We’ve hit the Olympic break, which means that it’s time to do a little reflecting. Here’s a review of the Eastern Conference to this point in the 2014 NHL season:
Biggest Surprise Team: Tampa Bay Lightning
Odds To Win East: +750
The Lightning have been a big surprise team for our NHL picks as nobody figured they’d be among the top three or four teams in the conference. As you might recall, they cut ties with heart-and-soul captain Vincent Lecavalier in the offseason, didn’t do much to replace him and have played most of the season without sniper Steve Stampkos. Yet they’ve still had the staying power.
The key to the Lightning success can be traced back to a trade deadline acquisition from last season when they picked up goaltender Ben Bishop for forward Cory Conacher. While Conacher has just four goals and 20 points this season, Bishop is playing like a Vezina Trophy winner, going 27-8-4 with a 1.97 GAA and .933 save percentage.
Best Team Overall: Pittsburgh Penguins
Odds To Win East: +160
The Pens still have to be considered the best team overall. They’ve done nothing to disappoint as their 83 points are most in the Eastern Conference and four shy of the league lead.
They’ve been forced to deal with a horde of injuries yet they’ve kept trucking along just fine. The latest is a stroke to star defenseman Kris Letang, who will miss at least six weeks.
The Pens are 23-4-1 at home this season and will likely have home-ice advantage in the playoffs. They’ll be tough to stop.
Biggest Disappointment: New York Islanders
Odds To Win East: +6500
Remember watching the Islanders give the Penguins trouble in the first round of the 2013 playoffs? Remember thinking that this team was on the rise and could very well be one of the more challenging teams to face in the East? Turns out those thoughts were way off. The Isles are again at the bottom of their division and have the fourth-fewest points in the NHL.
They need to get serious about getting a real goaltender before they can make a real change in the course of their franchise.