As I explained last week, hot streaks are not forever but they feel like it at points. The New York Islanders then had four straight wins. They close out this week with four more. As such, they remain in first place in the East Division. The Islanders are by no means secure in first in the East Division. However, they have a two-point lead as well as tiebreakers with a commanding lead in regulation wins (the first tiebreaker after games played) and regulation/overtime wins (the second tiebreaker). Outside of an injury to Anders Lee, it has been another excellent week for the Orange and Blue Crew of New York.
The top four in the East right now have the inside track of being the four postseason teams in the East. It is a tight race for position, which does matter as the first two rounds will be within the division as well. The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins racked up winning streaks within this past week as well, so they are in safe spots. While the Boston Bruins stumbled in this past week, their previous success still gives them a gap over the fifth-place Philadelphia Flyers. It is a small gap and it is only mid-March, so there is time for the Flyers to make it up. But after them, there is a gap between Philly and the New York Rangers and then another gap between them and the two teams mired in the bottom: the New Jersey Devils and the Buffalo Sabres.
After last week’s four-games-in-seven-days-and-the-same-four-days schedule for the East Division, this week’s schedule is less uniform. Not that there is a lot of action today, Wednesday night, or Friday night, but there is some action. Here is the schedule for all eight teams:
Let us go over the week that was and the week that may be for all eight teams in standings order below.
New York Islanders
One of the nicknames for Nassau Coliseum in their halcyon days was Fort Neverlose. It was not a literal nickname but it did represent how the Islanders turned their home ice into a fortress. There are a lot of teams who are great at home in 2021. However, the Islanders remain as the only team in the entire NHL who has not suffered a regulation loss at home this season. This past week added to their home success. Last Sunday, the Islanders took down the Sabres in a 5-2 win - their third straight 5-2 win over the Sabres this year - to extend their streak. The Islanders nearly saw their winning streak end last Tuesday when they hosted Boston. They tied up an early 1-0 deficit and the game was dragged to a shootout. But the Isles prevailed to get an extra point and keep the streak alive. On Thursday, the Islanders hosted New Jersey. The Isles trashed them in two periods and did not really let the Devils get close again in the third in a 5-3 victory. Three home games, three home wins. Last night was their sole road game of the week. It was against the Devils. While it was a tighter affair than Thursday’s game, the Isles turned a 2-1 deficit into a 3-2 win thanks to Keifer Bellows and two bad decisions on defense. Four games, four wins, continued dominance at home, and now a 50% point percentage in road games. Outside of Anders Lee being injured, you could not ask for a better week from the Islanders.
In this coming week, we shall see how much longer the fire can burn from the Islanders. The Islanders will visit the Devils for an early evening game tonight. They are surely feeling confident about that one as they did just beat the Devils twice. After then, they will go down south a bit to Washington D.C. for a Tuesday night game against the Capitals. The second road game of the week will be a bigger test than the first one. If only because the Isles have not beaten the Caps yet this season, the Capitals are right behind them in the standings so they have an incentive to take that game, and the Isles lost to them in each of their previous two games. Should either road game end the streak, the Isles can feel more comfortable on Thursday and Saturday. They will return to Nassau to host the Flyers. It will not be easy with the Capitals right behind them in the standings, but we could see them still be in first place by next week’s snapshot.
Washington has been able to keep the pressure on the Isles in the standings by taking care of their own business in this past week. This meant a winning streak and they got one going in this past week. Last Sunday, the Caps visited Philadelphia and came away with a solid 3-1 win. Last Tuesday, the Capitals played a very good 40 minutes against the Devils and led them 4-1 after the second period. They completely flopped in the third period and the Devils, of all teams, managed to tie it up with three straight goals in the third period. Fortunately for the Caps, Jakub Vrana stormed off the bench in overtime, took a pass, and roofed in a winner for a 5-4 result. The scare seemed to not impact the Capitals’ following game on Thursday night. They visited Philadelphia and, again, came away with a solid 5-3 win. The three-game winning streak was tested one more time in Philadelphia last night and they survived a scare from the Flyers. The Caps went up 5-2 in the third period and then nearly saw that lead slip as the Flyers scored twice to bring it within one. But they could not find the equalizer, so the Caps held on to win a third straight game over Philly this week and sweep their week of games. They are in second but it keeps them in pace with the Islanders for first in the East.
Washington has a non-ideal week of games set up. They will play four games and they are in two back-to-back sets. That is never easy. The mitigating factor is that Washington should be able to win three of them with their qualities displayed this season. The Caps will visit Buffalo on Monday night and should make the Sabres’ season worse in the process. Washington will have a real challenge on Tuesday when they host the Islanders. They may want to hope New Jersey cools them off somehow, but that will not be an easy game for either side. After that set, the Capitals are off until Friday and Saturday when they will host the Rangers on back-to-back nights. The Caps should be able to beat the Rangers, but unlike Buffalo, the Rangers have been known to put in some surprising performances here and there. Just ask Boston. The Capitals could very well end up in first place by next week’s snapshot, which is a testament to how successful they have been in this season.
