After postponements and re-scheduled games, all eight teams in the East Division played at least one game last week. The New Jersey Devils, Buffalo Sabres, and Philadelphia Flyers have all resumed play. This ended up with some very short weeks of games for some of the East Division teams, but getting everyone active again was important. It means a more compact schedule for the East in an already compact 56-game regular season. And it will be more apparent next week.
Despite the loss, the Boston Bruins remain atop the East Division standings in both points and point percentages. They will be heavily featured on national television this evening in Lake Tahoe, Nevada. Perhaps they will show why they are not only first in the East but arguably among the best teams in the entire NHL. We shall see. But business will pick up from Sunday onward. Here are the standings ahead of today’s games:
Here is the schedule for all eight East division teams for this coming week:
Let us go over what each team did and what they have coming up.
Due to re-scheduling, the Boston Bruins ended up only having one game to play in this past week. After losing 4-2 to the Isles last Saturday, they had four days to think about it and prepare to bounce back in a home game on Thursday night. In addition, they were to take on a New Jersey Devils team that was just getting back to business after an apparent COVID-19 outbreak. The hockey world was surely surprised to see that the New Jersey Devils handed the Boston Bruins their first regulation loss at home this season and their third in total in a 3-2 game. It was far from an ideal performance and result for the top team in the East. Their spot in first place is still somewhat safe but not as much as it would have been if they won on Thursday.
Boston will seek to avoid a losing streak in Lake Tahoe of all places. The Philadelphia Flyers were also active, so a 7:30 PM showcase outdoor game today is on. (It was supposed to be at 2 PM but conditions required a push back in time, which impacted another East Division game today.) Boston will officially be the home team in the neutral site this afternoon. Boston will be off for three days before hitting the road for a back-to-back set in the NYC area. They will visit the Islanders on Thursday and likely seek revenge for the last time they played at Nassau (Boston lost). On the following night, the Bruins will go to Manhattan to play the New York Rangers. Boston has been fantastic at getting points every week up until their one-gamer last week. This is a schedule where they can get back on track and maintain first place in the East.
The Philadelphia Flyers suffered from an apparent COVID-19 outbreak themselves. Their game set for last Sunday was postponed, but they were cleared to play last Thursday. They hosted the New York Rangers. While the Flyers’ was not at all at full strength, Philly did come away with a point. They tied up the game 2-2 late in the second period and held the score steady through the third period and overtime. Unfortunately for them, they lost the shootout 2-1 so they lost the game with a 3-2 score. Still, their one point in the standings kept them in the top half of the division for the moment.
Philadelphia will get a chance to play more in this week. First, they will be on the national stage in the great outdoors of Lake Tahoe. They will be the visitors at the neutral site game against Boston. Given that Boston has lost two straight regulation games, this may be a good time as any for Philly to make it three. It will be a challenge, though. After the game in Lake Tahoe, the Flyers will return to Philadelphia to host the Rangers in a game aired on NBCSN. That one may be a little closer to Philly’s speed and it may be an important game in the short term in order for the Flyers to stay in the top half of the East. Ditto in their game on Saturday, when they will visit Buffalo for a Saturday afternoon game. This is not to discount the Rangers or Sabres, but if Philadelphia wants to stay in the picture for the top spot in this division, then they need to get results against them. Especially if Sunday’s game does not go well.
The Washington Capitals entered this week with an opportunity to stave off falling into the middle of the East Division. They did not have a bad week but 2-2-0 was not enough to keep the Islanders out of the picture to knock them down a spot. The week started with a 6-3 road loss to Pittsburgh. It was an afternoon game before a large audience that saw Washington pull within one late in the second and then saw Pittsburgh ice the game with two late goals. The Capitals did bounce back and beat Pittsburgh 3-1 on Tuesday night, ending a losing streak of four games. The Caps went up 3-0 and never really looked back even after conceding a score in the third period. Washington seemingly went from strength to strength on Thursday night when they beat Buffalo. The Capitals pretty much did the same thing: go up by 3 and then never look back even if the opposition scored one. Which they did, it was a 3-1 win. Still, Washington entered Saturday with a chance to win the week and even take second place for themselves. They had an afternoon game against the New York Rangers and proceeded to get real sloppy. The visiting Rangers enjoyed the slop as the Caps lost that one 4-1. Their week was bookended by afternoon losses.
