The first full week of the 2021 NHL season saw everyone in the East Division picking up some points. Seven out of eight won a game, including the two winless teams from last week’s snapshot. There is also a new leader for the moment in the Washington Capitals even if it just lasts for one day. It is still up for grabs as this season is still just getting underway. Here are the East Division standings ahead of Sunday’s games:
I hope you have no plans today, Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday because those are the days of the week where there will be games. Make your plans on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday where there are no games in the East. Really. Boston and Philadelphia fans, you have today off. That’s how this week’s schedule is set up:
Let us go over what everyone did last week and what is up next for each one.
Fresh off two wins against Buffalo, the Washington Capitals visited the Pittsburgh Penguins for two road games. The good news is that they came away with points in each of those games. The bad news is that they were shootout losses. Last Sunday’s game saw two one-goal leads go away, Pittsburgh tying it up in the first period, and that extended to a shootout where they lost. Last Tuesday’s game saw Pittsburgh claw back from a 3-1 deficit in the first period to tie it up 4-4 in the second period due to two PPGs and a SHG. This also extended beyond regulation, only for Pittsburgh to prevail in overtime. Washington had their home opener on Friday against Buffalo, whom they beat twice in the prior week. But they had to play them without Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov because those four did not follow the league’s COVID-19 protocols and had to be placed on the list until they clear. Washington’s scoring went a lot like the other two games in this week in that their opponents tied it up in the second period and held steady all the way beyond regulation. Only that night, the Caps won the shootout. They won the week, albeit with a 1-0-2 record. It was good enough, though, to take first in the East for this snapshot.
Washington is one of the many teams in the East that will play four games in seven nights coming up. This afternoon, they will host Buffalo and hope to come away with a fourth victory against them this season. On Tuesday and Thursday, Washington will host the New York Islanders for each night. How the Isles’ structured play will do in D.C. will be interesting. The Capitals’ month ends with their first game of the season against Boston. This will also be at home, which is in Washington’s favor. If Ovechkin, Orlov, Kuznetsov, and Samsonov get cleared this week, then it is another benefit for the Caps.
It was a slightly better week for Boston. After taking three out of four points from New Jersey, the Bruins sought to obtain some results in regulation. It took two of their three games before they did that. On Monday, they could not solve Seymon Varlamov in the same way they struggled to beat Mackenzie Blackwood the week prior. As a result, Boston was shutout and lost 1-0 to the Isles. The Bruins began their home schedule for 2021 with a Thursday night game against Philadelphia and a Saturday night game against the same. The first one was dramatic. The third period was a goal explosion as Boston tied-up a two-goal deficit at first, went down again to Philly, scored two more goals to take a lead, and then conceded a late PPG for a 4-4 score in regulation. Similar to the first game of the season, Boston needed a shootout to win and they did. That is a win but still nothing for the RW or ROW columns. However, Saturday night changed that. Boston beat down Philadelphia like the Flyers collectively owned the home team money. The B’s won 6-1 for an emphatic first mark in the regulation win category for 2021. And it sealed another winning week with four points out of six earned. That is how teams expected to be strong in a division get it done.
Boston will have today off to get a little extra rest while most of the East is playing today. They can use the extra time today to prepare for two games with Pittsburgh, who had a successful week of results as well. They are in Boston so the B’s will seek to protect their rink for two more games. They will end their week - and their month of games - in the nation’s capital city to play the Capitals. By that point, it could be a game that decides who leads next week’s East Division snapshot.
Philadelphia had the division lead in the first snapshot. However, they took a slight tumble to third place based on tiebreakers and the week they just had. It started against Buffalo, who pasted them in a 6-1 blowout last Monday. The Flyers sought revenge and obtained it on the following night with a 3-0 shutout win. So far, not bad. Philadelphia then played Boston twice. In the first game on Thursday, Boston ran up four goals in the third period and Philly needed a late PPG to tie it up. However, the Flyers lost in the shootout. Last night, Boston decided to take a page from Buffalo’s first game and just skate the Flyers off their rink. The Flyers left Boston with a 6-1 defeat. By no means should any Flyers fan be concerned about their team’s hopes for this season. Yet, a 1-2-1 week is not ideal in what could be a tight race for playoff spots in the East.
Like Boston, the Flyers have today off and only three games coming up this week. They will head down from Massachusetts to New Jersey for two games with the New Jersey Devils. It is a rivalry match-up. It remains to be seen which Flyers team will appear on those nights. Or whether they will split it between games as they did with Buffalo and Boston last week. The Flyers will host the Islanders on Saturday in the first of a back-to-back set that weekend. That may prove to be a stingier challenge. The Flyers are still in a good spot standings-wise. However, a repeat of last week’s results may be more cause for at least minor concerns
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders split two games against their hated rivals, the New York Rangers, in their first two games. This past week has been much better for the Isles. They had their opener last Monday against Boston. True to their reputation of being well-structured with a strong goaltender behind it all, they frustrated the B’s in a 1-0 win. Seymon Varlamov picked up his second straight shutout of the season against a talented Boston team. The Isles put up a more impressive result when they hosted New Jersey. They went up early, expanded it late, and cruised to a 4-1 win. Varlamov’s shutout streak ended but two wins out of two games was a great week all the same for the Isles.
After a two-game week, the Isles will be a lot busier. They will visit the Devils tonight in Newark for a second straight matchup. Once they are done there, they will head down to Washington D.C. to visit the Capitals. On Saturday, they will head North to visit Philadelphia for the first of a weekend back-to-back set to close the month. As the Isles had the last change in their last two games, this week will be a good test to see how they stack up when they do not have that home advantage.