Evidently, Evgeni Malkin is back and the Penguins have been taking care of business against all comers as of late. The Penguins entered this week with two home wins over their hated rivals in Philadelphia out of three games. They leave this week with more success. Pittsburgh absolutely put down the Rangers last Sunday in a 5-1 game that left little doubt as to who earned that win. The Penguins did it again to New York with a 4-2 win. That was followed up by pouring more misery on Buffalo with a 5-2 win in their house. Last night, the Penguins played in Buffalo again and they were even stronger. They out-shot them by 10 and out-scored them by 3 in a 3-0 win. The Penguins swept their week of games and now have a small three-point lead over Boston for third place in the East. If the Penguins can stay hot and Washington and the Islanders cool off, then they could make a move closer to the top two spots in the East.
Pittsburgh will have a tougher week than the one they had on paper last week. The Penguins will get to host the Bruins on back-to-back nights. While the Pens will not travel, playing Boston back-to-back can be tiring and challenging. Especially as the B’s may know that wins on either night would really help them get past Pittsburgh in the standings. After re-scheduling, the Penguins will finally play against the New Jersey Devils for the first and second times this season in Newark on Thursday and Saturday. While the Devils have been having a rough season, how the Penguins and Devils may matchup with each other is unknown. Most would expect Boston to crushed them and yet the Devils are 3-0-1 against them. The Pens should be expected to get wins given their recent run of results and the fact the Devils have been awful at home this season. We shall see whether reality matches up with what should happen in this week.
After many good weeks, the Bruins had a truly bad one in terms of results. Perhaps in terms of performances as well, depending on you viewed each one. While they had winless weeks before, it was in weeks with just one or two games on the schedule. In the four they played last week, here was what happened. Last Sunday, they get denied a goal out of 40 shots in a 1-0 loss to a slumping New Jersey Devils team. Last Tuesday, they went to Long Island and took the red-hot Isles to a shootout - and lost 1-2 in the shootout. Last Thursday, Boston seemed to right the proverbial ship with a 4-0 beatdown of the Rangers at home. That good work was erased with an anemic offensive performance yesterday afternoon in a 4-0 loss to the same Rangers team. Going 1-2-1 is not the worst, but for a team who has been regularly productive in terms of getting results in games, it is bad. It is also why they fell a spot to fourth place. They are still up on Philadelphia, who is four points back with Philly only having one game in hand on them. But if the results do not return soon, do not be shocked if they meet fifth place soon.
The Bruins will seek to rebound in this week coming up. They will have two tough games to go through first to do it. They will be on the road at Pittsburgh on Monday and Tuesday night. Should Boston win that back-to-back set, they should leapfrog the Pens. The issue is that the Penguins are hot right now and so beating them is easier to write than it is to do. After those two games, the Bruins will still be on the road as they will visit Buffalo on Thursday and Saturday night. The Sabres are a total mess and it is entirely possible that they will still continue to skid to rock bottom by the time those games are played. Boston should beat Buffalo. Will they? Will it be enough to get them moving up in the East or stopping a slide? Who knows.
March has not been kind to the Orange and Black so far. They opened the month with two losses out of three games at Pittsburgh. This past week was not much better. The Flyers opened this past week with a home game against the Capitals. The Capitals dispatched them 3-1. Philadelphia hosted Buffalo on Tuesday and did come away with a win to end their slide. They needed a comeback in regulation against Buffalo and a shootout to beat them. But they got a dub. Philadelphia followed up that dub with another ‘L’ as they hosted Washington and lost 5-3 to them. Last night, the Flyers hosted Washington again and it went awry for the home team again. The Flyers went down to the Caps 2-0 after one, 4-2 after two, and conceded a fifth goal early in the third. The Flyers did rally in the third to bring the game within one goal, but their comeback effort was denied. They suffered a third loss to Washington this week and so ended a four game week at 1-3-0. While the Flyers are definitely not out of the playoff picture, their recent lack of results have put them on the outside looking in. They are still just three points back of Boston, but they need to turn things around and fast to make up that ground and to keep sixth place from creeping up on them.
This means the Flyers need to get more points and fast in this coming week. Their opportunities to do so will be a bit tricky. The Flyers will be in the New York City area all week. They will visit the Rangers on Monday and Wednesday night. This would be their first games in MSG for this season and the Rangers may want to try to spoil the Flyers’ efforts for their own gains given their positions in the standings. The Flyers will then head to Long Island for games on Thursday and Saturday against the Islanders. The Islanders have been torching all kinds of teams and Nassau has returned to its Fort Neverlose lore as they enter this week with zero regulation losses at home (and zero losses at all in their last 8). If the Isles are cooled off by then, then I like the Flyers’ chances of coming away with something out of either game. If not, well, good luck to Philly in hoping the top four in the East does not leave them further behind.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers ended the prior week with a second straight victory wherein they dropped a six-pack on their rivals, the New Jersey Devils. The Rangers followed up those wins with three straight failures. Last Sunday, the Rangers visited Pittsburgh and came away with a 5-1 loss. Two nights later, all the Rangers essentially did was lose by a closer margin to Pittsburgh: a 4-2 loss. On Thursday night, the Rangers visited Boston and got wrecked in a 4-0 shutout loss. These defeats made what happened yesterday even more surprising: a 4-0 shutout win where the Rangers just dominated the Bruins. The win did end their short losing streak. The three losses did hold the Rangers back from gaining ground on Philadelphia in the standings. At least they remained as the best of the worst in the East. Your mileage may vary on whether that means anything.
