by Patrick Hoffman on 11/07/09 at 11:38 PM ET
Last season, the Atlantic Division was one of the best divisions in all of hockey. Four out of the five teams finished with over 90 points – the Penguins, the New Jersey Devils, the Philadelphia Flyers and the New York Rangers.
Early into the 2009-2010 season, it appears that history is looking to repeat itself as all four of those teams have winning records just over a month into the season. Even the New York Islanders are trying to get into the act as they are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games.
Let’s take a look at how the division is shaping up as we head towards the middle of November.
Pittsburgh Penguins (12-4-0, 24 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division, 1st in the Eastern Conference)
Believe it or not, I am surprised that the Penguins have gotten off to such a terrific start. After winning the Stanley Cup just five months ago, many hockey pundits and fans alike thought that the Pens’ would experience some sort of Cup hangover.
So far, the Penguins have proved their doubters wrong and have clicked on both ends of the ice. Even with superstar Evgeni Malkin (4g, 10a) currently sidelined with a shoulder strain (was on the ice at practice yesterday according to http://www.pittsburghpenguins.com), the team continues to score goals. Captain Sidney Crosby leads the way 16 points (9g, 7a) followed by Malkin, young defenseman Alex Goligoski (6g, 7a, 13p), Chris Kunitz (3g, 9a, 12p) and aging veteran Bill Guerin (3g, 7a, 10p).
You also cannot forget about the strong play of goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Fleury is 10-3 with a stellar 2.36 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. He continues to mature and gives his hockey team a chance to win a game every time he starts.
If this keeps up, I’d expect the Penguins to not only finish first in the division, but also in the Eastern Conference as well.
New York Rangers (10-6-1, 21 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference)
For the New York Rangers, this is same stuff, different day. Last season, the Rangers had an incredible month of October and this season, they have pretty much done the same.
However, the team has struggled over the last few weeks and an issue that plagued them last season has crept in in recent weeks – scoring. When Marian Gaborik went down with an injury two weeks ago, the team looked lost on offense and only scored three goals in his absence.
When Gaborik is in the lineup, it is a different story. Gaborik currently leads the team in points with 21 (12g, 9a), also good for fourth in the league. The team has also gotten a lot of offense from Vinny Prospal (4g, 15a, 19p), Ales Kotalik (6g, 9a, 15p) and rookie defenseman Michael Del Zotto (4g, 9a, 13p), who has surprised everyone with his strong play.
As always, the team has received strong play from their star goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. With the “king” between the pipes, the Blueshirts are always given a chance to win as he has posted an 8-5-1 record with a 2.52 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage.
My bet is that this team finishes in the 6th, 7th or 8th spot in the Conference come April.
New Jersey Devils (10-4-0, 20 points, 3rd in the Atlantic Division, 5th in the Eastern Conference)
As long as the New Jersey Devils have a healthy Martin Brodeur in net, the Devils are always a threat to win hockey games. They’ve done that so far in the early going despite being without Patrik Elias for many of the 14 games (he has since returned) the team has played.
Zach Parise is once again leading his team in scoring with 15 points (6g, 9a) and Travis Zajac is continuing his strong play from last season as he has posted 13 points in 14 games. Even tough guy David Clarkson is contributing on offense (3g, 7a, 10p). When Elias is back in full offensive form, this team will definitely score more goals and create many scoring opportunities.
As always, the Devils have been strong in goal. Brodeur is 8-4 with a 2.38 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage. That should be no surprise. What should be a surprise is the strong play of Yann Danis, Brodeur’s backup, who is 2-0 with 1.00 goals-against average and a .964 save percentage. The Devils might finally have a 1-2 punch in goal.
Philadelphia Flyers (8-4-1, 17 points, 4th in the Atlantic Division, 6th in the Eastern Conference)
No one knew what to expect when the team signed the likes of Chris Pronger and Ray Emery. 13 games into the season, however, fans have to be impressed.
The team’s offense has been potent in the early going, even with Gagne expected to miss 6-8 weeks with an injury, as six players have already posted double figures in points: Jeff Carter (6g, 9a, 15p), Mike Richards (8g, 7a, 15p), rookie James Van Riemsdyk (3g, 11a, 14p), defensemen Chris Pronger (3g, 10a, 13p) and Matt Carle (2g, 10a, 12p), and Scott Hartnell (4g, 7a, 11p). This was to be expected as the team’s offense clicked last season as well.
In goal, newcomer Ray Emery has been a pleasant surprise. After having a successful season in the KHL last year, Emery has carried that over into this season as he is currently 8-3-1 with a 2.39 goals-against average and a .918 save percentage. If he can keep this up, the Flyers may see themselves deep into the playoffs come April and May.
New York Islanders (5-6-5, 15 points, 5th in the Atlantic Division, tied for 9th in the Eastern Conference)
The team struggled to get wins in the early going but watch out folks because the Islanders are 5-3-2 in their last 10 games and are getting offensive contributions up and down the lineup, playing solid defensively and getting the goaltending they need to win hockey games.
Rookie stud John Tavares has done his part so far by posting 11 points (5g, 6a) in his team’s first 16 games. He goes hard to the net, makes great passes, has an accurate shot and creates a lot of offense. Right with him in terms of excellent play is 26-year-old Matt Moulson, who also has 11 points (6g, 5a). Behind Tavares and Moulson, Kyle Okposo has 10 points (3g, 7a), Jeff Tambellini has 8 (6g, 2a) and Doug Weight has 6 (0g, 6a). Not too bad, right?
The Islanders also finally have some stability in goal. Dwayne Roloson is 4-1-3 with a 2.70 goals-against average and a .914 save percentage while Martin Biron is 1-5-2 with a 2.83 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.
It will be interesting to see what happens on Long Island when Rick DiPietro is finally healthy.
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Patrick has a tremendous passion for hockey. Besides covering the Rangers and the NHL for Kukla's Korner, you can also find Patrick's work over at Sportsnet.ca, The Red Light District Hockey Blog, NHL Home Ice, and Liam Maguire's Ultimate Hockey web site.
Prior to writing for the above mentioned outlets, you could find Patrick's musings at hockey web sites/outlets such as TheHockeyNews.com, TheFourthPeriod.com, Spector's Hockey, Hokeja Vestnesis, Blueshirt Bulletin, SNYRangersBlog.com and many more.
For questions, comments and hip checks, feel free to e-mail Patrick at firstname.lastname@example.org.