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With the return of the NHL regular season, the very top and very bottom of the Atlantic Division gets tighter. The New York Rangers are stuck in the middle and have ended the week with a little more doubt about their positioning for the playoffs.
The two hottest teams in the division, the New Jersey Devils (7-1-2 in last 10) and the Pittsburgh Penguins (5 game winning streak), will both have very busy weeks ahead. Will either make a move up the standings?
The Pittsburgh Penguins gained a little ground on the Philadelphia Flyers in this past week; and the New York Islanders are only ahead of New Jersey because of their win over the increasingly-hapless Ottawa Senators on Saturday night.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
The Flyers faithful will get to sit and wait, while Pittsburgh has a huge opportunity to surpass them. If they blow it though, they will regret it because the Flyers will have 3 games in hand over their in-state rivals by next week's snapshot. Losing Evgeni Malkin to a MCL and ACL tear is a major loss, especially now when the schedule gives them a perfect chance to catch up.
Speaking of catching up, the New York Rangers are stuck in a mire and stuck in the middle. They are now seriously far away from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, yet maintain a massive lead over the Islanders and Devils. Their main concern is going to be securing a playoff spot. Their 2-0 loss to Montreal on Saturday afternoon puts Les Habs 3 points ahead of them, who also have 2 games in hand on the Blueshirts. Ranger fans will be hoping the eighth-place Atlanta Thrashers continue to drop points as to not worry about dropping to eighth. Helping themselves would be appropriate as well.
The Rangers will also be hoping Montreal loses some games too. Including Sunday's game against the formerly-30th-place-team-in-the-NHL, the Devils. How does that feel, Rangers fans? Your favorite team not only lost to the then-30th-place-team-in-the-NHL and caused them to move ahead of Edmonton, but now you need them to get a result. Welcome to playoff positioning, where you wish for things you'd otherwise not support.
Anyway, you know the Devils were in a seriously deep hole when getting hot in January and pulling off 5 points out of 6 in this past week is still not enough to pull ahead of the Islanders. They are very close, though. With a game in hand over the Long Island squad this week, the Devils can make their move out of the basement in the division and the Eastern Conference. Though if Ottawa - who has 42 points - keeps flopping, then both teams can move up a little bit in the conference standings real soon.
Here's how the schedule breaks down for the division this week:
|PIT||@ WSH||vs. CBJ||vs. LAK||@ NYI|
|NYR||@ DET||@ ATL|
|NYI||vs. TOR||@ MTL||vs. PIT|
|NJD||@ MTL||vs. CAR||@ TOR||vs. SJS|
There are several games of interest. The Sunday games will certainly be worth your attention; they are both before the Super Bowl, so you can do so easily. Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday will be busy for everyone. Carolina, Toronto, and Montreal get to enjoy a second game in the Atlantic Division in addition to playing New Jersey. Hopefully, they don't come away with all the points from the Devils. After all, they have the Islanders (and Senators) to catch this week.