The Devils had a rough go of it in the last two weeks with a slump in the middle and with Friday's loss, it looked as if that it didn't go away. But the Devils got an important inter-division win over the Islanders to restore confidence and continue to give them a cushion within the division. As far as the Eastern Conference goes, the Washington Capitals made their move and now sit 3 points ahead of New Jersey while riding a 6 game winning streak. Still, last week, I made note that the rest of the division had a chance to make a move to get closer to the Pittsburgh Penguins, but everyone in the Atlantic except for Philadelphia split their results this week. Even Pittsburgh split them, and all it does is benefit the Devils further. With still owning two games in hand on the non-Philadelphia teams, they are still in the driver's seat in the Atlantic:
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
Philadelphia won their last 3 games and they're picking a good time as any to make some noise. Not only do they have the same points as the Rangers (and Montreal), but they are ahead due to the number of wins and they still have two games in hand on the Rangers and Islanders. Some may lament how overtime losses may make a mess in the standings, but this is a case where they really hold the Rangers and Islanders back. Imagine if they just actually won a few of those shootouts or got a goal in overtime, they'd be in a healthier spot instead of swapping places nearly every day.
|NJD||@ OTT||@ BUF||vs. TOR|
|PIT||@ PHI||@ NYR||vs. OTT|
|PHI||vs. PIT||vs. ATL||vs. NYI|
|NYR||vs. PIT||vs. CAR||@ PHX|
|NYI||vs. WSH||@ CAR||@ PHI|
The week ahead kicks off right away on Sunday afternoon with the Pennsylvania Rivalry on NBC. Both teams would like to win just so they can say they beat those miserable fools on the other team. For Pittsburgh, a win gets them right back on track for fighting up against the Devils. For Philadelphia, a win could provide separation from the two NY teams as well as some of the other teams mired between 6th and 13th in the East. Likewise, Monday's Rangers-Penguins game is important for the same reasons, though add in the Rangers' desire to regain some confidence after Montreal's 6-0 destruction of the Rangers. Saturday's Islanders-Flyers game is crucial for both teams should they want to continue making playoff noise going into February. I would think the bottom three teams in the Atlantic will still be very close to each other unless someone runs off a streak of wins (or losses, for that matter).
Mathematically, the Penguins can only tie the Devils in points this week if they sweep the week and the Devils drop all three games. While the road back-to-back games with Ottawa and Buffalo won't be easy and the Toronto game could be a trap, I highly doubt the Devils will drop three straight games again. The slump could very well be over and there is the possibility of Dainius Zubrus coming back to give the Devils some much needed size and strength on offense. That should give the Devils a boost alone and that should help in a few of these games. Even if the unlikely scenario of the Devils going 0 for 6 in this week, the Penguins sweeping all three games is also unlikely. They'll be playing two teams that want to make a statement about making the post season to start, they aren't gimmies; and Ottawa is the hottest team not named Washington in the East, they could still be hot on Thursday (though I hope not).
Moreover, even if Penguins also sweep this week, the Devils would still be the leader based on games played. Since everyone plays 3 games, the Devils will still have a potential 4 points on hand over Pittsburgh. Therefore, expect another week where the Devils remain at the top of the Atlantic Division.