As Sunday begins, here’s our weekly look at the standings in the Eastern division as of this morning:
The Penguins have now been the best team in the division in the last 10 games, as the Islanders are a bit quietly slowing down a touch. If Boston takes advantage of their two games in hand on the other teams they could be right in the mix for a top spot in the division.
The last week saw the following results. Green is a win of any sort, a yellow is an OT/SO loss that results in one point in the standings, the dreaded red is a regulation loss
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.
Great week for the Capitals, they explode offensively to beat the Bruins early in the week, then go 65 minutes at a 0-0 game against the Islanders, with Washington winning in a shootout and then taking care of NYI with a 6-3 win. One minor note of concern might be that Alex Ovechkin suffered some sort of groin/leg/hip muscle type of injury earlier in the week and did not play on Saturday night. But with playoffs still a few weeks out, Washington can afford to give him as much time as he needs for now.
The Penguins didn’t play like they cared last Sunday, losing to the Sabres. But Pittsburgh rebounded with three straight wins against New Jersey to close the week. It’s a step up in competition next week as they move past playing BUF/NJD and move on to play Boston and Washington in the days ahead.
New York Islanders
The Islanders take one extra time game against the Rangers, but fall in a shootout to the Capitals. NYI also delivered an impressive 6-1 beatdown against the NYR before getting beat 6-3 by Washington. The Islanders were in first place a few weeks ago but now have slipped, only winning five of their last 10 games. Given the split in their home/road records, getting home ice advantage for the playoffs might be a key for them. They need to get it in gear if they want to secure that, seems like the past 10-14 days they’ve been a bit uneven.
It was predicted last week in the Sunday Standings that this should have been a good week for the Bruins and at 3-1-0, it was just that. They left points on the table in a loss to Buffalo, but hey, Buffalo is beating teams these days. Boston getting a W against Washington could loom large down the line.
New York Rangers
A 2-2-0 week for the Rangers who remain a decent but volatile team. The Rangers are capable of winning any given game, but they also can lose 6-1 in any game. Their push for the playoffs is going to run out of a bit of time to get to fourth place, but it’s been a solid season for the Blueshirts.
It was a 1-1-1 week for the Flyers who are still just kinda there. They have no real momentum and are going down this season without much of a fight. Sixth place looks like where they will end up in a disappointing fashion.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils are up to a nine game losing streak and appear content to also limp to the finish line this season. They’ve been banged up with several key players on the shelf (Blackwood, Subban, Smith, Zacha, Bratt) but they also just don’t have the talent to survive such losses and stay competitive.
Unlike most of the other non-playoff bound teams in the division, the Sabres are on the upswing and showing some moxy right now. Don Granato is pushing to keep more than his interim label as Buffalo is actually close to climbing up to seventh place. Wins over Boston and Pittsburgh this week make for a fairly respectable 2-2-0 showing for Buffalo, despite a tough schedule.
It’s magic number szn. Any points gained by the Penguins, or lost by the Rangers will chip away at this number. When it hits 0, the Pens will have clinched a playoff spot.
The Rangers can gain a maximum of 70 points if they were to win all the rest of their games.
So we will be very safe and conservative to avoid all tie-breakers and say that the Penguins currently need to get to 71 points of now to ensure a playoff berth. Pittsburgh has 65 points as of this morning, so the magic number is...6!
The magic number has been going down a lot, it was 16 just last week. There’s an outside chance the Pens can clinch their playoff berth this week with two wins and an NYR regulation loss that will be that. If not this week, certainly soon!
Key games: BOS @ PIT on Sunday and Tuesday, NYI @ BOS on Tues, PIT @ WSH on Thursday and Saturday.
Several key playoff matchups this week, the Pens are the team to watch getting two games against the Bruins and two more against Washington. Boston gets two more against Buffalo later this week, but since the Sabres beat them 6-4, that’s no slam dunk guarantee.
The Islanders have two matchups against their cross-town rivals Rangers this week in what won’t be an easy matchup either after another key NYI/WSH early in the week.
Pittsburgh and Washington playing exclusively top playoff opponents this week will make for super important games, including when they play each other for the first time in over two months.