There is a rather interesting trend developing in the NHL this season.
The NHL is the most exciting and competitive league globally because the worst team in the National Hockey League can beat the best team on any given night. But when the worst team gets matched up against the best team eight or so times in a season, the results should favor the better team.
So far, that has been the case across the board.
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Starting with the East Division, the New York Islanders sit in the top spot and took it to the last-place Buffalo Sabres (16 points) last week, defeating them in three straight games.
The Islanders are 6-0-0 against the Western New York team this season, as they have outscored the Sabres 24-9. The Islanders have averaged 2.92 goals per game this season but, against the Sabres, that number is at 4.00. It has just been a dominant effort. My colleague Brendan Azoff always tells me that good teams beat bad teams while great teams cover.
The Islanders have beat the Sabres by two goals or more in five of the six games.
The Philadelphia Flyers, who are currently two points out, are 4-1-0 against the Sabres this season. Now, I am not saying that everyone has to sweep the Sabres this season, but looking at this division’s skill, if the Flyers fail to make the playoffs, that loss, an alarming 6-1 loss, could be the dagger.
As we make our way to the Central Division, the story is the same. The Tampa Bay Lightning have a slim one-point lead over the Carolina Hurricanes for the Central Division lead and are currently undefeated against four of the eight teams in their division. The worst team, the Detroit Red Wings, have been outscored 12-5 by the Lightning, who have averaged 4.00 goals per game and have only allowed 1.67 goals per game in their two meetings this season. If you had not guessed, they are 3-0.
Division leaders have taken care of business against the weakest links.
The Nashville Predators, who currently sit nine points out of a playoff spot, have not made the most of their four meetings against the Red Wings.
This was a Nashville team that looked to right the ship after a demoralizing 2019-20 campaign. They have been outscored 11-9 by the Red Wings and are fortunate that they are not under .500 against one of the worst teams in all of hockey.
Out west, the Vegas Golden Knights have been dominant this season as they sit in the top spot. They are undefeated against four of the eight teams in the division, with a winning record against every team but the Colorado Avalance (2-2-0).
The San Jose Sharks find themselves in last place, with 21 points, and Vegas has done a number on them this season. With a 3-0-0 record, Vegas has outscored San Jose 12-5. For the most part, these games have been close besides one, but Vegas has found a way to collect all six possible points.
Now, most teams in the division have beaten up on the Sharks, hence their location in the standings. The Minnesota Wild, who currently hold the fourth spot by a mere two points, are 2-1-0 against the Sharks. The Los Angeles Kings and the Arizona Coyotes both sit two points out and have both gone 1-0-1 against the Sharks this season.
The Anaheim Ducks, who seemed to have improved this past offseason, only sit a point ahead of the Sharks. They have gone 1-1-1 against them this season.
The North Division this season has been dominated by the Toronto Maple Leafs, who own a five-point lead over the second-place Winnipeg Jets. Fun fact, the Leafs are the only division-leading team to hand over a point to the worst team in their division thus far as they own a 3-0-1 record against the Ottawa Senators. That one loss came in a game where the Leafs blew a 5-1 lead in an embarrassing defeat.
One thing the Leafs have done against the Senators is score in bunches, as they have scored 20 goals in five games (4.00 GPG), but have given up 17, as the Maple Leafs’ weakness has been exposed against even the weakest of opponents.
The Calgary Flames, who are three points out, have played average against the Senators, with a 2-2-1 record. Safe to say that this rivalry, thanks to the Tkachuk brothers, has made these matchups real exciting and real close.
The Vancouver Canucks, who sit just a point behind the Flames, are 3-0-0 against the Senators this season. So at least they have made the most of their games against the pitiful Senators. However, Vancouver just has not been able to beat the teams ahead of them too often.
If we take the records of all the worst teams against all the division-leading teams, the record is not pretty at 2-14-1. It is hard to not feel bad about these lackluster franchises, but at the end of the day, these bad teams are seeing what it takes to be the top dogs and hopefully can start to put pieces together to turn things around.
In a season in which there are 26 fewer games than usual, it is imperative to beat the teams that are under you in the division. With more than half the season still to play, teams will surely be bouncing around the standings. But when the season comes to a close and some good hockey teams see themselves out of the picture by a slim margin or by a big margin, their point production against the worst teams will be the focus.