At the beginning of this lockout-shortened NHL season, we projected the Southeast Division to be among the most interesting divisions in the game. Carolina and Tampa appeared to have improved, while defending champion Florida and perennial Stanley Cup hopeful Washington looked ready for the challenge.
Almost halfway through the season, the Southeast is, in fact, among the most interesting places in hockey; interesting in the way that a train wreck or multicar pile-up is interesting.
After dropping a 3-0 decision to the Washington Capitals Tuesday night -- a loss that did nothing to counter the verbiage that preceded the game regarding Alexander Semin’s relative worth or lack thereof as a teammate -- the Carolina Hurricanes still technically own the top spot in the woeful division with a middling 9-8-1 record. How bad is the division? The Tampa Bay Lightning started the season 6-1-0 and after dropping a 2-1 decision to woeful Buffalo on Tuesday are 9-9-1 on the season which, sadly, is good enough for second place in the Southeast.
Look around the NHL and you’ll find, collectively, some of the worst goaltending and worst team defense in the Southeast. As of Wednesday morning, Southeast Division teams occupied the 22nd (Carolina), 23rd (Washington), 25th (Tampa), 26th (Winnipeg) and 30th (Florida) spots in the league when it comes to goals allowed per game.
But here’s the thing. Will there be a more compelling race down the stretch? Carolina, Tampa and Winnipeg, which might be the best of a bad lot coming off an impressive 4-3 win over the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden Tuesday, are all tied with 19 points. Florida, which outlasted Pittsburgh 6-4 Tuesday, is only three points behind and a gradually improving Capitals team, winners of two in a row, is four points out of the division lead.
So, while it might not be pretty, you can bet the race to the top of the molehill that is the Southeast Division will provide for some compelling action down the stretch.