February is ending today and a very busy and important March is coming up this week. This week begins with a new leader of the East Division, the Washington Capitals. Their successful week plus Boston flopping equaled a movement up to the top spot. However, it may not even last this day depending on what happens in today’s games. It is a tight race among five teams in the division. Unfortunately for the bottom three, they have quite a bit of work to do to close a gap that is beginning to form between fifth and sixth. See it for yourself in this week’s snapshot of the East Division’s standings:
While the New Jersey Devils still have some games in hand, they, the New York Rangers, and Buffalo Sabres are solidly beneath the fifth-place Pittsburgh Penguins. If either of the three want to at least crash the playoff picture party, then they need to make up points real fast. As for the teams in said party, letting up is not an option as a failure one night could be costly and relying on help is awkward. Such is the challenge in an unusual schedule where all of your opponents are within the division. Related to that, here is who is facing who in the East in this week coming up. Clearly, four days of the week are busier than others.
Let us go over the week that was and the week that may be below.
Last week’s snapshot saw the Washington Capitals at risk of slipping to the middle of the division. This week’s snapshot shows them in first place. How? Results. The Capitals got them in every one of their four games last week. Last Sunday, they came from behind against New Jersey with a third-period come back to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-3 final score with the third goal against coming late in the game. Last Tuesday, they hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins and suffered their only non-win of the week. They conceded an equalizer in the second period to make it 2-2 and the Penguins prevailed in overtime for a 3-2 defeat. That is still a point in the standings for the Caps. Last Thursday, the Capitals had a chance for some revenge. They exacted it with a high-scoring third period that had six goals in it. Four of them were scored by Washington in what would be a 5-2 win that snapped Pittsburgh’s winning streak. Yesterday afternoon, the Capitals took advantage of a lethargic start by the Devils by scoring three first period goals. They staved off a Devils come back, scored a crucial fourth goal in the third period, and iced it with an ENG for a 5-2 win. The Capitals’ seven points earned were more than enough to stop the slip, but to jump past Philadelphia and Boston for first place.
The Capitals now have a standing point streak of four games and will look to extend it. It will not be easy. They will be on the road again today when they visit the New Jersey Devils for another afternoon game. On paper, the Capitals should be more than fine. On the ice, well, we shall see. After that game, the Capitals will be on national television when they visit Boston on Wednesday. That will be a challenging game as well as an important one as the B’s will want to take back first place. What’s more is that they will play each other again on Friday night. Washington may appreciate only having three games coming up, but it will be tough to stretch that point streak. If they can, then they will further establish (re-establish?) themselves as the best team in the East.
Some of the shine came off the Boston Bruins in this past week. They rebounded well to a one-game, one-loss week on Sunday in Lake Tahoe. They played the Philadelphia Flyers in a showcase game and absolutely wrecked them. Boston showed no mercy in a 7-3 win. It was dominance like few other outdoor games. Philadelphia is not at all a bad team either, which adds to the impressive nature of the victory. That makes the rest of their week even stranger. After three days without a game, the Bruins went back to work on Thursday night in Long Island. The Islanders absolutely humilated the Bruins in a 7-2 loss. On the following night in Manhattan, the Bruins visited a struggling Rangers team. The Rangers proceeded to drop a six pack of goals on their heads and a capital ‘L’ with a 6-2 loss. Boston has been arguably one of the best teams in the league. To see them give up 13 goals and score just four in two games coming off a massive victory is surreal. That back-to-back set not only added two regulation losses to their record but it allowed Washington to jump past them for first and bring Philadelphia and the Islanders closer to them in the East. Welcome to discomfort Bruins. Hopefully those two losses are not a harbinger of bigger losses to come.
The Bruins will try to deny the losing streak starting today at noon. They will visit the Rangers again. I am confident they will want revenge. Whether they will get it is another matter. The Bruins will be hosting Washington on Wednesday and Friday night for their other games this week. Those two games will be massive as Washington could be entering Wednesday’s game with a point streak in the standings. If Boston wants to re-take first place or even just get a win, then they will need to take down a really good Caps team. At least for Boston’s sake, both games this week are in Massachusetts. Should Boston continue into a slump, do not be surprised if they fall further in next week’s snapshot.
