Welcome to the end of the 2021 regular season for the East Division. For three teams, their seasons ended on Saturday. However, Coronavirus impacting has forced the league’s hand to re-schedule games and so there are a handful happening in the next few days. As it turned out, most of those games have meaning beyond the regular season. Where in past seasons, I would end the weekly snapshots with the final full week of the season. But as there were potentially real tantalizing stakes in all but one of these extra games, I decided on this one last post and stated so in last week’s snapshot. After a week of playoff teams playing non-playoff teams in the East and a whole lot of news involving the New York Rangers, the potential stakes mostly went up in smoke, but there is something to watch on Monday and Tuesday.
The East Division crown was never fully secure throughout the season. The Pittsburgh Penguins overtook the Washington Capitals last week. The Penguins went into last night’s games with the first spot, but they needed help to secure it while winning their own game. Washington got the points but not in regulation, so the Penguins secured first place by way of tiebreakers.
Of course, the consolation prize for the Capitals is nothing to sneeze at. Their win in Philly last night did secure second place. That means home-ice for the first round, which is a very nice advantage to have. So the only spot up for grabs is third place - and the Boston Bruins have the inside track over the New York Islanders. Both will play games in this coming week. Caps fans may want to take on the team they beat six times this season in the Islanders as opposed to the Bruins, whom they only beaten three times out of seven so far.
Anyway, here is how the division standings looks after the completion of the final full week of the season:
Essentially, there is only one meaningless game in the East and that is Monday’s game between New Jersey and Philadelphia. Two depending on what happens in the other game on Monday night. Here is the remaining schedule for the East this season:
For the last time in the 2021 regular season, let us go over what happened last week and touch on the few games remaining in the East.
The Pittsburgh Penguins entered last week’s snapshot having just swiped the first place position from the Washington Capitals. Their goal for this week: Stay ahead of the Capitals. That goal took a hit on Monday night when their hated rivals in Philadelphia waxed them 7-2 in Philly. This game was the return of Evgeni Malkin to the lineup and the Flyers absolutely spoiled it with a stunning win. The goal was back on track when the Penguins responded the next night with a big 7-3 win of their own. The Flyers did make it close (4-3) about midway through the third before Sidney Crosby, Mark Friedman, and John Marino made it 7 for the visitors. The Penguins hosted Buffalo for two games to close out their season. On Thursday night, they turned the Michael Houser dream story into a nightmare in an 8-4 beating where Jeff Carter scored four goals for Pittsburgh. Yesterday afternoon, Carter became notable again - for scoring the only goal in the game between Michael Houser and Maxime Legace, filling in for an injured Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry. The Penguins still won 1-0. They had to wait for Washington’s game to see if it would be enough to take first place. It would be as the Caps only won in overtime. The first tiebreaker is regulation wins and the Capitals cannot match that. As I keep pointing out, tiebreakers matter. With a 3-1-0 week to close out the season, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the East Division in the regular season. Congratulations to them.
The main prize is the Cup. And the Penguins will have home ice for at least the first two rounds. Which is wonderful for the Penguins. Similar to the Islanders, the Penguins have turned the PPG Paints Arena into a fortress this season. With the Isles’ recent home loss to the Devils on Thursday, Pittsburgh now has the best home record in the East with a stunning 22-4-2 record. They can only wait to see what the make-up games do. But with Crosby, Kris Letang, the power of Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust, Marino, a returned Malkin, a hot Carter, and a potentially healthy Jarry-DeSmith tandem, the Penguins will be a force to reckon with in the postseason. They can now just watch and see whether their first round match-up is against an ornery Boston team that they beat four times this season, or an Islanders team they beat six times and has struggled on the road.
Washington has been hit with controversy, injuries, and the COVID-19 protocol. Tom Wilson went all Tom Wilson again and found himself amid the center of another firestorm of failure by the NHL DoPS and the general concept of player safety among players. Ilya Samsonov and Evgeny Kuznetsov are on the COVID-19 Protocol list. Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson, and now Wilson and T.J. Oshie have suffered injuries. Due to their lack of cap space, the Capitals had to play shorthanded some nights. What did they do amid all of thi strife? They took care of business. Against the Rangers, while no one was talking about Monday’s game outside of Wilson’s latest act of violence, the Caps won 6-3. On Wednesday, many tuned to see the Rangers’ response to a lack of a suitable punishment for Wilson. The Caps gave the Rangers a beating in the actual game and in most of their six fights in a 4-2 win featuring a hat trick by T.J. Oshie. The Caps then took on Philadelphia, who had nothing to play for. The Caps needed points to keep pace with Pittsburgh for first place. What they got was a disappointment. On Thursday, the Capitals fell to the Flyers 4-2 thanks to two second-period goals by Wade Allison and a third period where the Flyers defended their lead. Last night, the Capitals were less than a minute to being shutout by the Flyers 1-0. Then Lars Eller emerged. He scored from a sharp angle with 40 seconds left to force overtime. In overtime, Conor Sheary scored with a minute left to give the Capitals a 2-1 win. The win secured a 3-1-0 week and, more importantly, second place in the East. Had the Caps won in regulation, then they still had a chance for first place. But, no. It was not to be. They will just have to settle for starting at home in the first round. Hopefully with a healthier squad.
