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 2/25
1. Penguins 13-6-0 26 points
2. Devils 10-5-4 24 points
3. Flyers 9-10-1 19 points
4. Rangers 8-7-2 18 points
5. Islanders 8-10-1 17 points
Have the Pittsburgh Penguins ever woken up since losing a home-and-home series with the Devils a few weeks ago? They have won five of their last six games. They’ve scored three goals or more in every contest. They’ve scored a PP goal in all six of those games. What’s really been interesting about the Penguins this year is that the defensive side of their game has seen a fair amount of improvement. They’re 13th overall in team defense, which isn’t bad when you consider how last season ended, with the Flyers just pouring in goal after goal in their six-game first round playoff loss. Their penalty kill is 17th. Again, not awful. That may be the recipe for the Pens this year; their offense doing what it normally does while their defense stays right at the crest of mediocrity. That could be enough for Pittsburgh to make a deep run this postseason.
Though they’ve played a handful of more games than a few other teams in the East, the Philadelphia Flyers are right back in the mix in the division as well. However, their schedule gets really tough. They take on the Caps on Wednesday and after that, it is no cake walk for the next dozen. They’ll play the Devils (2x), Rangers (2x), Pittsburgh (2x), Boston (2x), Islanders, Tampa and Ottawa. I think this quote from Jerry Seinfeld sums up a lot of people’s feelings on that stretch of contests. Consider that they lost young stud Matt Read to torn rib cage muscles for several weeks, their depth is really going to be tested during this timeframe. That means it is time for goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to man up. He has allowed three goals or more in four of his last five games. Anyone smell…TOAST?!?
The New York Rangers are currently on the outside looking in. Not only have they underperformed this year, now they’ve got injuries. Rick Nash has missed the last few games, supposedly due to a concussion. Then several Rangers got injured over the last two games. Michael Del Zotto was hit by a shot in Thursday’s loss to the Sens and missed the Montreal contest on Saturday. Ryan McDonagh was checked hard by Max Pacorietty on Saturday and also may have a concussion. Dan Girardi took a slap shot off the foot from P.K. Subban two days ago and apparently only has a sore ankle. While Del Zotto and Girardi may be back sooner than later, if McDonagh and Nash are out for an extended period of time, the Rags could be in big trouble.
The New York Islanders might as well be the big Wonder Wheel at Coney Island. They’ve beaten the likes of Pittsburgh, New Jersey, Montreal and Toronto this season. On the other hand, they’ve lost to underwhelming Buffalo and Winnipeg to go along with a 7-0 blasting at home from Philly. I think this may be the year the Isles could make the playoffs, but something is still holding them back. And no…it has nothing to do with the personnel on the ice. No, it’s owner Charles Wang. Instead of being a penny saver, he needs to invest some money into this team to give them a realistic shot to make the playoffs and maybe even win a round. They did a heck of a job to put a team together in 2006-07. They traded for Marc-Andre Bergeron, Richard Zednik and Ryan Smyth to bolster their depth. How could Devils fans forget that? They beat the Red and Black in NJ on the season’s final day to get into the postseason. Darn you Wade Dubielewicz.