The 2012 NHL trade deadline is one day away and today will be the last possible time for teams to get a look at their team as they play before they make any deals. Some teams will look to make a deal to go over the top. Others will make more minor deals to clear space or shore up depth. There even may be a team or two that doesn't do anything. Whatever is done, the season rolls on. The New York Rangers still own the top spot in the Atlantic Division, spots from second through fourth are still up for grabs, and the New York Islanders are bringing up the rear.
There was some movement within the week, but it all ended up the same as last week. In my opinion, that just speaks to the quality of the Atlantic. A loss here or there can make a big difference as far as where a team ends up. Yet, the difference is either being in fourth in the East or sixth in the East when it comes to the Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, and New Jersey Devils. With four teams likely to get into the playoffs, I wouldn't expect anything huge on trade deadline day from the Atlantic Division teams. Then again, I also didn't think the Devils would pick up Marek Zidlicky and they did just that so take my words with a grain of salt.
What you should take with many more grains is a look at the week ahead for the division and the Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble, both of which are after the jump.First, here's a quick summary of the Atlantic Division.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
Everyone not named the Islanders had a positive week of results, and so most of the Atlantic are pleased with what happened. This week could be the week of some kind of change in position by the morning of March 4. The Devils currently have a game in hand on Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, who are tied in points, and they're behind both teams by a single point. This is the week where those games in hand will get used up. In fact, Philadelphia will have two on New Jersey by next Sunday. The Devils have the opportunity to jump one or both teams in the short term. Of course, that's easier said than done given who the Devils have to play next. Even if the Devils don't step up, Pittsburgh can at least get ahead of their interstate rivals as they got one more game to play than them. There could be flux in the middle of the Atlantic.
The division is pretty set at the top and the bottom. With the Pennsylvania teams and NJ battling it out in the middle, the New York Rangers continue to pull away from everyone else. They're nine points ahead of Philly and Pittsburgh and ten ahead of the Devils. They're also seven points ahead of Boston for first in the East. As loathe as I am to credit the Rangers, it's deserved. They're on their way to lock up their playoff spot in March. Short of a massive collapse, they're going to win the Atlantic Division this season. Well done.
Back at the bottom, the New York Islanders were the only division team to slip a bit. It's not by much as the lower end of the East is almost as tight as they are from #7 through #10. It's highly unlikely we'll see the Isles finish higher than fifth in the Atlantic at this point. They can definitely still avoid the bottom and possibly end up in a more respectable 11th place. They're only two points behind Buffalo for that, after all.
If you're an Isles fan, the opportunity to make that move will come this week just like the Devils. Both teams will be the busiest in the division. Here's what the schedule looks like for this coming week:
|NYR||vs. NJD||@ CAR||@ TBL|
|PHI||@ SJS||vs. NYI|
|PIT||vs. CBJ||@ DAL||@ COL|
|NJD||vs. TBL||@ NYR||@ BOS||@ WSH|
|NYI||@ OTT||@ WSH||@ PHI||@ BOS|
The Flyers will finish up their road trip in San Jose before finishing off a short week against the Islanders. While they'll have to do a lot of watching and hoping, they should relish this week because they're won't be too many of them from here on out. Anytime the schedule allows a team to rest up and get re-focused has to be seen as a gift.
After Tuesday's big rivalry game, the Rangers will get to beat up on the Southeast a little more in a road back-to-back. Even if they drop these games, they'll still be atop the division. They're in the best possible place schedule-wise where a dip in form won't endanger the team's standing. The Pittsburgh Penguins get a good spread of games against the lowly Blue Jackets and two playoff-battling teams in the West with Dallas and Colorado. They could stomp all over them, they could struggle, or they'll end up somewhere in the middle. They'll be hoping the Sharks get the job done against Philly to help their cause of being better than Philly.
This is the week where the Islanders can help out the Devils. Their next three games are teams the Devils are directly competing with in the East for playoff positioning. If they can get results over Ottawa and Philadelphia, then that would really help New Jersey's cause. Taking points from the Caps would be nice too to keep holding them down in the playoff bubble. If they just have to win one game, then it should be today's game against Ottawa since they're still close to the Devils in the standings.
As for the Devils, this is a tough week. They have two back-to-back sets that includes a Tampa Bay team who was just embarrassed by Pittsburgh on Saturday; Our Hated Rivals who want to avenge the last game at MSG; a Boston team who has creamed the Devils in their three previous meetings - especially in the third period; and a Washington team that needs any and all points at this point. Obviously, the goal is for the Devils to get as much as they possibly can out of these games. Given the makeup of the week's schedule, I can't really expect a whole lot. Then again, the Devils have played very well in February and they have been very good about getting results when possible. We'll see if they can carry their play into a new month.
The playoff bubble saw some changes as the Southeast Division lead remains up for grabs and Toronto may be starting to fade:
|#7 OTT||vs. NYI||@ BOS||vs. CHI||63||72|
|#3 FLA||vs. MTL||@ TOR||@ WPG||vs. NSH||60||68|
|#8 WPG||vs. EDM||vs. FLA||64||68|
|#9 WSH||vs. NYI||vs. NJD||62||67|
|#10 TOR||vs. FLA||@ CHI||@ MTL||62||65|
In terms of points, Ottawa continues to breathe down the Devils' back. Fortunately, the Devils still have three games in hand on Ottawa even though that's going to drop to two after this week. Moreover, the Sens will get to enjoy Boston and Chicago this week. The hope is that Ottawa will falter against those two and that could keep the Devils up in at least sixth place. Ottawa remains as the biggest threat in the bubble, I wouldn't forget about them just because the Devils are breathing down the Pennsylvanian teams' back right now.
The Devils have a bigger buffer between them and eighth place, though. Winnipeg, Washington, and Florida are all fighting for the Southeast division with second place getting that eighth spot and third getting
fired ninth. It's really up for grabs, but Florida can really make it their own this week. They got two more games than the Jets and Caps to make up some of the games in hand they have on both teams. Moreover, the Panthers will play Winnipeg, so there could be a big point swing on Thursday that could lead to a more commanding hold on the division. Or more chaos. The Devils may be better suited for more chaos so those three teams still hang out where they are in the division. New Jersey can help when they play Friday. It'll also make it harder for Toronto to move up, too.
How do you think the Atlantic Division will finish by next Sunday morning? We know who will be in the middle of the division, but in what order will the Devils, Flyers, and Penguins finish? Can the Islanders keep up the fight to stay out of the basement for another week? Will the Devils not have to worry about Toronto soon? What will the five division teams do on the day of the trade deadline? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this week's schedule and the Atlantic Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.