Unlike Pittsburgh, Washington may have a role in determining their first round match-up. It is most likely Boston right now. But if the Islanders beat the B’s in regulation on Monday, then the make-up game between Washington and Boston on Tuesday is huge. A Caps win then could send the B’s back to fourth place whereas the Caps can enjoy playing a road-struggling Isles squad that the Caps beaten six times already. That is a big if, though. Even if that does not happen, Tuesday’s game may become a preview of how the first round may look ahead the playoffs actually starting. It is even in Washington D.C., which would match-up with where it starts.
The Boston Bruins have been one of the league’s best teams since the NHL Trade Deadline. While they had some work to do, they were certainly in the mix to rise up from fourth place in the East. It seemed like it was going to happen - until it was stalled out. On Monday night, the Bruins visited the New Jersey Devils. Unlike their last two meetings in Newark way back in January, the B’s dominated the game from start to finish. It was a well-deserved 3-0 win. However, on the following night, the Devils played a better game and it became closer. The Bruins went up 2-1 thanks to a shot going off of Taylor Hall’s leg in the second period for the lead. However, the Devils tied that up thanks to Jesper Boqvist. Another favorable bounce yielded a goal for Sean Kuraly, which went off his skate. But Yegor Sharangovich tied that up a shift after Pavel Zacha nearly did so. Overtime was needed and Zacha finished a backhander past Jaroslav Halak for a 4-3 overtime loss. The three points in New Jersey pushed them ahead of the Isles, but hurt their chances of catching Pittsburgh or Washington. Boston went back home to host the Rangers. On Thursday night, the B’s dominated again with a 4-0 win over a Rangers team that took a beating the night before. Yesterday afternoon, it looked like it would be a close game with it being 1-1 after two periods. Then the scoring blew up in the third period. David Pastrnak scored to make it 2-1. Mika Zibanejad, Alexis Lafreniere, and Vitali Kravtsov then scored in succession to make it 4-2 for New York. A PPG by Brad Marchand put the B’s back within one before Zibanejad extended it again to 5-3. Patrice Bergeon made it interesting late with a score, but the 5-4 score would be it and so the Bruins lost in regulation. That loss denied them a chance to even tie the Capitals in points for a few hours. Third place is likely for them.
Or is it? After weeks of pointing this out, the Bruins’ games in hand are coming up. They need to do their job to make sure they do not fall back to fourth place. On Monday, they will host the Islanders, who at least want to end their slump prior to the postseason by beating a team better than a non-playoff Devils or Rangers squad. Then on Tuesday, they will visit the Capitals in what may end up being a playoff preview. The goal to secure third is easy: Do not lose in regulation to the Islanders and the Capitals. Even an overtime loss to the Isles would be enough based on tiebreakers. I think they should aim for two wins either way. Not only to show that the B’s can hang with playoff opponents, but to show Washington that they can win in their building. It may not be as big as I would have thought last week, but they could end up being meaningful games.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders have turned Nassau Coliseum into Fort Neverlose 2.0 this season. They also had one of the worst road records in the East. Logic would suggest that if any team needed to play hard for home ice, then it would be them. On paper, they had an easy schedule: two games at Buffalo and two games at home to New Jersey. On the ice, it was anything but. The Isles went up 2-1 on Buffalo after two periods against an ECHL netminder on Monday night. Within the final ten minutes of the game, they conceded goals to Rasmus Asplund and Sam Reinhart to lose that one 4-2. That loss hurt. As did the Tuesday night game. The Isles went up 3-1, saw that lead slip away, and the Isles failed to score a fourth goal in the third period, overtime, and the shootout. They lost 4-3 in the shootout and other results essentially locked them out of home ice. They would have had a chance had they get a win at home against New Jersey, who also had nothing to play for. Once again, the Isles failed to score as their one goal was a fortunate bounce off Anthony Beauvillier’s skate. The Devils scored two and held on to hand the Isles’ fourth regulation loss at home this season, 2-1. I wish I was making this up, Islanders fans, but I am not. In their final home regular season game ever in Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders snapped their slump. They put the Devils to the sword and rolled through them in a 5-1 win. The fans got to see Nassau end their regular season with a well-earned victory. And to keep faint hopes of third place alive. Their losses to Buffalo and New Jersey killed their chances at home ice, which may end up undercutting their playoff hopes. Of course, anything can still happen.
