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The Atlantic Division might be better than expected

It’s the end of October and the 2019-20 season is roughly one month old. Though there’s a butt-load of hockey left to be played, we can start to get a pretty good idea of who’s good and who’s bad at this point.

The Leafs, as you know, are off to an ugly start. Things should come together for the team once they’re fully healthy, but the Atlantic Division isn’t going to make life easy on them. Frankly, this division, it seems, isn’t going to leave them really any room for error at all.

Last year, it was all about the Big Three and getting home ice in the first round against Boston. This year? Things might be a little trickier. Let’s walk through what we’ve learned about the Athletic Division after one month and size up the competition and decide whether or not it’s time to slam the goddamn panic button.

1. Boston Bruins

9-1-2 (20 points) / Goals For: 41 (13th of 31) / Goals Against: 25 (1st of 31)

Oh man, the Bruins are even better than they were last year.

It’s the same old story with these guys. One line — David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron — is scoring all of their goals and they’re impossible to score on otherwise. That aforementioned trio has 24 of the team’s 41 goals thus far, but it isn’t like the rest of the roster is a bunch of scrubs. Boston has allowed just 23 (!!!) goals against thanks to some stingy defence and rock-solid goaltending.

I know we like to laugh at plus/minus, but only four players on the Bruins have a negative goal differential right now.

2. Buffalo Sabres

9-2-2 (20 points) / Goals For: 44 (9th of 31) / Goals Against: 33 (7th of 31)

Right up there with the Bruins at the top of the division is *checks notes* the Buffalo Sabres! Because, of course, they are. It wouldn’t be a disastrous start to the season for the Leafs without Buffalo getting off to a good start themselves.

But wait! Is this all a facade like last year? Remember when Buffalo went on a 10-game winning streak in November and owned a 17-6-2 record on American Thanksgiving? And then they crapped their pants and only won 16 games for the rest of the year? Let’s hope that happens again.

Things are clicking for the Sabres under new head coach Ralph Kreuger, though they do seem to be overachieving a little bit. The Sabres have a goals for percentage of 58.7 that massively overachieves their expected goals for percentage of 47.9. It’s hard to imagine Linus Ullmark and Carter Hutton maintaining a .929 save percentage the rest of the year, but there’s still quite a bit working for this Sabres team, so I wouldn’t expect a collapse like last year.

3. Florida Panthers

6-3-4 (16 points) / Goals For: 47 (4th of 31) / Goals Against: 51 (30th of 31)

Another non-playoff team that improved last season, the Panthers, are off to a pretty decent start this year. Honestly, Florida wasn’t that bad last year and all they really needed in order to become a playoff contender was solid goaltending. They went out and spent a billion dollars on Sergei Bobrovsky to solve that problem.

Has it been solved? Apparently not. Bobrovsky has been terrible so far this season, as he has a .873 save percentage in 10 starts. But it’s important to note that Bobrovsky is notoriously bad to start the season, so he’ll likely round back into form sooner rather than later. So far, the Panthers are rolling with a 6-3-4 record entirely due to their potent offence. Once Bobrovsky starts playing like, ya know, Bobrovsky, this is actually a really good team.

4. Montreal Canadiens

7-4-2 (16 points) / Goals For: 45 (8th of 31) / Goals Against: 37 (14th of 31)

Things are going well for the Habs thus far. Jonathan Drouin is enjoying a rebound season, critically important fossils Shea Weber and Carey Price have been healthy, and the scoring depth is coming from up and down the lineup again. Oddly enough, Ryan Poehling, who Habs fans had already handed 2020 rookie of the year, is nowhere to be found. This is because he’s in the AHL. Weird!

5. Toronto Maple Leafs

6-5-3 (15 points) / Goals For: 49 (2nd of 31) / Goals Against: 49 (29th of 31)

Well, this isn’t the start anybody wanted to see. The Leafs have had a hell of a team keeping the puck out of the net and even their elite offence can’t compensate for it. The team has looked a little bit lost with John Tavares out with a broken hand, so, given that and other injuries to Zach Hyman and Travis Dermott, we can give them a pass. For now.

6. Tampa Bay Lightning

6-4-2 (14 points) / Goals For: 42 (10th of 31) / Goals Against: 42 (21st of 31)

It’s, uh, kind of disturbing that we’re already this far down the list and we’re just reaching last year’s Presidents’ Trophy winners, right? Hey! The Leafs are playing better than the Lightning! That’s good, right? No! It means that if Buffalo and Florida remain solid, when Tampa Bay inevitably regains form, the division is going to be absolutely loaded.

The Lightning have had an ugly start to the season, sitting at a shockingly mediocre 6-4-2 after 12 games. It seems like nothing more than a slow start, but maybe there’s something else brewing here. Tampa Bay could have a similar situation to Toronto as people are questioning whether or not the team has given up on Jon Cooper.

So this means that six different teams in the Atlantic are currently on pace to put up at least 95 points in the standings. Even if one of Florida or Buffalo slows down, you have to assume Tampa Bay will break out of their funk sooner rather than later.

7. Detroit Red Wings

4-8-1 (9 points) / Goals For: 30 (27th of 31) / Goals Against: 46 (26th of 31)

8. Ottawa Senators

3-7-1 (7 points) Goals For: 29 (29th of 31) / Goals Against: 37 (14th of 31)

The Red Wings and Sens are still terrible. Don’t worry, nothing has changed there. Let’s just hope that neither team wins the draft lottery this year.