The New Jersey Devils had a busy week and came out victoriously to still challenge the Pittsburgh Penguins for first in the Atlantic Division. Technically, they are in first now since they still have 2 games in hand on the Penguins. Nevertheless, despite the performances by the Devils in winning those games, the results are what ultimately matters. And their 10 points gap from last week has now increased to at least 14 over the third-place New York Islanders. The "rest" of the division all struggled last week and so the Islanders, New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Flyers fall further within the East.
I know one could say that it's still early in the season, but this is a very fine place to be in the middle of December. Two games in hand on the team tied for first in points and a commanding lead over the local rivals in the standings is just excellent. It's not just a gap, it's starting to become a valley with the Penguins and Devils at the top and the Islanders, Rangers, and Flyers floundering for last. It means the Devils can just focus on winning their own games without needing any help from anyone else.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
Let me also point out that about a month ago, the entire division was in the top 8. What happened? Well, as the Devils and Penguins kept pace, the Islanders, Rangers, and Flyers all began to slump. Maybe that's not so bad for the Islanders, who are still rebuilding. Yet, the Flyers have really fallen off, fired John Stevens last week, and continue to struggle under new coach Peter Laviolette. As far as the Rangers go, where's the fire? Those three teams just had poor weeks and the continued success of Pittsburgh and New Jersey makes any fight back that much harder for them.
In this coming week, those three teams will get an extra game over the Penguins and Devils. Since they are so far behind - at least 14 points in the division - they really just need to start racking up wins. They will remain behind Pittsburgh and New Jersey for the time being and will basically fight amongst themselves. This will happen literally as three of the Rangers' games are division opponents. How you want to see it all end is up to you. Here's how the next week breaks down for each team:
|NJD||vs. MTL||vs. OTT||@ ATL|
|PIT||vs. PHI||@ PHI||@ BUF|
|NYI||vs. FLA||@ NYR||vs. NYR||vs. MTL|
|NYR||vs. ATL||vs. NYI||@ NYI||@ PHI|
|PHI||@ BOS||@ PIT||vs. PIT||vs. NYR|
The Devils and Penguins play the same amount of games, but the Devils have the easier schedule on paper. No hated rivalry games against an opponent that desperately needs to assert themselves with results and fast. No tough games on the road against a stingy opponent. Not that the Devils games will be easy on their own, just easier on paper than Pittsburgh. Should the Devils do as well as the Penguins, they'll remain in first due to the number of games played yet again. Should the Penguins fall and the Devils succeed, then the Devils will take control of first place once again.
So if you're particular about seeing the Devils at the top, you're rooting hard for Philadelphia as well as the Devils. I know, that's something you don't want to do, but life is full of things you'd rather not do. All the same, expect the Devils to still be far ahead of the Islanders, Rangers, and Flyers for another week.