The New York Islanders have been limping for weeks now. Their 5-1 win was welcomed if only for a couple of players like Brock Nelson and Mat Barzal getting goals. They do have a game in Boston on Monday that could be a real big one. The Isles have been relatively bad on the road this season. A regulation (not overtime, not a shootout) win in Boston could move them to third place assuming the Caps do the same on Tuesday. It will also show that, yes, they can beat a playoff team and do so in their own building. Even if they end up in third place, they would need to do that to get out of the first round. Unfortunately for the Isles, both the Penguins and Capitals beat them quite a bit this season. If I were them, I would prefer going to visit a possibly not-healthy Caps team instead of the fortress in Pittsburgh. They could do it with help. Might as well aim high at the end, right?
New York Rangers
It has been a season of surprising news from Alexander Georgiev slugging Tony DeAngelo after a loss to Artemi Panarin needing to leave the team after having a spine to not support Vladimir Putin (Aside: More spine than Alex Ovechkin). Somehow, this past week minimized both stories. On Monday night, Tom Wilson sucker-punched Pavel Buchnevich on the ground and then slammed Panarin to the ice by the head and, thankfully, onto his shoulder/back twice after Panarin jumped on Wilson. It was a mess and compounded by the NHL just fining Wilson instead of giving him a deserved suspension. The team made a statement specifically calling out NHL Department of Player Safety head George Parros for not being fit for the job. Then on Wednesday, GM Jeff Gorton and team President John Davidson were fired on Wednesday for the team’s apparent underachievement. Chris Drury will now be GM and president and will be helped into those roles by Glen Sather, then a senior advisor to team owner James Dolan,. That night, the Rangers took on the Capitals where in three fights happened right from the opening faceoff, Brendan Smith fought Tom Wilson about a minute into the game, two more fights happened in the second period, misconducts were handed out, and Buchnevich went all Brad Marchand on Anthony Mantha by leaving his feet to cross-check him the face. He was thrown out of that game and was given a one-game suspension (just one? really?). It has been a week of news off the ice.
On the ice, it has been bad for the Rangers. It also has been a bad week on the ice. That Capitals-Rangers game on Monday? They lost 6-3. Between that and Boston winning in New Jersey that night, the Rangers were mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. The fight-filled game on Wednesday? They lost 4-2 as T.J. Oshie dropped a hat trick on them. On Thursday night, the Rangers went up to Boston and were blanked 4-0. Yesterday afternoon, the Rangers had one last chance against Boston. One last opportunity to get a win in May and end a five-game losing streak. After an early deficit, the Rangers did have a four-goal third period featuring a brace by Mika Zibanejad to beat Boston 5-4 and put a dent in their playoff seeding aspirations. They at least ended their playoff-less season with a win. What’s next, well, with new management and an owner who clearly wants results, it may not be a quiet offseason in Manhattan.
The Philadelphia Flyers were only playing this week for pride, professionalism, and perhaps a contracts for a few players. They had the chance to have an impact on the race for first place in the East as they hosted Pittsburgh in a back-to-back set and visited Washington in another back-to-back. The Flyers managed to give each a drawback. Last Monday, the Flyers just unloaded on Pittsburgh. They spoiled the Penguins in the standings and the return of Evgeni Malkin with a massive 7-2 with seven different goal scorers. However, the Flyers suffered on the next night on the wrong end of a 7-3 rout. They made it close with about ten minutes left in the third and then the Pens just rang off three more goals. On Thursday, the Flyers debuted Cam York in Washington D.C. They also did something more amazing: held onto a one-goal lead for a period. The Flyers went up 3-2 in the second period after a pair from Wade Allison was answered once by Oshie. But the Flyers held it down until Sean Couturier scored an empty netter for the 4-2 win that the Penguins surely appreciated. Last night, the Flyers sought to spoil the Capitals one more time. They were on their way to doing so. Scott Laughton scored early in the third and Alex Lyon was working on a shutout bid. Seriously. But the Flyers could not get an insurance goal, and Lars Eller scored with 40 seconds left to force overtime. And, in overtime, Sheary scored to make it a 1-2 loss for the Flyers. The point does nothing for the Flyers and serves to represent a consolation in a game they blew. At least they won the week by going 2-1-1, but what good is that now anyway?
