As the first full week of 2014 begins today, we will see more games on Sunday and more urgency from teams. The middle of the division remains up for grabs and if there's a time to get hot, it's now. Especially since there are now six teams fighting for two spots instead of five for one in past weeks. That's right, the Washington Capitals have slipped.
|Team||GP||W||L||OT||ROW||Pts.||Last Week||Ptl. Pts.|
Source: NHL.com - Links go to SBN Blogs
The Washington Capitals only had two games and picked up only one point between them. Everyone else around them did much better. The New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, and Philadelphia Flyers all went 3-1. Only the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets head into this week having earned less than all potential points last week. The Flyers' week was arguably the most impressive. They came back from a 3-1 deficit to beat Phoenix in regulation last night, capping off a successful trip through the Western Conference. Since they haven't inflated their win total through shootouts like the Caps, they are now in second place. The best a non-Pittsburgh Penguin team can do at this juncture.
Of course, it still remains very tight. As the Devils fans will lament not winning in Buffalo last night and not taking advantage of Pittsburgh's help (they beat the Blue Jackets and Rangers, lost to the Devils), a good week could quickly put them back in a playoff position. Four points isn't that much of a lead, especially considering the games they have this week. The other two playoff spots are still very much available to anyone from second to seventh right now. Caps fans should be freaking out more than the Devils or Blue Jackets fans since they'll have to watch as all of these other Metropolitan Division teams will play more games than them this week. For all we know, the Carolina Hurricanes could supplant their former Southeastern Division rivals in a matter of days.
I do want to give a bit of a shoutout to the Isles. Since losing to the Devils last week, they ran off three wins in a row and came close to taking something from Carolina on Saturday. They aren't close to being back in the playoff picture. However, if they keep having positive weeks and someone really slips, then it's still possible to sneak back into the conversation. The hard part will be just that: continuing to be successful and hoping one of the other six teams in front of them falls flat on their face for an extended period of time. Neither has happened to the Isles yet this season and time is against them for it to start.
The schedule ahead doesn't have a lot of inter-divisional games, but there are a handful that will matter. As usual, those Metropolitan games will be in bold.
|PIT||vs. WPG||@ VAN||@ EDM||@ CGY|
|PHI||@ NJD||vs. MTL||vs. TBL|
|WSH||@ TBL||vs. TOR|
|NYR||vs. CBJ||@ CHI||vs. DAL|
|CAR||vs. NSH||@ BUF||vs. TOR||@ CBJ|
|NJD||vs. PHI||vs. DAL||vs. FLA|
|CBJ||@ NYR||vs. CAR||@ WPG|
|NYI||vs. DAL||@ TOR||@ COL|
NBC Sports Network has lucked into a very good matchup between the Devils and Flyers on Tuesday. For the Flyers, a win wouldn't just be over a hated rival but a statement to the rest of the division that they intend to hold onto second place. For the Devils, a win wouldn't just be over a hated rival but a big step forward to a playoff position and preventing a three game winless streak. I may be biased, but I think it's the biggest game on the schedule this week. Capitals fans will definitely be cheering for the Devils in this one. Rangers fans will probably watch something else.
Columbus also is not far back enough to ignore. They can also climb back into the picture if they get points against the Rangers and Canes this week. The Blue Jackets flopped last week so any results are good. Taking points away from teams ahead of them in the standing only makes it sweeter. From a Devils perspective, it's hard to know what to want from them. Columbus succeeding may mean they jump past the Devils. But it would also hold the Rangers and Canes back. At least all of the other games are not within the division so the Devils can cheer for their fellow division teams to simply fail. Of course, it would be for naught if the Devils don't get results later in the week against a tricky Dallas team and a Florida team they haven't seen yet this season. They have to take care of business too.
Elsewhere, the Pittsburgh Penguins get their chance at going out West after hosting Winnipeg today. They're so far ahead of everyone that they don't have to do well. They probably will since I figure Pittsburgh is way better than at least Edmonton and Calgary. What they do doesn't matter in the short-term. They will still rule over the Metropolitan. Who will be behind them next Sunday is anyone's guess.