In the eighth weekly East Divison snapshot of the 2020-21 NHL season, the New York Islanders fired up to take first in the East with 4 straight wins. In the opposite end, the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres lost all 4 games in this past week to remain at the bottom. Learn in this post what happened last week and what may happen this week.
The hot streak. It is the opposite of the cold streak or slump. It is a run where a team just seems to do a lot of things right and get to that undefined point where it is hard to see when it will end. You know it will. Nothing gold can stay. But until then, it is a joy to watch the team succeed. New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres do not know this at the moment; they are slumping bad. But the New York Islanders faithful know it all too well. They swept their last week of games and now see their team atop the East. Yes, the Islanders now lead the East Division.
This is not to say that the Washington Capitals or Boston Bruins faltered. No. The Islanders were hot and now have a small lead with a serious advantage in regulation wins and regulation/overtime wins. Those latter two are tiebreakers and they can play a big role if/when the Isles cool off. Below those three, it was a mixed bag where the New York Rangers excelled, the Devils and Sabres were in free fall, and the two Pennsylvanian teams flip-flopped their results.
There are still teams with games in hand on the others, which can play a role. This will not be realized in this week coming up. Every team in the East has four games this week. All eight will play today (yes, today, first one is at noon), Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. The games played advantage (or disadvantage) will be preserved for another week. Here is what each team has coming up on their schedule:
Let us go over the week that was and the week that may be for all eight teams in standings order below.
New York Islanders
The sentiment for the Islanders outside of the fanbase has been common for the past few season. You look at their roster, their salary cap, their offseason moves, and then proceed to snarkly dismiss them as being on the playoff bubble. What the Isles may lack on the surface are made up in how well coached and structured they are. They are a pain to play against and it has been effective. This past week saw the Isles at just about their best. They blanked the Pittsburgh Penguins 2-0 last Sunday. They were close to shutting out the New Jersey Devils, but the Devils scored a consolation goal near the end to make it a 2-1 win for the Isles. They decisively beat Buffalo last Thursday 5-2 and did it again in another 5-2 win yesterday afternoon. The Isles went 4-for-4, gave no points to their opponents, and won them all in regulation. From a standings perspective – which is the perspective for this post – it was a perfect week for the Isles. The haters and losers, of which there are many, are stunned.
The Islanders’ schedule for this coming week could keep the heat up on their run. The Isles will host the Sabres for a third straight game at noon today. It may be another 5-2 win as the Sabres’ misery is likely to continue. Tuesday night will be the best on-paper challenge for the Isles for this week. They will host Boston. The B’s may be the ones to end the run short of an upset today by the Sabres. Even if that goes awry, the Isles have to be liking their chances on Thursday and Saturday. They will be hosting New Jersey on Thursday and visiting them on Saturday night. The Isles beat them at the Rock last Tuesday and beat them way back in January when the Devils visited. Unless the Devils’ slump ends before then, the Isles could win another week and remain in first place in next week’s post. It’s a favorable set of opponents for a team who has been crushing it as of late.
It was a successful week for the Washington Capitals. However, I understand if the fans are going into this week a little more down on their preferred squad given how it went. The Caps started off the week right with a 3-2 win over New Jersey. As much as the Devils battled, the Capitals did hold on to win. Their bigger tests would be on Wednesday and Friday night against Boston. On Wednesday night, it was a tight affair. Each team only scored once in the third period and a shootout was needed to decide it. The Capitals won that shootout. Boston sought revenge and achieved it in a big way. They flattened Washington in a 5-1 win where the main event by a Capital player was Tom Wilson taking out Charlie Coyle with yet another reckless and dangerous hit by a player who should have been suspended a whole lot a whole while ago. Still, while a four-goal loss to end the week is sour, they remain ahead of Boston for the moment in second place.
The Capitals will get to be more familiar with both the city of Philadelphia and their hockey team in this week. The Capitals will visit the Flyers this evening, Thursday evening, and Saturday evening. The Flyers are not that far behind the Capitals. They have a talented lineup. After a week where Alex Ovechkin speared a Bruin in the groin and Tom Wilson went all Tom Wilson on Coyle, the Flyers can be nasty as well. Washington will need to be careful. Their respite will be a Tuesday night home game against the Devils, who are slumping and whom the Capitals already beaten three times this season.
