The COVID-19 Pandemic directly impacted the East Division and the NHL for the first time this season. An apparent outbreak among the New Jersey Devils led to as many as 17 players on the COVID-19 Protocol List in this past week. As they played the Buffalo Sabres right before it, multiple Sabres are on the list as well. Both forced the league to postpone their games for this past week on Monday, February 1. As all games are within the division for this season, this meant fewer games for the Devils’ and Sabres’ opponents in this week as well. Yesterday, the NHL announced 27 games to be re-scheduled, with the majority of those involving the Devils, Sabres, or both. Both New Jersey and Buffalo are scheduled to resume their season on this coming Thursday, February 11. Hopefully, they can play those games and cases will not continue to rise amid the players and staff in the division.
With that all said, the Weekly East Division Snapshot focuses on what happened and what is planned to happen. Schedules may be subject to change but the snapshot can only capture what is known at the time of its writing. For the start of this week, there is a new ruler in the East: the Boston Bruins. They are at the top with a two-point lead and a game in hand on Philadelphia, who they vanquished to get to first. Even as some teams had their opportunities to rise up in the standings postponed, the B’s passed the challenges presented to them. The Weekly East Division Snapshot recognizes this.
The Weekly East Division Snapshot also recognizes the re-scheduled week ahead for all eight teams. It turns out the Pittsburgh Penguins ended up with the shortest possible week. However, the end date of the season did not change. This will mean those with just one or two games coming up will be far, far busier later in the season. Here is a glance at all eight team’s schedule for this week:
Let us now go over what happened in this past week and what each team has coming up.
The most impressive thing about the Boston Bruins so far is that they have just three games so far and only one of those is in regulation. The Bruins swept this past week against two serious competitors in Washington and Philadelphia. Washington was the top team in the East in last week’s snapshot. That last week ended with Washington being one of the few to have denied the B’s a ‘W.’ The Bruins sought revenge and obtained with a 5-3 win. The Bruins then played two games against Philadelphia. They prevailed in overtime 4-3 in the first one and 2-1 in regulation in the second one. Philly was just ahead of Boston in the standings in last week’s snapshot, so a net gain of three points in the standings saw Boston vault past them too. All three wins were on the road, so Boston did not even have the benefit of a familiar area and the last line change on faceoffs. While it is by no means set in stone, the Bruins have staked a claim to be favorites in the East.
The Bruins will continue to be on the road for this week due to schedule changes as the original schedule had them going home to host Buffalo yesterday and Monday. Instead, they will have no games until Wednesday night against a New York Rangers team that may be a tougher fight than their record may suggest. That will also be on national television too. The Bruins will stay in the New York Metropolitan area as they will play a second game against the Rangers on Friday and then visit the Islanders on Saturday. They are rolling right now, so I would expect them to keep getting results. The issue is whether it will be enough to keep ahead of Philly and Washington.
It was not the best of weeks for the Flyers. They started it off last Sunday at home against the Islanders. Fresh off an overtime win, the Flyers pulled out ahead 3-1 thanks to a Joel Farabee hat trick. The rest of the team rewarded that individual effort by conceding two goals to the Islanders to force another overtime session. But the Flyers did win it in the fourth period for a 4-3 win. That would be the high point. They hosted Boston on Wednesday night. Again, they went up 3-1 on Boston and did so in the third period with almost 11 minutes left. Boston’s David Pastrnak proceeded to score a brace with the second one coming with 15 seconds left on the clock. Patrice Bergeron ended it 31 seconds into OT to hand the Flyers an OTL. The low point was on Friday when they played each other again. While the Flyers did not go up 3-1 again in the game, they also only scored one goal in the third period. And it was answered by two quick goals within a minute later on in that period for a 2-1 loss. The 1-1-1 week was enough to keep them in second, but it was a disappointment to see two leads turn into points for their opposition and then see a lead in a third game turn into nothing.
The Flyers will try to bounce back in this coming week, which has plenty of opportunity for them as they have four games coming up. First, they will play two against Washington. This is a chance for the Flyers to increase the gap over the Caps. However, failure will give Washington an edge. The Flyers will be in D.C. at noon today and 6 PM on Tuesday. The Flyers will then return home to play the New Jersey Devils, who have been held out of any team activities since February 1. It is unknown what the condition of the Devils will even be at that point. Even if they were fully fit, the Flyers already beat them twice two weeks ago so the Philadelphia faithful may see those games as expected wins regardless of the situation. Should the Flyers drop their games to Washington, those two become more crucial for the Flyers to avoid a further drop in the standings. We shall see if they can take care of an unknown-conditioned Devils team as well as a capable Washington soon enough.
