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Around the East: Who’s ready for Tampa Bay vs. Toronto?

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Goalies are showing just how important they are in the NHL.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Tampa Bay Lightning
TAMPA, FL - MARCH 20: Patrick Marleau #12 of the Toronto Maple Leafs and Brayden Point #21 of the Tampa Bay Lightning fight for the puck during a game at Amalie Arena on March 20, 2018 in Tampa, Florida.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

...Hey! Sorry for disappearing from these for a while. But we’re back now! Time to take another spin around the NHL Eastern Conference and see who’s doing what. I think it’s week 10? Let’s go with that. And it’s not like you missed anything. Tampa Bay’s been in first place all season anyway.

Week 10

1. Tampa Bay Lightning 24-7-1 (Points per game: 1.531)

The Lightning have been perfect this month and have created a massive cushion above the rest of the teams in the league. Toronto is the next closest team to them in the Division, Conference, and League and they’re a whole six points back with only one game in hand.

Auston Matthews, Steven Stamkos, John Tavares, Nikita Kucherov, William Nylander, Brayden Point, and Mitchell Marner will face each other Thursday night in a mid-season preview of what will probably be a fierce second-round playoff matchup.

Ignoring the forwards for a second, it’ll be great to see Andrei Vasilevskiy back between the pipes for the Bolts. Louis Domingue did a masterful job filling in, but having Vasy back against a team like the Leafs makes me feel much better.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs 21-9-1 (Points per game: 1.387)

With Nylander finally back in the fold, the Leafs are working their way back to having a full lineup that they can run consistently every night. The Leafs clearly want Nylander and Matthews playing together, but as of right now — while Nylander gets back up to speed — Matthews is with youngsters Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, while Nylander has been skating with veterens Nazem Kadri and Patrick Marleau. Will that change in time for Thursday night? Or has Mike Babcock stumbled upon a new, deeper lineup combination.

3. Washington Capitals 18-9-3 (Points per game: 1.300)

Alex Ovechkin wasn’t done, he was just still hungover from the Stanley Cup-filled summer. The Capital City Captain scored a hat trick Tuesday night to help his team win three in a row. Ovi now has 39 points in 30 games, putting him on pace for an astonishing 68 goals on the season. Not quite nice, but it’s a pace that might see the 33-year-old reach Gretzky’s record of 894 career goals by the end of his playing tenure. He can score 40 goals every year for the next six years, right?

4. Buffalo Sabres 18-9-4 (Points per game: 1.290)

Is it safe to say the Sabres are a streaky team? Or has this past month and a bit of games just been an anomaly? After winning 10 games in a row in November, their winning streak was ended by the Lightning. That started a five-game losing streak lasting well into December. The Sabres were able to stem the bleeding with an overtime win over the last-place LA Kings.

Jack Eichel leads the team with 38 points in 31 games, with wingman (or I should say triggerman) Jeff Skinner leading the way with four game-winning goals, three of which were in overtime.

5. Boston Bruins 17-10-4 (Points per game: 1.225)

The Bruins have been utterly mediocre in relation to their expectations for this year. They’ve been leap-frogged in the standings by the Sabres and Leafs from their spot last year, and have struggled to gather real momentum due to their never ending injuries. Charlie McAvoy has returned to the lineup, and Patrice Bergeron might be back in a week or so, but Zdeno Chara is still out for what might be until the new year. They’re winning games, including three in a row, but a 6-4-0 record in their last 10 games is off the pace of the teams above them.

