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For the first time since November 22, the New Jersey Devils are no longer in first in the Atlantic Division for these weekly snapshots. I know some will be thinking that the Devils' loss in Calgary contributed to this; but as I pointed out last Sunday, the Pittsburgh Penguins only needed to sweep the week to do it since they played one more game than the Devils. Well, the Penguins went ahead and did exactly that. The big difference is, of course, the lead in the division.
In the meantime, the Philadelphia Flyers, New York Rangers, and New York Islanders had mixed weeks. Enough to stay where they were, but not enough to move up - which the Rangers and Islanders need to do and quickly.
The Devils are 3 points behind Pittsburgh and now only 9 ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers. All of those weeks of less than good results are adding up and now the once safe lead doesn't look so safe. However, the Devils do have a good chance to get back to where they were this week. They and the Flyers will both play 4 games this week, as opposed to the rest of the division where they will play 3 games. So the Devils can catch up to the Penguins on one game. Yet, they will still have two games in hand on the Penguins because the teams will play each other. If they continue to flounder, the concern will have to be over whether the Flyers will catch up and I don't want to really think about that.
|Potential Points||Last Week||Conf. Position|
The answer for the Penguins to prevent this is simple as the Devils' goal: win. Since the Devils didn't get all of the potential points last week even a Devils sweep will leave them in second place provided that the Penguins win their other two games.
As far as the Rangers and Islanders go, they really need points and fast. In the case of the Rangers, the situation isn't so dire but at 66 points they're holding steady instead of making a move on 8th place Montreal (68 pts.) or trying to pull away from Atlanta (66 pts, 2 games in hand on NY). Given where they are, Tampa Bay is only one point behind with a game in hand on them and if Florida gets hot, it'll make the situation messier. These weeks of 3 out of 6 points aren't enough, Ranger fans. But it could be worse; just look at the Islanders' situation. The Carolina Hurricanes have caught fire before and after the Olympic break and now just sit one point behind the Islanders with a game in hand. What was once a team that had a shot at making the playoffs now looks to be on the outside looking in. The time for results is now.
Going back to New Jersey, the Devils can help themselves by hurting the two NY team's chances - which I'm sure most here wouldn't mind at all. Here is the week ahead for the division:
|PIT||vs. BOS||@ CAR||@ NJ|
|NJD||@ EDM||vs. NYR||vs. PIT||@ NYI|
|PHI||vs. TOR||vs. NYI||vs. BOS||vs. CHI|
|NYR||vs. BUF||@ NJ||@ ATL|
|NYI||@ PHI||vs. STL||vs. NJ|
I hope Flyer fans like their the way their week is laid out because they'll see it again next week (except all of them are road games) and the week after that (split between home and road games). For their situation, the most important game here is the Boston game if only to push them down further. Especially, if they drop points to Toronto and the Islanders, as Boston could see this as an opportunity to move ahead.
Will the Devils retake the division? Considering the team's recent struggles to literally put two wins together, I think that's the wrong question to ask. The question we should all be asking - and hoping in the positive for - is whether can end this week with at least 5 points earned. It's been a long time since the Devils finished a week with more than half the points earned. If they want to start clawing their way back to the top, then they'll have to do that because hoping the Penguins will drop games isn't reasonable or even likely.