Atlantic Division Watch (March 16)

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Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.

Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.

Atlantic Division outlook (March 16 -March 23rd)

1. Philadelphia Flyers (43-19-7 for 93 pts; 69 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: @ Atlanta (Thursday), @ Dallas (Saturday), and home vs. Washington (Tuesday)

Thoughts: There was a time, not so long ago, when the Flyers looked like they were slipping a little bit and showing some chinks in their armor. Since getting destroyed 7-0 by the Rangers at Madison Square Garden, the Flyers have had 7 points in their last 4 games. If it weren’t for a colossal collapse against the Thrashers, they wouldn’t have lost since. Looking long-term, the team is learning to play without Chris Pronger for the next 3-4 weeks. If they can thrive during this period, they’ll be that much better during the playoffs.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (41-22-8 for 90 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. NY Rangers (Sunday), @ Detroit (Monday).

Thoughts: Even though the Flyers have been getting back on track, the Penguins have been able to keep pace and are still only 3 points from the Eastern Conference lead. In case anyone hasn’t heard, their captain Sidney Crosby has missed 2 months with a concussion but has begun skating recently. Everyone knows it’s good to get a captain back—and Crosby is an above-average player. Just like that Wayne Gretzky guy who scored a few points.

3. New York Rangers (37-30-4 for 78 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. Montreal (Friday), @ Pittsburgh (Sunday), home vs. Florida (Tuesday).

Thoughts: The Rangers keep showing signs that they want to break out. They traveled to San Jose and won a hard-fought victory in a shootout. They dismantled the Islanders. But on the other hand, they played in Anaheim and were completely destroyed. The secret for the Rangers to make the playoffs is simple: just play the Islanders 10 more times.

4. New Jersey Devils (33-32-4 for 69 pts; 69 GP)

Current streak: Won three in a row.

Week ahead: @ Ottawa (Thursday), home vs. Washington (Friday), @ Columbus (Sunday), @ Boston (Tuesday).

Thoughts: The Devils have climbed from the NHL’s cellar to 10th place in the Eastern Conference. Is there anyone in the East that would scare the conference’s elite more than the Devils? If they sneak into the 8th spot, the reward for a team like the Flyers or Capitals could be the Devils—the team that hasn’t lost since Christmas. Unfortunately, not all the news is good news for the Devils these days. With each win, they are completely ruining their draft positioning.

5. New York Islanders (27-33-11 for 65 pts; 71 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: They’ll be on the road all week visiting Carolina (Friday), Florida (Saturday), and Tampa Bay (Tuesday).

Thoughts: Being in last place in the Atlantic Division is one thing. Being in 14th place out of 15 teams in the East is another. But getting pounded by the rival Rangers? That might have been the low point of the season thus far (you know, if you want to ignore Trevor Gillies involvement with the organization). The good news is simple: they have not lost focus like the Devils—they’re well on their way towards another high draft pick this summer. That would be called “staying the course.”

Penguins lose to Flyers and lose another key player to injury

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PITTSBURGH — Even with a ridiculously long injured list that would be the foundation of a pretty good hockey team, the Pittsburgh Penguins still found a way to go 8-1-3 in their previous 12 games entering Sunday’s contest against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The injuries finally seemed to start catching up to them on Sunday in a 6-2 loss, extending their current losing streak to three games, matching their season long.

While the loss certainly impacts their pursuit of the top spot in the Metropolitan Division (they remain three points back of the Washington Capitals), and even their quest for home ice advantage in the first round, it is still not the worst thing to come out of Sunday’s game.

The worst thing for them would be the fact the Penguins lost yet another key player to an injury when forward Conor Sheary had to leave the game mid-way through the first period.

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said after the game that Sheary is dealing with a lower body injury and that right now he is considered to be day-to-day. It was initially believed that Sheary was injured blocking a shot, but Sullivan insisted that was not the case and that it happened in the offensive zone at some point in the first period.

With Jake Guentzel still sidelined due a concussion he suffered in a recent game against the Buffalo Sabres, that means two-thirds of the team’s recently assembled top line (Sidney Crosby-Sheary-Guentzel) is now sidelined due to injury. Sheary’s injury is especially concerning given how good he has been on Crosby’s wing dating back to the 2016 playoffs. Entering play on Sunday Sheary was averaging nearly a point per game (50 points in 54 games) with almost all of that production coming at even-strength.

They had yet another scare in the third period on Sunday when defenseman Brian Dumoulin had to briefly leave the game and head to the locker room after he was elbowed in the side of the head by Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds.

On Sunday, all of the injuries finally seemed to be too much with the Flyers pretty much dominating the game over the final two periods.

The Flyers received goals from six different players (Jordan Weal, Valtteri Filppula, Dale Weise, Jakob Voracek, Radko Gudas and Shayne Gostisbehere) in the win and outshot the Penguins by a 24-15 margin over the final 40 minutes.

“That wasn’t a good effort and at this point of the season we can’t afford to have those,” said Penguins forward Matt Cullen after the game. “I don’t think that was a typical effort for us. I don’t think we had a lot of life, to be honest.”

Even more than winning games the rest of the way the biggest concern for the Penguins has to be getting their list of injured players healthy and finding a way to avoid adding to it, something that has proven to be difficult in recent weeks.

At this point, whether they win the Metropolitan Division or not, they know their path through the Eastern Conference playoffs is very likely going to have to go through both Washington and Columbus, and they are going to need their full complement of players to do it.

One of the biggest factors in winning a Stanley Cup is having all of your key players in the lineup come playoff time.

A year ago the Penguins did.

Right now they are not even close to having that.

Video: Dumoulin shakes off Simmonds’ elbow, but Sheary’s out for Penguins

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Barring a major comeback, the Pittsburgh Penguins look like they’re going to lose to the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday. Their injury losses might be just as big.

On the bright side, it seems like Brian Dumoulin was able to shake off an elbow from Wayne Simmonds. You can watch the hit, which didn’t draw a penalty, in the video above.

Meanwhile, Conor Sheary has been missing since the first period with what might be a lower-body injury.

The Penguins’ list of injuries is already pretty ridiculous, so if one or both of these players miss significant time, tonight will sting deeper than a setback on the scoreboard.

Report: U.S. men’s hockey players may join boycott with women’s team

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Octagon Hockey agent Allan Walsh announced that there’s “word circulating” that potential members of the men’s U.S. hockey team might join the women’s national team in a boycott of the world championships with USA Hockey.

HNIC’s Cassie Campbell reports that she discussed as much with men’s players during the last few weeks about this subject, backing up Walsh.

This update comes on the heels of reports that USA Hockey has been struggling to find players to replace those who are boycotting the world championships. (Puck Daddy provides deep background on that subject.)

The NHLPA has already spoken out in support of the boycott earlier this week. The U.S. women’s national hockey team also released the following statement:

Fight video: Flyers’ Manning vs. Penguins’ Gaunce

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Breaking: the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers don’t like each other.

The stakes might be higher for the Penguins than the Flyers – aside from those who still believe Philly has a shot at a playoff run – their rivalry rarely subsides.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Sunday featured at least one fight, with Cameron Gaunce squaring off against Brandon Manning in a pretty spirited bout.

Manning isn’t shy about fighting, by the way; this was his seventh bout of the season, according to Hockey Fights.

Higher on the radar for the Penguins is the situation for Conor Sheary, who has been absent from the ice since about midway through the first period. PHT will keep an eye out for updates on what could be yet another injury for the health-challenged Pens.