Demystifying the East

The Eastern Conference is in a state of upheaval.

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Seriously - what the hell?

Boston is suffering through the stabbing headaches of a “Stanley Cup hangover,” but being in the basement is inexcusable for the Bruins. (Though I must admit, it feels wonderful seeing them down there.) Once they shake off the cobwebs, expect them to return to the upper end of the top 8.

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Expect Chara to ditch the bunny costume and resume eating baby bunnies soon.

Meanwhile, well-regarded Montreal and the New York Rangers stumbled onto the ice this season, and are struggling to recover from their early season slumps.

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Screw the global economy. "Occupy Montreal" is ready to unleash some good old fashioned hockey hell. Might want to start winning some games, Habs.

The Florida Panthers are ahead of the Sabres, joining other elite clubs such as Ottawa and Toronto who are in the top 4.

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The day this picture resembles the Eastern Conference Finals is the day I shoot my TV.

Again: what the hell?

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Hockey bloggers everywhere are scratching their heads, and are just waiting for the Sens and Leafs to implode so they don't have to explain just what is going on in the East.

As middling as Buffalo has been, they have done enough to make most “contenders” lists in the early goings. But what of those pesky Leafs and Sens? They can’t possibly keep this up, right? Well, according to Harrison Mooney of Yahoo! Sports, the Leafs don’t have to do all that much to stay in (gulp) playoff contention:

They’re 7-2-1. They’re 5-0-1 at home. Phil Kessel is on pace for 147 points. Can this be real?

Probably not, and I suspect even Leafs fans know the team will eventually regress. Still, the team has put together a nice cushion. A .500 record the rest of the way and the Maple Leafs would still finish with 90 points. A slightly better pace and the Leafs could find themselves in a playoff spot.

At 7-5-0, the same could be argued for the Sens. But as they’ve charged the standings, they’ve done it through a minefield, and both clubs are standing on a landmine right now. And it won’t take much for everything to blow up from underneath them. We are, of course, talking about our favorite stat: the goals for/goals against ratio.

The goal differential statistic is like a health indicator – or in the Leafs and Sens case (particularly the Sens), a sickness indicator. People and hockey teams can function, they can succeed when ill – but eventually, the illness will take over. Sickness takes us down.

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The Bruins have the hangover, but they aren't the ones really sick in the Eastern Conference.

Boston’s differential might be 22/25, but that’s not so bad for a team in last place. (For comparison’s sake, Tampa is suffering 33/35 mark, and they’re just fine). The Bruins will wake up from this, and when they do, the Leafs and Sens might find themselves tumbling.

Toronto is enjoying a 7-3-1 record, sure, and has a differential of 36-35. Remember though, that the Leafs began the season by playing their first six games at home. They’re not a road tested team yet – and the early indicators from their brief stints on the road are foreboding, as the team has a 2-3-0 record when playing away from the comfy confines of the Air Canada Centre. And of that 36-35 differential – well, sitting on a +1 suggests anything but control of all the zones on the ice and dominance of the conference. Despite their success, the Leafs are teetering on that aforementioned land mine. A misstep is coming.

CharaSens Demystifying the East

Chara: boom. Good luck surviving another step, Ottawa.

Ottawa is in a very dangerous place. The Sens have a 7-5-0 record, thanks entirely to a remarkable 7 game winning streak. Their differential is an appalling 39/45. Aside from a 4-1 decision against Winnipeg, all of their wins have been by just one goal. This is a recipe for disaster.

The Sens have been running at a blind full speed through that minefield. Truly, their success at not exploding into a million trade-bait pieces has been a weird survival story, if anything.

And oh, guess who Ottawa plays tonight? The Boston Bruins.

Our own Buffalo Sabres have been in a slump of their own – allowing short handed goals, having pucks bounce off Christian Ehrhoff and into the net, and surrendering 3rd period leads at home have been the issues keeping the Blue and Gold tarnished for now. But these are all solvable issues. The Sabres still have a strong goal differential of 29-22, which is a portent of better days ahead.

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Take another look sports fans, because it's not going to look like this for long.

Can the Leafs and Sens really keep this up? Unlikely, but possible. Will the Bruins, Habs and Rangers stay out of the top 8? Again, unlikely, but possible. Heck, even New Jersey, Carolina, and the Islanders should be bettering the Sens right now, and challenging the Leafs. Should be.

Time to mix metaphors:

In the Eastern Conference, everything right now is depending on those fatal missteps. Sick teams like the Sens and Leafs can’t stay up on those land mines for long. Not in their condition. Something, someone, is going to blow up in an ugly way, and it’s only a matter of time.

Go Sabres.

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