Atop of the Atlantic Division is a team that won all of their games in a month. The Pittsburgh Penguins had 15 games in March and they won all of them. 15 wins in a row. They are now at 56 points and a virtual lock for the playoffs before the NHL trade deadline. Well done, to say the least.
With the second place New Jersey Devils behind first by 17 points, I'd say it's a safe bet the Penguins will take the Atlantic Division title this season. As they should be given that they've went on a torrid run of play. Their team has been a good possession team, they have good percentages, they just added Jarome Iginla, and they have two of the best players in the world. On the road, at home, where ever, the Penguins have been unstoppable. And Devils fans have reason to hope it continues for just one more week.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position||SCS Playoff Prob.|
The Devils dropped three points in this past week. That's frustrating and disappointing. But they remarkably stayin seventh in the East thanks to the other teams on the bubble struggling as well. The New Yok Rangers, for example, got one win, one post-regulation loss, and then got shutout in their last two games. The New York Islanders had a great week until facing the Penguin juggernaut. But given that they lost all of three of their games last week, all this week did was catch them up. This means the Devils are getting help from others. I wouldn't rely on that going forward, even if Sports Club Stats gives them a better probability of making the playoffs among the four non-Penguins teams in the Atlantic. Besides, at some point, the team has to help themselves and they would have really set themselves apart from the two New York teams had they held on at the end of their last two games. Now, they got to find a way to make it happen.
Oh, as for the Philadelphia Flyers, the standings would show that they're only four points behind the eighth-place Rangers. Yet, they have to leapfrog five other teams to get into the conversation. Since everyone in the East has been playing each other this year, it's really not likely for them to move up unless they get hot and the schedule breaks their way. Just like the 2010-11 Devils, even a late surge may be just for pride rather than . Of course, that surge hasn't happened yet - they did only win a single game last week.
In the coming week, the Rangers will use up their game in hand on the Devils and the Devils will gain one against the Islanders. While the team really needed to get some wins, now would be a great time to start. Here's this week's schedule.
|PIT||vs. BUF||@ NYR||vs. NYR|
|NJD||vs. NYI||@ BOS||vs. TOR|
|NYR||vs. WPG||vs. PIT||@ PIT||@ CAR|
|NYI||@ NJD||vs. WPG||@ WSH||vs. TBL|
|PHI||vs. WSH||vs. MTL||@ TOR||@ WPG|
Unfortunately, it will not be easy. An Islanders team with playoff aspirations that aren't at all illegitimate could prove to be a tough challenge on Monday night. Later in the week, the Devils get to face a Boston team that's not only great but has been a thorn in the team's side from years; and that's followed up with the first half of a back-to-back with playoff-likely Toronto and their strong percentages. The Devils need points wherever they can get them; but that game on Monday is huge. The Devils can either hurt their cause or really keep the Isles back.
Even if the Devils didn't drop points to Tampa Bay and Florida to close out last week, they should be scoreboard watching. The Penguins get to play the Rangers twice. Winning streaks don't last forever but it would be really cool if they could keep it up against the Rangers. The Penguins could very well help the Devils keep their small cushion ahead of the Rangers. As for the Rangers themselves, this week will be pivotal. They'll face Winnipeg and Carolina, two teams that would be in the mix for eighth except one of them has to win the Southeast to take the #3 spot. That leaves the other as direct competition. Should they flop like they did in this past week, they are in more danger of dropping out of the top eight.
The Islanders' schedule this week and from here on out will truly determine whether they could be fighting for the playoffs. On paper, they need to do well this week. They can get closer to the Devils' level on Monday, knock Winnipeg down a notch on the next night (Carolina would love that), and two games against teams below them in the standings. If they get a positive week of results, then they may have an outside shot. It's a much better shot than they have had in years. I'm sure the organization has let them know it's been a while since they've been in the picture this deep into the schedule so it's a safe assumption that the players are going to play with that in mind.
Lastly, well, the schedule for the Flyers won't really affect much with respect to the playoff picture unless they sweep the week. I'm sure Boston fans interested in winning the Northeast would want Philly to knock off Montreal. I'm sure Carolina fans are hoping the Jets fall in the standings. Devils fans may want to see them beat Toronto to keep currently faint hopes of the sixth seed alive. I say may because, really, who wants to support the Flyers? But from my vantage point, Philadelphia should be seen as spoilers.
What do you think will happen this week? Will the Penguins keep on winning? Can they do the double over the Rangers if only to help New Jersey? Will the Devils even win a game and help their own cause? Do you think the Islanders will get a positive week of results? Are the Flyers spoilers in your mind? Will the NHL trade deadline make any of the non-Pittsburgh teams stronger heading into the last month of the regular season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the prior week of games and the upcoming week for the Atlantic in the comments. Thank you for reading.