The Capitals slipped up in this past week. They only had two games scheduled for this past week with plenty of time to prepare for each. They lost both in regulation. On Tuesday, they hosted Boston in what turned out to be a shocking 5-3 defeat. The Caps were up 3-0 on the B’s at one point. Boston scored five straight with four in the third period to hand the Capitals a capital ‘L.’ On Thursday, the Capitals visited the New York Rangers. This one was closer but different in that the Caps never led in this game. The hosts maintained their lead throughout the game. Sure, Alex Ovechkin surpassed Mike Gartner in the all-time season goals list in the game. But just like when he scored his 700th, the result was a regulation loss for Washington. As a result, they gained zero out of four points. They slipped to third place. While they are ahead of the teams behind them by a decent margin, a losing streak is a quick way to see that go away too.
Like Philadelphia, the Washington Capitals will have plenty of chances to make up for this past week. They have four games out of seven days. It begins at noon with a home game to Philadelphia. The second is another home game against Philly on Tuesday at 6 PM on national television. These two games could go a long way to securing second place and being a more direct challenger for Boston at the moment. With no points earned last week, I think the pressure is more on Washington to get something out of those two. After then, the Capitals will visit Buffalo to start a four-game road trip. They will play in Western New York on Thursday and Saturday. Hopefully, Buffalo will be healthy and available enough to play. Like New Jersey, they have been kept from team activities since last week so the Capitals may get a rusty opponent. Depending on how their first two games, these two could end up being crucial for the Caps. Otherwise, the teams below them will start to fancy their chances to jump past Washington. Again, the pressure is on the Capitals.
The Pittsburgh Penguins were supposed to play four games in six days in this past week. The postponement of New Jersey’s games meant they only had to play two of them. Both would be against the New York teams. On Monday, they got dusted 3-1 by the Rangers in Manhattan. While the Pens scored first, they had no answers for any of the three goals the home team scored. Last night, the Penguins sought to get something out of this week against the Islanders. They failed to do so. It appeared they would get a result when Evgeni Malkin scored near the end of the second period and Jake Guentzel made it 3-2 fairly early in the third. But the Isles battled back to tie it up and a delay of game call cost the Pens late in the third as the Isles converted the resulting power play. They lost 4-3, so they ended the week with nothing earned. They also have 11 points with four teams behind them with 10 points. It is a tough place to be in.
Due to the postponements and re-arrangement of games, Pittsburgh ends up having one game coming up this week. They will visit the Islanders on Thursday. That is it. Clearly, it is an important game for the Penguins to win. If only to keep up with teams that may play more games than them. Plus, this super-light week for them means some heavier ones in the future. Blowing a game with four days to prepare means stewing on it for two more days before a very challenging two weeks after it. Combined with how they failed to get any points in the standings last week, and the situation in Western Pennsylvania has plenty of pressure to get results and fast.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils were set to play four games this week, but they only played one. Prior to the Sunday matinee in Buffalo, Kyle Palmieri was placed on the COVID-19 Protocol List shortly before the game. The Sabres claim they requested information about that but did not get it in time. Since then, the Devils’ list of players on the Protocol List ballooned from 6 (including two incoming players and Connor Carrick, who left the team to see his newborn son) to as many as 17. Due to the initial rise on Monday, the league shut down the Devils and postponed their games on February 2, 4, 6, and 9. As for the one game that did happen, it is arguable that game should not have been played. Especially since multiple Sabres players and their head coach is on the list. Still, the snapshot can only focus on what happened and what happened is that the Devils beat the Sabres 5-3. They technically won the week at 1-0-0, but it came at a cost. They are also in fifth thanks to the first tiebreaker: games played - they have played one fewer game than the Islanders, Rangers, and Sabres.
Based on the rescheduling of games by the league, the Devils are set to resume their season on February 11 in Philadelphia. As the Devils have been kept away from team activities and their home facility, I would expect the Devils to be rusty. I do not even know how many of the players on the list will be ready for that game. It would not be a complete surprise if that game gets postponed if there are not enough successfully negative tests ahead of Thursday. Should it happen, the Devils will be playing an opponent who beat them twice already and in their building for both Thursday’s and Saturday’s games. The potential lack of fitness from practices and games only makes a difficult pair of games even harder. In a sense, I would be pleased if the games happen at all. But the snapshot is a results-oriented snapshot and it is all about results in this post.
