NHL East: Isles? Those are the Isles?
Hard to believe that the NHL season is a third of the way through.
And lo! There are two new teams atop the two divisions in the Eastern Conference.
Yes, lo! It's a harkening that gets tossed out there a lot this time of year, so grab a mug of glögg/gluhwein/mulled wine, and relax while reviewing how the races are shaping up on frozen pond.
The action's been dynamic from the first games forward:
Tampa Bay, not a suprise to many, is heading the Atlantic Division. The Islanders, a suprise to everyone, are right up there with Pittsburgh as the Metropolitan Division pacesetter.
The Lightning have been led by 6-7 goalie Ben Bishop, who recently finished a three-game sweep of the defending Eastern champion New York Rangers, beating them three times in 15 days. Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan are the leaders of this team, and they expect to go far in the playoffs this season, unlike last year when they went out early in the Atlantic Division.
The Islanders took four points from Penguins two weeks ago and are now neck-and-neck with powerful Pittsburgh. The sweep was sealed in a shootout:
Jaroslav Halak has bounced around since last spring, but he's been stellar in net for New York while John Tavares and Kyle Okposo lead the suddenly potent offense. The Isles have come alive in the first two months of the season and actually now have more talent than teams like the New Jersey Devils, Washington Capitals, and Philadelphia Flyers.
Montréal and Detroit join Tampa Bay as the top three seeds in the Atlantic Division, with Boston and Toronto right behind. The Bruins have been inconsistent all year and many think they will break out soon and make another run for the division title. The Rangers join the Islanders and Pittsburgh as the Metropolitan Division's top three but the Rangers have been up and down this season after their great run to the Stanley Cup finals last year.
Washington is right behind the Blueshirts and right ahead of New Jersey, but both of those teams are flawed and will need to improve to make the playoffs.
Points count now just as much as they do in April. Teams like Philadelphia and Florida -- and even New Jersey -- cannot afford to give away too many of them now or their games in March and April will have very little meaning.