We nearly saw another change in position but the result of last Saturday's game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers kept the status quo. That said, the Flyers, Penguins, and New Jersey Devils are rather close to each other right in the middle. Those three teams represent the interesting part of the sandwich that is the Atlantic Division. The New York Rangers and New York Islanders are the pieces of bread that surround each.
The Flyers are only ahead of Pittsburgh based on a superior amount of ROW (regulation or overtime wins); and both Pennsylvania teams are just ahead of a Devils team who has a game in hand on each. Will this be the week where we see some movement in the standings as well as for trading players? Let's learn what each team in the division as well as those in the Eastern Conference Playoff Bubble has up ahead for their schedule after the jump.The Devils only had two games and they won them both, so we can say they had the best week out of the other Atlantic Division teams.
Truth be told, everyone had a good week except for the Flyers. They were inching up on the Rangers for so long, but like Icarus, their winged P has melted and now they're falling a little bit. Philly can't blame anyone but themselves as they won a total of four games over the last four weeks. Since Pittsburgh and New Jersey have had positive weeks while they flailed, the Flyers have a real fight on their hands. They recently acquired two defensemen in trades: Niklas Grossman and Pavel Kubina. Maybe that will help out their cause. If not, they could very well end up in the playoff bubble sooner rather than later.
Speaking of bubbles, the New York Islanders continue to cause havok down in the lower end of the Eastern Conference. They had a decent week and it was enough to put them up to twelfth. I have to say I'm somewhat encouraged by this development. It helps keep them out of the league's basement as well as holding back other teams the other teams in the mix: Montreal, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Carolina. As of this morning, three points separate the Isles from last in the East and there's a three way tie at 58 points. The Isles have a good chance as any to finish well out of the draft lottery, so I hope they keep on getting points - except against the Devils, of course.
In the penthouse of the division, the Rangers still rule. I hate typing that, but it's a results-oriented league and they continue to get wins all over the place. As a result, they have a healthy eight point lead ahead of Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with two games in hand on both Pennsylvania teams. They have also developed a healthy seven point lead on Boston for first in the East. As March approaches, nothing short of a collapse of some kind is going to knock off the Rangers from first in the division or the conference at this point.
Here's the schedule for the last full week of February hockey within the Atlantic Division:
For the Devils this week, it's a pretty straight forward goal: get wins. While Friday's game against Vancouver is Doc Emrick night, Tuesday's game against Toronto is the most important one out of the three this week. Toronto is still a team they are competing with for points. Therefore, a winning result in Toronto, especially in regulation, would really help keep them down. Beating Vancouver would be great, but with the playoffs in mind, a loss to them isn't as damaging as a loss to the Maple Leafs.
As for the rest of the division, who you want to win may depend on what you want the Devils to do. If you're more concerned that they just make the playoffs, then you'll really want to see the Flyers beat Winnipeg and the Isles to beat Ottawa among all other results. If you want to the see the Devils climb up the Atlantic at any cost, then you need to look at more games. You'll want to see the Penguins lose to the Rangers to make it easier for the Devils to get past them; the Flyers to just struggle on their road trip even if it means a Jets win on Tuesday; the Isles to get a result against the Rangers to take first place down a peg; and hope Buffalo or Tampa Bay gets a win over the Pens. The Devils' goal remains the same: get wins and if that can't be done, get a point. Whether you want the Devils to rise up the Atlantic or not is an open question.
We shouldn't forget about the teams behind the Devils. While they're just a point behind the two Pennsylvania teams, Ottawa and Toronto are lurking in the distance.
Yeah, after all of the results in this month, Ottawa is just two points behind the Devils. The good news is that this is a short-term problem. The Devils still have three games in hand on Ottawa so our favorite team is still controls their destiny in that regard. Still, it would be helpful if the Isles, Caps, and/or Bruins beat up on the Sens this week. Yes, it would be best if the Caps beat the Senators because the Caps are behind Ottawa by enough such that they can get some results and it would help the Devils' cause. That said, I don't want them to sweep all four games. Neither does Florida or Winnipeg, who are still just in the mix.
How do you see the Atlantic Division play out in this coming week? Will Philadelphia get jumped by Pittsburgh, New Jersey, neither of them, or both of them? Can the Rangers continue to reign on top of the East? Will the Isles still stay out of the basement? Do you see the Devils getting some separation from Ottawa at least? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about this week's schedule and the Atlantic Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.