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Bruins trying to hold off Lightning in Atlantic Division

Panthers, Maple Leafs looking to secure playoff position

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

With the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game over and the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 four weeks away, is taking a look at where all 31 teams stand heading into the stretch drive of the regular season. Here is the Atlantic Division.


Boston Bruins

Record: 29-10-12, 70 points, first place in Atlantic

MVP: David Pastrnak -- Boston's top-line right wing leads the NHL in goals with 37, one shy of his NHL career high, set last season. He's scored at least 34 goals in each of the past four seasons and leads the Bruins with 70 points.

Unsung hero: Jaroslav Halak -- The backup goalie is 12-6-6 with a 2.47 goals-against average, .918 save percentage and three shutouts in 24 games (23 starts). He could see a larger role with starter Tuukka Rask out with a concussion.

Player to watch: Charlie McAvoy -- He signed a three-year, $14.7 million contract prior to the season and has yet to score a goal. McAvoy, who has 17 assists in 48 games, leads the Bruins in ice time per game (23:14) and should be an important piece even if he doesn't score.

Biggest need -- With physical bottom-six forward David Backes sent to Providence the American Hockey League after clearing waivers, Boston could use another grinder. Forward Brad Marchand leads them with 53 penalty minutes.

Second-half prognosis -- The Bruins are 9-7-7 after starting 20-3-5 but should challenge for the Atlantic Division title and figure to be one of the favorites for the Stanley Cup.

Video: Pastrnak wins MVP award at 2020 NHL All-Star Game


Tampa Bay Lightning

Record: 29-15-4, 62 points, second place in Atlantic

MVP: Nikita Kucherov -- The NHL's top scorer last season has 54 points (22 goals, 32 assists) in 47 games, meaning he's not likely to come close to his League-leading total of 128 in 2018-19, when he was voted winner of the Hart Trophy as most valuable player. The forward scored five goals in his final three games before the All-Star break.

Unsung hero: Alex Killorn -- He's already established an NHL career high with 20 goals and is eight points from his career best in points (47, set in 2017-18). Killorn has seven power-play goals and five game-winners.

Player to watch: Anthony Cirelli -- He's a third-line center who plays in all situations, with 40 seconds of power-play ice time and 3:00 of shorthanded ice time per game. Cirelli has 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) in 47 games after having 39 in 82 games last season.

Biggest need -- Tampa Bay may want to invest in a backup goalie for those games when starter Andrei Vasilevskiy needs a breather. Curtis McElhinney is 5-6-2 with a 3.10 GAA and .902 save percentage.

Second-half prognosis -- After muddling through the early stages of the season, the Lightning won 12 of their final 14 games before the All-Star break and are six points out of first place in the division. But as they learned last season, winning the division isn't what counts; the Lightning want to make sure they don't repeat their loss in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Video: TBL@WPG: Kucherov converts on 2-on-0 with Stamkos


Florida Panthers

Record: 28-16-5, 61 points, third place in Atlantic

MVP: Jonathan Huberdeau -- The left wing is tied for sixth in the NHL with 65 points (18 goals, 47 assists) and on pace for his first 100-point season. He also leads the Panthers with 24 power-play points and is tops among Florida forwards at plus-11.

Unsung hero: Noel Acciari -- The Panthers signed Acciari on July 1 to be a depth forward but he has already established an NHL career high with 18 goals, including back-to-back hat tricks Dec. 16 and 20. He also leads Panthers forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (2:39).

Player to watch: Sergei Bobrovsky -- It's been a subpar season for the two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goalie, who signed a seven-year contract July 1. Bobrovsky is 19-12-4, but his 3.24 GAA and .898 save percentage are each the worst of his 10-year NHL career. Florida's playoff chances likely will depend on his performance during the rest of the season.

Biggest need -- The Panthers need to play better without the puck. They're tied for 24th with the New York Rangers in goals-against per game (3.27) and have allowed at least four goals 24 times in 49 games

Second-half prognosis -- Scoring isn't the problem; the Panthers lead the NHL with 3.67 goals per game. If the defense and goaltending improve, Florida could qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2016, perhaps even as a top-three team in the Atlantic.

Video: MET@ATL: Tkachuk sets up Huberdeau's game-tying goal


Toronto Maple Leafs

Record: 25-17-7, 57 points, fourth place in Atlantic

MVP: Auston Matthews -- He is tied for second with 34 goals and has started his NHL career with four straight seasons of at least 30. Toronto's No. 1 center has 57 points, 17 on the power play, four game-winning goals and is plus-14. The offense runs through Matthews.

Unsung hero: William Nylander -- The forward has 43 points (22 goals, 21 assists) in 49 games, a nice bounce back from his 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists) in 54 games last season after agreeing to a six-year contract as a restricted free agent on Dec. 1, 2018. Nylander has given the Maple Leafs a scoring threat outside of Matthews, John Tavares and Mitchell Marner.

Player to watch: Tyson Barrie -- Acquired from the Colorado Avalanche on July 1 in a trade involving forward Nazem Kadri, Barrie has 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) in 49 games after finishing with 14 goals and an NHL career-high 59 points last season. The defenseman can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.

Biggest need -- Defenseman Jake Muzzin (broken foot) is expected to return soon, but defenseman Morgan Rielly (foot) will be out a while longer, so the Maple Leafs, who rank 27th in goals-against per game (3.29), could look for some help on the blue line.

Second-half prognosis -- Toronto isn't a lock but should qualify for the playoffs for a fourth straight season. The Maple Leafs haven't advanced past the first round since 2004.

