After last night’s embarassing loss to the Bruins at the ACC, which was also the Leafs’ first regulation loss at home, I thought it might be a good idea to take a look at the surprising state of the Northeast Division, and see where the Leafs stack up, both on paper and in terms of games played against their division rivals. The whole division has started off pretty much in opposite fashion as all the experts predicted them to, with the Leafs and Senators out to hot starts, the Sabres looking somewhat mediocre, and the Habs and Bruins off to slow opening records. With a guaranteed top-3 spot on the line, and a chance that 3 of the 5 teams could make the playoffs, there’s even greater meaning to the already hotly-contested meetings between the teams in this division of hockey-crazy markets.
Boston Bruins (5-7-0, 10 pts, 5th in Northeast)
The Bruins have owned the Leafs so far this season, outscoring them 13-2 in the clubs’ two meetings, one in Boston and one in Toronto, last night. The silver lining in that for Leaf Nation is that none of the goals have been scored on James Reimer, who was a healthy scratch in Boston before missing last game with complications from that head/neck injury he suffered against Montreal. In terms of goaltending, with or without Reimer in the equation, the Bruins still have an edge in goaltending with Tuuka Rask and Tim Thomas. The B’s have been tough to score on all year, allowing an Eastern Conference-low 28 goals so far, but their offense has been a bit stagnant. Aside from Tyler Seguin, who added 3 goals to increase his team lead in goals (7) and points (14) last night, the rest of the team has been slow out of the gate. Toronto is currently averaging 3.21 goals per game to the Bruins 2.82, with a bit more balanced scoring up and down the lineup at the moment.
Boston Record Against Toronto: 2-0-0 (Next Games: 11/30 in Toronto, 12/3 at Boston)
Buffalo Sabres (8-5-0, 16 pts, 2nd in Northeast)
The Sabres were the big spenders in the division this summer, adding Robyn Regehr and Ville Leino, and they’re not far off the Leafs’ opening pace with an 8-5-0 record at the moment. They’re tied with the Bruins in goals against with 28, but have played one more game than the Bruins. They haven’t been very explosive offensively, but have the best goal differential at +8. Rookie Luke Adam has been good, netting 4 goals and 11 points so far, while Leino has been an early disappointment with just 3 points and a -3 rating. (That’s $317,073 a point, for you math majors out there) Ryan Miller has been less than his usual self, but until Reimer is healthy and a bit more established, there’s no question which team has the edge in goaltending there. The Leafs and Sabres haven’t played yet, and they won’t for a little bit, a bit of a scheduling anomaly in the division, so it remains to be seen just how well these two stack up against each other.
Buffalo Record Against Toronto: 0-0-0 (Next games: 12/16 at Buffalo, 12/22 in Toronto)
Montreal Canadiens (5-6-2, 12 pts, 4th in Northeast)
I like the way the Leafs stack up against the Habs, and that’s not just a lifetime Habs hater talking. In the two games the Leafs have played against their hated Canadian counterparts from Montreal, both wins, the most recent in overtime, the Buds have played tough and physical and that style doesn’t seem to leave the Habs too comfortable. The Canadiens have struggled to score points up and down the board, with only Tomas Plekanec (4-8-12) and Max Pacioretty (5-5-10) recording double digit points so far. Their defense hasn’t been much better, and it remains to be seen if Carey Price can repeat the heroics from last season that got them into the postseason last year.
Montreal Record Against Toronto: 0-1-1 (Next games: 1/21 in Toronto, 2/11 in Toronto)
Ottawa Senators (7-7-1, 15 pts, 3rd in Northeast)
The hated Senators stole the last game from the Leafs, thanks in large part to some shaky goaltending from Jonas Gustavsson. The Sens have come out hot, but with a young roster and not a ton of talent, I don’t see their strong play lasting too much longer. Goaltender Craig Anderson isn’t exactly the surest bet every night, and their defense has a lot of promise in Jared Cowen and David Rundblad, but neither is really producing right now, even with the team’s early success. Erik Karlsson is the real deal, but there’s a huge age gap between those youngsters and the rest of the blueline (Sergei Gonchar, Filip Kuba, Chris Phillips). The Leafs should have no trouble taking the rest of the season series, but as has been established, any time these two Ontario rivals meet, all expectations should go out the window, because the compete level is nearly always raised to another standard.
Ottawa Record Against Toronto: 1-1-0 (Next Games: 11/12 in Toronto, 1/17 in Toronto)
I said it at the start of the season, and I’ll say it again now: if the Leafs hope to make the playoffs, they’re going to have to take advantage of the so-called 4-point games that they have within their own division, especially with the division looking like it’s going to be tightly contested all season long. The Bruins look like they’re starting to snap out of their Stanley Cup hangover, while the Sabres, who started a bit slow, seem to have shaken their woes and are beginning to look more like what everyone thought they would be prior to the season’s start. The Habs and Sens are always a good draw, but the Leafs should expect to win those season series (not saying they should be taken lightly, but the way they’ve played them so far, it’d be nice to snag a bunch of points in those games). Without seeing them play the Sabres it’s difficult to make a true assessment, but so far, I’d put Toronto firmly ahead of the Habs and Sens, on par with the Sabres, and needing to work out some obvious kinks against Phil Kessel’s old squad.
So, where do you see the Leafs stacking up against the rest of the Northeast?
Tags: Boston Bruins Buffalo Sabres Carey Price Chris Phillips Craig Anderson David Rundblad Erik Karlsson Filip Kuba James Reimer Jared Cowen Jonas Gustavsson Luke Adam Max Pacioretty Montreal Canadiens Ottawa Senators Robyn Regehr Ryan Miller Sergei Gonchar Tim Thomas Tomas Plekanec Toronto Maple Leafs Tuuka Rask Tyler Seguin Ville Leino