Over the last week or so, the most fickle thing in the NHL might be the Southeast Division lead.
Thanks to a previous hot streak by the Atlanta Thrashers and a recently broken slump by the Washington Capitals, the two teams now seem to be in a tug-o-war (some might say a game of hot potato) for the top spot in the division. Let’s not forget about the Tampa Bay Lightning, either, as they are staying in the picture despite playing more games on the road than at home so far this season.
The Thrashers held a thin lead over the Capitals going into tonight’s games, but the power shifted once more on Tuesday.
While beating the Senators and Devils shouldn’t encourage the Capitals to plan a Stanley Cup parade, the team is at least taking care of business against the teams they should beat in the last two games.
It was a team effort for the Caps, as five different players scored goals. Included in that group was Andrew Gordon, who earned his first NHL goal and assist in this game.
Michal Neuvirth was on his game tonight, stopping 35 shots and only allowing a Patrik Elias power-play goal.
Meanwhile, the Blues snapped out of a lull to beat the Thrashers 4-2 in their contest.
Ty Conklin (37 saves) and St. Louis won thanks to a scoring by committee approach, as Dustin Byfuglien and Chris Mason weren’t quite good enough to earn Atlanta their 11th win at home this season.
Here’s a quick snap shot of the Southeast Division picture after a Capitals win, a Thrashers loss and the Lightning remaining dormant.
As you can see, the Capitals now hold a thin lead over the Thrashers (one more win, one more point in the same amount of games played) while the Lightning could actually be in the best position of the three to take a lead into the new year. While they trail the Capitals by a win and two points, they’ve played in three less games than Atlanta and Washington. They could tie the Caps with one win and pass them by if they earned at least three points in those three games.
Of course, there’s still a little under 50 games left for these teams, so analyzing them too much at this point is foolish. Still, if these patterns remain consistent, the Southeast Division could be highly competitive a year (or even two) earlier than most people expected.
This race should be fun for however long it lasts.