Thursday, February 12, 2009

Your 2009 Mid-Season Hockey Report: Eastern Conference, Atlantic Division

As sure as I sit here, I confidently predict that this will be the best-read feature on the House of Georges for months to come. You see, not only is our server frequently bombarded with traffic, our comment boxes exploding with opinion, the imminent pressure put upon our staff is inarguably the demand for more hockey coverage. In years past, we haven't delivered much of it, mostly because Cecil and Old No. 7 have season tickets to the Avalanche, and they're too busy to attend the games and write about them, which leaves me, alone out here in my sea of fat, drunk people to try and produce something of the stick-and-puck variety. I won't make any promises, sweet readers, other than that I will reach for far below my very best to produce nothing but the facts. Ma'am.

So we're about 10-12 games beyond mid-season at this point, and things in the Atlantic look pretty much par for the course. Out in front with 35 wins and 73 points are the Devils of New Jersey. Leading the pack is left-winger Zach Parise, who has put together an astonishing campaign; so far he's netted 34 goals and 33 assists for 67 points. Veterans Patrik Elias, Jamie Langenbrunner, Dainius Zubrus, and John Madden have made significant contributions to the campaign as well. New Jersey has, for as long as I can remember, put at least an above-decent defense on the ice, and excellent +/- ratios of 22 from Colin White and John Oduya suggest that the same is still true. In net, however, things are looking different for the Devils. Future Hall-of-Famer Martin Brodeur has only played in 10 games earning his team wins, while the younger Scott Clemmensen has played in 36 times, earned 23 wins and put up a solid .920 save percentage.

As for the second-place Philadelphia Flyers, things don't look too bad for them as they sit a mere eight points behind New Jersey. Center Jeff Carter leads the way with 34 goals and 24 assists, while left wingers Simon Gagne and Scott Hartnell are having noteworthy seasons. The Philly D, however, looks vulnerable while not producing many points. Martin Biron and Antero Nittymaki have split the goaltending duties and done respectable jobs behind their porous defensive units.

In third are the New York Rangers who share a point total with the Flyers, so their post-season hopes are equivalent. Nikolai Zherdev, Scott Gomez, Markus Naslund, and Ryan Callahan have contributed to New York's offensive successes, but like Philly, their defense has underachieved as a unit. Henrik Lundqvist has gotten the majority of the starts between the pipes. His 25 wins don't look bad, but his 114 goals allowed suggest otherwise.

The Lone Reader's Pittsburgh Penguins are exactly where I thought they'd be after an incredible run to the finals last year: in fourth with 59 points and only the lowly New York Islanders beneath them. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby have combined for an amazing 152 points, and gotten help from Petr Sykora and Miroslav Satan, who together have 35 goals. The Penguin defense, however, has been well below impressive, and Marc-Andre Fleury, after missing a few contests due to injury, sits at a meager 19-14 record. The good thing for Pittsburgh is that they're only one point behind the eighth-place seed, so they can still squeak in with a strong second half.

The Islanders. Well, 16 wins through early February won't cut the mustard. Though you always say don't count anyone out, you gotta count NYI out. Mark Streit, Doug Weight, and Bill Guerin have had decent production, but everyone else on the roster pretty much stinks. You know things aren't good when you've got four goalies on the roster, and the one who's seen the most action is 11-23, while your former first overall pick in the draft has seen action in only five contests.

That's the Atlantic. Check back in tomorrow for some exciting Northeast action.