Like Washington, Boston only had a three-game week. Like Washington, they dropped a spot due to the Islanders’ ascendence. They probably do not like Washington after their two games against them last week, though. First, they visited the New York Rangers last Sunday. After suffering a 6-2 loss to them the prior Friday, the Bruins rebounded with a 4-1 victory. However, the Bruins could not pull ahead against D.C. on Wednesday and lost 2-1 in a shootout to the Capitals. The Bruins would get a more substantial victory on Friday night with a 5-1 win and yet another reason to hate Tom Wilson. Despite putting up a better record than the Capitals with a 2-0-1 week, they remain just behind them in the standings by a point. They have two games in hand on the Capitals, although they will not be used this week.
What the Bruins do have today is a schedule that should favor them a bit. They will host a slumping Devils team in the early evening today. While the Devils did beat the Bruins in Boston (!) last month, the Devils’ current performances have not been close to the one that handed the B’s an ‘L’ then. Boston will have a tougher opponent on Tuesday night when they will visit an Islanders team that could have five-straight wins by then. The B’s may be the ones to extinguish their flames, but they could be the next victims. Either way, the Bruins will host the Rangers on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon. While the Rangers did stun the Bruins a little while ago, I think the Bruins might as well follow the same gameplan from last Sunday since it worked so well for them. We could see the Bruins have another winning week. We shall see if it moves them up any.
The Philadelphia Flyers got a lot of their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins, in this past week. Last Sunday’s game was more or less a game to get prepared for a lot of hate. Appropriately, they dispatched Buffalo in a 3-0 win to at least go into the three straight games against the Pens. Those three did not go as well as the Flyers fans would have liked. On Tuesday, a Crosby-less Penguins team responded to each of the Flyers’ goals with multiple goals of their own in a 5-2 win. On Thursday, the Flyers managed to make a miraculous comeback. After going down three goals to Pittsburgh within the first four minutes of the game, the Flyers clawed back into the game goal-by-goal to tie it up in the third and Claude Giroux scored a go-ahead goal late in the final regulation period. The Flyers held on to win 4-3, erasing a big early deficit. Did this help them yesterday? No. The Flyers scored first, went down 1-2, went up 3-2 in the second period, blew that lead near the end of the second, and then conceded a go-ahead goal to Pittsburgh in the third period for a 4-3 loss. The Flyers went 2-2-0 and remain ahead of the Penguins in the standings due to playing two fewer games against them. But going 1-2-0 against the Penguins and needing a massive turnaround in that one win can be a cause for at least some concern.
The Flyers will not see Pittsburgh for a while, so they can work on their issues against others. Unfortunately, they will get a lot of Washington in this week. Philly will host the Caps tonight, Thursday night, and Saturday night. Should the Flyers want to move on up in the East in the near future, then they will need to get results against a team who has been better than Pittsburgh this season. Good luck. The Flyers will get some respite on Tuesday night. They will host a hapless Buffalo team that be mired in more misery by the time that game begins. Still, their week will be mostly defined by how they do against Washington.
The Pittsburgh Penguins engaged in three straight games against their hated rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, in this past week. There were concerns going into that short series. First, they were shutout by the Islanders last Sunday. They went into those three games with that notable ‘L’ in their pocket. Second, Sidney Crosby was added to the COVID-19 protocol on Tuesday. Coming off a loss and no Crosby against a rival? Knowing that, it probably felt good to be a Penguins fan as the Penguins went 2-1-0 in those three games. They did quite well on Tuesday night in a 5-2. There may have plenty of teeth gnashing and whinging over how the team botched a 3-0 lead to the Flyers in what would be a 4-3 loss. However, the Penguins managed to come from behind and beat them 4-3 yesterday afternoon to make up for it. The Penguins are now even with the Flyers in points. While they have the disadvantage of games played to the Flyers at the moment, they could jump past them very soon.
The Penguins will also have an easier week on paper compared to the Flyers. They will host the Rangers tonight and Tuesday night. While the Rangers have been heating up, the Penguins may be the ones to cool them off before they get hot. On Thursday and Saturday, they will visit a Buffalo Sabres team that has been spinning out of control. Unless the Sabres get some positive results and/or changes soon, the Penguins are more than capable to add more pain to the Sabres’ season in those games. I think Pittsburgh can at least jump up past the Flyers. Now they just have to do it.