The Flyers have one more game to play and it is more of an obligation than anything else. They will play the New Jersey Devils on Monday. The purpose of this game is for the team to play a full season. It is in Philadelphia, so they could try to do right by their fans and avenge the loss they took the last time the Devils were in Philly two weeks ago. Does it matter? Not really. The Flyers are locked into a first round pick in the early teens regardless.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils’ season has been over, so it was all about trying to get good performances to set up for the future of this young and inexperienced roster. The results were mixed. They played their final two home games of the season against their first opponents at home this season: Boston. There was some confidence heading into the week with three straight wins over Philadelphia in the prior week. On Monday, the Devils were pounded in a 3-0 loss that reminded everyone that Boston is a Good Team and teams like New Jersey and Philadelphia were Bad Teams. The Devils showed up better on Tuesday. The performance was better, the Devils made a comeback to tie it up, and Pavel Zacha won it in overtime during a delayed penalty call for his second goal of the night. The 4-3 win was good note to send the fans home happy on. On Thursday, the Devils traveled to Long Island for what would be the last two regular season games at Nassau Coliseum. The Devils stunned the home crowd as they beat an offensively-slumping Isles team 2-1 in regulation. They put in a strong, workmanlike effort. They essentially locked the Isles out getting home ice. There was pride to be felt in that result. Last night, the Devils provided no pride. They got creamed in a 5-1 loss to the Islanders that was not too different from the 3-0 loss to the Bruins earlier in the week. The Devils closed out their final full week of the season at 2-2-0 and can finish no higher than 28th and no lower than 29th in the NHL. So it goes.
The Devils have one more game to play and it is more of an obligation than anything else. They will play the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday. The purpose of this game is for the team to play a full season. It is in Philadelphia, so they could seek to disappoint the home fans one more time, just like they did two Saturdays ago. Does it matter? Not really. The Devils are locked into a first round pick that can be no lower than seventh overall regardless.
The Buffalo Sabres secured 31st in the NHL in this past week, but not before spoiling the New York Islanders. With nothing to play for and a rash of injuries leading to an emergency signing of ECHL goaltender Michael Houser, all signs pointed to the Isles crushing Buffalo. Nope. The Sabres ralled in the third period to turn a 2-1 deficit into a 4-2 win in regulation over the Islanders on Monday. On the next night, the Sabres made another comeback to turn a 3-1 deficit in the second period into 3-2 by the second intermission and then 3-3 in the third thanks to Anders Bjork. The score held through regulation and overtime. Houser came up big in the shootout and Bjork scored the lone goal. That’s right the Sabres went 2-for-2 over an Islanders team that had something to play for. Could they spoil the Penguins? Nope. On Thursday night, the Sabres matched the Penguins (Jeff Carter) goal for goal for 25 minutes. Then the Penguins scored the next four, including a fourth for Carter. The Sabres fell 8-4 on the road for Houser’s first NHL loss. Yesterday, the Sabres brought the house in Pittsburgh with a whopping 24-9 shot advantage in the first two periods. But they gave up another goal to Jeff Carter. The Pens put up 14 shots to close the shot gap, Houser stopped them, but Buffalo could not beat Maxime Legace. Legace? Yes, Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry were out with injuries. Still, losing 1-0 to a team that ran up eight goals on them two days ago is not so bad.
With that loss, the Sabres’ season is over. They did end their final week at 2-2-0. They can say they spoiled the Islanders’ playoff chances a bit. More importantly, they did not crater the entire season. Sure, this week secured a finish of 31st out of 31 teams. They will have the best lottery odds in the 2021 NHL Draft Lottery. But they did not go on another long losing streak to get it. They fulfilled the dreams of Michael Houser. Maybe they have a coach for at least season in Sam Granato. I do not know where you go from here if you’re Buffalo, but the only way out is up. And it began at about 5:45 PM ET yesterday.
That was the seventeenth and final Weekly East Division Snapshot of the 2021 season. The regular season for the East Division is over after Tuesday night. The playoff teams have been set for a while and now we know who the top two teams are. There is only third and fourth place left to establish. What did you think of the East Division throughout this season? Would you like to see the NHL bring this group of eight back in a full, non-division specific 82-game schedule? What would you like to see in division snapshots for 2021-22? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the eight teams in the week that was and the remaining games left in the comments. Thank you for reading throughout this season as well as this edition of the Weekly East Division Snapshot.