Merry Christmas! Every team in the Atlantic Division got some kind of a gift within the past week of games. The New Jersey Devils remained in playoff position; the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers swept their weeks; the Philadelphia Flyers welcomed Claude Giroux back in the lineup; and the New York Islanders avoided a winless week and last in the Eastern Conference.
With four teams in the top 8 and the Islanders lurking not too far behind 13th place Tampa Bay, it's clear that the Atlantic Division remains the class of the Eastern Conference at this point of the season. Will the division continue to stand tall among it's peers as 2011 ends? Please continue on after the jump to see what lies ahead.
Again, everyone in the division got at least one win; but the biggest winners were the New York Rangers.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
The Rangers didn't just get three straight wins. No, they got three straight wins over division rivals. That's big not just for pride, but also in climbing up the standings. Their most recent win over Philadelphia wasn't just for two points, but also to jump them in the standings. They're the second-hottest team in the East with four straight wins and they got games in hand on everyone around them except for Boston - the hottest team in the East and leaders of the conference.
Given that they're tied in points, it's entirely possible that the Flyers could re-take first again. They're at a disadvantage due to their schedule. The Rangers would do well to keep their hot streak alive as they get to use up their one game in hand on Philadelphia this week. Pittsburgh also got two straight and are right behind both teams, so they could make a move should the Flyers falter a bit.
As for the team we all know and love, the Devils remain at the upper part of the bubble in the East. That loss to the Rangers last week hurt their chances at climbing up the division for the time being. They're five points behind the Penguins, which isn't the easiest lead to make up. Their goal for this upcoming remains the same as it has been: get points and hang around sixth through eighth place in the East until they're in position to make a serious move.
The Islanders, well, they're ahead of Carolina due to games in hand on them. They got that going for them. At 11 points behind New Jersey, it's going to take a serious streak and a horrible collapse by the Devils for them to make any noise in the division. I don't want to say they're completely out of the picture for this season; but they're on the outside looking in at this point.
In the week ahead, a few intra-division games makes for an interesting final week of the calender year:
|NYR||vs. NYI||@ WSH||@ FLA|
|PHI||@ TBL||@ PIT|
|PIT||vs. CAR||vs. PHI||@ NJD|
|NJD||@ CAR||vs. BUF||vs. PIT|
|NYI||@ NYR||vs. CGY||vs. EDM|
The Islanders can certainly play for pride and get some revenge on their local rivals on Monday. The rest of the East would certainly appreciate a win by the Isles to cool off the Rangers. If they don't succeed, the two top teams in the Southeast Division, Washington and Florida, will get cracks at the blueshirts. Pittsburgh features in the other two intra-divisional games in this week. They get to pour some misery on the Flyers before their Winter Classic match-up and possibly knock them into third place on Thursday. The latter is going to be contingent on Tuesday, as the Flyers will play Tampa Bay and the Pens will get the Canes at home. On Saturday, they'll visit the Devils in an afternoon game; which will be the toughest one on paper for the Devils in their upcoming week.
The Devils certainly have an opportunity to close out 2011 strong. They'll be playing the basement-dwelling Canes first, the bottom-of-the-bubble Buffalo on Wednesday, and then the Penguins. The degree of difficulty certainly gets higher as the week goes on. Should the Devils finish off the year with a positive week of results, then that should be satisfactory.
Would you agree, or are your expectations different for the Devils for their final three games of 2011? How do you see the rest of the division playing out? Will the Rangers stay at the top of the Atlantic by the beginning of 2012, or will either Pennsylvania team knock them off by then? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division in the comments. Thanks for reading.