If there’s one early observation to make it’s that the Western Conference is a significantly better conference than the Eastern Conference. Going into today’s action, Western Conference teams are 26-6-3 vs the East.
In the East, the Atlantic Division has emerged as a much stronger division than the Metropolitan Division. Projected as a competitive division, the Metro has the look of easily being the worst division in hockey and it’s not even close.
The joke going around is that the Penguins will have the division title wrapped up before the Olympic Break.
The Penguins lead the way off to a 4-1-0, 8 pts, start, with Carolina (2-2-2, 6 pts), New York Islanders (2-2-1, 5 pts), Columbus Blue Jackets (2-2-0, 4 pts) all playing okay hockey. Does anyone out of that group stand much of a chance to compete with the Penguins for a division title? Likely not, but when the Hurricanes get fully healthy, they could make some noise in the division.
Coming into the season, the Rangers (1-4-0, 2 pts) and Capitals (1-4-0, 2 pts) projected as the two teams with the best chance of competing with the Penguins. The Rangers are an absolute mess right now and the coaching change is a huge work in progress as the Rangers best players, most notably Henrik Lundqvist, Dan Girardi, Ryan McDonagh, and Michael Del Zotto are playing the worst hockey of their career.
Girardi is a minus-7, Del Zotto a minus-6, McDonagh a minus-5 and Lundqvist has an .887 save percentage and 4.21 GAA. The Rangers right now have no identity.
Offensively they are averaging 1.8 goals per game. Rick Nash has 0 goals, is hurt again, and his career is ascending to just being a complementary player than a player you build a team around. One bright spot for the Rangers under AV has been the re-emergence of Brad Richards who has 4 goals in the first five games.
I think they will eventually turn things around but it’s hard to imagine the Rangers being anything more than a fringe playoff team.
The Capitals are again off to a slow start but this is the one team in the division who I feel will find their footing and be a dangerous team in the Metro and the Eastern Conference as a whole. If they don’t, owner Ted Leonis has to show some guts and make wholesale changes with the front office. This is a big year for the Capitals management group in my opinion.
How much the Philadelphia Flyers (1-5-0, 2 pts) and even Claude Giroux have regressed since the Flyers impressive 2011-2012 campaign has really been stunning for me. Despite the goaltending concerns, when the Flyers ousted the Penguins in the 2012 playoffs, the Flyers had the look of a team with a very bright future due to the young core in place. That young core has stumbled and Giroux regressing has hurt them badly. This should be a better hockey team than they are, especially offensively but the arrow is pointing down with this group.
Meanwhile, I feel foolish for buying into the New Jersey Devils (0-3-3, 3 pts) being a surprise team this year. Watching them three times already this season, this is a bad hockey team, especially on the backend. Looks like the goaltending tandem of Schnieder and Brodeur won’t be enough to cover up a lot of flaws.