As we set the clocks forward an hour, this week in the Eastern division we saw the Islanders, Capitals and Penguins all have very successful weeks.
Here’s how the overall standings sit as of this morning, Sunday March 14th:
And here’s the results for the week broken out by team. As a reminder, green denotes two points and any win. A yellow represents an OT/SO loss and one point in the standings. A straight red means a regulation loss and no points in the standings for that game.
Let’s take a quick trip around the division to talk about the important points of what is going on, with a mind to how it affects the Penguins.
NYI pushes their winning streak to 7 as they continue to just feast on the lesser teams of the division. One troubling development: captain and leading goal scorer Anders Lee has suffered a major injury and is out “indefinitely”. No team in the East has been as healthy as the Islanders this year, and losing a big piece of the puzzle will test their depth. It might also mean possibly the need to make a trade to address adding a forward to help pick up the scoring that Lee will leave behind.
The Caps did well to set themselves up later in the year with their success over the Flyers with a big time result of 3 wins in 3 games against PHI this week. One competitive team is going to have to be left out of the playoffs, and Washington beating up on Philly this week will go a ways to ensuring it won’t be the Caps...And it just might be the Flyers. Washington is kinda like the anti-Penguins in that they have been starting out great and taking big leads in games, then blow them or almost blow them and hang on for dear life. (Whereas the Pens tend to start slow, usually fall behind and then have to rally to win).
The Pens jump from fifth place last week to third place this week (with some games in hand considerations) but still, a super-successful week for Pittsburgh. They played four lower-end teams and took care of business by winning them all. All wins were in regulation, all came by multiple goals. There’s not many “easy” wins in the NHL these days with as much parity and travel and a condensed schedule...But, honestly, this week was about as easy as it is ever going to get in 2021 for the Pens. All a team can do is play the schedule in front of of them, and it’s a credit for Pittsburgh that they took 8/8 of the points available this week, and perhaps are building some confidence and cohesion as they move forward.
Are the Bruins in trouble? Perhaps that seems to be a bold statement, but Boston is certainly vulnerable right now (good timing for the Pens since the B’s come to Pittsburgh for two games next week). The Boston offense has been struggling big time — they only scored 5 goals this week in 4 games. And 4 of those goals came in one game, so toss that out and it’s one goal in 185 minutes in the other games they played. Their place in the playoffs is certainly not automatic after a 1-2-1 week.
You look above and NYI, WSH and PIT all won all of their games this week. Not the case in Boston. They can always turn it around in a hurry, but for this week, they lost a lot of ground and are right in the heat of the action now for having to compete for a playoff spot, as the results of the past week puts a lot of pressure on them moving forward.
Rough week for the Flyers, who had to battle back from an early hole to get a win over lowly Buffalo (who everyone beats) and otherwise, nothing for the Flyera. Philly is a team struggling and recent results in the past two weeks against the Pens and Caps (1-5-0 record recently) could make for a tough result at the end of the season. The Flyers really look like a team that needs a trade or a shakeup, some sort of infusion of talent. Their mix right now isn’t working out, and they are also falling behind as they watch rival teams go on winning streaks, and even worse for them, the winning streaks are coming at their expense.
Could the tide eventually turn for the Rangers? They just got Artemi Panarin back and played a lot better on Saturday. Unlike the bottom two teams in the East, the Rangers are not going to be easy pickin’s for the top teams. Luckily for the Pens, they only have two more games against NYR left this year. All the other top teams have more. Could we see the Rangers turning into a spoiler in the last two months of the season? They’re unlikely to make the playoffs, but are still good enough to steal some games that they “shouldn’t” win, kinda like taking the 4-0 decision against Boston on Saturday.
The Devils also lost a lot of games this week, but were in close contests losing a one goal game to Boston and then taking Washington to OT after mounting an impressive comeback in regulation. NJ is no easy turn at this point of the season, even though they aren’t talented or consistent enough to win very much right now. This might have been best highlighted last night when NJ took a 2-1 lead into the third period against the Islanders...And promptly gave up two goals in the first five minutes and lost in regulation. Just isn’t adding up for the Devils right now. (Also a good time for the Pens to get them later on this week). It’s certainly not a night off to play the Devils, but they’re just not good enough to win very often.
And then you have Buffalo. Poor, poor Buffalo. The other teams in the division are at least putting up a fight, but the Sabres just seem like the life has been beaten out of them. They’ve lost their last 10 games, and almost all of them by multiple goals too. Buffalo just don’t have the talent at 5v5 to create any sort of offense. This team is screaming for a coaching change and a new voice to try and start responding to. Jack Eichel is now out “for the foreseeable future” which sounds ominous (and reportedly might be 8 weeks, which is about the rest of the regular season). Dudes are down bad. Real, real bad.
The Pens-Bruins back-to-back on Monday-Tuesday is the biggest early week series in the East. And, as mentioned above, there has probably never been a better time to play Boston so far this season based on how their offense is tracking.
We also get a NYI-WSH game on Tuesday as well, always notable when the top teams in the division square off. We could see two very long winning streaks that might well be intact at that point, and someone will have to take the L (ideally in regulation).
The Rangers are going to be a very interesting team to track this week — they play two games against the Flyers and then two games against the Capitals. As weird as it sounds, Pittsburgh fans should find themselves pulling for NYR this week the most on the out of town scoreboard.