As Sunday begins, here’s our weekly look at the standings in the Eastern division as of this morning:
The Penguins get the sought after “y” for clinching the division title after Saturday. Pittsburgh won 1-0 in regulation against Buffalo, and it took overtime for the Washington Capitals to beat Philadelphia.
Pittsburgh will stay ahead of the Caps, despite what happens in Washington’s last game. Even if Washington wins, the first tie-breaker is regulation wins (a somewhat under-reported change for the first time this year). Pittsburgh is up 29-28 now in RW.
Even if the Caps won in regulation in their game 56 to tie the Pens in points and RW, the second tiebreaker is ROW (regulation+OT wins). Pittsburgh is up 34-32 in ROW and can’t be passed, therefore the Pens are division champs.
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.
Pittsburgh could have stumbled when they got crushed 7-2 by Philadelphia on Monday. They quickly rebounded to win the last three games of the regular season to send them on their way to clinch the division title. The Pens flexed their offensive muscle to score a combined 15 goals in two games during the games on Tuesday and Thursday. Jeff Carter has been off-the-charts good as a fit for a team that looks like it is peaking at the right time, and still looking to get a little healthier with their week(ish) time off before Game 1.
2020-21 will mark only the fourth division title in the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era, and first since 2013-14. No team in the league has won more games or gotten more points in the standings than the Penguins since 2005-06 when Crosby joined the league, but finishing first in the division hasn’t been an achievement often accomplished. It is very impressive given the myriad of injuries, condensed schedule, and the team’s vigilance, work and perhaps good fortune to mostly steer clear of COVID issues.
As a reward, one of the league’s best home teams will be granted home ice advantage for the first two rounds of the playoffs, against whomever they may see.
The Caps tripped up on Friday, losing to the Flyers, but they really lost the division title last week when they went 0-1-1 at home against Pittsburgh. That’s what really became the difference in the two.
The really concerning thing now for Washington is their health. Alex Ovechkin got hurt on April 22nd and is believed to be closer to getting back, but for him this is a long time to be out. John Carlson and Justin Schultz keep bouncing in and out of the lineup with injuries. Nick Backstrom missed the game last night with a day-to-day lower body injury. T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson left the game last night with injuries, and Oshie was unable to return. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Ilya Samsonov are bizarrely back on the COVID-protocol list — for the second time this season. Both reportedly missed a meeting too, something weird is going on there. The Caps are in a very weird spot right now, often having to play with just 17 skaters due to all their injuries and their salary cap being too tight to field a full 18 player roster. This isn’t really the way you want to enter the playoffs, but the good news for the Caps is that they have clinched second place and home ice for the first round, regardless of the 56th game results.
It was a 2-1-1 week for Boston, including two shutout wins. The Bruins move into third place and are in a prime position to stay there with one win their two games next week (more below).
It was only a 1-2-1 week for the Islanders, who played exclusively non-playoff teams this week. That is a big reason why NYI is on track for the fourth seed, and only have four wins in their last 10 games. They’re still searching to find ways to win consistently over the past several weeks. If they want the third seed they need to beat Boston next week and get some help.
It was a terribly unsettling week for the Rangers, who got beat and beat up twice by the Capitals. And then had a meddling owner step in and fire the Team President and also the general manager who had been overseeing the rebuild that has shown some promise. The Rangers are at a big cross-roads and have a lot of interesting decisions to make this off-season as to how they will shape their team. Clearly this is a franchise that doesn’t want to miss the playoffs very often and are out of patience after just one playoff series win in the last five seasons.
The Flyers taketh from the Pens by beating them 7-2 early in the week....And then, the most unlikely happened when the Flyers giveth to Pittsburgh when Philly beat the Capitals on Friday, and took them to overtime on Saturday. Those two results, however unlikely and surely unintentional, directly had the Flyers help the Pens to the division title. Weird times. The Flyers can go into the summer with some good enough feelings on a 2-1-1 week against tough competition and look ahead to the future.
A 2-2-0 week for the Devils isn’t the worst end of the season for the final full week, considering they played exclusively playoff level competition. It was a long year in Jersey, but they come home in seventh place. NJ has had some great lottery luck, can they buck the odds and get another No. 1 pick and try to turn into Edmonton east? They’ve had the first pick in 2017 and 2019, and hey, it’s another odd-ending year.
This week was all about Michael Houser, who goes 2-2 in his first taste of NHL action against playoff competition. Now the Sabres look ahead to the summer and pray for good luck in the lottery, for once.
There are some COVID-postponed games to be finished up this week. The Flyers/Devils play a mostly meaningless game, but it’s really all about Boston, with games on Monday and Tuesday. These games will have implications on the Penguins’ first round playoff opponent.
From the most simple to most complicated:
—If NYI fails to win in regulation on Monday (BOS win of any kind, or NYI OT/SO win), it will be Pens/NYI, WSH/BOS in the first round.
—If NYI wins in regulation on Monday, and Boston loses to Washington, in any fashion, on Tuesday: it’s #1 Pens vs. #4 Bruins and #2 Caps vs. #3 NYI. (So, basically, if Boston goes 0-1-1 or 0-2-0, this happens, as long as the OT game is against Washington)
—If NYI wins on Monday, but Boston defeats Washington on Tuesday it’s 1 PIT vs 4 NYI and 2 WSH vs 3 BOS
So, there’s a lot in the air. We know that Pittsburgh is first and Washington is second, that’s set in stone. Third and fourth is still up for grabs. If Boston wins at least one game of the two, they’re the third seed.