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The great Atlantic Division race for third place

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As of now it’s the most undeserving playoff spot in the NHL, and it’s up for grabs.

Montreal Canadiaens v Detroit Red Wings Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Playoff races seem like the wrong thing to talk about in December, but in the new NHL, maybe they do start now. I liked this way of looking at it:

We can discuss some other time the teams at the top of the crushed can, which include the Leafs. Maybe we can figure out what kind of not that great is enough to win it all, but today, let’s look at the five teams all gunning for the third place in the Atlantic Division.

As the standings projections look now, there could be as many as four or even five teams in the Metropolitan Division outside their top three but with more points than the third Atlantic team. There is almost certainly going to be at least one team out of the playoffs with more points than that third-place Atlantic team.

Projections, particularly this early, aren’t perfect, and teams change as trades are made and injuries happen, and you can’t actually predict that. Earlier in the year, when there was less information from this season to base this sort of thing on, there were five teams in the Atlantic all knotted up chasing second place. They were: Toronto, Boston, Montréal, Ottawa and Detroit. Florida was well down with Buffalo.

Since then, Toronto has staked a strong claim to second place, and Florida has separated from Buffalo a lot. The new set of five teams are now competing for third, with the top three in a tight race, and the trailers straggling along looking for some luck to give them a boost.

In terms of the actual standings, we see something similar, not surprisingly:

NHL Standings as of December 2, 2017

Tampa Bay 26 18 6 2 38 0.731 17 0.654 95 67 28
Toronto 28 17 10 1 35 0.625 16 0.571 99 84 15
Montréal 28 13 12 3 29 0.518 12 0.429 78 86 -8
Boston 24 12 8 4 28 0.583 11 0.458 66 68 -2
Detroit 27 10 12 5 25 0.463 8 0.296 74 90 -16
Ottawa 24 9 9 6 24 0.500 8 0.333 74 81 -7
Florida 26 10 13 3 23 0.442 8 0.308 75 88 -13
Buffalo 27 6 17 4 16 0.296 6 0.222 56 94 -38

Note that if you sort that table by points percentage, you get Boston over Montréal, and if you use ROW %, the percentage of games a team has won the old-fashioned way in overtime or regulation, you get some very interesting results.

What stands out, aside from how bad the entire division is below the top two teams, is that no one else has achieved a positive goal differential yet.

As of December 2, 2017

Team CF/60 CA/60 CF% SH% SV% PDO
Team CF/60 CA/60 CF% SH% SV% PDO
Boston Bruins 60.14 53.45 52.95 7.65 92.24 0.999
Tampa Bay Lightning 61.53 56.68 52.05 8.98 93.4 1.024
Montreal Canadiens 61 58.15 51.2 7.06 92.01 0.991
Toronto Maple Leafs 59.39 57.88 50.64 10.19 92.17 1.024
Detroit Red Wings 54.24 55.57 49.4 6.92 91.21 0.981
Ottawa Senators 56.01 59.98 48.29 8.63 90.36 0.99
Florida Panthers 56.17 60.58 48.11 7.49 91.86 0.994
Buffalo Sabres 50.19 56.03 47.25 6.14 90.91 0.97
Natural Stat Trick data, score and venue adjusted five-on-five

Boston and Montréal seem to be a different class from the other three hopefuls, and their shot metrics show that as well.

Detroit looks like they could conceivably fall down into the Buffalo zone, or at least near to it. Florida could rise up a little or sputter out in futility. Either of them might make that playoff spot, but they might just be playing spoiler up until the end of the season with their good goalies and almost mediocre teams. They aren’t as bad as you think they are, but they aren’t good either.

Ottawa is the big question mark. Their standings place lies a little since they’re behind on games played, but it lies the other way too since they’ve got 6 points from losing games in overtime or shootouts. Maybe they are as bad as we want them to be.

Oh, and while we’re here, what’s the difference between Tampa and Toronto? Goals against, and not much else.

If the Leafs are in second place in the spring the team that won the race to finish third will be their first round opponent.