New York Islanders
Say what you want about the New York Islanders. But they have ten wins and all ten are in regulation, which is the primary tiebreaker after games played. They have turned the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum into Fort Not Often Lose with a 6-0-2 home record this season. They are in the mix for the playoffs and, if they keep it up, the East Division crown. This past week put them in a position to do so with five out of a possible six points earned. Last Monday, they hosted and put down the Sabres, 3-2. Last Thursday, they hosted and surprisingly embarrassed Boston, 7-2. Yes, 7-2. I still have not fully comprehended such a loss. Last night, the Islanders went toe-to-toe with the Penguins. It was a tight affair and ultimately Pittsburgh tied the game up 3-3 in the third and won it 4-3 in overtime. But the post-regulation point was enough to move them to third place for the time being. The NHL is a results-oriented business and business on Long Island has been quite good recently.
The New York Islanders should seek to secure their good fortune instead of just enjoying it for the day. This would mean getting another result over the Pittsburgh Penguins in an early evening game in Nassau today. It would also mean getting more results against the lesser teams in the East. They will visit the Devils on Tuesday. The Islanders were shutout the last time they came to the Rock, so it is not at all a gimmie. The Isles will have an easier time with Buffalo, whom they have beaten three times this season already. They will play the Sabres in Long Island on Thursday and Saturday. We could see them go 5-for-5 against them by next week’s snapshot. If so, we could see the Isles right with the Capitals, Bruins, and Flyers in the fight for first in the East. Continue to underestimate the Isles at your own peril.
The Philadelphia Flyers showed the hockey world that one bad loss does not need to lead to even more. They were in Lake Tahoe on Sunday night for an outdoor game against Boston. To say it went poorly would be an understatement. The Flyers were rocked up and down the rink in a 7-3 loss to Boston. A lot of teams would have crumpled after such a defeat. At least for a game or two after. Not the Flyers. The Flyers rebounded on Wednesday night in a home game against the Rangers. Philadelphia went up 4-2 in the first two periods and held on to win 4-3. Philadelphia traveled up to Buffalo for an afternoon game on Saturday and continued to rain misery on the Sabres. The Flyers shut them down and shut them out in a 3-0 win. Getting two wins after a big loss on a big stage showed resiliency from the team. Unfortunately, they fell to fourth just because the Islanders got one extra point last night. Fortunately, they are right on the cusp of taking second place ahead of the Islanders and Bruins and first place is entirely possible.
The Flyers will spend this coming week on the road. They will be in Buffalo again for another afternoon game against the Sabres. Given the state of the Sabres, it could be another victory for the Flyers. After that one, it is all about the Keystone State Rivalry. Or whatever they call it. The Flyers will play not one, not two, but three road games in Pittsburgh for the remainder of this week. Tuesday night, Thursday night, and Saturday afternoon will feature the Flyers and Penguins. Given that the Penguins are not so far behind the Flyers in the standings, the Flyers faithful should be somewhat concerned about this rivalry set going awry. Of course, if the Flyers prevail over the Penguins the fans will get bragging rights and more relief in the standings. And depending on how that Boston-Washington set goes, maybe some upward movement. Notable risk tends to carry notable rewards. We shall see if the Flyers obtain them in this week.
The Pittsburgh Penguins managed to win the week. That is good. The issue is that they handed points to their opponents in each of their three games last week. That is not good in a season where every opponent is in the same division. Last Tuesday, the Penguins prevailed in overtime over Washington, 3-2, and handed the Caps their only non-win last week. However, that meant the Caps still got a point, which helped their recent rise to the top. Last Thursday, the Penguins failed to get anything as the Caps pulled away in a high-scoring third period, 5-2. That was two more points to help the Caps and zero points to help the Penguins in a tight middle of the division. Last night, the Penguins managed to tie up a game against the Isles in the third period. And they won in overtime. However, despite winning, the one point given to the Islanders sent them to third place whereas the Penguins remain in fifth despite getting two points for the win. They have as many points as Philly but with two more games played than them, they lose the tiebreaker. If the Penguins continue win weeks like this, then it should sort itself out over time. But I can understand the raised eyebrow over this reality that may come from western Pennsylvania.
