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Inside the Eastern Conference Standings – December 26

Dec 26, 2010, 12:00 PM EDT

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Every now and then, we’ll take a look at each conference’s standings to see if there are any trends or quirks that explain why some teams are failing and others are overachieving. Obviously, these results will reveal bigger truths once we advance later into this season … but it’s still fun and interesting to take a peek at bigger picture numbers.

Want to compare and contrast? Check out the November and October editions of the Eastern Conference standings analysis.

Which teams are the hottest and coldest? Which teams are road warriors and who depends too much on home cooking? Let’s take a look.

Tampa Bay should rise.

With Atlanta briefly stealing the top spot normally held by Washington, Tampa Bay kinda-sorta slipped under the radar. If there’s one team that should be even better going forward, it’s the Lightning because:

  • They hold two games in hand over the Caps and Thrashers.
  • Most importantly: they’ve only played 14 games at home versus 21 on the road. They have 27 games in Tampa Bay for the rest of the regular season versus only 20 more away from their arena.

Carolina and Florida are justified in a little schedule griping.

Much like Tampa Bay, Carolina and Florida are dealing with some odd early season scheduling. Unlike the Lightning, those teams sit outside the playoff picture to boot.

Along with playing overseas, the Hurricanes have played 14 games in Carolina versus 19 on the road. They cannot complain much louder than the Panthers, though, as Peter DeBoer’s squad played 13 games in Sunrise and 20 away from home so far.

Philadelphia and Washington must face the possibility of a 4/5 seed series.

Because they’re both facing stout divisional competition and will face more road games than home contests going forward. The Capitals have played in the most games (37) of any team in the East (although the Thrashers played in 37 as well). Washington already played 21 at home, so they’ll face five more road contests.

The Flyers must face the Penguins’ push, Pronger’s injury and more road contests (five more as well) too. Then again, they have 10 wins on the road already so they don’t have to worry as much as the Capitals, who own a 7-8-1 away record so far.

Who knows how that will shake out, but unbiased hockey fans would surely get a treat if those two teams met in the first round.

Road warriors

The Penguins (12-4-1) and Rangers (12-6-0) are the best teams in the league at bringing their shows on the road. Again, the Flyers are pretty efficient away from Philly too (10-2-3) while the Lightning are scrappy but not elite away from Tampa Bay (10-8-3).

This indicates that the Atlantic Division teams are going to be tough outs in the playoffs.

A long season in Long Island

The Islanders have played the least games (32) of any team in the NHL. If any fan base could get a fast forward button, it would probably be theirs (or the Devils’ fans, I guess).

***

Overall, I think that the Capitals might be in a little trouble (at least as far as winning a division title is concerned) while the Flyers might face a bump in the road. The Lightning could move up while the Hurricanes and Panthers probably have the best chance among the teams outside of the top eight to make a run for the playoffs.

Oh, it wasn’t quite bold print worthy, but with Boston’s two games in hand and the Canadiens facing three more games on the road than at home for the rest of the season, the Northeast Division race could be awfully interesting too.

And, yes, the far-off possibility of a Flyers-Capitals first round series does get me kind of excited.

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