Hopefully afternoon games are not an issue for the Capitals. They will now host the New Jersey Devils today at 2 PM due to a time change for the Lake Tahoe game. That game will also be on NBC, too. After Sunday’s home game, they will remain at home for their next two against Pittsburgh. Tuesday and Thursday night are great opportunities for the Capitals to put some space between them and the Penguins. If they split the pair or, worse, lose both, then the Capitals will be at risk of falling further. And they will try to avoid that potential risk on Saturday afternoon - yes, afternoon - in New Jersey.
The week was ultimately positive for the Penguins. Last Sunday ended up quite well for them. They hosted Washington, they engaged in a high scoring game, and pulled out ahead late to make it a more-comfortable-looking 6-3 final score. That’s two points over a team ahead of them. However, they erased that gain last Tuesday when they hosted Washington for a second straight game and lost decisively, 3-1. The second half of their week went up against the New York Islanders. Last Thursday, at home, the Pens prevailed with a solid performance in a 4-1 win. That’s another two points over a team ahead of them. They followed that up with another victory in a close 3-2 affair over the Isles. The night was special as it was Sidney Crosby’s 1,000th game with the franchise. They made it a winning one. That also made it a winning week and moved them up to fourth where tiebreakers are keeping them from being any higher.
This coming week for the Pittsburgh Penguins does give them a little more time to rest, which could see those positions change. They will face the same two teams they played in this past week. Tuesday and Thursday has the Penguins visiting the Capitals. As stated with the Washington Capitals section, these two games are crucial in the short term for Pittsburgh. If they want to get into the top half of the East and secure a spot, then winning these two games would help them tremendously. So would winning their game on Saturday in Long Island. Yes, the Pens and Isles will face each other again on another weekend. They may have only three games but none of them will be easy and all of them are valuable. If Pittsburgh gets hot, then it could propel them to be up there with their cross-state rivals in the standings.
I am not sure what the expectations were for the New York Islanders in 2021. If it was a fall from grace, then I would second-guess that one at the moment as the Isles are far from the bottom. That said, they could have done better and a week like this one shows that. They visited a Buffalo team that was playing its first game after an apparent COVID-19 outbreak and beat them 3-1. They played a second straight game in Buffalo and won that one too, 3-0. The Isles showed they could beat on one of the lesser teams in the East. What about their peers in Pittsburgh? On Thursday night, they fell to the Pens in Pennsylvania in a 4-1 defeat. That happens. Unfortunately, they fell again to the Penguins in a tighter affair last night in a 3-2 loss. They entered the game in third place, they left the game in fifth place. And while all of their wins were regulation wins, the fact that they played more than anyone else in the East is not in their favor. The Isles are still battling, I suppose.
In this week coming up, the Isles will get to watch some of those games in hand get made up on them with only three games on the schedule. At least they will be at home for all three games. The opponents vary in terms of competition. First, the Isles will host Buffalo on Monday night. As Buffalo has a game on Tuesday, New Jersey fans may hope for the Monday game to go long. Second, the Isles will host the top team in the East, Boston, on Thursday. Third, the Isles will get a chance at some revenge when they host Pittsburgh on Saturday. While there is a lot of hockey left, the Isles will likely still be in the mix for a while. They have shown that they can get results on a somewhat regular basis.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers had all of the signs to end a three-game winless streak on Tuesday. They were hosting a team that has not been active, has suffered from the Coronavirus, and a team who beat them the last time they visited. Despite all of that, they lost 5-2 to the New Jersey Devils. However, the Rangers would get to winning ways in their next two games in the week, first two road games of the month. They prevailed in a shootout over Philadelphia, 3-2 to end the winless run. On Saturday, they took advantage of sloppy Capitals performance and won decisively in D.C. in a 4-1 victory. While they lost a game that, on paper, they probably should have won, the Rangers managed to win this week with a 2-1-0 record. For the moment, they are in sixth place in terms of points. That is a better spot than seventh or eighth.