The Penguins will have a big opportunity to jump up in the standings, or at least get ahead of at least one of the two teams directly in front of them. Today, they will visit the Islanders to complete a back-to-back set. The goal will be to win in regulation. If not, at least win it. The following three games will be tougher both in terms of talent and emotions. The Penguins will be hosting their hated rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, for the next three games. Orange and black will clash with yellow and black on Tuesday night, Thursday night, and Saturday afternoon at the Paintcan. By that Saturday game, these two teams may find levels of hate they have not experienced in a long time. Should the Penguins get the better of their rivals this week, we could see them shoot up the standings in short order. If not, well, they should be somewhat safe from the Rangers, Devils, and Sabres - for now.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers had an OK week in terms of results. They did not lose the week outright. They did not win it either. Out of two games, they won one and lost one. The loss was to Philadelphia. The Rangers went down two goals in the second period, pulled one back in the third, but failed to get an equalizer. Thus, they lost 4-3 to Philadelphia. They managed to catch Boston at the worst possible time on Friday night. New York just kept firing away and finding the back of the net in a big 6-2 win. The win was enough to keep them ahead of the Devils and the Sabres for another week in the East. They are still below 50% in points percentage so I would not suggest getting too relaxed Rangers fans.
The Rangers will play half of their week at Madison Square Garden. Today, they will host a Boston team that may be a little ticked about Friday’s game. The Rangers will need to make sure they do not fall into their emotions. After today, they have a chance to pull themselves at least away from the bottom of the East. They will host a struggling Buffalo team on Tuesday and then play road games in New Jersey on Thursday night and Saturday afternoon. The Rangers have only one win against both opponents so far this season, so they are definitely not gimmies for them. Still, the opportunity is there for them to take it.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils entered last week with a loss. They ended this past week with three more added to their record. Last Sunday saw them start off well against Washington and enter the third period up 2-1 in their building. They lost that game 4-3 due in large part to their crummy penalty kill. Last Tuesday saw them start off well against Buffalo, struggle to put one past Linus Ullmark, and get lit up on the penalty kill in a 4-1 loss. Last Thursday saw the Devils take advantage of Buffalo in 5-on-5 and even scored a power play goal to come back from an early deficit. Only to be done in by the penalty kill. But Pavel Zacha was the overtime hero of the night and secured the Devils’ sole win last week, 4-3 in OT. Yesterday, the Devils’ penalty kill was perfect and they even scored a power play goal against Washington. However, they sleepwalked through most of the first period and never made up an 3-0 deficit from said sleepwalking in what would end in a 5-2 loss. The 1-3-0 week frustrated Devils fans as the week’s results knocked the Devils further away from an unlikely playoff contention.
The Devils’ schedule shows no let up for a long, long time. They will play four games with weekend back-to-backs for the next three straight weeks. This week will continue to be a challenge. They will face Washington for another afternoon game today. Washington is really good and the Devils have yet to take any points from them. After that, the Devils will host the Islanders. It will be the first game at the Rock with limited attendance since last season. The Devils did beat the Isles the last time at the Rock back in January so a result is more possible. The biggest games will be on Thursday and Saturday against the Rangers. Not only is it a rivalry game, but it is the last two games in a five-game homestand for the Devils and those games could decide who is ahead of who by next week’s snapshot. Good luck.
It has not been a good time to be a Buffalo Sabres fan. Injuries have undercut the team’s talent. And despite their results earned last week, they remain in last place in the East. Last Monday, they visited Long Island and got beat in a 3-2 loss to the Isles. The Sabres were able to take three out of four points against New Jersey last Tuesday and last Thursday. However, Ullmark was injured in the latter game and while they won 4-1 on Tuesday, they lost in overtime 4-3 in the Thursday game. Those would be the only three points earned this week for Buffalo. On Saturday afternoon, Philadelphia blanked them in a 3-0 defeat that secured another eighth place finish for another weekly East Division snapshot.
Buffalo will get more familiar with the other teams in the tri-state area in this week coming up. First, they will host Philadelphia for another afternoon game today. Hopefully it will go better than it did on Saturday afternoon. Second, they will visit the New York Rangers in a game that will have more direct implications on the bottom end of this division. While the Rangers are ahead on points, they are not in point percentage and a Buffalo win could move them up at the expense of the Rangers. The Sabres will get more familiar with the Islanders on Thursday and Saturday, which will be tough games because A) the Islanders are good, B) the Islanders have been really successful at home, and C) the Sabres may not be good. If they can win this week, then perhaps C can go away.
That was the seventh 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 Washington still rule the East by next Sunday? Will Boston take over or could another team (Philadelphia?) emerge into first place? How large do you think the gap will be between fifth and sixth place by next Sunday? Where the Devils end up by next week’s snapshot? 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.