There are two great divisions in the NHL right now (and then the rest), as the Central and Atlantic Divisions are dominating the first half of the season. Which division is better? Alexander and I debate…
By Ryan Porth
Seven teams in the league have 64 points or more here at the All-Star break. Four reside in the Central Division. Detroit, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville – there’s no doubt the Central is the best in the NHL.
The usual suspects are in contention. Behind Jimmy Howard’s goaltending and Jonathan Toews’ leadership, the Red Wings and Blackhawks are both Stanley Cup contenders (as expected). But there are two other divisional foes that deserve to be in the same conversation.
The St. Louis Blues have emerged as a prime contender in the West with Ken Hitchcock at the helm. All-Star Brian Elliott and recently-dominant Jaroslav Halak are leading the way for the hard-working Blues. Elliott leads the NHL in goals-against average and save percentage, while Halak has a 1.63 GAA in 21 starts since a sluggish October. Youngsters like David Backes, T.J. Oshie and Alex Pietrangelo have developed much-needed consistency.
With a surge following the holidays, Nashville is legitimately in the race for their first division title. Barry Trotz’s Predators are 12-2-0 in their last 14 games, as Pekka Rinne is playing like a $49 million goaltender (1.60 GAA in last 13 starts). The Preds’ season turned for the better after a comeback win in Columbus on Dec. 8 (18-5-0 since then). Also, balanced offensive production has made up for any lack of firepower up front.
The Blues and Predators will look to continue to stay atop the Central as the second half moves along. And you know the Wings or ‘Hawks won’t be going anywhere. Nicklas Lidstrom and company can’t seem to lose at Joe Louis Arena, as they boast an NHL-best 20-2-1 mark on home ice. Meanwhile, Chicago has had its moments this season where they’ve looked like the top team in the league.
Once again, there is no doubt that the Central Division is best. Despite having the league’s doormat camping out in the cellar, this division has four teams within three points of each other at the All-Star break, and all are contending for the Western Conference lead and Presidents’ Trophy. The five other divisions, including the Atlantic, can’t say that.
Recently it’s been Detroit and Chicago controlling the division, but now they have company, which makes the Central the top division in the NHL.
By Alexander Monaghan
While the Central Division may have four teams with over 64 points, the Atlantic has three teams over 60 points with a fourth currently in the playoff mix. There are no easy wins out East, where every game is a bitter rivalry.
Furthermore, the Atlantic lacks a sure-thing, whopping boy like the Columbus Blue Jackets to pad their stats. Even though you could make an argument for the New York Islanders to be a substandard team, they remain only 10 points out of a playoff seed while the Blue Jackets sit 22 points out, almost mathematically eliminated with over two months left in the season.
Leading the Atlantic is the New York Rangers, who established themselves as the beasts of the east. Playing in front of a supercharged Henrik Lundqvist, the Rangers have skill, grit and great defense which could make them the highest winning team in franchise history. Their victory over the Boston Bruins last weekend further proved to the rest of the league that this team can play with the best of them, and win.
Directly below the Rangers is the equally dangerous Philadelphia Flyers, who can score goals in bunches. What the Flyers lack in goaltending, they make up with a punishing blue line and three capable scoring waves. Moreover, their youth movement which puts rookies Sean Couturier, Matt Read and Brayden Schenn in the lineup should guarantee their success for years to come.
Also in the mix for the division lead is Dan Bylsma's Pittsburgh Penguins. After hitting a slight lull due to a vast amount of injuries, the Pens found their winning ways on the back of a red-hot Evgeni Malkin. Pittsburgh is already the home of the best player in the league -- Sidney Crosby -- but when their captain is sidelined, Malkin loves taking the baton and running with it. His dominance combined with scoring winger James Neal and the acrobatics of Marc-Andre Fleury make this blue collar team very difficult to play against.
Similarly, the New Jersey Devils just refuse to quit. Coming into the season, the Devils hoped to ride their second-half hot streak into a playoff berth. However, the growing pains of a young team has both helped and hurt their cause. While rookie Adam Henrique helped get both Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk back in the box score, other younsgters like Matthias Tedenby and Nick Palmieri have hurt their squad with their sophomore slumps. Nevertheless, their veteran scorers and veteran goaltending keeps New Jersey in nearly every game as they look to sneak into the postseason.
Finally, we come to the New York Islanders, who have posted over a .500 record in January. And, even though they are the cellar dweller of the Atlantic, they deserve credit for not packing it up in December. Their young players continue to mature with John Tavares easily becoming one of the breakout stories of the season. If he is able to replicate this season's production, the Isles should have no problem competing in this cutthroat division for years.
The Atlantic has the stars -- Malkin, Lundqvist, Crosby -- and they have the natural rivalries. Every game played is an intense battle from beginning to end. Due to that elevated compete level, the Atlantic is the toughest division.
Photos credit: Getty Images
Photos credit: Getty Images