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Southeast Division: As wide-open as it is pathetic

Feb 19, 2012, 9:37 PM EDT

Tomas Vokoun, Tomas Fleischmann, Marcus Johansson AP

In the bigger picture, the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers are one of the most pleasant surprises of the season.

Yet after the Anaheim Ducks shut them down 2-0 to give them their third consecutive loss, the Panthers helped to paint a larger picture of a group so weak that they might make the sixth seed worth fighting for.

Portrait of putridity

If division titles didn’t guarantee a team one of the top three seeds, the Panthers would be the only playoff representative at seventh place, with the Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets and Tampa Bay Lightning taking spots 9-11.

Anyway you break them down, these teams are underwhelming. No squad has a positive goal differential. The two teams that seemed like potential contenders have been somewhere between depressing (Capitals) and a disaster (the Lightning).

There’s one saving grace for the Southeast, though: the race to find a winner could be downright fascinating.

Handicapping the Southeast

The Carolina Hurricanes (55 points in 59 games played) have been hot lately, but for the sake of simplicity, I’ll rule out the East’s bottom team. Here’s a real quick look at the rest of the division, as the streaking Lightning have a semi-reasonable chance now:

source: AP1. Florida: 27 wins, 65 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 58 games played; 12 home and 12 road games left
2. Washington: 29 wins, 63 points (28 regulation-OT wins) in 58 GP; 12 home and 12 road games left
3. Winnipeg: 28 wins, 62 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 60 GP; 13 home and 9 road games left
4. Tampa Bay: 26 wins, 58 points (24 regulation-OT wins) in 58 GP; 13 home and 11 road games left

Honestly, all four teams have interesting prospects.

  • The Panthers have the division lead and for all their flaws, they’ve fought through some tough injuries.
  • With Mike Green seemingly circling a return, tiebreaker advantages in the “wins” categories and all that talent, the Capitals are still my best guess for the division champs.
  • Winnipeg’s Games Played gap worries me a bit, but they started a lengthy homestand that could very well catapult them into serious contention. The Jets aren’t going to be as insignificant as many assume.
  • Speaking of dark horse candidates, the Lightning could be in a remarkably similar situation to the one the Jets face – especially if they get the four points necessary to tie them up via shootouts on the road. Tampa Bay’s been dreadful, but that could be a blessing in disguise; if the Bolts get better in their own end, they might have that “everything’s coming together” feeling.

***

Kind of a fascinating situation, right? With a surprisingly intriguing race in mind, I cannot resist asking what you think. Who’s your choice for the division-winner? And could any of these teams actually do damage in the playoffs?

Note: despite the fact that they have basically zero chance, I included Carolina in the poll to be nice – and so people won’t yell at me.

Here are highlights of the Ducks’ blanking the Panthers:

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  1. trbowman - Feb 19, 2012 at 9:53 PM

    Bolts don’t have consistent enough goaltending to do it.

    Caps will probably make a deadline move, I think they take the division.

    Panthers make it as an eighth or seventh seed.

  2. velocirapist - Feb 19, 2012 at 10:10 PM

    “Whoever wins, we lose” because we have to see them play for at least 4 more games. What terrible hockey in that division.

    • bcjim - Feb 19, 2012 at 10:17 PM

      Oh please, 28/29 wins is significantly different than 30/32/33 (OTT/PHI/PIT)? that is equals “terrible hockey”?

      • polegojim - Feb 20, 2012 at 10:15 AM

        @bcjim – sorry to rub in the pain, but your comparison is lateral, that’s really not the point.

        Just the facts and nothing but the facts:

        The SE Division is the worst in the NHL. Yes, that’s terrible hockey.

        The SE Division leader is (-18) in goal differential. Every other division leader is has a positive and double-digit goal differential. Most are 50+ positive. Yes, that’s terrible hockey.

        The SE Division leader would be in the bottom three or near the cellar in any other division. Yes, that’s terrible hockey.

        Add to those facts that the Caps have been supposedly been built-for and favorites to win the Cup. They’re not even leading the worst division in the NHL and Ovi seems more worried about defending his Rock Star status than playing superior hockey. That is pathetic.

      • letangshair - Feb 20, 2012 at 2:07 PM

        when the only teams you’re beating are in your own crap division yes. that’s terrible hockey.

  3. natswizskincap - Feb 20, 2012 at 12:13 AM

    Caps could go into the playoffs healthy. It’s nice that they aren’t on cruise control and could
    help them get past the second round!!! Here’s to wishing and hoping Nicky is back soon!!! And that Crosby gets healthy
    and motivates OVI again!!!

