The COVID-19 Pandemic continued to strike the National Hockey League. More games in the East Division were postponed. The New Jersey Devils entered the week with a lot of names on the Protocol List and ended Friday night with a lot of the same names on it. It was as high as 19 at one point and it was a legitimate positive to see it go down on Saturday night to 13 players. The Buffalo Sabres saw their count near double-digits. There has been a rise amid the Philadelphia Flyers. This meant some teams, such as the Washington Capitals, expected to have busy weeks ended up playing just one game at most. To put it mildly, this is a situation that could get a lot worse before it gets a lot better.
However, like life, stopping is not an viable option. Not yet, at least. So the Weekly East Division Snapshot continues, albeit with a shorter post and another reminder that all schedules are subject to change on short notice. What did not change is the team at the top. The Boston Bruins did get their scheduled games in and they have tightened their grip on first place. Here are the standings after Saturday’s game (singular, the other East Division games for Saturday were postponed), which now has points percentage included for reference only. Thanks to one of the People Who Matter, snwbdgislife, for suggesting that last week.
Here is the planned schedule for this week’s games as of Saturday afternoon. It would be great if they all took place as scheduled. But I would not be supremely confident all of these will happen. Still, here it is for at least posterity’s sake:
Here is what happened in the past week and what’s next in more detail for all eight teams in the East.
The hockey world has been focused on the pandemic, the North Division, and whatever the latest drama is (last week, Columbus; this week, Vancouver) in the league. Somehow, not enough people have recognized the Boston Bruins as one of the NHL’s best teams. Only Toronto has more points than them in the league and they get to play doormat teams like Ottawa and Vancouver. The East Division may have been short on games but it has never been short on quality. Their winning streak going into this week was impressive and it was extended for two more games. Last Wednesday, Brad Marchand dumped the New York Rangers 36 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 win. On Friday night, Boston turned up the frustration in Manhattan in a 1-0 shutout win. Unfortunately, the good times ended last night in Nassau County. The New York Islanders’ special teams made the difference to turn a 2-2 game going into the third into a 4-2 loss for Boston. That ended the Bruins’ winning streak and was just their second regulation loss of the season. Still, 2-1-0 is a winning week and the spoked B might as well stand for Best in East right now.
The Bruins currently have a light week scheduled. Their originally scheduled game on Monday against New Jersey was already postponed. Barring other postponements, they will host the Devils on Thursday. That is their only game coming up. Assuming the game even happens, Boston will be more than prepared against a team that has been idle since the end of January. Unless Washington wins all of their games in this coming week and Boston loses that one in regulation - unlikely as the B’s have lost just two games in regulation this season, Boston’s hold on first place will be safe for another week. To my biased eyes, the Bruins are among the best in the world right now.
The COVID-19 Pandemic hit Philadelphia this week. They got their first game of last week’s schedule off in Washington. It was a goal fest where the third period saw the Flyers break a 4-4 tie with three unanswered goals. The 7-4 win was enough to keep the Capitals behind them in the standings. Prior to that game, a Flyer was put on the protocol list. After that game, another one came on. In light of that, their Tuesday game in Washington was postponed. As were their Thursday and Saturday games against New Jersey due to the Devils’ own list. But the Flyers’ list grew this week. The team remains in second but that is secondary to the health of the squad.
As the Flyers’ own list of players on the Protocol List grew this week, I do not have a lot of hope that their scheduled game for this week will happen. That game is a home game against the New York Rangers on Thursday. There is some time between now and then. If the list gets reduced by the middle of this coming week, then that one may still happen. I am not confident about it though, at this juncture.
Like Philadelphia, Washington was set to play four games last week. They only had the one as their second game against Philly was postponed and Buffalo’s postponed games extended into this week. Unfortunately for the Caps, they lost that one game to Philadelphia, 7-4. They tied it up late in the second period to make it 4-4 but the Flyers just rallied in the third while the Capitals flailed. The loss kept them in third place - and not in a safe third place. The Islanders are right with them in points, and Penguins are right behind them in the standings. There is no need to panic, but there is a cause for at least a little concern among the Capitals.
Washington’s schedule is filled with games where they can turn it around. They will visit Pittsburgh for an afternoon game today and play them in Pittsburgh again on Tuesday. Victories over them will improve their spot while keeping the Penguins back from gaining anymore ground. They are important games in the short term. The other two games, well, we’ll see if they happen. They are set to host Buffalo on Thursday and the Rangers on Saturday. I do not know if Buffalo will be ready by then. The Rangers game is more likely. As they are further beneath the Capitals in the standings, Washington would do themselves a favor with results over those games too. Especially if the Penguins games go awry and Washington finds themselves in fourth or fifth place by Wednesday, which is a real possibility at the moment.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders had the best week in the East. This is not a debatable point. They took 5 out of a possible 6 points last week. They shutout their hated rivals, the Rangers, in a 2-0 win last Monday. They stunned Boston with a power play goal and a shorthanded goal both in the third period to pull away for a 4-2 win, which ended Boston’s winning streak. The only flaw in their results was Thursday night against Pittsburgh, where they conceded a late equalizer with 18 seconds left. Still, the game went to OT and lost in a 1-0 shootout for a 4-3 loss to the Pens. That is hardly a decisive loss and still a point earned. The Isles moved on up to fourth, they are tied with the Caps in points, and they have every reason to feel good going forward.
