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NHL: Season update

The Atlantic Division has been far more competitive this season, thanks largely to the improvement shown by the Buffalo Sabres and Detroit Red Wings.

The Sabres (15-14-2) and Red Wings (13-11-6) have been impressive, but with the Florida Panthers (15-13-4) taking a step back from their Presidents' Trophy winning form of last season, the cream of the division has again risen to the top.

Bruins keep rolling

Boston Bruins (24-4-2) continue to lead the division and the entire NHL standings and under new coach Jim Montgomery, have scored the second highest number of goals (3.80 average per-game) and conceded the least (2.13 per-game).

The Bruins won an all-time NHL record 14 games in a row at home to begin the season, and are +135 To Win the Presidents’ Trophy, which would give them crucial home advantage throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

If they do that, Montgomery will certainly be in contention to win the Jack Adams award as coach of the year +600 and have an excellent opportunity to deliver on their +600 odds To Win the Stanley Cup, which would be their first since 2011.

Leafs focus on defense

Second to Boston in the division is Toronto Maple Leafs, who are 7-2-1 in the last 10 games and have charged up the NHL standings thanks to a franchise-record 23-game point streak from forward Mitch Marner and exemplary goaltending from Matt Murray (.924 save percentage) and Ilya Samsonov (.929 save percentage).

Forced upon them by the absence of several key defencemen, the usually attack-minded Leafs have concentrated on keeping the puck out of their net and to their credit have conceded the second fewest goals in the NHL (2.44 per-game).

The refocus on defense is likely to stand them in good stead come playoff time as they attempt to win a round for the first time since 2004 and end a record 55-year Stanley Cup drought, which they are +850 to achieve.

Lightning striking

The Tampa Bay Lightning took a little time to shrug off the disappointment of having their Stanley Cup three-peat bid ended by Colorado Avalanche last season.

But led by their core stars, Nikita Kucherov (12 goals, 35 assists), Steven Stamkos (16 goals, 20 assists) and Brayden Point (16 goals, 15 assists), the Lightning have begun to spark again and have scored the third most goals in the league (3.67 per-game).

Also, particularly pleasing for long-time coach Jon Cooper has been the form of Brandon Hagel (12 goals, 14 assists) and Nick Paul (13 goals, eight assists), who were each acquired ahead of the trade deadline last season and are proving more than capable of replacing the depth lost by the Lightning over recent seasons.

The Lightning are +1000 to regain the Stanley Cup this season from the Avalanche (16-11-2 and +700 To Win Stanley Cup) who are fourth in the Central Division and currently decimated by injuries.

The Central is led by the Dallas Stars (18-8-6) with Winnipeg Jets (20-9-1) second and the in-form Minnesota Wild (17-11-2) third.

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Tight in the Metro

The New Jersey Devils (21-8-2) began the season like a house on fire, but after losing three straight face a fight to keep hold of top spot with the Carolina Hurricanes (18-6-6), Pittsburgh Penguins (18-8-4) and New York Rangers (17-10-5) all on lengthy winning runs.

Below them the New York Islanders (18-13-1), seeking to bounce back from missing the playoffs last season, and Washington Capitals (16-13-4), despite their lengthily injury list, have remained in the race with just eight points separating top from sixth.

Gr-800

Speaking of the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin scored his 800th regular season goal against the Chicago Blackhawks on December 13th to become the third player to reach the sensational milestone.

The 37-year-old has 20 goals in 36 games this season and needs just one goal to match Gordie Howe for second all-time and then the chase will be on to catch ‘The Great One’ Wayne Gretzky’s record of 894.

Canadian sides in fight for playoffs

Following inconsistent starts to the season, Edmonton Oilers (17-14-1) and Calgary Flames (13-12-6) find themselves in a battle for their playoff lives in the Pacific Division.

After making the Western Conference Final last season and having the luxury of the league's top two-point scorers, Connor McDavid (62; 28 goals, 34 assists) and Leon Draisaitl (54; 21 goals, 33 assists) it's somewhat surprising to see the Oilers in fourth spot in the division and relying on a Wild Card spot into the playoffs.

But while their offense lights it up, scoring the fifth-highest goals in the league (3.59), only eight teams have conceded more than their 3.41 per-game, something they will need to drastically improve.

Meanwhile, after much change in the off-season, the Flames are continuing to go through a process of establishing a new identity, which has been more difficult with the usually ever reliable Jacob Markstrom struggling in goal.

The main problem team for the Canadian sides is the Seattle Kraken who, after finishing bottom of the division in their inaugural season, are much improved.

They appear well set to displace one of them in the playoff positions, with a 16-10-3 record so far, which is the third-best in the division.

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