With the rise of the New Jersey Devils and the continued success of the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Atlantic Division is looking tighter than ever. Except at the top. The New York Rangers have set themselves away from the pack with a considerable amount of distance. Also, except at the bottom, though the New York Islanders
Basically, life's not so peachy if you're a fan of the Philadelphia Flyers. Two hated rivals are close behind and the third has just beaten your favorite team twice to really get themselves ahead of the rest of the group. In any case, let's learn more about what each team, the week ahead for the Atlantic Division teams, and the week ahead for that playoff bubble the Devils are currently above - for now. All of that comes after the jump.Here's a brief synopsis of what each team has done last week, where they stand in the East, and how many points they can get in the coming week.
Most of the Atlantic had good weeks. The Flyers suffered the most and that's largely thanks to the Rangers. They played each other at the beginning of the week and NY won. They just played each other on Saturday, the end of the eeek, and NY won. That's a big point swing that will not only keep the Rangers atop of the Atlantic for a considerably amount of time, but it puts the Flyers in a vulnerable spot. The Penguins would have caught them if it wasn't for that same pesky team that prevented the Rangers from sweeping the week: the New Jersey Devils.
Yes, the Devils continued their winning streak by decisively beating Pittsburgh and escaping MSG with two points. They stumbled at the end with a shootout loss to a very, very, very good St. Louis team and a more disappointing regulation loss to a Florida team. Still, the Devils did earn enough points to make it a positive week and to breathe further down Pittsburgh's neck. How close were they? Before Saturday's games, the Devils were in fifth and had they earned a win over Florida, they would have stayed there. The upcoming doesn't do the Devils any favors in getting close since they'll play one less game than either Pennsylvania team. There will be plenty of reason to cheer against opponents in this coming week.
But if you want to talk about tight races, look no further than the bottom of the East. Before Saturday's games, the New York Islanders were in 11th. But because the Isles, Buffalo, Montreal, Tampa Bay, and Carolina are all so close to each other in points, a single busy day of games can change where they are. The Isles are far from contending for a playoff spot, but they can at least avoid the basement of the East. They had a good week of results to avoid fifteenth and they'll have an opportunity to really push themselves up. Who knows, maybe they can put some heat on Winnipeg given enough luck and results.
Here's how the schedule breaks down for the Atlantic Division:
The Devils are thankfully idle on Sunday as they just finished a four-game week. They can support the Isles and (ugh) the Rangers in beating their opponents to help the Devils' playoff cause just a little bit. Also, they can practice. Anyway, everyone in the Atlantic will get a taste of the Western Conference in this week. The Flyers have the toughest Western Conference opponent in Detroit, while the Isles will get to visit the team with the best home record in the NHL: St. Louis. Fortunately, the Devils and Penguins will get the Ducks whilst the Rangers may catch a Chicago team still in a slump. There's only one intra-division game in this week and it's at the end with another chapter in the Battle of Pennsylvania. Who the Devils should be pulling for in that one is contingent on how each team goes through this week. Pittsburgh's got the slightly easier schedule on paper; but whether they will succeed is another question. Just play it by ear.
There aren't a lot of playoff bubble teams on the Atlantic Division's schedule this week. Outside of the aforementioned games on Sunday, there's the Isles playing Winnipeg, who is starting to be put on the outside looking in. Here's this week's schedule of the five teams that threaten the Devils the most:
Remember: it's tight in the East. The Devils may be right behind Pittsburgh, but Ottawa, Toronto, and Washington/Florida aren't that far behind. A losing streak or a lack of results will send the Devils down as quick as they have caught up to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. Fortunately for New Jersey, they have at least one game in hand on Ottawa and Toronto. Moreover, they'll add to that games in hand lead after this week for four of these five teams (Ottawa stays the same). Ideally, the Capitals should drop as much as this week as possible. This will keep the Panthers in first of the Southeast and, by extension, in the third seed. In conjunction with that, Devils fans can more easily support Florida to take out Ottawa on Wednesday. They can also hope the Alberta back-to-back hurts Toronto as it did New Jersey along with Vancouver giving the Maple Leafs "whats-for." Of course, the ideal situation includes the Devils beating Buffalo and Anaheim, which is quite possible.
How do you see the division playing out in this coming week? Will the Devils get wins in their two games? Can the Rangers increase their hold on the Atlantic? How big will Saturday's Philadelphia-Pittsburgh game be considering it could very well be for second in the division? Will the Islanders pick up a bunch of points including a win over Winnipeg? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this week's schedule and the Atlantic Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.