The Bruins are the first NHL team to get a stranglehold on their division

The Boston Bruins have played less than 20 games, but they are already clear favorites in the Atlantic Division.

It feels like the NHL season just got started, but thanks to the dominance of the Boston Bruins the race for the Atlantic Division crown may be nearing its conclusion.

That's the sort of statement that shouldn't be possible less than a quarter of the way through the NHL season, but teams don't normally get off to 14-1-3 starts.

The Bruins are off to a stellar 14-1-3 start. (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Bruins are off to a stellar 14-1-3 start. (Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)

After a 3-1 win over the Florida Panthers on Wednesday night, the Bruins now have a six-point lead in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand. That margin may not seem insurmountable on the surface, but for the Panthers to catch up they would have to be approximately one point better than Boston per 10 games from here on out, which is a lot to ask.

Put another way, if the Bruins play at a 105-point pace from here on out — a conservative projection based on what we've seen so far, and a number the team hasn't fallen below in a full season since 2016-17 — Florida would need a 114-point pace to tie them. That's daunting, even for a quality team like the Panthers.

The Toronto Maple Leafs could enter the mix as well, but their point percentage (.647) is worse than Florida's (.658). Toronto is also weathering significant injuries to its blueline, has an unimpressive +3 goal differential, and remains below-average by most 5v5 possession metrics. The Maple Leafs can't be counted out completely, but projects them to finish the season with 103 points. All the Bruins would have to do to clear that bar is play at a 95-point pace from here on out.

Boston's hot start gives them a massive edge in their divisional race, and the way they've amassed their lead is also encouraging for the Bruins.

Entering the season, the center position was a concern with both Patrice Bergeron and David Krejčí retiring, but returning veterans Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle have stepped into bigger roles and seen an uptick in their offensive production.

Further down the lineup rookies Matthew Poitras and John Beecher have not looked out of place at the NHL level.

With David Pastrňák's elite production (29 points), the steady offensive output of Brad Marchand — and a surprisingly strong contribution from unheralded free-agent signing James van Riemsdyk, the forward group looks solid.

A blueline led by Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm is meeting lofty expectations and the Bruins' unparalleled goaltending tandem of Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman has been outstanding once again.

Following a season that many felt was impossible to repeat, the duo has a save percentage in 2023-24 (.933) even better than the one it managed last year (.931) with both netminders making equal contributions.

Via NHL Edge
Via NHL Edge

The Bruins aren't flawless.

Most contenders have more talented centers at the top of their lineups, and the team could do a better job of controlling play at 5v5, where they've been outshot by a narrow margin (407-411). Boston has gotten more than its fair share of scoring chances, high-danger chances, and expected goals, though, ranking between 10th and 12th league-wide in each of those categories.

With the goaltending the Bruins have, getting slightly better looks than their opponents is enough to have consistent success — particularly when the team's penalty kill is the NHL's best for the second consecutive season, giving them a special-teams edge.

Boston might see some regression in its goaltending success, and the team's shooting percentage (10.9%) is on the high side. The Bruins aren't likely to finish with the 141 points they are on pace for now and break the regular-season points record for the second consecutive season.

That won't be necessary to win the Atlantic again, though. The Bruins look at least as strong as the competitors in their division, and they've already amassed a meaningful lead.

Even over a lengthy period of time — like four-plus months left in the season — it is extremely tough to catch teams ahead in the standings in the NHL, thanks in large part to the points awarded for OT and shootout losses.

There's a reason why teams outside of the playoff picture on Thanksgiving have such a low chance of playing postseason hockey.

That's essentially the position the Panthers and Maple Leafs are in within the context of the Atlantic Division race. They are behind the eight-ball, and this Bruins team looks like it will be extremely tough to gain ground on.

MoneyPuck's projections give Boston a 65.6% chance of winning the Atlantic, the best odds any team has of winning its division. That could be on the conservative side.