The Islanders have four games line up for this week, although it could quickly become just two. They are planned to visit Buffalo on Monday and Tuesday. Given that Buffalo’s COVID-19 Protocol List has not decreased by a lot in recent days (this may be false by Sunday at 5 PM, I hope does decrease soon), I am not so confident those games will happen. They might, but I would not put money on it at the moment. I am more confident they will get to play their other two games: Thursday and Saturday in Pittsburgh. As the Isles just lost in a shootout to Pittsburgh last Thursday and they are close to Pittsburgh in the standings, these two games would be a good opportunity to extract revenge and make a move further into the upper half of the East Division. Opportunity could be knocking for the Isles; can they get to the door?
Due to postponements of their opposition, the Penguins played all of one game last week. They visited the Islanders last Thursday. It was a back and forth affair with just two penalties (a delay of game and a rare illegal equipment call) that almost saw the Penguins lose entirely. But Evgeni Malkin was the hero of that evening with an equalizer with 18 seconds left in regulation. Overtime was needed but it solved nothing. In the shootout, Sidney Crosby scored the lone goal to make it a 4-3 win for Pittsburgh. Crosby and Malkin: Getting the Penguins points since 2006. A 1-0-0 week means just two points, but it is still a victorious week.
The Penguins’ week ahead is quite heavy. And they may get to play all four of them. They will host Washington today and on Tuesday. Should the Penguins prevail, they could jump past the Caps in the standings while also making up ground on their cross-state rivals. They are meaningful games. After those two games, the Pens will host the Islanders. As those two teams were and are close to each other in the standings, those two could help create some separation in the middle of the East Division standings. Or cause more of a mixture depending on their results. The point is that the Pens have four games coming up and a winning week by Pittsburgh could see them charge up the standings based on who they could beat. Now they just have to do it.
New York Rangers
The good news for the New York Rangers is that they were able to play their scheduled games last week and the standings are currently organized by points and not point percentage. The bad news for the New York Rangers is that this past week sunk their point percentage to be the only one in the East below 50%, they won none of their three games last week, and they scored just two goals in three of them. The New York Islanders blanked them 2-0 last Monday. While they forced OT against Boston, it did not take even a minute for the B’s to leave MSG with a ‘W.’ That was followed by Boston blanking them 1-0 last Friday. One out of six points earned was enough to get them past the idle Devils and Sabres. But it was far from a good week outside of the reality that they actually had games to play.
The Rangers’ schedule may be in some doubt given their opposition. They are scheduled to host New Jersey on Tuesday, visit Philadelphia on Thursday, and then visit Washington D.C. on Saturday. New Jersey’s and Philadelphia’s current COVID-19 situations may push those games back. The Washington game may happen - and it may also not go so well, especially if the Caps need points by Saturday.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils’ games for last week were postponed. They have been idle. They moved down to the seventh in points, but only down to fifth in terms of points percentage.
Assuming no further changes to their schedule, the Devils will visit their hated rivals in New York on Tuesday night. Then they will head up to Boston on Thursday night. Their week will end in Newark when they host an afternoon game with Buffalo. The last one may be especially contentious as the outbreaks for both teams, well, broke out after their last game on January 31 when the Devils beat the Sabres 5-3.
The Buffalo Sabres’ games for last week were also postponed. They have been idle, as well. They moved down to eighth in points, but they are seventh in points percentage.
Assuming no further changes to their schedule, the Sabres will return to action on Monday to start a back-to-back set with the New York Islanders with both games in Buffalo. After then, they will visit Philadelphia on Thursday and then head to Newark on Saturday. Again, that last one may be of interest just because the Sabres were understandably unhappy with the January 31 game being played at all. Will it translate to the ice? Hopefully, we will have a game then to find out.
That was the fifth Weekly East Division Snapshot of the 2021 season. I hope all eight teams will be active to at least some degree this week. It will depend on the health and wellbeing of the Devils, Sabres, and Flyers whilst hoping none of the five other teams start seeing infections. But we cannot focus on what we cannot control. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will all eight teams play at least one of their games this week? Will the Isles surge past Washington in this past week? Will Pittsburgh do the same? Can the Devils remain ahead of last place assuming they do play their games? 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.