New York Rangers
While their cross-city rivals soared, the New York Rangers have done quite well for themselves. It may have flown a bit under the radar as the Rangers went from 6th place to 6th place, but they did go 3-1-0 with three straight wins. The Rangers started off the week with a 4-1 loss to a Boston team that was likely a bit peeved about how the Rangers embarassed them in their prior matchup. But the Rangers responded to that by beating on the two teams beneath them in the East to secure sixth for the time being. They beat the Sabres 3-2 on Tuesday and then crushed their rivals in New Jersey with a 6-1 and a 6-3 win in consecutive games in their building. While the Rangers are not really close to the two Pennsylvania teams, they are now four points behind them with a game in hand on Pittsburgh (and one more game played than Philadelphia). If the Rangers can build on this, then they could crash the playoff picture party in the East for at least a little bit.
The Rangers may need to get hot like their brethren on Long Island to do so with the schedule they have this week. The Rangers will be on the road for all four games. The first two are in Pittsburgh on Sunday and Tuesday night. Results there will really help bridge the gap between fifth and sixth place. Failure will increase it. And it would make the other two games even harder: two games in Boston on Thursday evening and Saturday afternoon. Those will be tough games as it is. Going into Massachusetts needing points may be asking too much. But if the Rangers indeed get hot, then who knows?
New Jersey Devils
No one among the People Who Matter, the Devils fans, are happy right now. The team’s homestand of five games just ended this week with nothing. No wins. Not even any post-regulation points. All losses. No happiness. Their four games this week all ended with regulation losses. Each were filled with special teams failures and a stupefying lack of puck luck in their finishing. Two were close: a 3-2 loss to Washington and a 2-1 loss to the Islanders. Two were not: a 6-1 loss and a 6-3 loss to Our Hated Rivals, the New York Rangers. Losing four straight will frustrate most fans, enrage others, and depress others. Doing so with two massive losses at home with fans in the building for the first time since last year and losing those two to the one team no right-minded Devils fan ever wants to see succeed is even worse. Again, no one is happy among the Devils fans right now. Who can blame them?
The problem is that while we know slumps, like hot streaks, will end at some point. There is no guarantee it will happen anytime soon. With an already compressed schedule, the games simply do not stop coming. This early evening, the Devils will visit Boston. The Bruins are a strong team and while the Devils did win in Boston in their last trip there, nothing about the Devils’ recent performances suggest they can do it again on Sunday. But we shall see. The road trip will continue to Washington D.C. on Tuesday and Long Island on Thursday. The Devils have yet to beat the Capitals this season and they did not win in Nassau against the now-red-hot Isles back in January. On Saturday night, the Devils will host the Isles, who may still be red-hot by then. I fear this slump may be extended even further. And few in the fanbase wants to any solace like still knowing this is not the worst team in the East.
Poor Buffalo Sabres fans. I cannot imagine expectations were high for this season, but their presence in the hockey media this week was all about how miserable the team has been in this past week. Whether it was questioning ownership, management, coaching, leadership, or all of it, if the Sabres got any publicity, it was not favorable for the Sabres. Not that they did anything in this past week to warrant anything positive. They lost all four games they had in this past week. They started the week losing 3-0 to Philadelphia for the second straight game against Philadelphia, which was a day earlier. They came close to getting a result against the Rangers but lost 3-2. Against the Islanders, the Sabres were wrecked 5-2 on Thursday and Saturday. Like what the Devils are experiencing, nothing seems to go right for the Sabres and it is unknown when the slumping will end.
The misery may continue for the Sabres with their upcoming week of games. Today, they will visit the Islanders for a third straight game in Long Island. It may be another 5-2 loss. On Tuesday, the Sabres will head to Philadelphia. Philly will be mired in a tough week with Washington, so the Flyers may be prepared to take advantage of a team they shutout twice just last weekend yet again. On Thursday and Saturday, the Sabres will return home to host a Penguins team that may need points to stay ahead of the Rangers and gain ground or surpass the Flyers in the standings. When you are the doormat of the division and you have not won in five games, it feels like it will never get better. I get it. The Devils are in the same boat. Both will need to pull of an unlikely upset to end their slides. Will it happen this week for Buffalo? Who knows.
That was the eighth Weekly East Division Snapshot of the 2021 season. I hope all eight teams will continue to be active this week. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will the Islanders hold on to first place for another snapshot? Who will be in second between Washington and Boston? Will the Rangers get closer to fifth or get held back among the bottom three? Who will end their slumps first, New Jersey or Buffalo? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the eight teams in the week that was and the week ahead in the comments. Thank you for reading.