Early NHL Talk: Eastern Surprises

The Boston Bruins weren't seen as a great Stanley Cup champion last June, even though they won a seven-game series against Vancouver as decisively as a team can win a championship round that goes to the limit. Boston got their four wins in blowouts, while Vancouver needed late goals to escape in their three triumphs. But the Bruins start to the new season has given ammunition to their critics, as they lag at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Today let's take a brief look at Boston, along with two teams that are surprises on the positive end. Toronto is tied with Pittsburgh for the best record in the East, while Ottawa leads the Northeast Divsion, the position Boston used as a springboard last May and June.

BOSTON: It's easy to look at the #22 ranking in scoring and say the offense is the problem, but the Bruins have never been a prolific goal-scoring team. The #13 ranking in allowing goals is more alarming, as the B's need to be a top-five team in this area and they rank only 17th in 5-on-5 play, an area they were the best in the NHL at last season. Goalie Tim Thomas is still posting a solid 92.4% save percentage so that points to the need to improved defense in front of him.

TORONTO: The Maple Leafs are doing it with an explosive offense off the right wing led by Phil Kessel who's lit the lamp ten times already this season and has eleven assists. Toronto gets more scoring from its defenseman than Boston does from its frontline. Toronto is also dominating in five-on-five play, something that will serve them well over the long haul. The problem lies in a poor defensive effort. Right now they're toying with two goaltenders, and based on early returns it would appear likely James Reimer will get the gig over and above Joans Gustavson. But even with consistency in goal, the Leafs are still the worst in the league at killing penalties. The short version of all this? Toronto is for real as a winning team, but not as the best in the East.

OTTAWA: I find it hard to believe the Senators are going to continue to play well as the season wears on. Their defense is the worst in the league, their 5-on-5 play is terrible and they don't kill penalties. Ottawa does one thing well and that's cash in their own chances on the power play, led by Milan Michalek and his four power play goals. This is also the shakiest foundation to build long-term success on. It's like a basketball team that needs to get to the foul line constantly and is soon as you run into spots where the officials let teams play, they have problems. That's Ottawa right now.