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Duffer's Digest: Secrets of their success

Thursday, 12.17.2009 / 9:52 AM / NHL Network

By Brian Duff - NHL Network

After a night of sex and profanity on the NHL Network -- thank you Dan Sexton and John Tortorella -- it's time for a snapshot of the League's division leaders.

Based upon points per games played, the New Jersey Devils are not only tops in the Atlantic, but in the Eastern Conference as well. They are not afraid to win ugly (were they ever?). For more, see Wednesday's highlights.

New Jersey has a lethal shootout trifecta of Zach Parise, Jamie Langenbrunner and goalie Martin Brodeur, which has guided them to a League-best 5-1 record in shootouts. And the Devils are absolutely crushing their conference foes, to the tune of 21-6-0! (Pittsburgh is 18-6-0 and no other team, East or West is anywhere close to being that dominant).

Southeast Division-leading Washington remains first overall in points, thanks, in large part, to the fact that they are averaging 3.56 goals per game, which is almost a half goal per game better than the San Jose Sharks and Pittsburgh Penguins, who rank second and third respectively.

Defensively, the Caps sit in the League's upper half, and that's with red-hot rookie goalie Semyon Varlamov appearing in less than half of the club's games to date.

Once healthy, will he carry a heavy workload with the same poise he has shown to date?

Is it a bad thing that Alex Ovechkin leads the team in penalty minutes?

The Buffalo Sabres may have the hottest goalie right now in Ryan Miller, but is he simply masking problems that could prevent them from not only holding on to top spot in the Northeast, but a playoff position as well?

A bottom-third team when it comes to scoring (2.59 goals per game) and power play (17.4 percent - ranked No. 25 in efficiency), the Sabres have shown a good ability to bounce back after shoddy performances.

With only four wins in nine games against division rivals, including none in four against Boston and Ottawa, Buffalo must find a way to assert itself against those that can hurt it most often.

Nineteenth in goals against. Twenty-fourth on the penalty kill First in the Pacific, and first in the Western Conference.

Perhaps the most entertaining team for a variety of reasons, the Los Angeles Kings have given up leads of two-goals or more in a game a League-leading eight times. And, every time, they have found a way to bounce back and win the game.

A nine-day break after Thursday night's match in Calgary may drop them out of top spot for a while, but the imminent return of Ryan Smyth should prove to be worth the wait.

Like the Devils in the East, the Blackhawks are unmatched in the West -- based on points-percentage. The offense remains an intoxicating work in progress. Defensively, no team ranks higher.

Pre-Christmas dates against Boston, Detroit, San Jose, and the Red Wings again should help minimize any potential holiday distractions.

They've scored one more goal than they've allowed (not counting shootouts), and have dealt with about 140 man-games lost due to injury.

And despite losing 9 of 11 within their own division to teams not named Calgary, the Colorado Avalanche have to share the billing with Los Angeles as the most surprising division leaders to date.

Chris Stewart, Matt Duchene, Ryan O'Reilly and T.J. Galiardi have assumed prominent roles up front, and Joe Sacco has received more than he could have expected from both Craig Anderson and Peter Budaj.

Hopefully the folks in Denver will soon take notice.


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