Video: NJD@TOR: Matthews records second career hat trick


Buffalo Sabres

Record: 22-20-7, 51 points, fifth place in Atlantic

MVP: Jack Eichel -- Buffalo's captain and No. 1 center has tied his NHL career high in goals (28) and has 62 points, putting him on pace to break his high of 82 set last season. Eichel has six game-winning goals, is plus-13, and is making a case for the Hart Trophy as MVP.

Unsung hero: Victor Olofsson -- Although the rookie forward remains out with a lower-body injury sustained Jan. 2, Olofsson is second among first-year players in goals (16) and points (35). He's been a cog on the power play (nine goals, 14 points) and should give the Sabres a boost when he returns.

Player to watch: Rasmus Ristolainen -- His scoring has dipped this season, but he's made up for it defensively and is a big reason the Sabres are tied with the Chicago Blackhawks for 16th in goals against (3.08 per game) after they were 24th last season (3.27). The defenseman is plus-2; he's never finished with a plus rating in his six previous NHL seasons.

Biggest need -- More consistent goaltending. Buffalo has a save percentage of .901. That will need to improve for the Sabres to make a run at the postseason.

Second-half prognosis -- Buffalo has cooled off after a hot start, going from top three in the Atlantic Division to 10 points behind the third-place Florida Panthers in the division and Carolina Hurricanes for the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. If the Sabres are to qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2011, they'll need to be better on the road (8-14-4). Buffalo is 14-6-3 at home and plays its first five games after the break at KeyBank Center.

Video: VGK@BUF: Eichel goes coast-to-coast to reclaim lead


Montreal Canadiens

Record: 22-21-7, 51 points, sixth place in Atlantic

MVP: Shea Weber -- It's been a nice bounce-back season for the 34-year-old defenseman, who ranks fourth on the Canadiens with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists) after he had 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) during an injury-plagued 2018-19. Montreal's captain has been an offensive and defensive force.

Unsung hero: Nick Suzuki -- The 20-year-old rookie has 27 points (nine goals, 18 assists) in 50 games. Acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights for forward Max Pacioretty on Sept. 10, 2018, Suzuki could be a top-line forward in Montreal for years to come.

Player to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk -- Montreal took a chance on the 36-year-old left wing by signing him Jan. 3 after the Los Angeles Kings placed him on unconditional waivers Dec. 16 and terminated his contract after he cleared waivers the next day. Kovalchuk has eight points (four goals, four assists) in eight games with Montreal, including two game-winning goals. He's provided a spark, and the Canadiens hope that continues down the stretch.

Biggest need -- A backup goalie. Carey Price is 20-16-4 with a 2.84 GAA and .908 save percentage; the three other goalies to play for Montreal this season (Keith Kinkaid, Charlie Lindgren and Cayden Primeau) are 2-5-3 with a 3.69 GAA and .891 save percentage.

Second-half prognosis -- Making the playoffs will be an uphill battle. The Canadiens are 10 points behind the Panthers for third in the Atlantic and have played one more game. They are also 10 behind the Hurricanes for the second wild card.

Video: MET@ATL: Bertuzzi, Weber team up to double lead


Ottawa Senators

Record: 17-23-8, 42 points, seventh place in Atlantic

MVP: Jean-Gabriel Pageau -- The speedy center had a stretch of 10 goals in 10 games from Nov. 4-20 and has already matched his NHL career best with 19 goals. He has three shorthanded goals, four game-winners and is plus-13 on a team with a minus-30 goal differential.

Unsung hero: Anthony Duclair -- He leads the Senators with 21 goals and 33 points, and has 47 points in 68 games since being acquired in a trade with the Blue Jackets on Feb. 23, 2019. The forward has been productive despite seeing limited ice time (16:30 per game, fifth among Ottawa forwards).

Player to watch: Brady Tkachuk -- One of the more exciting players in Ottawa, Tkachuk has 27 points (15 goals, 12 assists) in 48 games and the forward is second on the Senators with 53 penalty minutes. His ability to combine offense with physicality makes him an important part of the Senators.

Biggest need -- Goaltending. Veterans Craig Anderson and Anders Nilsson have struggled; each has a GAA over 3.00. The Senators are 29th in goals allowed at 3.33 per game.

Second-half prognosis -- The Senators were a surprising 11-11-1 on Nov. 22 but are 6-12-7 since and 1-5-4 in their past 10 games. The remainder of the season will give them a chance to see which of their young players they want to build around.

Video: CGY@OTT: Tkachuk nets early goal off defender's stick


Detroit Red Wings

Record: 12-35-4, 28 points, eighth place in Atlantic

MVP: Tyler Bertuzzi -- The left wing leads the Red Wings in goals (17), is tied with Dylan Larkin for the lead in points (36), and has arguably been their best player. Bertuzzi is four goals and 11 points from NHL career highs set in 2018-19.

Unsung hero: Robby Fabbri -- Since being acquired in a trade with the St. Louis Blues on Nov. 6, Fabbri is second on the Red Wings in goals (10), assists (13) and points (23) in 34 games. The forward has two game-winning goals, second behind Anthony Mantha (three).

Player to watch: Dylan Larkin -- He's taken a dip offensively with 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists) after setting NHL career highs last season with 32 goals and 73 points, but the 23-year-old center is still one of the most exciting players in the League.

Biggest need -- Detroit has allowed the most goals in the NHL (198), scored the fewest (108), is last on the penalty kill (73.3 percent) and 29th on the power play (14.8 percent), so there are many areas that need improvement.

Second-half prognosis -- The Red Wings will likely recall players from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League to see what they have in the system and look forward to next season. They will be in contention for the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NHL Draft.

Video: ATL@PAC: Duclair, Bertuzzi team up for nice goal

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