After dropping their first two games, the Penguins went into this past week needing some wins. Mission accomplished. They won all three of their games last week. They prevailed over Washington twice and the New York Rangers on Friday. They came back from some poor stretches in each of them on their way to get the all-important ‘W.’ The only issue is what kind of ‘W’ they earned. Last Sunday, they beat Washington in a shootout. Last Tuesday, they beat Washington in overtime. Last Friday, they beat the Rangers in a shootout. While the Pens picked up three wins, they still have a zero in the crucial Regulation Win (RW) column and just one Regulation + Overtime Win column (ROW). Still, the main goal was to get victories and they got them. They can now work on getting ones that can help them in tiebreaking situations in this coming week.
The Penguins certainly will have chances to do so. They will also become more familiar with the New York Rangers and the Boston Bruins in the process. The Penguins’ week is bookended with games against the Rangers. They host them tonight and visit Manhattan on Saturday. In between, the Penguins will be shipping up to Boston to play the Bruins on Tuesday and Thursday night. Again, the goal for this coming week will be to try to get some regulation wins. Showing up well in the first half of each game would be a good step in doing so.
The Devils had a short week of two games. It will be their last two-game week until the middle of March. The Devils split it as they took the bus to the two New York teams. Last Tuesday, the Devils struck early and pulled away in the second period against the Rangers. The Rangers mounted a comeback, provided a deluge of pucks, but the Devils held on to win 4-3 over their hated rivals. On the morning of Thursday’s trip to Long Island, goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood was placed on the COVID-19 list. This meant Scott Wedgewood made his first NHL appearance in nearly two years. He was not so much the problem as the Devils were kept at bay by the Islanders’ structure and suffered for their errors in their first loss of the season, 1-4. All things considered, going 1-1 is not a bad week. The concern is about what the team will be like going forward.
The Devils’ schedule picks up today with an evening game against the Isles. This one is in Newark, so it will be interesting to see if New Jersey owning the last change can help break down the Islanders. The Devils will remain in Newark on Tuesday and Thursday as they host Philadelphia. As the Flyers have started off really well in this season, those two games will be good measuring sticks to see how New Jersey can hang in the East. The Devils’ week ends with the first of a road back-to-back set in Buffalo. Hopefully Blackwood is cleared to play amid these games. And maybe the Devils will get some updates about some players, such as currently-injured Nico Hischier, and a traveling/quarantining Jesper Bratt and Sami Vatanen.
New York Rangers
Almost everyone in the East won at least one game last week. The Rangers were the exception. On Tuesday, they conceded a goal to New Jersey within the first minute, were rolled over by Jack Hughes for three more goals in the second, and tried to crack Blackwood for a fourth goal against. Despite 50 total shots and three third period power plays, they did not and so they lost 4-3. The Rangers seemingly pulled away from the Penguins with three straight goals in the second period to go up 3-1 in Pittsburgh. The Pens clawed their way back in to tie it up, drag the game to a shootout, and won that shootout. That meant the Rangers lost. They picked up a point but the 0-1-1 week sent them to the bottom of the division. The only reason why they are not in last is because they have played one fewer game than Buffalo.
Like most everyone in the East, the Rangers will have opportunities to make amends with four games in this coming week. The Rangers’ week begins and ends with games against Pittsburgh. Tonight, they will visit the Penguins again and look for revenge from Friday’s game. Their month ends with a home game against the Penguins. On Tuesday and Thursday, the Rangers will play in Buffalo. Those two games could help determine who takes the bottom spot in the division at a minimum for next week’s snapshot among other possibilities. As the Rangers want to try to take a step forward, they will need to earn more than just a point in this coming week.
The Buffalo Sabres became the last team in the East to win a game. This is partially because Pittsburgh played on Sunday and Buffalo’s third game of the season was on Monday. Still, they went into Philadelphia and stunned them with a 6-1 win. That is not a typo. The Sabres went into the Flyers’ home and routed them. That was great. Unfortunately for Buffalo fans, the Flyers ensured it would not happen again on the next night. Philly shut down the Sabres as the Sabres were shut out in a 3-0 loss. At least they got the win. On Friday, they managed to scare Washington by tying up the game in the second and taking the game beyond regulation. Alas, the Sabres lost in a shootout. They got a point against another superior team on the road. But the 1-1-1 record was not enough to take them out of the bottom end of the East. They are only in last place due to playing more games than the Rangers. Still, with three points, they are beginning looking up at several teams already.
At least Buffalo has something to build on. They will need to keep trying to get results as they can and stay in the proverbial picture as long as possible. They have four games coming up where they can do that. The Sabres are still in D.C. and will play them this afternoon. On Tuesday and Thursday, the Sabres can step over the Rangers with two home games against them assuming they get the results they desire. The Sabres’ week will end with the start of a back-to-back set of games at home against New Jersey. That is another opponent that Buffalo wants to prove something against if they have real desires to show they are not a doormat team this season.
That was the second Weekly East Division Snapshot of the 2021 season. The first full week of the season is done and the schedules are now filled with games albeit on just four days of the coming week. What do expect to happen in this week coming up? Who among Washington, Boston, or the field will take first in next week’s snapshot? Will Buffalo, the Rangers, or someone else find themselves in last by next week’s snapshot? Do you think anyone really has a really favorable schedule coming up? How well do you think the Devils will do with so many games coming up in a short timeframe? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the eight teams in the week that was and the week ahead in the comments. Thank you for reading.