6. Montreal Canadiens 15-11-5 (Points per game: 1.129)

Montreal is in the final wild card spot in the East, despite having enough points to be second in the Metro. Looking at their games from the past month or so, it appears the Habs have had no trouble beating up on the really bad to mediocre teams in the league, but for the most part have failed to beat the top teams in the league. Against the teams above them in the East, they are 1-2-3 since November 1st. That’s five losses in six games. They also have a -4 goal differential this season.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets 16-12-2 (Points per game: 1.133)

John Tortorella’s Blue Jackets have played some wild games lately. Specifically, they’ve been frequent victims of the ever-exciting comeback. They started the month blowing a two-goal lead to the New York Islanders, surrendered a 4-1 lead in an eventual 9-6 loss to the Calgary Flames, before giving up two goals late in the third period to the Vancouver Canucks Tuesday night.

Both Sergei Bobrovsky (.898) and Joonis Korpisalo (.885) are sub-.900 save percentage goalies this season, but the team’s struggles have to be more than just that.

T8. New York Islanders 14-11-4 (Points per game: 1.103)

The Islanders aren’t a great team. For reference, Ovechkin has more goals so far this year than anyone on the Islanders has points. Their key so far this year has been defense and goaltending for Lou Lamoriello and Barry Trotz’s team. They have the second-fewest goals for in the conference and the fourth-fewest goals against, too. They play low-event hockey and it seems to be working for them. Classic Lou.

T8. Pittsburgh Penguins 13-10-6 (Points per game: 1.103)

Remember when the Penguins sucked? Yeah, that’s slowly ending in a slightly unnerving way. The Pens are 6-2-2 in their last 10 games and have only given up more than three goals twice in that time-frame. What’s been the key? As it turns out, all the team needed was some saves. Since getting the callup from Wilkes-Barre-Scranton, Casey DeSmith has covered for the injury to Matt Murray with an impressive .925 save percentage over 20 games this season. He has started in eight of the 10 games since the turnaround, sporting a .932 save percentage in those games.

10. Carolina Hurricanes 13-12-4 (Points per game: 1.034)

Carolina has just come back from a tough week and a half. They flew to California and lost two of the three games there, before coming home and losing to the accelerating Maple Leafs. They’re probably a better team than 10th in the conference, but they really need goal-scorers.

Befuddlingly, the Hurricanes are the best in the league in terms of getting shots and chances (CAR is #1 in shot, shot attempts, and expected goal differentials), but are still last in the East in goals for (72), only one ahead of the last-place-in-everything Kings. They have the 23rd-ranked power play, and 18th-best PK in the league, to boot. How long do we complain about this team’s shooting talent before something happens?

11. New York Rangers 14-13-3 (Points per game: 1.033)

The Rangers told their fans that they were going to suck, and they are, but maybe they’re not as bad as management would have hoped. On the bright side, there are plenty of tradeable assets that can be shipped around the league at the trade deadline. Not only are Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello pending UFAs, but Chris Kreider, Vladislav Namesnikov, and now even Kevin Shattenkirk might be on their way out.

12. Detroit Red Wings 14-14-4 (Points per game: 1.000)

Tyler Bertuzzi and the Red Wings had some drama over the past week, the reactions to which have been my favorite, but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that the Wings aren’t a good team and won’t be for a while. They win the odd “trap game” against good teams (Toronto and Boston) coming off long win streaks, but for the most part, they’re a bad team with sometimes good goaltending from Jimmy Howard.

13. Florida Panthers 11-12-6 (Points per game: 0.965)

The Panthers haven’t been winning much — mostly because James Reimer has been bad and Roberto Luongo has been both bad and injured — but they’ve been getting a lot of games to extra time and stealing those loser points. The forward group is good, as expected. Jonathan Huberdeau leads the team with 36 points, only eight of which are goals. Is there a word for a reverse Cy Young? The Joe Thornton? Yeah, let’s go with that.

14. Philadelphia Flyers 12-13-3 (Points per game: 0.964)

The Flyers have no goaltending.

15. Ottawa Senators 13-15-4 (Points per game: 0.937)

16. New Jersey Devils 10-13-6 (Points per game: 0.896)

Again, goaltending.

Did you know Cory Schneider hasn’t won a game in the calendar year of 2018? It’s... an astonishing stat.