It’s become a favorite stat of hockey writers and broadcasters to point out that 76% of teams that are in playoff spots on Thanksgiving go onto make the playoffs. Thanksgiving is usually about the unofficial quarter-pole for the long NHL season, but by then enough dust has settled and more often than not slow starts have eliminated some from the running.
It’s a few days after Thanksgiving now, and the Penguins find themselves in the second wild card position this morning. (Though, Florida has one less game played and a regulation win for them would draw into an identical record, so it’s tight). Either way, after an earlier 0-6-1 streak, the Pens have dug themselves out of that hole with a five game winning streak that came to an end last night against Toronto.
Here’s how things are looking this morning across the division’s ledger this morning.
New Jersey (3-1-0): The Devils’ amazing 13-game winning streak came to an end on Wednesday when they fell 2-1 at home to Toronto, but they’re already back on a two-game winning streak already. Last night was the Jack Hughes show, with the former No. 1 pick recording a hat trick against Washington. The impressive start for the Devils (their 36 points is tied with Boston for most in the whole NHL right now) is arguably the story and surprise of the season to date.
NY Islanders (4-0-0): The Isles lined ‘em up and knocked ‘em down this week with wins over Toronto, Edmonton, Columbus and Philadelphia. Ilya Sorokin continues to shine, his .933 save% so far this season is second in the league behind Boston’s Linus Ullmark. Show me a .933% goalie and I’ll show you a team that is going to win a lot of games, and that’s been the case so far on the Island.
Carolina (1-1-2): Feels like Carolina has been stuck in second or third gear early in the season. They just lost 4-0 at home to Arizona this week. Arizona! The Hurricanes are a good and strong team - they salvaged their week with an important bounce-back win against visiting Calgary last night, but they haven’t really hit their stride just yet. The goaltending has not been there, Frederik Andersen has taken a step back in his performance so far this year, and while the Canes are controlling their process as well as usual, they’ve been just missing that
Pittsburgh (3-1-0): Solid week for the Pens to keep re-establishing themselves and keep their season back on track.
NY Rangers (1-2-0): The Rangers are right in the thick of the race right now, and they were up 3-0 at home in the third period yesterday against the Oilers. They somehow managed to turn that into a 4-3 regulation loss. At the end of year that might go unnoticed since it was an out of conference game, but something like that could be a critical error to watch two points in the standings just disappear like that.
Washington (2-1-0): The Caps welcomed back T.J. Oshie to the lineup and at least now are icing a game lineup that’s over the salary floor for a change and found a couple of wins early this week. That may have gotten a reality check from this brave new world when New Jersey laid a 5-1 beatdown on them last night and ended whatever forward momentum Washington might have found.
Philadelphia (0-3-1): Tortorella called it a “young and dumb league” to a national TV audience following the Flyers’ Friday loss to the Pens. Philly then went out and got beat on Saturday 5-2 by NYI for their 10th straight loss. Is Torts even going to make it through the season at this point? His ‘give a damn’ meter is at typically normal lows, the team is very bad and it’s only probably downhill from here for the rest of the year. Buckle up, it’s going to get better (for us) before it gets worse.
Columbus (1-2-0): An early week win over Florida yielded to two losses, and then one of the weirder occurrences around with yesterday’s CBJ/NSH game postponed due to a water main break flooding the arena.
The week ahead
The most important games to keep an eye on this week..
Monday: NJ Devils @ NY Rangers — the Devs are 9-1-0 on the road. The Rangers have only won four of 11 home games this season. Can the new guard keep it going against one of the traditional playoff teams from the division?
Tuesday: Carolina @ Pittsburgh — Speaking of traditional playoff teams, both the Pens and ‘Canes have been “only OK” so far this season. Not terrible, but not in great position either. Carolina has traditionally gotten the better of Pittsburgh in recent regular seasons, will that continue or will the Pens flip the script?