It's a brand new year and the New Jersey Devils have kicked it off with something new: a gap over all four Atlantic Division teams while sitting at the top of the Eastern Conference. The Devils had a successful last week of 2009, a successful first game of 2009, and were helped out massively by an absolutely terrible week by the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins lost all four of their games last week. Since they have done so well up until last week, they got a commanding 10 point lead over the third-place New York Rangers. Yet, the Devils have a 6 point gap over the Penguins to kick off the new year.
Take a close look at these standings now, as the Flyers play the Ottawa Senators at 1 PM today. They could easily hop up to third place by the end of today. Let's get back to raving about the Devils' great position. Not only do they have opened up a lead over the Penguins; but they still have two games in hand on them. Essentially, this is a 10 point bubble so if the Devils do have a short slump, it's not the end of the world. I'm sure Jacques Lemaire won't have the team get complacent over it, but the fans should realize this and understand that a loss here and there isn't too damaging with respect to the team's standing.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
What's more is that the Devils will end this week with a third game in hand over the Penguins. Mathematically, the only way the Penguins can top the Devils by next week is if the Devils lose all their games and the Penguins win all of their games this week. A tie in points would still keep the Devils on top due to the number of games played. Therefore, the Devils are likely to end the week at the top of the Atlantic Division. Here's how the next week breaks down for the division.
|NJD||vs. DAL||vs. TB||@ MTL|
|PIT||@ FLA||vs. ATL||vs. PHI||@ TOR|
|NYR||vs. BOS||vs. DAL||@ ATL||@ BOS|
|NYI||@ COL||@ DAL||@ PHX|
|PHI||@ OTT||vs. TOR||@ PIT||vs. TB|
There's only inter-division matchup this week, the Pennsylvania Rivalry continues between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Thursday. Both teams would love to win, not just because of the hatred both teams have for each other, but also for the standings. The Penguins want to start making up ground on New Jersey, whereas the Flyers want to make a run up the Eastern Conference. With the Islanders playing one fewer game than both the Rangers, this week is an opportunity for the Rangers to cement their eighth place position and for the Flyers to overtake both teams. The Islanders could easily end up in last place even if all three teams win out this week. So Islanders fans will be cheering for the Rangers and Flyers to drop points so their favorite team can keep pace within the division and the conference. Something I think they may do anyway.
Either way, in addition to the Atlantic Division, expect the Devils to stay at the top of the Eastern Conference by the end of this week. Yeah, I said Eastern Conference. The Buffalo Sabres and Washington Capitals each have 54 points. The Sabres have the best chance to move up to first. They do have an extra game this week, like the Penguins, but they need New Jersey to two of their games this week while winning their games. I don't think it's likely. The Caps only have three games this week and need New Jersey to lose out while sweeping this week - which is also unlikely.
I hope these weekly snapshots are proof that doing well in October, November, and December makes it easier in January, February, and March. So far, I don't think the Devils could be in a more advantageous spot where they are now.