With the Bruins off to a less than stellar 2-3-1 start, grumbling throughout New England can be heard from the Canadian border to Providence. Tuukka is struggling out of the gate, the young defense is making costly mistakes, and some of the new acquisitions haven’t performed as expected. Only time will prove if any of that is fatal. But one thing that Bruins fans, and the team, can focus on in the their pursuit of improving is the opportunity their division provides. Below is the current standings going into Thursday night: Just like the NFL, winning your division is paramount. However, in the NHL the playoff field is much bigger and more than half (16 of 30) of the leagues teams get in. There is greater opportunity to make the playoffs.
The Atlantic and Metro divisions send their top 8 teams to the Eastern Conference playoff bracket. But no more than 5 teams are allowed in from either division. It’s either a 5/3 team split, or an even 4/4 split; 4 teams from each division. The 5/3 or 4/4 split comes down to “does a 5th place team in one division have more points than the 4th place team in the other division”? If so it’s a 5/3 split. But last season that wasn’t the case. Last season 4 teams from each division got in. The Atlantic sent Tampa, Montreal, Detroit, and Ottawa. The Metro sent New York (Rangers and Islanders), Washington, and Pittsburgh.
The Atlantic Division, where the Bruins reside, isn’t overly strong this year. Looking at the current standings in the Atlantic Division (picture above) Buffalo and Toronto are in the basement. And they should (will) stay there. Both teams are at least another year away from a playoff push. No goaltending exists on either team and both organizations have made it clear they’re on a long-term plan.
Montreal has basically already qualified for the playoffs. Not really, but with Carey Price in net they’re as close to a playoff lock as any team in the NHL. They’re in and we all expected that. Tampa Bay was a Stanley Cup finalist last year and they should get in just fine.
That leaves Boston, Detroit, Ottawa, and Florida fighting for the final one or two playoff spots depending on the 4/4 or 5/3 team split mentioned earlier. If there are four teams that make the playoffs this year from the Atlantic Division I’ll need to be committed to a facility if Boston doesn’t emerge from that 4-some.
Ottawa has always had a goaltending problem. And last year their miracle run with Andrew Hammond in net won’t happen again. Bobby Ryan isn’t the same guy he was in Anaheim and despite their youthful forwards who’ve shown a lot of upside I just don’t see them getting in. Detroit is not as great as people think either. Their goaltending is a weakness as well and they’ve re-tooled this summer with age, by adding overrated Mike Green and Brad Richards. I just think the end of their playoff appearance streak is on the horizon.
It’ll come down to the Boston and Florida. Florida is on the rise. They have the goaltending in Roberto Luongo, they have a nice mix of youth and veterans on forward and defense. Jaromir Jagr and his growing mullet lead the team in points, with Barkov and the kid crew following suit.
If four teams get in from the Atlantic division Boston can round out that 4-some. They’re offense is good enough, and we don’t need to re-hash their defensive woes, but if they can improve them along with Tuukka’s play there is no excuse to not be one of the top 4 teams in their division. The collapse in Columbus and Pittsburgh’s commitment to playing with zero emphasis on defense may just be the gift that leads to Boston sneaking in. Of course we all know the biggest x-factor in making the playoffs; injuries. If a Carey Price, Roberto Luongo, Ben Bishop, or any combo of key players go down on other teams much like Boston had happen to them last season, then it changes everything.
I just think Boston fans should not panic so early into the season when they look at the standings above which are the teams the Bruins will battle the most. There are issues to be fixed but every team has them. And in order to get into the playoffs the Bruins have to plug the leaks in the current boat they’re in. Let’s just hope they do it before their division rivals figure it out as well.