The Rangers will get a chance to re-ignite that challenge in the standings in this coming week. New York will return to Manhattan to host the Flyers on Monday and Wednesday nights. The Flyers have a distinct advantage in the standings by being four points ahead of the Rangers with two fewer games played than them. But if the Rangers can win both of those games, that advantage will become much smaller. Of course, this also precludes the Rangers to keep getting results after those two games to keep the pressure on the Winged P’s. The issue is that they will be visiting Washington on Friday and Saturday night. Washington is still aiming for first place and they will not likely want to do the Rangers any kind of favor. It will be a tough back-to-back. But, hey, they are the best of the worst in the East.
New Jersey Devils
After losing five straight at home, the Devils hit the road to start this past week of games. The first stop was in Boston. There, the Devils showed that, somehow, they have the Bruins’ number. Scott Wedgewood stunned everyone with a perfect performance and Kyle Palmieri’s knee scored the lone goal of the game. The Devils ended their losing streak with a 1-0 win in Boston. Really. On Tuesday, the Devils came out against Washington and played rather poorly in the first two periods. Then they rallied like they rarely do to turn a 1-4 deficit after two into a 4-4 game. Unfortunately, overtime went the Capitals’ way so the Devils lost 4-5 in overtime. Still, three points out of four in two games is good. What was not good was the Devils third road game of the week and the first of three meetings with the Islanders. The Devils made basic errors in their own end and saw the Isles go up as much as 4-0 by the end of the second period. While the Devils managed to get on the board, the basic errors on defense cost them another score and so it was an unhappy 5-3 loss. Last night, the Devils had a chance to win their first home game since January 24 (!!) and win their first week in this snapshot since their return to action in February as they played the Isles again. The Devils played well in the first two periods and ended up 2-1. Then they made two stupid errors on defense in the third period that cost them two goals. They lost yet again at home - their tenth straight - to close out the week with another disappointing 1-2-1 result.
The Devils’ season has cratered and likely beyond the point of no return. But the games must be played and the evaluations will continue. These next four games are all at home and at a minimum, the Devils should try to win some games at home just out of a matter of respect. As ever, it will not be easy. The Devils will host the Isles for a third-straight matchup this evening. Then the Devils will get Buffalo on Tuesday, a team they probably should beat but have not beaten in Newark in their last two attempts. On Thursday, the Devils will take on the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first time this season. Unfortunately for the Devils, these will not likely be the Penguins who struggled a bit back in January. These Pens have been playing very well. The Devils’ week ends on Saturday with another home game with Pittsburgh -and their last home game of the month. From then on, it is all road games in March. Which may suit the Devils since they have been more successful away from the Rock than in it in 2021. Will they win a home game in this week? I wish I could say yes.
Since beating New Jersey 4-1 on February 23, the Sabres have went 0-8-2. This would include their last four games. Last Sunday, the Sabres played the Isles for a third straight matchup. After losing 5-2 to them in the previous two, they lost 5-2 to them again. On Tuesday, the Sabres managed to get their first standings point since February 25 in Philadelphia. It was a game where they blew a 3-1 lead, the game ended 4-4 in regulation, and the shootout was 2-0 in favor of the Flyers. The 5-4 shootout loss final score was their best result in about two weeks. On Thursday, the Sabres returned home to host Pittsburgh. While Buffalo hung in there in the first half of the game, the Penguins pulled away as time went on for a familiar final score of 5-2. Last night, the Penguins did it again. Arguably, it was even worse. At least the Sabres scored on Thursday. Last night, the Penguins shut them down and shut them out in a 3-0 loss. The Sabres are winless in their last ten, Jack Eichel is out for an unspecified amount of time, and who knows when the misery will end.
Will Buffalo win a game in this coming week? Theoretically, it is possible. It is hard to go winless for over 10 games. In practice, I am doubtful until it actually happens. And Buffalo seems to be up for challenges of futility in their current state. Their schedule may help them in that respect. The Sabres will host Washington on Monday and then visit the Devils on Tuesday night. The Devils are idle on Monday, so fatigue will be a factor in what may be their best chance to win a game this week. After the Devils game, the Sabres will host Boston on Thursday and Saturday. The B’s need a better week of results; I doubt the Sabres will be able to spoil them on both nights. Stranger things have happened. Which is probably the most appropriate rationalization for the 2021 Sabres season so far.
That was the ninth 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 the Islanders’ streak end? How will the playoff positioned teams look after another week? Will the Rangers crash the party of five in playoff contention? Who will end their slumps first, New Jersey or Buffalo? 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.