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Weekly East Division Snapshot: 3/21- 3/28

In the tenth weekly East Divison snapshot of the 2020-21 NHL season, some big streaks ended in this past week. The Capitals, Islanders and Penguins lost games while the New Jersey Devils finally won a home game. The only constant was that the hapless Sabres kept on losing. All this and more in this week’s snapshot.

New York Rangers v Washington Capitals
Washington remains hot and took first in the East for now.
Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images

Streaks eventually end. The Washington Capitals, New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins finally lost a game in this past week to end their respective winning streaks. The Capitals were the last one among the three to see their streak end. Their seven straight win run that ended last night propelled them past the Islanders to take first place in the East once again. But the loss last night keeps the door open for the Isles; Washington is only in first due to having played fewer games.

However, the bigger news within the East is another Coronavirus issue. Boston had yesterday’s and Tuesday’s game postponed after a number of positive cases were found after Boston played (and beat) Buffalo on Thursday. As of this writing, those are the only postponed games. We shall see soon enough if they are extended. If so, expect further changes to the schedule beyond the Bruins’ slate of games. It also means you keep in mind that the schedule for this up upcoming week is, as always, subject to change.

Even with Boston’s and Buffalo’s postponement, the four teams occupying the playoff spots remained unchanged. For the moment, they are in a measure of control.

East Division Standings as of the morning of March 21, 2021
East Division Standings as of the morning of March 21, 2021
Standings via

Here is the currently planned week of games for all eight teams in the East. Boston having two games postponed means they will have to make up one with Buffalo and one with the Islanders later.

Team schedules for 03/21/2021 to 03/27/2021
Team schedules for 03/21/2021 to 03/27/2021
Schedules are from team sites via

Let us go over the week that was and the week that may be for all eight teams in standings order below.

Washington Capitals

The Washington Capitals were one of three East Division teams who swept this past week of games. They were a game away from doing it again. The Capitals began the week by making it rain goals all over Buffalo in a 6-0 win. The Washington Capitals topped that mark with a closer but more impressive 3-1 win over the Islanders the next night. The Capitals took down the hottest team in the NHL. The Capitals kept on rolling on Friday night when they hosted the Rangers. It seemed grim as the Rangers went up 1-0 late in the first period and that score held well into the third period. But then Alex Ovechkin emerged to be the hero of the night. He tied it up and provided the go-ahead goal. Washington extended their streak to seven with a 2-1 result. However, it all ended last night. Again, the Rangers went up 1-0 late in the first period and the score held into the third period. John Carlson provided an equalizer. But there would be no second goal from Washington. Mika Zibanejad put in a dagger late in the third to make it 2-1. An empty netter sealed the win for the visitors. And so the Capitals lost their first game since March 5 in a 3-1 defeat. The Capitals took first place during the streak and they are in first now due to playing one fewer game than the Islanders. The next step will be to see if the Caps can rebound.

The Washington Capitals will continue to be at home for this week. I would think their players are looking forward to this one. They have no games from today through Wednesday. This means they can get a practice or two in. They can catch their breath. They can prepare a lot more for the two games they have to play. It is a back-to-back set, but they are the home team in both of them against the New Jersey Devils. The Devils have not been an easy opponent for them, but they did beat them twice on home ice this season. Provided they do not choke away a three-goal lead in the third period like they did in their last meeting, the Caps may come away from this set with even more standings points. Which would be grand as the Isles are right with them in points and the Capitals just saw a winning streak end. If they do not, then there is no need to panic. They have a game in hand on the Isles already and they will have two after this week ends. They will not fall too far in the near future if the Caps sag a bit after their winning streak was popped last night.

New York Islanders

The New York Islanders were one of three East Division teams who swept this past week of games. Their streak ended in this past week and they salvaged themselves from a losing week after they cooled off. The winning continued last Sunday evening against the New Jersey Devils. It was not easy. There were controversies with goals being taken away from the Devils. They survived a penalty kill in overtime. But the Isles had a chance in the shootout to take the win and they did so for a 3-2 final. That would be the last win in the streak as Washington took them down on Tuesday night. The Capitals went up as much as 3-0 before the Isles had a response from Oliver Wahlstrom. That would be it on the scoreboard as the nine-game winning streak ended with a 3-1 loss to the Capitals. On Thursday night, the Isles returned to Nassau to host Philadelphia. They were blitzed with three second-period goals from the visiting Flyers. Impressively, the Isles tied up the game within 15 minutes in the third period. They made up the three goal deficit. But the Flyers spoiled the comeback when Oskar Lindblom scored with 2:22 left. The Isles lost 4-3 in regulation for their first home loss in regulation for the entire season. Yesterday, the Isles hosted Philadelphia again. They sought to make things right and they did so in a decisive manner. The Isles torched Carter Hart with four straight goals in the first period. They just cruised and tacked on two more to just put down the Flyers with a 6-1 win. The end of the streak meant they were at risk of losing first place and so they did. They are still right behind the Capitals with the help of last night’s win, so the Isles remain in the mix for first.

