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The NHL Atlantic Division Report Card

The 2017-18 NHL season is a quarter of the way through. While there are plenty of games to be played, we can now start to see which teams will be in the playoff hunt in a few months, and which teams may be already looking ahead to next season

Tampa Bay Lightning Preshow by Ms. Gemstone is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

The NHL Atlantic Division Report Card

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes

The 2017-18 NHL season is a quarter of the way through. While there are plenty of games to be played, we can now start to see which teams will be in the playoff hunt in a few months, and which teams may be already looking ahead to next season. For those who haven’t been paying attention, this is a quick primer on how the teams in the Atlantic Division have fared so far. And overall, it hasn’t been that great. Despite having arguably the league’s best team, the third place team (Montreal) would be well outside playoff contention if they played in any of the other divisions in the NHL. Not a lot of power to be found here.

Anyways, here’s how I would grade the season’s for each of the eight Atlantic Division teams through this point. (I graded these teams based not only on their performance in a vacuum, but their play compared to their expectations.)

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (18-4-2, 38 points)

Grade – A

Talk about a no-brainer. The Lightning look to be the cream of the crop in the Eastern Conference this year, led by a brilliant first-line combination of Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, and Vladislav Namestnikov. Victor Hedman is the silently emerging as one of the best defensemen in the NHL, and Andrei Vasilevskiy is rock-solid between the pipes. The balance on this team is striking, as they are in the top-five in the league in goals for (95) and goals against (67). Scoring, defense, goaltending, it’s all there. The road to the Cup this could very likely go through these guys.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs (17-10-1, 35 points)

Grade – A-

This team knows how to put the puck in the net. Led by stud sophomore Auston Matthews, the Leafs have scored a league-leading 99 goals and have four double-digit goal scorers. Frederik Anderson has been an absolute workhorse, posting a 15-8-1 record including three shutout victories. Look for this team to give Tampa a run for their money as the season progresses, as we could easily see Toronto sitting at the top of Eastern Conference by season’s end.

3. Montreal Canadiens (13-12-3, 29 points)

Grade – B-

To say I was surprised by Montreal’s first few weeks of the season would be an understatement. After a putrid 2-7-1 start, The Canadiens have rallied to pull above .500 and claim the current third spot in the Atlantic Division. This is still a far cry from the pace last year’s squad was on, and Claude Julien’s crew has some work to do if they plan to challenge once again for the top spot in the Atlantic. A healthy Carey Price will be the key for the Habs.

4. Boston Bruins (12-9-4, 28 points)

Grade – B

If the season ended today, the Bruins would miss the playoffs. So why such a decent grade? The Bruins have been able to steal and grind out 28 points while being decimated by injuries and dealing with a starting goaltender in Tuukka Rask who went ice cold. The are starting to get healthy now, and their play is improving because of it. Cup contenders? Probably not, but they have done well to put themselves in striking distance of a playoff spot with key games in hand. If they plan on making the postseason, though, they will need to find consistent scoring from guys not named Pastrnak, Marchand, or Bergeron.

5. Detroit Red Wings (10-12-5, 25 points)

Grade – C

No team in the NHL has had a rougher two weeks than the Red Wings. The NHL’s oldest squad (average age of 29) has lost seven straight, culminating with a 10-1 debacle against the Montreal Canadiens. Like most of their Eastern Conference contemporaries (Boston, Florida, Ottawa), the goaltending and scoring needs to improve, as a -16 goal differential just isn’t going to cut it.

6. Ottawa Senators (9-9-6, 24 points)

Grade – C-

You know, there may be one team struggling just as much as Detroit after all. Following a solid start to the season, the Sens have lost seven of their last eight. Bobby Ryan has battled injuries, Erik Karlsson’s numbers are low (by his ungodly standards), and newcomer Matt Duchene has a mere two points in ten contests. I don’t expect this to last long though, and once the aforementioned players can right the ship, there’s no reason why Ottawa can’t contend for a East Wild Card birth by season’s end.

7. Florida Panthers (10-13-4, 24 points)

Grade – C

Florida is on pace to finish with a nearly identical point total as they did last season (81), which will not get them far in a very top-heavy conference. They do boast some balanced scoring- six players have at least five goals so far this season. The problem? Their leader, Vincent Trocheck, has only ten, and is the only player with double-digits. The lack of firepower up front, coupled with power-play and shorthanded units among the league-worst, will likely continue to leave Florida in the bottom third of teams in the NHL.

8. Buffalo Sabres (6-17-4, 16 points)

Grade – D

New head coach Phil Housley has his work cut out for him. No team in the NHL has scored fewer goals than the last-place Sabres, and only Arizona has lost more games in regulation. In short, the start to this season for Buffalo has been brutal. I’ll be honest, I thought that we may see Jack Eichel and company in the mix for one of the East Wild Card slots come April. That maybe this was the season they could break through and take that next step forward. There’s a lot of season left, but it’s looking like that ship has sailed.

Ryan Kelly lives in Cambridge, MA, a stone's throw away from his beloved Boston teams. When he is not working as an editorial assistant, he is providing commentary on the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins for The Turf.

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