Typically the Sunday Standings feature has zeroed in on the Metropolitan Division, with an eye to how the Penguins are looking against their divisional rivals.
But, dear reader, it’s time for a talk.
The Metropolitan Division has no drama. Hasn’t for a while really, but it’s beyond obvious now. The Blue Jackets have been better than most expected in the preseason, but they’re in the dust. The Devils are pathetic again this season, as they have been for most of the last decade. The Islanders have seen their charade fall apart. And the Flyers have suffered a fate worse than just being bad (and they are plenty bad) — but now they’re just boring.
As a result, post-trade deadline there is no reason to keep up with these also-rans. So we’re going to drop a focus on them and shift it instead to the Eastern Conference — or more specifically the four teams from the Atlantic Division who are on their way to the playoffs.
Here’s the East as of this morning. It’s incredibly stacked, with the top seven teams all at a .664 points% or better. Add in the Caps and the top eight in the East all fall in the top 11 in the whole league.
#1 Carolina (2-1-1): Last week, when we didn’t have a Sunday Standings, the Hurricanes went 0-2-1. This week was a bit of a struggle before getting back on track the Canes got shutout last Monday at home against NYR, beat Tampa, lost a shootout to Dallas and then throttled St. Louis with a 7-2 win last night. It looked like the Canes were skating away with the division title earlier in the month and they’re still in good shape for that. The week ahead is daunting, with a road back-to-back against Washington and Tampa.
#2 Pittsburgh (1-1-1): The problem for the Pens is that they haven’t been able to makeup ground on Carolina stumbling a bit in these past few weeks. Both CAR and PIT are 5-3-2 in the last 10. Carolina only winning five of the last 10 opened the door a bit, but the Pens were unable to walk through it. The Pens have had a strenuous bit of scheduling with travel and games, and that doesn’t relent. March 22nd started a seven game in 12 day stretch, and Pittsburgh works through that with four games this week. The main event comes at home against NYR on Tuesday.
#3 New York Rangers (3-1-0): In the last seven days the Rangers have defeated Tampa, Carolina and Pittsburgh. That’s an impressive run of success for the one team many think are the most favorable of options to play in the playoffs. Bolstered by some trade pickup additions and the continued red hot play of Chris Kreider, NYR has turned heads lately.
#4 Washington (2-2-0): The good: from March 1-19, the Capitals were 7-0-1 and looking like they might catch the wake of the Pens/Rangers to try and get out of the wild card. The bad: they’ve been 2-2-0 since, with the wins coming in a shootout against Buffalo, and over New Jersey. The return of Anthony Mantha from injury has helped out, seeming to give a new energy to the ranks.
#1 Florida (2-0-0): The Panthers just completed a six game road trip, going 4-1-1 along the way. Last night, despite heavily out-shooting Ottawa (final shots: 49-22), Florida fell behind 3-0 early before coming all the way back for a 4-3 shootout win. The Panthers are in great shape to secure the Atlantic division title, up seven points and with a game in hand over the rest.
#2 Boston (3-0-0): At 14-2-1 in the last 17 games, the Boston Bruins have snuck up on the league as hottest team around. They kept it going this week, winning all of their games, including a 3-2 win over Tampa on Thursday. It once looked like the Bruins were on track to be a wild card team, but now they are right in the thick of getting into the 2 v 3 first round in the Atlantic and avoiding a division winner.
#3 Tampa (1-3-0): It was a tough week for the Lightning, they lost three games by a goal a piece, and all to fellow Eastern contenders (NYR, CAR, BOS). The week ahead is heavy with four more games, but three are coming against non-playoff bound teams, with a chance for TB to bounce back and re-establish themselves.
#4: Toronto (1-2-0): A loss to Montreal last night could be very damaging to Toronto, with Boston basically winning every game recently dropping points to a non-playoff team is going to be painful. The Leafs have a big chance this week to test themselves against Florida today and a very key game @BOS on Tuesday is shaping up to be one of the more crucial games.
The regular season will wrap up on April 29th, which means there are five full weeks of the season left. Most teams have about 17 or 18 games remaining. As of now the most exciting development is in the Atlantic in the 2-3-4 battle as they shuffle to see which team will be kicked down to the Wild Card and likely have to play Carolina in the first round.
Today - Florida @ Toronto
Monday - Carolina @ Washington
Tuesday - NYR @ Pittsburgh, Toronto @ Boston, Carolina @ Tampa
Saturday - Pittsburgh @ Colorado
All the crucial matchups are early in the week. Tuesday will be the premiere day to see six of the future playoff teams matching up which will include two tremendously important divisional games. Toronto is perhaps the biggest key to the week, they seem like the most unstable or shakiest team at the moment and have two very tough games coming up early in the week. Can they show some resilience despite the adversity?