Our games tonight and Thursday are against teams in our own division. We sure put an emphasis on these games. I think the schedule makers do a great job putting most of the divisional games at the end of the season when they probably matter the most, but we emphasize them throughout the year. We play 24 out of our 82 games against divisional opponents and we want to try and make sure that they cannot beat us, if we can help it.
We have played four divisional games so far and have been lucky in all four – even with three of them being on the road. If Atlanta or Florida had beaten us in those two games then they would be in a better spot right now. Every game is a chance to get two points, but divisional games are four-point games so you can see how they add up and matter in the standings.
We play each team in our division six times a year, so these games can tend to get personal and the bigger the rival, the more personal they can get. When we played each team eight times, it could get downright ugly. We play Carolina tonight and we think it’s personal. They have beaten us three of the last four times we have played them and no matter what their record is we think they are an outstanding team.
Obviously, we want to win the division, but that is not the most important thing to us. The league is so tough now that making the playoffs is paramount. When you think only half the teams in our conference will make the playoffs that means a couple of good teams will be left out. It becomes so important to get a good jump and to try and create a little bit of space, rather than making every game like a Stanley Cup game.
I know the perception is out there that the Southeast Division is not one of the premier divisions in the league, but let’s remember that we were one game away from having two teams from the Southeast Division representing the East in the conference finals last year. If you look at the playoff picture right now, three teams from the Southeast are in the playoffs. Two of the last five Stanley Cup champions have come from our division, which is more than any other division in that time. It is a really tough division.
I think people look at hockey markets and make some stuff up about the teams in our division based maybe on attendance. Every team in the Southeast is from a non-traditional hockey market and I think that is why some people have the perception that our division is not as good as other divisions. I think that is a myth; I think our division is as good as any division and it is showing in the standings.