The NHL’s Southeast Division has the potential to be the most interesting division race this year. Five weeks into the season only seven points separate first-place from Washington from last-place Winnipeg and over the long haul. The Notebook offers a brief snapshot of the five Southeast teams, with current point totals in parentheses…
Washington (20): The Capitals nudged into first place with a 3-1 win over New Jersey last night. The best news for Washington is that Alex Ovechkin isn’t really in gear yet. The worst news is that goaltending is a concern, with Tomas Vokoun ranking 22nd in the league at save percentage.
Florida (19): Right now this team is surviving by its ability to cash in on the power play, where they rank 5th in the NHL. The Panthers are oriented toward their defensemen, with Jason Garrison being the second-leading scorer and Brian Campbell and Dmitri Kulikov being very good in the assists category.
Tampa Bay (18): Tampa is able to score, but the defense is lacking and the power play is mediocre. The Lightning lacks a consistent goaltender—vet Dwayne Roloson got a nice run in the playoffs last year when Tampa came within one game of reaching the Finals, but both he and Mathieu Garon are struggling this year.
Carolina (13): They really need some offensive punch. Jeff Skinner at center leads in both goals and assists and neither is a huge number. The Hurricanes don’t look like a playoff team right now.
Winnipeg (13): For those wondering how Winnipeg got in the Southeast, no this isn’t a case of NCAA realignment logic coming to the NHL. This franchise was the Atlanta Flames until relocating and taking the name of the old Winnipeg Jets. The team this year is a hopeless case, with no goaltending and nobody having more than five goals.
Over the long haul, Washington should pull away. One thing that stands out in this division is that the Caps are the only team who ranks in the top half of the league in 5-of-5 play. In an 80-game schedule, you can’t rely entirely on the power play, and Washington doesn’t have to, and they can also count on increased goal production from Ovechkin.