At some point, every season, the Flyers sit atop the Atlantic Division, and often on top the entire Eastern Conference. Last year, we were the top dog heading into the Olympic break, before falling apart and almost missing the playoffs. Right now, we’re 5 points clear of the Rangers and Penguins in the division, and we had a brief lead in the conference until the Capitals leap-frogged us. Still, since we play most of our games against our division rivals, it makes most sense to pay focus on them.
Normally, the Atlantic is one of, if not the, toughest division in the league. Since 2000, 6 of the 10 Stanley Cup finalists that represent the East have been from our division. Three of them have captured the Stanley Cup. So if you can shine here, you know that you have a pretty good club. But is that the case this year?
New York Islanders – As usual, they suck. They started off pretty decently, with 4-1-2 record. And then they collapsed. 8 straight losses. Pretty embarrassing. For a team that’s been bottom-dwellers for so long, you figure their stockpile of draft picks would have helped the franchise improve. Nope! Like I said, they suck. Until they get better management that knows how to run a professional sports organization, they’ll continue to struggle. I guess in a division like this, it’s good fur us to have a rug to beat up every time we meet.
New York Rangers – They’ve had a fairly easy schedule to start things off, lost some games to some bad teams, but also won enough to stay with the pack. They’re treading water and keeping themselves in a pretty good spot, while their top offensive players are missing. Gaborik, Prospal, and Drury have combined for a whopping 4 games played. Dubinsky and Callahan have stepped up big time offensively, while Lundqvist continues his usual dominance in net. Should the Flyers fear this team? No, we’re a lot better on paper. But as we know, when it comes to division rivalries, they’re always tough. The Rangers will hang around all season, and will get a lot better as their stars start coming back. If the guys stepping up now continue their solid play, then this team will be more dangerous than expected, because they’ll have two dangerous lines to go along with some good team defense.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Crosby has been their most consistent performer, as expected. Malkin looks like the same under-performer as he was last year. Rookie Letestu was very good early on, but has faded lately. Letang has also done a pretty good job chipping in points from the back end. MAF has looked like shit in net, and he’s pretty much been replaced by Brent Johnson. Best of all, they still haven’t established any dominance in their new home. They just blew a 4-2 lead to Boston in the third period, allowing 5 goals en route to a 7-4 loss. They’re also just 5 points behind us, but they don’t really have much talent behind Crosby and Malkin. And as good as those guys are, they’re not standing out as much as they did a few seasons ago.
New Jersey Devils – I saved the best (worst) for last. As bad as the Isles are, the Devils are possibly more pathetic. Kovalchuk has done nothing, Brodeur has looked nothing like himself when he was healthy, and the rest of the team isn’t stepping up either. They have a -24 goal differential, by far the worst in the league. The next closest are the Isles, with a -16. New Jersey is scoring a pathetic 1.67 (next worst is Toronto with 2.21). They’re allowing 3.20 goals against, making them 6th worst. They have no chemistry, no cohesion, and seemingly no chance to fix things. Yes, they’ve suffered a few injuries, but even a full line-up wouldn’t fare much better. Year after year, I look at a lineup full of no name players, and wonder how they keep winning divisions, and worse, Stanley Cups. Every season, I expect them to suck, and they keep coming back. This, finally, looks like the year that they will embarrass themselves. Because of poor cap management, they’ve already had to play a few games with less than a full lineup because they had no room to bring in players to fill in for injuries. What a shame. And I love it!
So the way things seem, the division is ripe for the picking. We’re healthy, talented, young, and playing well. The lines are mixing and matching, but have been producing over the last 7 games. The defense is getting better and better, and Bobrovsky has been a bright spot in goal. However, this is a long season, slumps will happen, injuries may happen, and minor changes to other teams can spark them. It’s way, way too early to say that we’ll win the division and head to the playoffs as a top 3 seed. But right now, I like our chances.
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Tags: Atlantic Division Brandon Dubinsky Callahan Evgeni Malkin Gaborik Henrik Lundqvist Ilya Kovalchuk Letestu Marc-Andre Fleury Martin Brodeur New Jersey Devils New York Islanders New York Rangers Philadelphia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins Sergei Bobrovsky Sidney Crosby Toronto Maple Leafs