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.”