The Islanders will hit the road for three games in this coming week. Originally, they were to play four, but the game in Boston on Tuesday was postponed and will be made up later. The Isles will instead get to visit Philadelphia on Monday night, visit Boston on Thursday night, and then visit Pittsburgh on Saturday night. These will not be easy games. In particular, the game in Pittsburgh will be tough as the Isles have lost two games in regulation in Pittsburgh earlier this season. Still, for the Isles to continue to contend for the top of the East, they will need to be able to get what they can out of these three games. Just because their winning streak ended does not mean they do not know how to get results. I think they will continue to hang around for another week. They could even jump the Capitals, in theory, as they only have two games.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Pittsburgh Penguins were one of three East Division teams who swept this past week of games. This past week brought them down to Earth a little bit as they split their four games with two wins and two losses. Their winning streak was extended to six when they took down the Bruins in a 4-1 win. The highlight of that game was Evgeni Malkin put up his 1,100th point of his career. The winning stopped on the next night against Boston. The Penguins were stunned by Dan Vladar’s NHL debut in net, they lost Malkin due to an injury that is apparently week-to-week, and lost 2-1. The stunning continued as the Penguins visited the Devils for the first time this season. In a high-tempo game with lots of shooting attempts and shots on net, they went down as much as 3-0 to the Devils. While they clawed one goal back in the second period, the Devils kept them honest until the very end. Bryan Rust scored a consolation goal with 4.5 seconds left, which meant the Penguins lost 3-2 instead of 3-1 in their first meeting with the Devils. The Penguins did extract revenge on Saturday afternoon. In a much more tightly-checked game, the Penguins went up 2-1 on the Devils early in the second period and never looked back. Their PK took care of business, Jake Guentzel re-directed in a Sidney Crosby shot for an insurance goal, and they won 3-1. The Penguins remain three points back of the Islanders with one game in hand on them, but only three points ahead of Boston, who has three games in hand on them. Their position in third is not secure, but going 2-2-0 was not the worst possible outcome.

The Penguins will look to maintain as they will play this week (and the rest of March) all at home at the Paintcan. First, the Penguins will host the Devils for an afternoon game to complete a back-to-back set. It is a rubber match as both teams have wins on each other. Second, the Penguins will host the hapless Buffalo Sabres on Wednesday and Thursday night. Wednesday night’s game will have a national television audience, so NBCSN viewers could see Crosby style on the Sabres for 60 minutes. Don’t blow it. Or Thursday’s game. A much tougher opponent is on Saturday night. The Penguins will host the Islanders and that game’s results could help decide the upper half of the East for next week’s snapshot. Assuming the Penguins do not get ensnared in their other three games this week.

Boston Bruins

The Bruins were on the road throughout this past week. Unfortunately, it ended early due to positive COVID-19 cases on the team that led the league to postpone their game in Buffalo on Saturday. The week was otherwise going fairly well for the B’s. They lost in decisive fashion on Monday in Pittsburgh in a 4-1 loss. Dan Vladar made his NHL debut on Tuesday night and put in a sensational performance in a high-shooting and low-scoring game that the Bruins pulled away in the third period thanks to Trent Frederic. The 2-1 win ended a winning streak for Pittsburgh and helped the B’s move a little closer to them in the standings. The Bruins then went to Buffalo for games on Thursday and Saturday. In retrospect, the Thursday game probably should have been postponed as well. But milk cannot be unspilled. The win will not go away either. Boston spoiled the interim head coaching debut of Don Granato with a solid-as-solid-can-get 4-1 win. Then the Coronavirus issue took over. The Weekly East Division Snapshot only cares about results and the Bruins got them by winning two out of three games.

The Bruins’ schedule as of this writing now only has two games planned. We shall see if either takes place. Originally, they were to host the Islanders on Tuesday. That will have to be made up later. Instead, their week of games will begin on Thursday with a home game against the Isles. If that happens, then they may be set to take on Buffalo at home for a Saturday afternoon affair. While the postponements mean they will likely remain behind Pittsburgh for the time being, they are only three points behind them with three games in hand on the Penguins. Their advantage in games in hand will only increase in the near future. Penguins fans should hope their team gets ahead as much as possible because the B’s are certainly capable of making up that difference.