  4. bethgoesglobal - Feb 20, 2012 at 12:48 AM

    There are 20+ games left to be played and a lot can happen between now and the end of the regular season. The draft deadline is around the corner and that could shake up the standings quite a bit (or not). However, what’s more likely to rattle the standings is some teams getting hot and others floundering. It’s a good thing Philly can score because if they don’t get a new goalie they could fall apart. If Toronto continues to trade they’ll run the risk of throwing off the teams chemistry and they could falter. If Jersey continues to play as they have been they’ll be set, but…. Florida seems like they’ll continue as they have unless they pick up a piece or 2 that give them that extra push, which means they’ll be in the hunt right up till the end. Washington is up in the air but the return of Mike Green is huge for them. Their GM McPhee is reportedly very busy on his phone these days but we’ll have to wait until the 27th to see what that amounts to since he likes to make his moves in the final hours of the deadline. Winnipeg has a long stand at home which could make or break their season. Their record in Dec was outstanding but the team barely left home. Finally, there’s Ottawa. I’ll be honest I’m not as familiar with their team but I know that the most important factor for them is probably their goaltending. If Anderson can stand strong the team has a good chance to stay in the hunt.

    My point: The SE division is not as pathetic as some may think. I think there will be at least 2 teams in the playoffs and depending on how the cards fall there could even be 3. If Tampa gets a solid goalie they could even push into the race. Regardless, there’s a lot of hockey left and I think 5-8th place will be a battle to the finish.

    Oh- and don’t forget how damaging injuries can be for a team. What would the picture look like today if Washington hadn’t lost Green for nearly the entire season and Backstrom these last 2 months.What if Pittsburgh had Crosby, Letang, and Staal healthy, or Philly had Pronger? A lot can happen in a cross-check or with an errant puck and they only take a second to cause damage.

  5. scottfmullin - Feb 20, 2012 at 1:46 AM

    “Pathetic” seems like too harsh a word to describe anything in hockey other than the Blue Jackets.

    • dcfan4life - Feb 20, 2012 at 10:18 AM

      Agreed, less than 10 points seperate the top 4 teams in half the divisions. Thats a little harsh to call a team pathetic when they r 5 more wins away from a division lead.

      • polegojim - Feb 20, 2012 at 1:46 PM

        Woefully underperforming is pathetic folks.

        MOST other division leaders current have 15-20 more points, THEN the same point differential begins.

        I aint hatin, just statin. Caps fans shouldn’t act like its ok.

  6. bethgoesglobal - Feb 20, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    Why does everyone always hate on the SE division. Other than the Canucks the NW isn’t exactly a powerhouse division either. And need I remind “ya’ll” that the Caps had dominated the entire Eastern conference for several seasons until this year!

    • polegojim - Feb 20, 2012 at 1:44 PM

      … until this year – that’s exactly the point.

      Middle of the standings in the worst division in hockey. That is pathetic compared to expectations.

      Please stop making excuses for this.

      • hockeyhome - Feb 20, 2012 at 2:47 PM

        The Eastern conference, overall is weak. They have the Rangers. Boston is doing OK (not looking too good recently). Otherwise there are a couple beat-up teams that, if healthy, could be Much Better (but they’re not so…). Some interesting stories (in Devils, Panthers, Senators, and Jets), and team-destructive goal tending (Flyers and Lightning)
        However, looking at the standings I think the bottom 4 spots are still up for grabs regardless of the SE automatic seed- that just makes another race within a race.
        So, whatever way you want to slice it, the Eastern Conference just pales in comparison to the West, but it also has a “pathetic” division: the NW. The NW division has the Canucks (no need to name the others).

      • polegojim - Feb 20, 2012 at 5:54 PM

        True – guess we’ll see if some of these east teams get it together over the next 2 months.

      • hockeyhome - Feb 20, 2012 at 2:53 PM

        You must be a frustrated Caps fan? or just really bitter? I don’t think these people are really making “excuses” but if they are isn’t that our job as hockey fans? To stand up for the teams we love regardless of the “standings”

      • polegojim - Feb 20, 2012 at 5:57 PM

        Not a Caps fan at all… standing up for ‘our team’ as fans is one thing, but to pretend nothings wrong and defending bad hockey is completely another

        That’s my issue. Washington deserves better.

      • hockeyhome - Feb 20, 2012 at 6:14 PM

        Well I know the fans in DC, like the fans in Vancouver, are starving for the Cup and they both Do deserve a team that will Finally bring it home.

      • polegojim - Feb 20, 2012 at 6:26 PM

        Exactly – Vancouver is at least showing heart and drive to earn one.

  7. rsl22 - Feb 20, 2012 at 7:31 PM

    I’m an admitted Caps apologist….but, it’s really hard to replace an all-star caliber 1C (Backstrom) and two-time Norris trophy nominee (Green).

    I hate to blame this waste of a season on the loss of two players, but their absence undoubtedly has played a huge role in the Caps demise this year.

    If 19 gets healthy and 52 stays healthy….they could be a dangerous team in the playoffs. Without them, there’s no denying they look pathetic and are not going to be a difficult out for any team playing them in the first round.

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