As Sunday begins, here’s how the standings look in the Eastern division as of this morning:
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.
The Caps salvage a 2-2-0 week by beating the lowly Devils on Friday, though that even took overtime to get there. Washington gave up a combined 17 goals in the first three games of the week. As a result, the Caps fall back to the pack a bit, especially with the Islanders emphatic 8-4 win over Washington on Thursday. Washington remains in first place by virtue of having a game in hand over NYI, but their grip on the top spot feels a bit tenuous right now.
After losing two games to the Pens in the last week, the Isles bounced back with two wins in their other games. NYI is just 2-4-2 against Pittsburgh and 21-6-2 against everyone else in the division this season. That’s a 124 point pace for New York in non-Pens games in a normal 82 game season. That’s enough to win the Presidents Trophy in most years (though not in 2018-19 with Tampa). Overall takeaway is that the Islanders have been really, really good against the rest of the division..besides the Penguins.
Pretty decent week for the Pens who go 2-1-0 against tough competition against all playoff teams against NYI and Boston. The good news for Pittsburgh is the schedule breaks favorably — the next 10 games for the Pens over the next three weeks all come against likely future non-playoff teams (5 vs. NJ, 2 vs. NYR and BUF, 1 vs. PHI in various order).
The Bruins split a 2-2-0 week, and it was feast or famine. In their two wins, they combined for 12 total goals. In the two losses, only one goal. Due to the COVID postponements, Boston has played 2-4 less games than everyone else in the division. But games in hand are only valuable if results in the games happen, and Boston at 5-4-1 in the last 10 isn’t very impressive. Nor is the 96 goals they have on the season, by far the least of all the playoff teams in the division this year.
After needing a furious comeback to win in OT on Tuesday against the Sabres, the Flyers barely bothered to show up on Thursday and for the first time in 18 games and well over a month Buffalo wins a game at Philly’s expense. And not just win but win 6-1 Ouch. Just another of the latest of embarrassing and costly moments in the past month or so that have relegated Philadelphia well behind the pack for the playoffs.
The Rangers hung tough splitting a pair of games with the division leading Caps early in the week. Offense was no problem as they averaged 4.5 goals in those games against Washington, but hopes of catching up to the playoff pack and pushing the Flyers were spoiled by NYR losing in a shootout to the Sabres on Saturday.
As they usually seem to do, the Devils played a bunch of close games. All three of their games this week were one goal games. They went 1-0-2 on the week, which is good to avoid regulation losses, but they continue to fall short in OT/SO situations and that is adding up to put them in a distant seventh place in the division, which seems now where they are destined to finish this season.
It has to feel good for interim coach Don Granato to get his first and second win this season, both coming this week to go 2-0-2 in what is for them a really strong week. They are down mentally and psychologically, but even without captain Jack Eichel this Buffalo team isn’t that bad. Especially now that starting goalie Linus Ullmark is back healthy. The Sabres’ immense struggles from late February - late March coincides almost entirely with the period Ullmark missed with injury. And that’s no coincidence. Ullmark was 2-0-1 on the week with a .929 save% and a 2.26 GAA. Buffalo might not be as automatic a win as they were the past few weeks.
This is Micah’s model — to be updated Sunday morning, so if you see this before the update comes, just be patient!
Penguin playoff chances in other models (as of Sunday morning):
Key games: WSH @ NYI on Tuesday, the Boston/Philly games on Monday, Tuesday, Saturday
It’s an easier week than the past few, schedule-wise, for the Pens, but we’ll see if that holds up. Around them, there’s lots of drama and excitement. The Caps and Isles play for the second week in a row, where Washington will be looking to avenge that big 8-4 loss last week in what could be a first place battle on Tuesday night.
The Flyers also get their last best chance to pull themselves into the playoff race with not one, not two, but THREE games against the Bruins. Boston is without Brandon Carlo and Tuukka Rask isn’t 100% as of today. Philadelphia really needs two, if not three, regulation wins against Boston this week to make it a race for the 4th spot in the standings. If Boston beats the Flyers twice in regulation this week, they’ll be six points clear of them with games in hand. With the teams closing in on about 75% of the season done after this week that will be probably too much ground to make up. It’s all about the head-to-head games against Boston for the Flyers to keep their dim hopes alive.