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Slapshots (column): South-weak Division

The Southeast division has a reputation of being the weakest division. This season it’s especially bad.

But why? It certainly isn’t because of scoring.

The Southeast has the current goal-scoring leader in Steven Stamkos from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who is also the second-highest points-scorer in the league. Tampa’s Martin St. Louis is second in assists, and Carolina’s Eric Staal and Alexander Semin are second and third respectively in plus-minus.

The reason falls to goaltending.

There’s only one stat in which there’s a Southeast goaltender in the top 10 and that’s Carolina’s Dan Ellis at ninth in the league in save percentage with .923. Not an impressive stat.

If that stat doesn’t prove how bad the Southeast’s goaltending is, look at the goal differentials. Division-leading Carolina has only scored four more goals than the opposition. Second place Winnipeg has scored nine less than the opposition.

Then there are the Florida Panthers who have managed to score a league-worst 27 fewer goals.

Even Columbus, the league’s bottom feeders, have a higher goal differential.

But compare these numbers to league-leading Chicago who has scored 29 more goals and it’s painfully obvious that goaltending is the problem.

Tampa Bay is second only to Pittsburgh in the league in goals for, and in the top eight Eastern teams, the Southeast is also represented by Carolina. Washington just misses the top eight by five goals.

Look at goals allowed and it’s a completely different story. Only two Southeast teams squeak through the top eight in fewest goals allowed, Carolina and Washington. And the Southeast provides three of the 10 most scored against teams in the league with Winnipeg, Florida and Tampa.

In fact, looking at the standings, only the Southeast leader will make the playoffs, and that’s only because each division has to have a representative.

It’s hard to pinpoint why exactly the Southeast is so terrible this year, but a lot of it may have to do with Washington’s poor record. In years past, Washington and Tampa have battled for top in the division.

Without that real competitive factor, both teams have sort of slipped into complacency.

Regardless of whether these teams just don’t care, they need to figure themselves out.

There is no reason why the Northeast has all but Buffalo currently making the playoffs and the Southeast can only squeeze its leader in.

Another big problem the Southeast is having is its history of falling apart at the end of the season.

Usually Washington is the team that steps it up at the end, just enough to get in the playoffs and hold down a spot.

But this season, with Washington in no position to make a surge that will keep them in the playoffs, the division is left to rely on Tampa and Carolina.

Even Florida has made late-season pushes before, but all of those have fallen short. Last year, Florida was able to pull ahead and hold the division lead, but fell to New Jersey in seven games in the first round.

With the Panthers hanging around at the bottom of the division with Washington, it doesn’t look like they’ll have the same late push they did last year.

Maybe if the Southeast gets its goaltending situation under control, the division will have more representation in the playoffs.

Until these teams can figure that out, just the division leader will have a chance at the Stanley Cup. And not a very good chance at that.

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