Note: Looking for the Devils-Isles preview post for today's game? It's right here.
The month of March is where playoff positions get decided, postseason dreams are realized or crushed, and players are pushed to their limits due to a busy schedule. The competition in the Atlantic Division remains tight in the middle among the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Philadelphia Flyers, and the New Jersey Devils. The New York Rangers have just about accomplished the mission of securing first place; while the New York Islanders have to be one of the most competitive last-place teams in the NHL.
Your eyes are not deceiving you, there actually was a change within the division. The Pittsburgh Penguins leaped over the Flyers, who had a light schedule last week. While Philly has a game in hand, the Pens do have the buffer of four points. All it means at this juncture is that they'll have home ice in the playoffs against the Flyers - which may be a factor, who knows. Will it last? Let's find out what the week lies ahead for the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference playoff bubble after the jump.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
The Penguins created a winning streak at one of the best times of the season to do so. It pushed them ahead of a Flyers team that only split their games last week. It gets them one step closer to securing a playoff berth, which will likely happen later this month. It gets them started on a busy month on the right track. Good job to the Penguins.
Congratulations to the Rangers for also getting as many points as possible in each game with five out of six points earned. It wasn't as perfect as the Penguins but at this point, it'll do. They can even lose a few games here and there since they have a big eight point lead over Pittsburgh in the division and a hefty ten point lead over Boston for first in the East. With a potential of eight points, the Rangers could be the first team in the East to mathematically secure a playoff spot in this coming week.
On the other end of the division, the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders didn't do so well in this past week. Both teams went winless until the final games of their week. For the Devils, the win was big as it keeps them right with Philly for third in the division and kept them in sixth place in the East. The weekly result for the Isles was a bit more damaging as they're now four points behind twelfth. Who knows if they can push up further at this point.
The Devils and Islanders are about to get real friendly with each other because they're going to play each other three times this week, starting this afternoon:
|NYR||vs. BOS||@ NJD||@ OTT||@ CHI|
|PIT||vs. PHX||vs. TOR||vs. FLA|
|PHI||@ WSH||vs. DET||vs. FLA||@ TOR|
|NJD||@ NYI||vs. NYR||vs. NYI||@ NYI|
|NYI||vs. NJD||@ NJD||vs. NJD|
If you love intra-division games, then the New Jersey Devils are the team to watch this week as they have nothing but intra-division games. Three against the Islanders and their hated rivals, the Rangers, on Tuesday. Given that the Isles are solidly in fifth in the Atlantic and the Rangers are solidly in first, the desired result is simple for New Jersey: get as many points as possible.
Elsewhere in the Atlantic, the Flyers have a four game week after only getting two last week. They have a game in hand on New Jersey, but it's in their best interest to keep getting results too should they want to avoid dropping in the standings. Their week won't be easy as they get a probably-angry Washington team, the best team in the NHL (Detroit) on Tuesday, a division leader that needs to keep their spot alive (Florida), and a team looking to bounce back with a new head coach (Toronto). So it goes in March. The Flyers can help the Devils out by beating on the Caps, though. The Rangers are also busy but they have one game Devils fans should hope they do win: Thursday night at Ottawa. Not Tuesday night against at the Rock, but Thursday night at Ottawa.
The Penguins get the easiest schedule of the week with only three games and all of them are at home. OK, Phoenix, Toronto, and Florida aren't doormats. But not having to travel and having three games against non-rival opponents is a pretty favorable weekly schedule. Also, they're hot right now.
With respect to the playoffs in the East, here's the weekly schedule for the teams in the playoff bubble:
|#7 OTT||@ FLA||@ TBL||vs. NYR||vs. BUF||66||76|
|#3 FLA||vs. OTT||@ PHI||@ PIT||63||72|
|#8 WPG||vs. BUF||@ VAN||@ CGY||66||70|
|#9 WSH||vs. PHI||vs. CAR||vs. TBL||@ BOS||64||69|
|#10 TBL||vs. OTT||@ WSH||vs. CAR||64||68|
The Devils just got ahead of Ottawa in points with their win over Washington, so the Senators remain the biggest threat to New Jersey in the standings. The Devils still have two games in hand on the Senators, but it's best if the Devils keep ahead of them anyway. To that end, Devils fans should hope Ottawa loses as much as possible. Florida is a more tricky concern. Given where the Devils are in the East, they would be playing the Southeast Division leaders. As you can see, the rest of the bubble teams are all in that division. The Panthers have the advantage in points and games in hand on both Winnipeg and Washington. Yet, would it be a bad thing if either team jumped ahead of the Panthers? To that end, hope the Panthers beat Ottawa today to keep the Sens back and then hope for whatever among the other teams. It would be good if Tampa Bay did beat Ottawa and Washington, so if you need another team to root for this week, make it the Lightning. After all they're in tenth now thanks to the Maple Leafs crashing outside of the playoff bubble.
What do you think will happen to the Atlantic Division this week? Can the Penguins pull away from the Flyers? Will the Rangers secure a playoff spot? How many points can the Devils take from their four intra-division games this week? Who will actually win the Southeast Division? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this week's schedule and the Atlantic Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.