The NHL season is rolling along full steam ahead; teams have now played past the season’s quarter mark. Some teams have played just as expected when the puck dropped for the new season. Other teams have been surprising by either overachieving or underachieving through the NHL first quarter. Today we look at the performance and storylines of the teams in the NHL Atlantic Division.
NHL First Quarter Analysis: Atlantic Division
1st Place with 43 Points 21-3-1
The Boston Bruins‘ offseason brought many questions to the franchise. Through the first quarter mark, the Bruins’ have performed far better than anyone could imagine. The good news started in early August when the Bruins announced Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci signed one-year deals for the 2022-23 season. Boston was slated to have a tough start as star winger Brad Marchand and top defenceman Charlie McAvoy were placed on long-term injured reserve following offseason surgeries. Instead, Boston started the season on fire, getting off to the best start in franchise history.
Depth Scoring in Abundance
For years, one of the Bruins’ most significant problems was that the “Perfection Line” of Bergeron, Marchand and pending UFA David Pastrnak carried the team offensively. If the top line had an off night, it was doubtful the Bruins would get an offensive boost from anywhere else in the lineup. However, Boston is scoring often this season, and it’s not just a one-trick pony either. The return of David Krejci and the addition of Pavel Zacha have helped replenish the Bruins’ depth at the forward position. Taylor Hall has been bumped to the third line and now forms perhaps the top third line in the league with Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic. In addition, Nick Foligno has been enjoying a resurgence, already topping his goals totals from all of last season.
Killer B’s Shutting the Door on Opposition
While the Bruins offence has been good, their defence has been equally impressive. Boston has allowed a league-low 57 goals against, for an average of 2.15 per game. Last season’s trade deadline acquisition, Hampus Lindholm was a steadying force, while Charlie McAvoy was on the IR. Goaltender Linus Ullmark is enjoying the best start of his career, putting himself in early contention as a Vezina nominee. Ullmark set the new franchise record for consecutive home wins to start a season. He has a 15-1-2 record with a 1.82 GAA and a .939 SV%.
While the Bruins have gotten off to an incredible start, a slump at some point during the rest of the season is inevitable. However, the Toronto Maple Leafs are staying close to Boston in the NHL Atlantic Division standings. Don’t be surprised if the Leafs close the gap to make the race for first place an entertaining one as the season continues.
7th Place with 25 Points 12-13-1
The Buffalo Sabres look to be taking strides forward through the first quarter. Buffalo came out of the gates firing on all cylinders, going 6-3-0 in the month of October. However, the Sabres fell off track after a wild eight-game losing streak in November, sliding toward the bottom of the highly competitive NHL Atlantic Division.
Sabres Youth Showing Good Development
The NHL Atlantic Division is, by all means, the toughest Division in the league, making it that much more difficult for the young team to show progress in the standings. Buffalo is a much more difficult team to play against than in past seasons. A big reason for this is the development and growth of some of their top young players. Former first overall selection, defenceman Rasmus Dahlin is demonstrating Norris trophy candidate skills. Dahlin is second on the Sabres with 32 points in 26 games.
He also leads the team in hits with 40 and blocks with 43. Right winger Tage Thompson is following up on last season’s breakout campaign with even more impressive numbers. Thompson recently had a five-goal outing and is among the league leaders with 21 goals on the season. The towering 6’7 forward leads Buffalo with 41 points in 27 games. Three other former first-round selections also show promising development at the NHL level. Dylan Cozens is producing at a point-a-game pace, while Casey Mittelstadt and Jack Quinn have also demonstrated growth in their games.
Lacking a Bonafide Number One Goalie
The Sabre’s weakest link is between the pipes, as they have yet to lock down a bonafide number-one starter. Craig Anderson has done an alright job, but the ageing veteran has numbers that aren’t great, with a 2.97 GAA and a .912 SV%. Eric Comrie is out week to week with a lower-body injury, which may benefit the Sabres as he has a 3.62 GAA and a .887 SV%. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen has played in six games and has even worse numbers, with a 4.14 GAA and a.853 SV%. Sabres’ front office must have a hard time watching their former goalie Linus Ullmark as he walked as a free agent after the 2020-21 season.
The outlook for the Sabres is much like recent years. Despite the player growth they are experiencing, Buffalo remains one of the worst teams in the NHL Atlantic Division and will likely finish. They are around the bottom of the standings. However, long-term Buffalo will become more of a threat in the Atlantic as their youthful roster gains NHL experience.
Detroit Red Wings
3rd Place with 31 Points 13-7-5
The Detroit Red Wings had perhaps the busiest offseason of all NHL teams as general manager Steve Yzerman‘s vision for the team has the Red Wings playing their best hockey in several years. found to find a solid goalie when he signed Ville Husso over the summer. In addition, David Perron, another free agent signing, has fit right in with Detroit. Over a quarter into the season, the Red Wings are sitting in a playoff position after missing the post-season for the past six seasons.
New Faces Creating Excellent Results
One of the new faces in the Red Wings organization is their head coach, Derek Lalonde. Lalonde helped guide Tampa Bay to back-to-back Stanley Cups as an assistant coach. Perron brings some much-needed secondary offence and creates another threat on the ice for Detroit’s power play. The veteran forward also brings leadership qualities to the Red Wings room with a Stanley Cup Championship. Dominik Kubalik, another new face, leads Detroit with ten goals and is second with 25 points.
It is no fluke that Detroit is hanging around a playoff position within the Division. The Tampa Bay Lightning are showing some regression by their standards, and Detroit recently picked up a massive win over them, further showcasing that they can play with the big boys. Look for the Red Wings to continue to battle for a playoff birth as the season moves ahead.
5th Place with 28 Points 12-10-4
Following up a franchise record season can be a daunting task. Front office and fans alike have raised expectations once the bar has been set high. For the Florida Panthers, who are coming off their first Presidents Trophy win, the season has not started as they had envisioned. Starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky has struggled immensely this season. The Panthers also felt the effects of the injury bug as they were forced to ice a depleted defensive corps through the season’s early stages.
Blockbuster Trade Produces Mixed Results
During the offseason, the Panthers’ blockbuster trade with the Calgary Flames shocked the hockey world. The Panthers received Matthew Tkachuk in exchange for two of Florida’s key players, Jonathan Huberdeau and Mackenzie Weegar. While looking at individual stats, it would be easy to declare Florida the trade winner, as Tkachuk leads the Panthers with 37 points in 25 games. In Calgary, both Huberdeau and Weegar have been as cold as an Alberta winter, struggling to replicate their individual success in Florida. The overall effects of the trade, although still a relatively small sample size, have not brought the team success either franchise was expecting.
Bobrovsky Struggles Well Publicized
Sergei Bobrovsky carries a cap hit of $10 million/AAV, a price perhaps too steep for any goaltender, let alone an inconsistent one. In addition, Bobrovsky is signed through the 2025-26 season, which makes his poor play even more concerning for the Panthers. In 14 starts this season, Bobrovsky has a 5-7-1 record, a career-worst 3.55 GAA, and a .885 SV%. The cap space Bobrovsky’s contract is eating up could be used in many ways that would be much more beneficial to the Florida Panthers. Perhaps another team looking to solidify their goaltending situation may take a chance on him, but not without Florida retaining a large portion of his contract.
The Panthers may find themselves the odd ones out in the NHL Atlantic Division as the season rolls along. First, Florida must string together a few wins to step back into the race. Don’t count the Panthers out by any means, but the clock is ticking as their playoff ambitions loom in the distance.