The Atlantic Division remains as-is in terms of positions. The exciting, competitive middle of the division that consists of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, and the New Jersey Devils all got hot. The Penguins won eight in a row, the Flyers won five in a row, and the Devils just won three in a row. Up at the top and at the bottom, the New York teams have dropped more games. The New York Islanders didn't have a positive week thanks to the Devils, while the New York Rangers are suffering their first losing streak of the season. Despite these swings, there are no positional changes.
There are four full weeks of the NHL season remaining and there's still time for a lot of changes. Perhaps the Rangers' hold on the Atlantic Division isn't so strong. Perhaps the Devils or Flyers catch Pittsburgh right at the end. It seems like the only definite outcome right now is that the Islanders will finish the season in fifth place. Everyone else is jockeying for position. That makes for exciting games down the stretch. Please continue on after the jump to see what those games are for the Atlantic Division as well as for the Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
There's not really a whole lot to say when a team is on an incredible winning streak. All you have to say is that they're hot and everything's going their way. The two Pennsylvania teams swept their weeks to continue their respective winning streaks. The Penguins are of particular note because they're now only four points behind the Rangers. The Rangers shouldn't freak out just yet. They're still ahead in the division and they'll play one more game than the Pens so they could conceivably extended their division lead. They should be somewhat concerned if their fall continues and the Pens keep winning. First in the Atlantic - and first in the East - may come into play late in the season.
Down at the bottom, the Islanders have the Devils to thank for turning what could have been a positive week for a spoiler into a net negative. They're not going to make the post season at this rate, but they still have a good shot as any to avoid dead last in the East. On the flip side of that three-games-in-seven-days set, the Devils definitely rebounded well after a disappointing 0-1 loss to the Isles to start the week. They pounded the Rangers and Islanders in the next two before smashing and grabbing two points from Nassau last night. The points keep them in sixth place, which may be the favorable spot to be in for the playoffs. However, there's a lot of time left for changes to be made - both up and down the conference.
Getting back to the present, the Devils could be catching fire, which is a big deal since their next two games are against the clearly-hot Flyers. Here's a look at the week ahead, which features several intra-divisional games.
|NYR||vs. NYI||vs. CAR||vs. PIT||vs. COL|
|PIT||vs. BOS||@ NYR||@ NJD|
|PHI||@ NJD||vs. NJD||@ NYI||@ BOS|
|NJD||vs. PHI||@ PHI||vs. COL||vs. PIT|
|NYI||@ NYR||vs. WSH||vs. PHI||@ MTL|
You've got rivalry games all over the place this week. The New York rivalry and the first of two Devils-Flyers games take place on Sunday, while Pittsburgh gets a strong opponent in Boston. On Thursday, there are two other divisional games where the Isles get Philly and the Rangers take on Pittsburgh, which could be interesting alone as the Pens are shooting up the standings. If you are interested in seeing the Rangers fail - and who isn't - then you'd like Pittsburgh and the Isles to take points from them this week. The Pens are more likely to do it though, especially if they get some guy named Crosby back soon.
Since both teams are riding winning streaks and the Devils are behind the Flyers, who also have a game in hand, the Devils-Flyers game will be the most important one to watch. The ire between both will be real and purposeful. They'll have another game over in Philly on Tuesday, then the two break for other opponents. The Flyers get the hopefully-spoiling Isles on Thursday before facing the Boston machine on Saturday. The Devils have a trickier schedule with playoff-hopeful Colorado and Pittsburgh on Saturday, which will be a real test.
There's not a whole lot elsewhere in the division where the games will effect the Devils' playoff positioning. The Isles could try and take points on the Caps, but they are so far behind the Devils, it's not really all that necessary. Here's how the playoff bubble looks.
|#7 OTT||@ MTL||vs. MTL||vs. TOR||70||81|
|#3 FLA||vs. CAR||vs. TOR||vs. BOS||vs. BUF||67||75|
|#8 WSH||vs. TOR||@ NYI||@ WPG||68||74|
|#9 WPG||vs. DAL||vs. WSH||69||72|
|#10 BUF||vs. MTL||vs. COL||@ FLA||69||72|
The only direct threat remains Ottawa, who is just behind the Devils in points with two additional games played. So even if Ottawa gets a short lead on the Devils, New Jersey still has the advantage of the schedule to make it up. One of those games in hand will be used up by the Devils this week, so it would be great if Montreal and/or Toronto can beat the Sens in coming days.
At least Ottawa will make the playoffs; they're only in this chart because they're so close to New Jersey. The Southeast remains up for grabs. Florida has had an advantage with games in hand, but they'll use up their one game lead on Washington this week and their two game lead on Winnipeg. It's a crucial week for the Panthers should they want to hold onto the division lead and the #3 seed. They got four games and a variety of opponents to get points. I leave it you to decide whether you want the Panthers to succeed or whether you want the Caps or Jets to overtake them. Buffalo rounds out the list but just because they got the same number of points as Winnipeg and could catch Washington with a late charge. I have my doubts but stranger things have happened.
What do you think will happen to the Atlantic Division this week? Which currently hot Atlantic Division team will remain hot? How much ground can the Penguins make up on the Rangers? Can the Devils get through another tough inter-divisional schedule for this week? Should we want the Panthers to win the Southeast, or should we cheer for chaos down the stretch? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this week's schedule and the Atlantic Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.