Pittsburgh Penguins are now at the top of the Atlantic Division, but only on a tiebreaker to be ahead of the New Jersey Devils. Also, don't look know, but the rest of the division is rising up the East.
The Penguins have the edge on the Devils solely as a matter of ROW, or regulation/overtime wins. The Devils have 10, the Penguins have 11, and so that's the difference. The Philadelphia Flyers won on Saturday to pull just ahead just into the top eight in the conference. The New York Rangers lost and the New York Islanders just won so they're still very much in the mix. They also have games in hand on the Flyers, so that lead Philly currently owns within the Atlantic should be considered to be thinner than it looks.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
Ultimately, the Devils taking only three out of six potential points still keeps them in the upper echelon of the East. The problem is that they're just ahead of Ottawa due to ROW and only two points ahead of Boston (with only 14 games played!) and Toronto. Another average-to-poor week of results and they could dwindle down the East. Pittsburgh earned more points last week but they're essentially in the same boat, so Penguins fans shouldn't be too cocky. Especially since the best Penguin could have a concussion.
The most successful team within the division were the Flyers, who pasted the Islanders something fierce on President's Day and kept on rolling. With the Rangers floundering a bit, they moved up to third in the Atlantic. That's good. Their problem is the schedule. They were given so many games early on such that the Rangers - one point behind - and the Islanders - two points behind - can and likely make up the little ground they have to do. In fact, the upcoming week has the Rangers only playing two games. They will add another game in hand, something they currently have on everyone in the Atlantic. The Philadelphia faithful have to be somewhat concerned because when the difference in games played catches up, whatever lead they may have may not be enough. The fact that the Islanders split their four games just makes it more harrowing for the Orange and Black.
Fortunately for the Flyers and, well, everyone else, there aren't any divisional games in the upcoming week:
|PIT||vs. TBL||@ FLA||@ CAR||@ MTL|
|NJD||vs. WPG||@ WPG||@ BUF|
|PHI||vs. TOR||vs. WSH||vs. OTT|
|NYR||vs. WPG||vs. TBL|
|NYI||vs. CAR||vs. BOS||vs. TOR|
No one can underestimate anyone in this league. That said, the Devils have to be looking at their next run of games and think "Well, this may not be so bad." They get a relatively long, three-day break in between the Jets games, something the other teams won't get this week. They don't get to see Boston like the Islanders will. They don't get to see Montreal like the Penguins will in what could be a battle for the #1 spot in the Eastern Conference. They will avoid Toronto, who's been quite successful this season. They won't get to see Stamkos and Tampa Bay. Instead, the Devils will get two games against a Winnipeg team that has yet to get it together and a Buffalo team that has been flailing as of late. Since the Devils need to get some distance between themselves and the three teams behind them in the Conference Standings, they should come away with most of the six potential points. Will they? Well, we'll just have to see what happens.
In my opinion, the easiest schedule should be the Rangers' for the week. Two games, a day in between and two days off before and after their weekly workload. March and April are going to be rather busy for them. It should be their time to really get prepared for the impending crunch of the schedule. Meanwhile, the Penguins have a chance to tighten their grip on first place. They'll have to avoid getting tripped up by the Southeast and then visit Montreal. On top of that, they may be without Evgeni Malkin, so they have a tougher challenge than it may appear. The goals for the Flyers should be the same: keep earning points. The aims are different, I think. The Islanders want to move up, whereas the Flyers want to just stay ahead.
Now that you know what's coming up and what the rest of the divison just did, what do you think will happen now? Will the Devils be able to re-take the top spot in the Atlantic? Can the Penguins fend them off and increase their own lead? Will the Flyers be able to create some needed space in the standings, or will they remain vulnerable to the two New York teams after this week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the last week of results and the week coming up in the comments. Thank you for reading.