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Around the East: Tampa Bay Lightning back on top

But what are those pesky Montreal Canadiens doing up so high?

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche
Oct 24, 2018; Denver, CO, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning fans celebrate a goal during the third period against the Colorado Avalanche at Pepsi Center.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Week Three of the Around the East series (formerly the Power Rankings) is here! The Tampa Bay Lightning currently lead the conference in points, with the usual suspects (Toronto, Pittsburgh, Boston) in tow. But there’s another team right up there at the top of the standings: the Montreal Canadiens! Seriously!

Are the Habs for real? Let’s discuss that, shall we?

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (Points per game: 1.625)

Points finishes in every game this week has rewarded the Bolts with a commanding lead at the top of the Conference (and League) in terms of points per game. The first half of this Western road trip has gone along swimmingly. The Lightning started a little bumpy, managing only a point out of the Minnesota Wild, but a high-octane, record-breaking win Chicago Blackhawks followed by a fiery, yet defensively solid victory over the Colorado Avalanche have shown fans that the team from Tampa can do it whichever way you like it.

The Lightning currently have four players with eight points this season, and those players (Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde, J.T. Miller, and Nikita Kucherov) have been playing on three different lines this season.

Oh, and let’s not forget that Andrei Vasilevskiy has a .941 save percentage, including a shutout. Vasy will eventually give up a goal on the power play this season (perfect through 38:19 minutes on the kill), but it’s been really fun to see how long he can go, and I hope it lasts for a while.

2. Montreal Canadiens (Points per game: 1.500)

Purely looking at Montreal’s schedule, there’s nothing special here. They’ve beaten four non-playoff teams, unsurprisingly lost to Toronto, surprisingly lost the Los Angeles Kings, and somehow have had the Penguins number this season. For the most part, that’s what a middle-of-the-pack team in the NHL should do.

Carey Price has been good, but not great, in his extremely profitable comeback season. Thankfully, he hasn’t had to be perfect thanks to Tomas Tatar leading the team in scoring along with Charlie Hudon and Paul Byron shooting in the mid-20’s.

The team’s shot rates have looked good, both shot and shot-attempt differentials are top-five in the league. Claude Julien genuinely has the Habs playing like a good team. The big question will be whether this transitioning group of players has the horses to drive the team for the season. Last but not least, let’s not forget that there’s always the Montreal-specific media and the fact that it’s a breeding ground for conflict.

Cautious optimism is how I would describe this start. Eight games is good, but 20, 41, and 82 games will be big evaluation points.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (Points per game: 1.428)

The Penguins only played two games this past week, but they were perfect in them. First, a tremendous goalie performance by Matt Murray lifted the Pens over the Maple Leafs in a tight 1-0 game (that ended up being 3-0 with empty-netters), followed by Sid The Kid getting off his throne, putting on his gauntlet, and showing those bratty Edmonton Oilers how it’s done in a magnificent display of hockey-playing skills over 62 minutes.

I don’t really have anything else to say after that beyond “Lmao”.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (Points per game: 1.400)

The Leafs lost two games to start this week, and the sky in Leafs Nation fell. People were smashing car and house windows (looking for William Nylander), cannibalizing (to appease the William Nylander gods), and sending rocket ships across the universe (looking for William Nylander’s contract).

Seriously, it’s all been about William Nylander with the Leafs. First, people thought he was going to sign a long-term deal. Then that was taken off the table and they were going to have to bridge him. Then almost immediately, the idea of trading Nylander came up because he’s definitely the guy you trade if you’re tight to the cap. Finally, the last few days saw some rumblings that Nylander might take a five- or six-year deal very soon at around $7 million...which, after checking the dictionary, is a long-term deal.

SERIOUSLY!

5. New Jersey Devils (Points per game: 1.333)

Can someone please tell the NHL that the Devils are allowed to play more than two games a week? They’re currently 10th in the conference in points, but fifth in points per game.

Anyway, losses to Colorado and Philly have dropped the Devils from top spot in the Conference. Both were games where the Devils were holding the lead but lost it in the third period. This Jakub Voracek goal probably stung a little more than the one Gabe Landeskog scored with 12 minutes left in the game.

6. Boston Bruins (Points per game: 1.333)

The Bruins were shockingly swept on their Western Canadian road trip last week, losing to Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver. Luckily they were able to sneak in a nice 4-1 win over the Senators before having to come home.

The teams shot differentials have been shockingly mediocre. The top line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak, and Brad Marchand have great shot-attempt numbers as always, but Bergeron and Marchand’s shots on goal numbers are significantly lower than Pastrnak’s, putting them right in the middle of the team in terms of shot share.

The Bruins and their top line should be able to turn things around, there’s too much consistency there. The big issue facing Boston right now, however, might be whether they are currently in the middle of a goalie controversy. Tuukka Rask is the incumbent #1 starter for the team, but new-guy Jaroslav Halak is doing what he did to Carey Price all those years ago: he’s putting up amazing numbers. A .933 SV%, in five games (as many as Rask), and a shutout has far-and-away put him above Rask’s struggling .901 SV%.

7. Washington Capitals (Points per game: 1.250)

The Caps had quite an uneventful week for a team that scored five goals in both their games. They played the Panthers in a tight (yet high-scoring) game that had to be resolved in a shootout, before walking into Vancouver and out-classing the Elias Pettersson-less Canucks.