The New York Islanders were originally planned to play Buffalo twice in this week. The postponements meant that did not happen. Instead, their four game slate became two. They visited Philly last Sunday. After a rough 40 minutes, the Isles rallied to turn a 3-1 deficit into a 3-3 game in the third period. They forced the game to go beyond regulation, so they earned a point from the night. Alas, they took a penalty in overtime and suffered the overtime loss when Philly converted it in the final minute of the fourth period. After plenty of time to dwell on it and prepare for their next game, they hosted Pittsburgh. This one would be close through to the end. Pittsburgh took a 3-2 lead early in the third, only for the Isles to tie it up minutes later and pull ahead on a late third period power play goal by Anders Lee to make it 4-3. The Isles held on to win 4-3 for the regulation win (important for tiebreakers), move out of last (they entered the night in eighth place) to sixth place (thanks to the tiebreakers), and win their week with 3 out of 4 points earned. Like the team on the ice, the Isles are a tricky bunch in the standings.
The Islanders’ schedule for this coming week is as originally scheduled. They will visit their hated rivals in the Rangers on Monday night. Given how the Isles’ week went, they will relish denying their cross-city opponents a winning streak just a little more. After then, the Isles will return to Nassau for two more games. They will host Pittsburgh for another game and will likely seek some revenge. On Saturday night, they will get to host the division leaders in Boston. As Boston will be coming off a game against the Rangers the night before, the Isles may have the benefit of fatigue. Against a really, really good Boston team, any advantage is likely appreciated.
New York Rangers
The postponement of the Devils’ games meant the New York Rangers only had to play two games instead of three in this past week. It was a bit tumultuous off the ice as an ill-advised off-ice reaction to an overtime loss on January 30 by Tony DeAngelo was the last straw for Alexandar Georgiev, who slugged him one, and Rangers management, who waived him, publicly proclaimed he played his last game as a Ranger, and is now trying to trade him. The Blueshirts and others in the hockey world have been bantering about Tony D for the past week or so. On the ice, this past week went well. They prevailed 3-1 against the Penguins, responding with three unanswered goals to Pittsburgh’s lone goal of the game. As noted under Washington, the Rangers took a lead against the Caps and never lost it on their way to a 4-2 victory. Two games with two wins means a winning week and a rise to seventh place in the East Division standings (and one point behind fourth place Pittsburgh). The Rangers do not look so much like a basement team at the moment.
The Rangers will seek to keep the good times rolling with three more home games in this upcoming week. They will host their hated rivals, the Islanders, on Monday night. That will definitely have implications on the bottom half of the East Division. On Wednesday and Friday night, they will have two measuring-stick games against Boston. If the Rangers are really rejuvenated from their DeAngelo Defenestration, then results against the top team in the East could bear that out. It is certainly not impossible and that speaks to how their last two wins has increased hope in Manhattan. Much to the chagrin of this writer and, presumably, the People Who Matter. But the snapshot does not care about that.
As covered in the New Jersey Devils section, the Buffalo Sabres saw a rise in positive cases after Sunday’s matinee game against New Jersey. This led to the NHL postponing their games for this past week after Sunday. They are understandably not happy with the turn of events between the teams and the league regarding COVID-19 protocols. As for the game itself, the Sabres lost that one game against New Jersey, 5-3. It does not seem fair, but the Weekly East Division Snapshot cares not about the situation. They went 0-1-0.
Like the Devils, the Sabres are scheduled to return on the 11th. As they have been kept away from team activities and facilities, they could be in an unfavorable position jumping right into games. Worse, they will be playing a Washington team that may either want the points or badly need them depending on how their games on Sunday and Tuesday goes. At least Buffalo will be at home. Except Washington opened up their season in Buffalo and beat them twice there already. So it will be a tough return, assuming the games are played at all.
That was the fourth Weekly East Division Snapshot of the 2021 season. The hope is that all eight teams will be active throughout the week again. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will Boston continue to reign after this week, or do you see Washington or Philadelphia catching them? Who among the bottom four will end up in the basement? Can the Devils remain ahead of last place for another week? Will all of the scheduled games be played this week? 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.