The Rangers will have to hope for some help to stay in such a position in the standings. Both New Jersey and Buffalo are within 3 points of them and they have at least games in hand on them. New York will be idle until Wednesday night when they visit Philadelphia, who I am confident will want to avenge the 3-2 shootout loss from last Thursday. Depending on the results, the Rangers could end up being in last in the East by that game. Following Wednesday’s matchup, the Rangers only have one other game this week to get points: a home game against Boston on Friday night. Boston has already beaten the Rangers twice in Manhattan this season, they can make it three on Friday. The Rangers’ winning week helps them now, but they need to build on that. Slipping up here could mean falling back further.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils returned from an apparent COVID-19 outbreak that spread throughout a majority of the active roster. It even impacted some Devils who have yet to play a game with the Devils this season. Thankfully, enough players cleared over the weekend to maintain their schedule for this week and even more were cleared to play as the week went on. Despite the lack of game action, practice, and general fitness, the Devils came out strong and battled hard in a 5-2 win on the road against the New York Rangers in their first win back. Beating a hated rival is great; doing so when all signs seemingly pointed to the rival winning is even greater. In terms of opponent quality, Thursday night was the peak as the Devils visited a Boston team that had not lost at home yet this season and had no games in their prior four days. The Devils managed to prevail 3-2 in regulation to hand the B’s their first home ‘L’ of the season. The Devils were on their way to sweep the week until Saturday when they hosted Buffalo. The Sabres wanted revenge for the infamous January 31 game - NJ won that, too - that led to the outbreaks for both teams. The Devils had a spirited third period comeback but ultimately lost to Buffalo 3-2. Still, 2-1-0 is a great return for a team that saw 19 players recover from the COVID-19 list and the return of the formerly-injured and now-current captain Nico Hischier within this past week.
With a load of games in hand on everyone, the Devils are in a position to make up some ground. It will come fast as the Devils will be playing four games per week until the end of March. This week will feature the Washington Capitals and Buffalo Sabres. The Devils will visit Washington, which is now at 2 PM ET today due to the new time for the Lake Tahoe game for Boston and Philadelphia. The Devils will then host Buffalo on Tuesday and then visit them on Thursday. Should the Devils want to make a move up the standings, those two games would be good ones to win. Otherwise, they risk being jumped by the Sabres. The week ends with a home game in the afternoon against Washington. The Washington games are tough on paper, but if the 2021 Devils have shown anything, it is that they can hang with some very good teams. After all, they are now 2-0-1 against Boston.
The Buffalo Sabres suffered an apparent COVID-19 outbreak after the January 31st game against New Jersey. While it was not to the degree it impacted New Jersey, the Sabres had several players and their head coach on the COVID-19 list. They were able to clear enough players last weekend to keep their schedule of four games for the past week. It did not go well for the Sabres. They came up well short as the Islanders dispatched them 3-1 and 3-0 in two home games for Buffalo last Monday and Tuesday. On Thursday night, the Sabres went to the nation’s capital and received a capital ‘L’ in a 3-1 defeat. The Sabres managed to salvage the week by getting a result and some revenge on the New Jersey Devils yesterday. They went up 3-0 on the Devils in the first two periods and held the Devils off to win 3-2. The 1-3-0 week ensured a placement in the division’s basement for the week. But they are not far off if they can start getting more results.
It will be a challenge as the Sabres have another four-games-in-six-night week coming up. The Sabres will head to Long Island on Monday night and try to get something against the Islanders. Given the last two games against them, that is easier stated than done. The Sabres will then head to New Jersey for another game against the Devils. At least they know they can win in Newark. Can they do it again? If not, the Sabres will get another chance to beat the Devils as they will host them on Thursday night. The Sabres will see a different opponent on Saturday afternoon (and that weekend): the Philadelphia Flyers. Even if the Sabres can get some revenge on the Isles and get results against the Devils, their chances in that one may be slimmer. More so if the Sabres limp into that one too.
That was the sixth Weekly East Division Snapshot of the 2021 season. I hope all eight teams will continue to be active this week. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will Boston stay at the top or will a new challenger emerge out of Philadelphia, Washington, and the Islanders? Will the Devils and Sabres make the most out of the games in hand on others in the East? 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.