does the NHL look from a divisional standpoint? Which five-team groups have been the toughest to play in so far, and which divisions have struggled despite their highly-competitive reputations?
Here's a look at how each of the six NHL divisions have stood up against each other after three weeks of action.
Sixth: Northwest Division
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Total Combined Points: 55
Total Combined Goal Differential: minus-4
The Northeast Division, which was not the best division around last season, has been even more pitiful so far this year. The best team, Colorado, is just 6-4-1 for 13 points, tied for worst among the six division leaders.
The division does not have a single team with a positive goal-differential, although Colorado and Calgary are both even in that statistic.
Vancouver, last season's division champion, is 5-0-1 at home in the newly-named Rogers Arena. But its 0-3-1 road record spoils that number.
Minnesota, meanwhile, dropped both of its NHL Premiere Games and is still trying to recover, while Calgary has lost back-to-back games after beginning the season a respectable 6-3-0.
Finally, Edmonton, after instilling a bit of confidence among fans with a 2-0 start, didn't win a single game out of its next six before stopping the skid last Friday.
In fact, except for Colorado, every other Northwest Division team has a worse record at the moment than Columbus, the Central Division's last-place team.
If it wants to produce more than one playoff team for '10-'11, the Northwest Division needs to get back into gear quickly.
Fifth: Northeast Division
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Total Combined Points: 55
Total Combined Goal Differential: even
While the Northeast Division hasn't been particularly bad, it has entered some unpredictable seas, as the top two finishers from last season are now the bottom two teams in the division standings.
Defending-champion Buffalo is in fifth and last place with a miserable 3-7-2 mark, including no wins in five home games. Ottawa, the sixth seed in the conference from last April, is just 4-6-1 and it hasn't been able to get it going on the road, where it is 1-3-1.
Meanwhile, Montreal has gotten off to a hot start with a 7-3-1 record. And Boston, who's been led by the suddenly-incredible Tim Thomas, has only allowed only 11 goals in eight games, 10 goals less than the second-least scored on team.
Those two teams have also experienced another common success—winning on the road, where they are a combined 8-1-0.
In the middle sits Toronto, which has faltered after an incredible 4-0-0 start, losing five of its last six games. The Leafs are also right in the middle of goals differential, as they are currently even in that category along with the division as a whole.
That is offset by the Canadiens' and Bruins' combined plus-17 rating and the Senators' and Sabres' combined minus-17 rating.
Fourth: Pacific Division
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Total Combined Points: 57
Combined Goal Differential: minus-1
The most dominant conference in the west for several seasons running is in danger of losing its title.
The producer of the top seed and three of the top six teams in the conference in 2009-2010, the Pacific Division currently has only one team in the top six.
That would be the young Los Angeles Kings, which rose from 14th in '08-'09 to sixth last season. They are currently the top team this year at 8-3-0, good enough for 16 points. They are also one of just two teams that are undefeated in their home arena.
However, it's a four-point drop from them down to second-place Dallas, a re-made team that began 4-0—although with just one regulation win—but has now lost four of six and three of the last four.
Below Dallas is San Jose, which, although tied for the fewest games played out of the 15 Western Conference teams, has won only two of five at the Shark Tank and are only 5-3-1 overall.
Phoenix, the division's biggest surprise team from last year, has fallen to fourth with three overtime defeats already, giving the Coyotes nine points but only three victories in 10 games. Next is the Ducks, a team that has been plagued with road games...road games that they're losing (they're 2-6 away from home).
In terms of goal differential, the division itself is in the negatives, albeit barely, in combined goal differential. That is despite having three teams in the positives, a mark no other division can top at the moment. That minus-one rating could begin to be reflective of the division's play, too, if they can't get it going.
Third: Atlantic Division
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Total Combined Points: 61
Total Combined Goal Differential: minus-11
The Atlantic Division, which produced four of the top nine teams in the Eastern Conference last season, has been only average so far this season.
The Flyers, which lead the division with 15 points, are tied with both other Eastern Conference division leaders in that regard. But they have taken more games (12) to do so. The division also holds the worst combined goal differential at minus-11.
Most of the blame for that league-worst goal differential can be put on the shoulders of Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, who are 3-9-1, 0-4-1 at home, with a horrid minus-22 differential and just 20 goals scored. That is four less than the second-lowest scoring team in the conference.
The Islanders, who looked like the surprise team of the division after a 4-1-2 start, are now in second-to-last, having suffered through four straight defeats.
Their rivals, the New York Rangers, are an average 6-4-1 right now but have won only two of six games at home in Madison Square Garden.
Pittsburgh is also reeling at home in the new Consol Energy Center, coming out victorious in only two of its six contests there to date.
Second: Southeast Division
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Total Combined Points: 59
Combined Goal Differential: plus-7
As the title of this slideshow reads, the Southeast Division, typically a punching bag of the Eastern Conference and a typical producer of just one playoff team, is weak no more.
The somewhat-expected emergence of the Tampa Bay Lightning has given Washington, the division champion for three straight seasons, some competition at the top of the standings. And it appears that the rest of the division has improved, too.
The Bolts (15 points) and Caps (14 points) are in a tight battle for first place for now, and that's probably reflective of the way it will be for most of the year.
The two teams have seven wins apiece compared to just six total regulation losses and one more in overtime. They also pair up for a plus-14 goal differential, 7-2-1 home record and a three-game win streak.
In the middle is youthful Atlanta. It appears to be getting along fine (well, actually, better) than it did when Kovalchuk was around as it has12 points in 11 games this season. That is a big improvement over its usual near-worst records.
Carolina, in the middle of a major rebuilding project, is only 5-6-0 but has fared decently considering its abundance of road games. It is worth noting, however, that in its two games in the RBC Center, Carolina has been shut out 3-0 both times.
At the bottom is Florida, but only at 4-5-0, and the Panthers are actually the third team in the division with a positive goal differential. They should also be seeing more time in South Florida, with just three home games to date.
In the end, the Southeast Division is finally looking like a worthy foe for the other rivalry-filled, history-stuffed Eastern Conference divisions.
First: Central Division
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Total Combined Points: 67
Combined Goal Differential: plus-9
Without question, the Central Division has been the fiercest, toughest division to play in through the first three weeks of the 2010-2011 NHL season.
In fact, the current last-place team, Columbus, has a winning record of 6-4. Sure, it has a minus-5 team plus/minus rating, but it's still a winning record.
Ahead of Columbus is Nashville and Detroit, tied at 13 points each. The Predators have been coming up short in overtime, but they've only lost two of 10 games in regulation. The Wings come in with a 6-2-1 record, including 4-1-1 at home, and a plus-six rating.
Chicago officially leads the division, but that's only due to its whopping 14 games played, as it has only won seven of them.
The true best team in the Central Division has been St. Louis. The Blues are undefeated in five games at home, they have just one regulation loss in nine games and they have a plus-9 goal differential—tied for the best in the conference.
It's nearly impossible to deny the Central Division a spot atop the NHL divisional power rankings, at least today.
It has the recent history (two of the last three Stanley Cup championships come from the Central and all five teams have made the playoffs at least once in the past two seasons) and the current statistics to back up the ranking.
However, there are still many more months go to in the NHL season. Check back at the end of November for another glance-over of the six divisions.
Mark Jones is currently Bleacher Report's featured columnist for the NHL's Carolina Hurricanes . In his two years so far with the site, he has written over 230 articles and received over 210,000 total reads.