Philadelphia Flyers

You cannot spell the word “goalie” with Philadelphia Flyers. There has been a long-standing cycle among the Orange and Black where they will find a young and/or NHL-inexperienced goaltender who is quite talented, they will look great for some time, and then they fall apart in impressive fashion as the fans wish they had a stable goaltender to be good for more than just a season or two. Maybe Carter Hart is truly the answer and this past week was a bad one for him (and Brian Elliott, whom I am not forgetting). Because the Flyers could not keep the pucks out of their own net in this past week. They let up at least three goals in each of their four games this past week. On two occasions, the offense prevailed to get a result. Such as when they beat the Rangers on Monday night, 5-4 in overtime. Or when Oskar Lindblom put the Flyers up 4-3 late in the third minutes after the Isles made it 3-3 in a period that began 3-0 for Philly. On two other occasions, the goaltenders were absolutely wrecked. On Wednesday night and on national television, the Flyers lost 9-0 to the Rangers. Getting shut out on national television to a rival is bad enough. Giving up 9 in the process is absolutely embarrassing. Giving up those nine goals in just two periods is exponentially worse. Easily the worst loss seen within the East and perhaps the whole league this season. Last night, the Flyers decided to scale that down with just allowing four to the Isles in the first period and shutting them out in the second. However, they gave up two more in the third while scoring one all game. They lost by a hefty margin in a 6-1 loss to the Isles. Their week ends with seven straight games of Flyers goaltenders giving up at least three per game. The Flyers are not that far back of Boston in the standings that they should be thinking about the draft now. Three points back while Boston has a (postponed) game in hand on them is not close, but it is not far either. A 2-2-0 week is not bad, but imagine what it could have been if the Flyers’ goaltenders were able to keep some of those pucks out. Unless the Flyers’ offense will put up four or more regularly, I do not see them closing the gap until their goaltending improves.

Perhaps all the Flyers need is to be at home. That will be determined in this coming week as the Flyers will be at home for all four games this week. The Flyers will play the Islanders for a third straight game on Monday night. As poor as Saturday’s loss to them was, they did pull out a win against them on Thursday and handed them their first regulation loss of the season. It is possible they can get something on Monday night. They have a potentially easier game on Tuesday when they host the Devils. The Devils may take advantage of their fatigue and they have been a better road team in 2021 so it is not a simple one. But compared ot the Isles, the Flyers may relish their chances at that one. On Thursday and Saturday, they will host the Rangers and they should be seeking revenge. If only to salvage some pride after the Rangers pantsed them on national television in last Wednesday’s 9-0 loss. The Flyers certainly have the talent to hang with any offense. Do they have the goaltending? If Elliott and Hart continue to get beaten at least three goals for each game, they may end up dropping points and further entrenching themselves in fifth place in a division where four teams make the postseason. (And beware the Rangers, Flyers.)

New York Rangers

It was a roller-coaster of a week for the New York Rangers. They had it all in their four games last week. Last Monday, they hosted Philadelphia in a game where both teams traded goals. The Flyers went up 2-0 in the first, then the Rangers went up 3-2 until Philly tied it up late in the second, then the Rangers went ahead 4-3 only to lose that lead minutes later, and the Flyers prevailed in OT. The 5-4 OT loss was still a point for New York. The Rangers had the last laugh in games against Philadelphia as they turned Brian Elliott and Carter Hart into hockey-wide laughing stocks on Wednesday night. They scored nine goals out of 23 shots in 40 minutes. They won 9-0 against Philadelphia. What do you do for an encore? Well, Washington was not having any of that. Friday night’s game was a lot closer. The Rangers went up early with an Artemi Panarin PPG in the first period. It looked like the Rangers could hold on for the win. Then Alex Ovechkin decided to have other ideas. He scored twice in the third period and that was enough for the Rangers to take a 2-1 loss. Last night, they went up early again on Washington with a late first period goal from Pavel Buchnevich. The Capitals matched it, but then Mika Zibanejad emerged. He put up a natural hat trick in the 9-0 destruction of Philly. He was the hero of the night with a late third period goal to put the Rangers up 2-1 late. Brett Howden sealed the 3-1 win with an empty net goal, giving the Rangers a winning week of results and ending Washington’s winning streak.

The Rangers will have a lighter week as planned in terms of the number of games. In terms of drama, perhaps less so. First, the Rangers will host Buffalo on Monday. They should win that game on the general principle that Buffalo is an incredibly bad team. If they do not, then that bodes poorly for their other two games. On Thursday and Saturday, the Rangers will be in Philadelphia to play the Flyers again. While the two teams split wins, I cannot imagine the Flyers will be happy about that 9-0 loss from Wednesday. I would expect them to try to pay back the Rangers in some way or form. They will not be easy games, which makes Monday’s game more important that they get something out of it. The Rangers are showing that they can be a non-playoff team that can be more competitive than their record gives them credit for. A week of results against two other currently non-playoff teams will further help that perception. If they can beat the Flyers, maybe fifth place will become in play.

