In case you didn't know, the Southeast has been clearly the weakest division in the NHL so far. After Tampa Bay's 4-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs last night, they are now tied with the Hurricanes for first place in the division with 17 points. Both team's records would put them no higher than third in any other division and make them bubble playoff teams if the automatic qualifer was done away with. I said at the beginning of the year that this division would be very weak but somewhat competitive and so far it's proven that with the Lightning and Hurricanes tied for the top spot and likely alternating throughout the course of the season. The Winnipeg Jets are also not too far behind with 13 points and could find themselves back in the hunt with a good winning streak.
This all begs the question, what will it take to win the Southeast Division this year? The cut-off point for a playoff spot has been predicted to be about 55 points which would equate to roughly 94 in a full 82-game season. Florida had 94 points and won the division last year and I'm hoping that it will take more than that this season, but we could be looking at a similar finish if things continue to stay as they are.
Let's say that 55 points is what it will take to win the division. How close are the Hurricanes from getting to there compared to their Southeast adversaries? The good news is that they are ahead of the pack, albeit only slightly.
|Team||Games Remaining||Points Earned||Available||Points Needed||Point%|
Carolina has a game at hand against the rest of the division and managed to gain a lot of ground by making it through the toughest part of their schedule with a winning record. It also helped that Tampa Bay completely fell flat during their road swing after such a strong start to the season. Tampa and Carolina are now in roughly the same situation with the Canes having a game in hand on the Bolts. To get to 55 points, the Canes would need to win 19 games not accounting from points earned in overtime losses so they could get by with fewer than that. Still, I think winning at least 19-21 games should be the Canes objective since it's better if they go into the playoffs on a strong note instead of just squeaking by.
The Canes have a slight advantage over Tampa Bay in the sense that they've been a better puck-possession team for most of the year. Tampa Bay has some fantastic goal-scorers on their team, so that's helped them mask their territorial flaws but Carolina appears to be the stronger team here going by even strength play. Carolina also has 16 intra-division games remaining, which is more than anyone else int he Southeast so this could provide an opportunity for them to gain an advantage over the rest of the pack. The ball is in their court, though.
Carolina was blown out in both of their Southeast games this year, which doesn't instill a lot of confidence but this team has shown on numerous occasions that they can hang with some of the better teams in the East. They already made it through the toughest part of their schedule, now they just need to produce against their divisional rivals and will have a chance to do so this week with home games against Winnipeg and Tampa Bay. The Canes aren't in a bad situation but they still need to take care of business in those types of games if they want to be playing hockey in May.
As for the rest of the division, they aren't out of the race but they haven't done themselves any favors with the way they've started the year. Winnipeg can probably get back into the hunt if they get a winning streak going but they still need to get points in over 60% of their games. The Jets pose an interesting matchup to Carolina because they've been a decent team at even strength this season but haven't been able to get a save from Ondrej Pavelec on the penalty kill and that's lost them a lot of games. Pavelec isn't a good goalie but he isn't this bad either, so they could turn things around.
Florida and Washington, however, need a lot of things to go right for them and the Panthers are probably in the worst situation of them all. They've already played seven divisional games, have been terrible at even strength and have been getting no luck in the shooting percentage department either. Bad luck combined with poor play will sink a lot of teams early in the season.
So through 14 games the Canes are in good shape to win the division but there's still a lot of work to do for them to break away from the rest of the pack.