The New Jersey Devils remain in first place despite only winning one of their two games since the last snapshot. However, that comfortable lead isn't so comfortable. Sure, it looks like a 6 point lead, but the Flyers have 2 games in hand. So, in effect, the Devils really are guaranteed 2 points ahead of the Flyers.
UPDATED: TONIGHT'S ATLANTIC DIVISION RESULTS: The Flyers beat LA 2-0, so they now sit a mere 4 points back with a game in hand. The John Tortarella Era in New York begins as Tom Renney's Era ended, with a shootout loss to Toronto. Pittsburgh picked up 2 points in a 1-0 win over the Islanders. Manually updated standings follow!
Fortunately, strictly in terms of points, the Devils have a busy week ahead of themselves. They host Colorado tomorrow, Florida on a Saturday afternoon, Philadelphia on a Sunday afternoon, and a trip to Toronto on Tuesday. While it would be great to get some revenge on Florida (and I hope they do), that's not the one game to look for. The crucial one will be the Philadelphia game. They are the best team the Devils will play out of those four games and a win here would really help them out in the standings. A regulation win would essentially be a four point swing - 2 actual points for the Devils, and 2 points the Flyers can't get. It certainly won't be easy, with a playoff-fighting Florida Panther team visiting the Rock on Saturday.
Back on the good news for the team, the Devils are getting players back from injury and illness. According to Chere, Travis Zajac and Brendan Shanahan will play, Paul Martin is probable, and, oh yeah, Martin Brodeur will return. It'll be a lift for the team, both in terms of morale, confidence, and strength. Here's the potentials, starting with Thursday's games (Last 5 games does not include tonight's...yet.)
GP This Week (H, A)
|Potential Pts.||Last 5 Games||Conference Position|
The Flyers needed to play well to get closer to New Jersey and they have done just that. Their only loss in their last 5 was a 5-4 loss to Pittsburgh, defined by a bizarre goal off a big mistake by Martin Biron. Mistake aside, the Flyers have been doing quite well and they could very well win tonight to get even closer. After tonight, the Flyers' schedule gets tougher. They host Montreal on Thursday, visit the Rock on Sunday, and they visit Boston on Tuesday. Ideally, we'd like our favorite team smack the Flyers down in 60 minutes on Sunday. Montreal and Boston could definitely help, with the former looking try and scrap up to fourth in the conference and the latter being the Boston Bruins. For more on the Flyers, check out Broad Street Hockey.
The Rangers got rid of Tom Renney, the man responsible for making the organization aware of a concept called "team defense" as well as the Rangers making the playoffs. In his place is John Tortarella, a man known for yelling at Tampa Bay all the way to the Stanley Cup. Will the Rangers respond? Maybe. They only have two games in this week: hosting Florida and Colorado on Thursday and Saturday. At the minimum, the Rangers won't be behind in games. On the other hand, they need to win to really keep pace. First is starting to become a longshot for them, and second could start pulling away. Honestly, they should just worry about staying in the top half of the conference - namely because who knows who is going to score the goals they need to get points.
Speaking of getting points, Pittsburgh has been trying but they remain on the outside. With a recently interim head coach (Dan Bylsma) and a superstar with a sore groin (
Maxime Talbot Sidney Crosby) They'll have to work even harder as they get to travel for their next five games. Actually, they only have three games this week: they visit Chicago on Friday, Dallas on Sunday, and Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Chicago and Dallas will definitely be formidable opponents and Tampa Bay certainly won't go quietly into the night. Unfortunately, with being four two points behind ninth place Buffalo, the situation dictates that the Penguins better win these games. Keep tabs on the Pens at Pensburgh as they try to get some wins going.
The Islanders get a nice home streak going with games against Toronto, Buffalo, and the Avalanche. While they almost are mathematically eliminated - Mirtle says they have been out of it for a week now - they did prove to the Devils that they can still play. So the Long Island Spoilers play on, though their success or failure won't change anything in the Atlantic. Follow Dominik at Lighthouse Hockey, as they deal with it.
Essentially, the Devils are still in the driver's seat. A strong week here (e.g. 6 out of 8 points or better) will see a comfortable Atlantic Division lead return to the New Jersey Devils. Otherwise, well, March is going to be interesting and not just for the trade deadline!