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The top position flip flops between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers; while the New York Rangers keep pace in the East, the New York Islanders are getting within striking distance of thirteenth place, and the New Jersey Devils stay where they are. Such is the Atlantic Division as of right now.
Except for the Islanders, everyone in the Atlantic is at or has past the halfway point of the season. It's pretty clear right now that the division is going to send 3 teams to the postseason at most. I shouldn't have to tell you who at this point, the current standings makes that pretty clear.
If you haven't noticed by now, but the two Pennsylvania-based teams have been neck-and-neck as of late for first in the Atlantic. The Penguins have certainly cooled off from their earlier hot streak, while the Flyers have only recently pulled ahead due to sweeping the last week of games.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
The darkhorse in all of this are the Rangers. While being behind by 4 points on a first-place team that has 2 games in hand on them isn't ideal, the Rangers aren't completely out of the picture. There's a lot of season left for the Blueshirts to move in on the Penguins or Flyers should either team screw up later. New York keeping pace may not make for the most interesting storyline. Should they make a jump up the standings in February or March (or even April), how they are doing now is going to be a big reason why it was even possible. The goal for this week is the same - keep pace to keep close and if either of the Pennsylvania teams fall, then they have their chance.
What's more a little more compelling down in the lower end of the conference are the Islanders. Yes, the same team that went into the ditch for all of November (except for that last game against New Jersey) is hot. Seriously. They are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games and they are now only 4 points behind 13th-place Toronto. While it won't make them suddenly make the playoffs, it's some hope that perhaps they aren't destined to finish in 14th or 15th this season. Luck surely turned around for the Isles. Maybe something similar will happen to New Jersey soon.
The Isles do get the most games in this coming week, three of which are on their home ice:
|PHI||@ BUF||@ BOS||@ ATL|
|PIT||vs. BOS||@ MTL||@ BOS|
|NYR||vs. MTL||vs. VAN||@ MTL|
|NYI||@ CHI||vs. VAN||vs. OTT||vs. BUF|
|NJD||vs. TBL||@ TBL||@ FLA|
There are no inter-division games this week. Instead, most of the Atlantic will see plenty of the Northeast Division. Vancouver and Chicago break that up, but only for the New York-based teams. The Devils are a bit different, as they draw three games with the Southeast Division, which is definitely not the Caps-and-also-rans group of seasons past. The Southeast currently has three teams in playoff position (Washington, Tampa Bay, Atlanta) and a fourth team in ninth place (Carolina). Even if they were, the 30th placed team in the league can't go into any game thinking it'll be against weak competition. Otherwise, they'll be doomed to another zero-point week.