By Jeff O’Connor
We’ll check in with the four other teams in the Atlantic Division from time to time, sizing up the Devils competition.
Standings through Monday 2/11
1. Devils 8-1-3 19 points
2. Penguins 8-5-0 16 points
3. Rangers 6-5-0 12 points
4. Flyers 5-7-1 11 points
5. Islanders 4-7-1 9 points
The New York Rangers have started to find their rhythm They’ve won three of their last four games. That said, those three wins have come against the likes of the Tampa Bay Lightning (twice) and the New York Islanders. The Isles are in the basement of the Atlantic Division and the Bolts are in the midst of a four-game losing streak. In the mix of those three wins, was a loss on the road to the Devils. There is still much to learn about the Rangers, but in this most recent streak, they’ve made some improvements. Carl Hagelin has awoken with three goals in the last four games. Captain Ryan Callahan tallied a breakaway marker in his second game back from injury. If guys like Chris Kreider, Derek Stepan and others elevate their game even just a little bit, they’ll start to regain some of that form we saw last year.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming off back-to-back losses to the New Jersey Devils. No need to fear, though. They were pretty hot coming into those contests. Look at their upcoming schedule though: Winnipeg, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Florida (twice). That’s five of their next seven games. Expect them to get fat during this upcoming stretch. Their offense is Top-5 while their defense is just outside the Top-10. When they play their quick neutral zone transition game, there’s not many teams that can keep up with them. Although, I question their bottom two lines going forward as we make our way towards April.
The Philadelphia Flyers just cannot get their act together. They just got steamrolled on the road by the Leafs, had to go to overtime at home to take out the Hurricanes and lost at home in a shootout to the Panthers. This team is losing it quickly. They’re 22nd in the league in scoring. So is their penalty kill….12 power play goals allowed. Do you know how many points Claude Giroux is on pace for this season? 28…28 points, NOT goals. He gets brutalized by the fanbase and other NHL fanatics, but goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov has actually been really good, sporting a 2.27 GAA. There’s just simply no help upfront, normally not a problem for Philly teams. Wayne Simmonds has underachieved, so has Danny Briere and they clearly miss Jaromir Jagr. His presence at even strength and on the power play brought more to the table than maybe the Flyers believed. They’re going to run out of time quickly with a tight conference thus far.
What’s up with the New York Islanders? Five-game losing streak? Ok, losing to the Devils, Penguins and Rangers is reasonable. Dropping a pair of contests AT HOME to the Sabres and ‘Canes in back-to-back games is unacceptable when you’re in a desperate situation. It’s not getting easier, either. They travel to take on the Rangers, are at home for the Devs and the Flyers, and have to get on the road to duel with Ottawa and Montreal. Good luck with all that. That said, they’re only three points out of a playoff spot. They can drop some games here and there but they can’t afford to continue this frightening losing streak without picking up a handful of points. They’re actually in the Top-10 in offense but are ranked 26th in team defense. Goaltender Evgeni Nabokov got off to a nice start at the beginning of the year but has since seen his GAA balloon to an even 3.00. He and the defense must turn it around quickly to salvage the season.