New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils completed their first winning week since returning to play in February after a Coronavirus outbreak. Was it a perfect week? No. Were there issues they still need to resolve if they want to be a more competitive team? Yes. Did they get results, though? Yes. On Sunday evening, the Devils hosted the New York Islanders. This was a controversial game as the Devils had a third-period go-ahead goal taken away due to a remarkably bad penalty call and an overtime winner taken away due to an incredibly tight offside ruling from Toronto. The Devils did quite well but fell to the Isles in a shootout for a 2-3 loss. The Devils hosted Buffalo on Tuesday in the hopes of ending their home winless streak yet again. In a tighter affair than one may have wanted, the Devils did pull through with a power play goal in the third period making the difference in a 3-2 win. The Devils finally won a game at the Rock for the first time since January 24. On Thursday, the Devils hosted Pittsburgh for the first time this season. the game had a lot more offense and a lot more back-and-forth. The Devils eventually went down to ten forwards as Nathan Bastian was injured early in the second period and Michael McLeod was benched for the third period. The Devils not managed to keep up with the Penguins in shots, but they went up 3-0 in the second period. The Penguins scored before the end of the second and scored with 4.5 seconds left to make the score look closer than it was. The Devils won 3-2. New Jersey tried to repeat that on Saturday afternoon. While they scored first, they could not solve Casey DeSmith or their own power play issues after Pittsburgh went ahead on a quick two goals in the second period. The Devils lost 1-3 to end a five-game homestand. Still, the Devils went 2-1-1 for the week, their best set of results in about a month.

The Devils have been more successful on the road this season for some reason. This will be put to the test for the remainder of this month. This week is particularly difficult. The Devils will first visit Pittsburgh for another afternoon game today. Will the Devils put in an effort closer to Thursday’s game than yesterday’s? Hopefully so. After then, the Devils will travel to Philadelphia for a game on Tuesday. The Devils have not played the Flyers since January. On paper, this may be their “easiest” matchup but nothing is ever easy in a rivalry game like Devils-Flyers. The Devils will close out their week with a nasty back-to-back set in Washington D.C. The Devils will play the Capitals on Thursday and Friday. Not only could they still be on a winning streak by then, the Devils’ best result against them this season so far was an overtime loss after an astounding (and unlikely) three goal comeback in the third period. It did happen in D.C. Still, Devils-Capitals for two straight nights will be challenging. If the Devils can get something out of some of these games, then that may be good enough given where they are in the standings. The goal might as well be to stay ahead of Buffalo and maybe catch the Rangers. Can they meet it? I think so. Will they be on track after this coming week? We shall see.

Buffalo Sabres

Streaks eventually do end, but it certainly does not feel like the losing will end in Buffalo. The Sabres remain a blight in the NHL with how the team has been consistently bodied night-in and night-out. Head coach Ralph Krueger was let go after they dropped both games of a back-to-back set to start this week. At home on Monday, they were smashed in a 6-0 loss to Washington. In Newark - the last place the Sabres won a game - they were up 2-1 for a brief moment before the Devils responded. They pulled away with a 3-2 win. That win was Krueger’s last game behind the bench. With interim Don Granato in charge, the Sabres had to re-group for Thursday’s game against Boston. They hosted the B’s and got put down in a 4-1 loss. Worse, there were positive tests on the Bruins’ side before the game for player Sean Kuraly and a staff member. As four more Bruins players entered the COVID-19 list on Friday, the NHL decided to postpone what would have been a second home game against Boston for Saturday. That ended their week early with a record of 0-3-0. They remain in last place. They remain winless in their last thirteen games. They have earned just two standing points since February 23. They remain in a state of misery.

Buffalo has not seen any additions to the protocol list, so their schedule for this upcoming week of games is unchanged at the moment. Unfortunately, with the way things are going, it will be a real challenge to end their run of futility. Buffalo will be on the road for all four of their games this week. They will visit the New York Rangers on Monday. A national television audience will see them visit Pittsburgh on Wednesday night. Then they will play the Penguins again on Thursday night. Their week will end with an afternoon game in Boston of all teams. That is a tough, tough set of four games for any team. It is not impossible for them to drop all four. Maybe they will surprise and prove a lot of people, possibly themselves too, wrong with a surprising win. I do not blame you if you are not so hopeful.

That was the tenth Weekly East Division Snapshot of the 2021 season. I hope all eight teams will continue to be active this week. Especially Boston and Buffalo, I hope there are no further postponements for them. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will Washington be able to hold onto first from the Islanders? How will the playoff positioned teams look after another week? Can the Flyers play a game where they do not give up at least three goals? Will Buffalo win a game 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.