Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.
The long-standing joke in the NHL is that the Southeast Division is the worst in hockey by a mile. And while that hasn't always been categorically true, it's certainly been true enough over the years that, unlike the belief that Sidney Crosby is a diving whiner, it's not always easy to separate legend out from reality.
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This year, however, there have been no such difficulties. The race to the bottom in the Southeast has reached an unfortunate nadir in the past several days, as the Capitals now lead it with a point total which equals that of the New York Islanders. That point total is just good enough to get them into the playoffs even under rational circumstances — for example, not giving a division winner an automatic top-3 seed just for fun — but it's also tied for 14th league-wide.
Were you to look up ignominy in the dictionary, you'd see a picture of Adam Oates sneaking into this prime playoff spot, while still scowling over yet another defensive breakdown by these 2013 division-leading Caps, who have conceded 110 goals in just 39 games.
The Capitals, unlike the teams ahead of them and also immediately behind them in the standings, have the luxury of playing Carolina, Florida, Tampa Bay, and Winnipeg four and five times this season. Their record against those teams, including last night's result against the Lightning, is 12-3-0. That should tell you everything you need to know about how fraudulently this division title is going to be won by whichever team backs into it least-hard: The Caps' record against teams outside the Southeast is a brutal 8-14-2.
It doesn't really seem fair that, simply on the basis of geography, a team that actually deserved to win home ice by racking up a large number of points against teams that wouldn't struggle against middle-of-the-pack AHL sides won't be able to do so. People talk an awful lot about how the Maple Leafs aren't even that good, and they're probably not wrong, but they have 46 points playing in the only division in hockey with two 50-point teams. This is far more of an accomplishment than leading the only one with three teams at 34 or below. And only doing it by six points.
I'm sure there have been worse-performing divisions than this one throughout NHL history, but what I doubt is that they've been quite this brutal to watch. These are some defensively ugly teams, as evidenced by the fact that Carolina, Winnipeg and Florida are in the bottom six in the league in goal differential, ranging from minus-18 to minus-37, respectively. That seems like a pretty good reason all other teams in the East are a combined 74-40-11 against these five teams, good for a .636 winning percentage, or a pace for about 104 points in an 82-game season. Only one team in the East (Buffalo, of course, at 2-8-2) has taken fewer than half its points against Southeast opponents.
The good news, if you want to call it that, is this type of postseason abomination, which cropped up to a lesser extent last year when the Florida Panthers sneaked in as the No. 3 seed when it should have been eighth, is in its dying days.
With the conference realignment, flawed though it may be, there will at least be a far smaller chance that teams as bad as all this will creep into the postseason through this silly backdoor.
Obviously the problems with the new playoff format are myriad, and will probably only be sorted out by some sort of cockamamie Western expansion (which may never come), but it's at least slightly more of a meritocracy than the current system.
This is true not only because it's the three best in each division getting in, as well as the two best remaining teams, but Washington would be well back of a playoff spot also by virtue of its not getting quite so many easy W's against the weaker siblings in its current division. Prior to last night's games, the team with the toughest schedule in the Southeast was Winnipeg, and even then, it was 25th in the NHL.
In a way, I kind of feel bad for whoever comes out of this division, whether it's Washington or Winnipeg, because they'll have to face an actual good team that has played an actual tough schedule. And while anything can happen in a seven-game series (see also: Florida Washington somehow advancing out of the first round last year), the likelihood is that no matter how hot they go in, things are just not going to go well.
But fortunately for them, and everyone else in the hockey world, it'll be the last time ever.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: It looks like the Ducks could be in Penguins-without-Crosby trouble if Ryan Getzlaf is out for an extended period. Hopefully his missing the last two games was just a precaution.
Boston Bruins: Tyler Seguin was demoted to the Bruins' third line for practice on Sunday, which is a fairly reasonable reaction considering he didn't even attempt a shot on goal against Montreal the night before. Not a great showing as the pivot for Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres picked up four points in the two games since they traded away some of their better players, because the team just wants to focus on winning. "The postseason remains a long shot, but the Sabres are far from eliminated. They are in 12th place, six points behind the eighth-place New York Islanders with one fewer game played." Well no I mean they're out, though. Like, not mathematically, but they're out. Obviously.
Calgary Flames: Hello, Max Reinhart. Welcome to the NHL. Meet Messrs. Alex Burrows and Dan Hamhuis. They'll be blowing your doors off for a goal 34 seconds into your first game. You'll fit right in with Calgary.
Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have lost seven straight games at home. They've won just seven of 19 there, and haven't lost outside regulation yet. Just 14 points from 19 home games. No wonder they're in 13th.
Chicago Blackhawks: After giving up six shots on Nashville's first power play, it looked like the Blackhawks were in for another ugly defensive performance. But then they allowed only 20 for the game, so the turnaround was pretty acceptable, especially after giving up 38 to Columbus in their previous game.
Colorado Avalanche: It's been a "give-up-a-goal-like-this-to-Boyd-Gordon" kind of season in Colorado. This is the absolute perfect encapsulation: Clearing attempt off an Avs skate, no one even bothers skating hard after the dump, and a player like Boyd Gordon scores from the lowest angle imaginable on a bank-in off Semyon Varlamov.