By virtue of their win over Florida last night and their two games in hand on Montreal, the Bruins start tonight in first place in the Northeast Division despite being tied with the Canadiens with 42 points.
While the Bruins certainly aren’t going make any apologies their current position in the standings, they just might be leading the worst division in the NHL. Or at least that’s how Mike Chen of the From the Rink blog figures it.
It’s hard to believe that just a few years ago the Northeast was home of both Eastern Conference finalists and might’ve been the toughest division in the conference, if not the league. Now you take a look at the overall NHL standings and see that Ottawa, Buffalo and Toronto would not only be non-qualifiers for the Eastern Conference playoffs if the season ended today, but those three clubs rank an ugly 22nd, 26th and 27th, respectively.
Chen takes his research a step beyond the overall standings and utilizes a formula that averages out a division’s rank among the six divisions in wins, points, goals for, goals against and goal differential on a per-game basis. Chen determined through his numbers crunching that the best division in the NHL so far this season has been the Pacific. Somewhat surprisingly, the best division in the East is the Southeast.
At the bottom of these rankings is the Northeast with ranks last in every category except goals against per game, where it oddly ranks first. Maybe that’s a sign that Northeast Division games are all defensive struggles between bad or mediocre teams.
Regardless, this is what these rankings tell me. One, the Bruins (just 4-4-1 vs. Northeast teams this season) have to take advantage of playing nearly 40 percent of their schedule against the inferior competition their division provides. And two, should they win the division for the second time in three seasons and earn home-ice advantage for the first round, they might wind up getting matched up against a lower-seeded, but better team that was pulled down in the standings by stiffer divisional competition.
It’s also almost a sure thing that the difference between winning the Northeast and finishing second in the division could be the difference between finishing third or seventh or eighth in the conference. So the Bruins have to keep their eye on the prize going forward or could find themselves as overwhelming underdogs in a first-round series.