Alex Ovechkin currently has eight goals in as many games, with four coming on the power play. People keep wondering when Ovi will pass the torch on to a player like Patrik Laine, but it doesn’t appear an answer is coming soon. By the way, the Caps are another team with four players tied at the top of the scoring chart; Ovi, John Calrson, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Nicklas Backstrom all have 13 points in eight games.

8. Carolina Hurricanes (Points per game: 1.222)

Can someone explain to me who or what the Carolina Hurricanes are? Because from what I can tell, they’re an incredible shot-share team that can’t seem to turn those shots into goals. They out-shot the Avalanche 43-22, but were only able to score one in the loss. They then out-shot the lowly Red Wings 39-21, but were only able to squeak in two goals past Jimmy Howard and had to defend for their lives at the end of the game to hold onto the win. It can’t be that every time they play, the goalie on the other team has a spectacular night. IT simply can’t be. Is it shooting talent, or something more? Someone who is a Smart Hockey Mind please explain this to me.

9. Ottawa Senators (Points per game: 1.125)

A thrilling three-goal overtime comeback on Price and the Habs at home on a Saturday night, followed by a mundane butt-kicking at the hands of the Bruins two days later. Is this how it’s going to be for the Senators this year? I’m sure they’d welcome it. A middling season is exactly what they need to get out of lottery contention for the draft. Have you heard that they traded their first-round pick to the Colorado Avalanche? Not sure anyone’s brought that up yet.

10. Buffalo Sabres (Points per game: 1.111)

The Sabres had a busy week and a half stumbling through the sandy desert and beaches that made up the Southern Pacific road trip. It was a very roller coaster five-game sample for them; a win in Arizona, followed by losses to Vegas and San Jose, before capping the trip off with two wins against Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Jeff Skinner had a great time skating figure-eights through California. In those three games, he had a hat-trick, an assist, and another goal in a six-shot masterpiece game against the Ducks. The three-time 30-goal scorer is once again showing his straight-10’s class, and now that he’s on a team that’s going somewhere in the Sabres, there’s nowhere to go but up. He has five goals in nine games so far, can he hit 40 next to Jack Eichel?

11. Columbus Blue Jackets (Points per game: 1.000)

Plus/minus is a generally bad stat. It contains too many variables, so it’s hard to determine reason and blame in any direction, and it’s extremely unpredictive in its forecasting powers. That being said, there must be something to all of Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois, Nick Foligno, and Artemi Panarin all being in the negative.

It’s weird, the Blue Jackets have one of the worst goal differentials in the league, but at the same time, their shot-share and shot-attempt numbers are great, both top-10 in the league. Seth Jones has returned, perhaps that Norris-calibre kick in the pants is what this team needs to get off their current schnide.

12. Philadelphia Flyers (Points per game: 0.888)

The Voracek win sandwiched two high-scoring losses for the Flyers this last week. The game against Colorado wasn’t close, and the game against Columbus was somewhat close, but a second period out-burst by the Blue Jackets’ top players essentially ended the game before the third could begin.

Ivan Provorov and Shane Gostisbehere have been an uncharacteristically terrible top pair for the team, which came as a shock after a great first season together. There are rumours that Provorov is currently playing with an injury, and if that’s the case, the Flyers better hope he’s back to 100% sooner than later because the team is hemmorhaging in the Metro right now.

Oh, and happy one month, Gritty! <3

13. New York Islanders (Points per game: 0.875)

I wonder if anyone will actually notice if I write anything here or not. Do you care about the Islanders? They have two buildings this year, and the team is generally garbage. Mat Barzal will score for this team, but he has the second-worst goal differential on the team, and a bad shot share. They must really miss John Tavares over there.

14. Florida Panthers (Points per game: 0.875)

A .500 week that wasn’t actually break even because they got two extra points out of overtime. Despite all that, they’re still this far down the standings. They tried the five-forward power play to start the season, but that has since been abandoned. They’ve tried spreading their offense out across three lines to try and ease the load on Sasha Barkov, but nothing’s really working. The big issue with the team might be James Reimer, who is currently sporting a .877 SV%. Michael Huchinson is a worse .839 SV%, by the way.

15. New York Rangers (Points per game: 0.777)

A loss to Calgary, followed by a win over the aforementioned Panthers. This is a quiet tank year for the Rangers, which is surprising because they literally told their fans in a letter that they’re going to be bad for a few seasons in order to contender for a Cup in the years following that. Goalie prospect, and new backup to Henrik Lundqvist, Alexander Giorgiev looked pretty good in his 36-save win over Florida. Is he the goalie for the future? At least they’re finding out now when they have the chance to try stuff.

16. Detroit Red Wings (Points per game: 0.444)

The worst team in the NHL are already front-runners for Jack Hughes at this point. What else is there to say beyond this team has a goal differential as bad as Tampa, Toronto, and Carolina’s combined is good. Their goal different this week wasn’t too bad, at least. It was a cool, happy, pleasant 6-9. Their fans haven’t felt losing like this for literally an entire generation. Like most bad teams in the league, there is hope. But it is faint. Unless they get Hughes.