The NHL is currently near the end of the All Star weekend and the regular season will return on Tuesday. While we're past the halfway mark through the season, it's common to refer to the remaining two months (and one week) as the second half. It comes after a break in action, the mindset going into games changes, and the stakes are more apparent. Going into the break, not much has changed within the Atlantic Division.
The New York Rangers keep making life simple for themselves with a hold on first place and at least one game in hand on everyone else in the division. The Philadelphia Flyers cannot complain too loudly as they're not too far behind the Rangers. They will have to worry about the Pittsburgh Penguins who have shot back up the standings with an extended hot streak. The New Jersey Devils toil in fourth but remain in playoff contention; while the New York Islanders remained in their usual fifth place position, but not necessarily worst in the East.
Let's look ahead at what each team will have to do in the coming week after the jump. From this week onward, I included a snapshot of the teams around the Devils in the Eastern Conference as playoff positioning will become an important issue.First, let's have a brief look at how each team did in their abbreviated last week of action:
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
The top three teams in the division did well for themselves. The Rangers won their sole game, the Penguins extended their winning streak to seven games, and the Flyers picked up 3 out of 4 points. Pittsburgh remains the most impressive of the three as their hot streak belies their quality beyond their big names. A few weeks ago, a losing streak sent them as low as ninth place. Now, they're in a position to put some pressure on Philly and New York. Philly has to be more concerned, though. The Rangers will pick up another game in hand on both Pennsylvania teams (and the rest of the division); so they're still in the driver's seat. The Flyers have to keep pace or hope the Pens slip up sometime soon.
As for the Devils, they had one game and didn't win it. While they got something out of the game, they're really in the middle of the playoff bubble. I'll highlight that in a bit. As for the Islanders, they also went winless but got a point out of one of their two affairs with Toronto. It would have helped New Jersey if they got a win in either game, and it would have propelled the Islanders higher up the standings. The Eastern Conference basement is crowded and eleventh-place Montreal is only two points away at this juncture.
Here's a look at the division's schedule for this week:
|NYR||@ NJD||@ BUF|
|PHI||vs. WPG||vs. NSH||vs. NJD|
|PIT||vs. TOR||@ TOR||@ BOS|
|NJD||vs. NYR||vs. MTL||@ PHI|
|NYI||@ CAR||@ OTT||vs. BUF|
The Devils certainly don't get an easy set of games after the All Star Game break. They'll get two rivalry games with what could be a desperate Montreal team in the middle. Ideally, the Devils should get at least 4 out of 6 points to keep pace with the teams around them in the East. However, one can never tell on a game to game basis. I'd prefer it if the Devils picked up wins at home if only so the could get at least half of the points out of a six-game homestead.
The rest of the schedule doesn't do the Devils too many favors - at least if you despise the rest of the Atlantic Division. We hate the Flyers, but it would be in the Devils' best interest if they beat the Jets on Tuesday. We may not care much for Pittsburgh, yet the Devils would benefit if the Pens took most of the points in a home-and-home with Toronto. We may consider the Isles to be a sad-sack team, but we would hope they would come out hard and stun the Senators on Friday. Such is the nature of playoff positioning: the enemy of our enemy is our friend. Speaking of, here's a quick table of the teams around the Devils in the standings as of right now and their schedules for this week. Remember, the Devils are currently in eighth and have 55 points in 48 games.
|#6 OTT||@ BOS||vs. NYI||vs. TOR||52||60|
|#3 WSH||@ TBL||@ FLA||@ MTL||48||55|
|#7 FLA||vs. WSH||vs. WPG||@ TBL||48||55|
|#9 TOR||@ PIT||vs. PIT||@ OTT||49||55|
|#10 WPG||@ PHI||@ TBL||@ FLA||50||50|
I've included the Senators here since the Devils' games in hand on Ottawa can make up the difference in points. I've also included Washington since they could easily slip back into 7th - 9th; they're only in third by way of leading the Southeast Division. Wednesday's game between the Panthers and Capitals is definitely in New Jersey's interest, as is Friday's Panthers-Jets game and Saturday's Toronto-Ottawa game. Hopefully, those three games are decided in regulation. Amid this scheduling, the Devils should also hope the Penguins do their job against Toronto, Boston and the Isles take Ottawa down a peg, and Tampa Bay gets wins over their divisional rivals.
Will the Devils get back to winning ways in a week that features two rivalry games with Montreal in the middle? Will the Penguins stay hot and possibly get closer to Philly and New York? Can the Isles stay out of the Eastern Conference basement for another week? Will the Devils get some help outside of their own games? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this week's schedule and the Atlantic Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.