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Power Rankings: Impressive Northeast still defying critics

by | NHL Blogger
Michel Therrien has helped give the Canadiens a new look. (Getty Images)
Michel Therrien has helped give the Canadiens a new look. (Getty Images)

A few weeks ago in these here Power Rankings I made reference to the Northeast Division being vastly improved and perhaps being the best in the NHL this season. Some readers disagreed.

But really, how can the division's strength be questioned with what has happened on the ice this season? You can have your doubts of whether it can continue, but up until now, it's pretty much inarguable; the Northeast has been good. Really good.

It's full of surprise teams and that helps (it also helps the doubters, I understand that). The Canadiens are first in the Eastern Conference, the Maple Leafs are in position to snap their playoff drought and the Senators just refuse to die, no matter who gets injured. Then you have the Bruins who you can't call a surprise. We know they are beastly.

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For the purposes of this conversation, we'll ignore the surprising Sabres, because that's a bad surprise. Hey, every division has to have a bottom-feeder. The Atlantic had the Isles last season and the Central had the Blue Jackets. It didn't stop them from being two of the best divisions we've ever seen in the NHL.

Look at the numbers, though, and you can see there isn't a tremendously big fluke going on here. It's the only division with four teams that have 22 points or more. It's also one of two divisions that has four teams with a positive goal differential, and none of those four in the Northeast is worse than a plus-nine (the Maple Leafs). The other two divisions in the East are just 21-26-7 against the Northeast.

In other words, the division has been really good this season and we're getting close to the half-way mark already. You can't really dismiss it on small sample sizes for much longer.

Perhaps none of those teams have been better than the Habs, who have enjoyed a remarkable turnaround from their miserable season last year. Carey Price isn't getting enough attention for the season he's having but he absolutely has to be in the conversation for the Vezina this year. He has a .923 save percentage and a 1.97 goals against average. He's playing exactly how the Habs envisioned a few years ago.

In the case of the Canadiens, it helps to prevent shots the way they do, too. They're allowing 26 shots per night, third fewest in the NHL behind only St. Louis and Los Angeles. It's no wonder Price is looking so good behind them.

I don't think I'd go so far as to say that the Canadiens are the class of the Northeast Division yet, not with the Bruins hanging around, but this start is hardly a mirage. The Habs, like the division as a whole, is way better this season.

Will it last? I don't know. I can't see Ottawa staying competitive while being this banged up but they keep defying those odds. Nobody will believe in the Leafs until they actually get into the postseason (remember the fall from grace last season?). But right now things are great. It's why four of the top nine spots in these Power Rankings go to the Northeast.


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