Assessing the Devils, Islanders, Rangers, and Flyers with 26 Games Left
There is little under one-third of the NHL season to go and, while we can already write off a few teams from making it to the postseason, it’s a bit more difficult to gauge which teams will be battling for the final playoff places come April. Here, we’ll be looking at the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, and Philadelphia Flyers to see how they stand with 26 games to go. What do their recent scorelines indicate as the regular season races towards its climax?
Injury-riddled Devils continue to struggle
Last season must have seemed like bliss for New Jersey Devils fans, seeing their rebuilding team vault up the standings and into the playoffs much sooner than expected. Keith Kinkaid winning the crease and Taylor Hall putting in a Hart Trophy-winning season led to a sudden rise up the rankings but, this season, Kinkaid’s numbers have slipped, and the team has suffered many, many injuries.
In the grand scheme of things, this isn’t really a problem for New Jersey as the team is very young, boasts a tremendous amount of potential, and has proven that, when fit, they are already postseason contenders. To continue to rebuild, the Devils are expected to turn to sellers at the trade deadline, with the likes of Marcus Johansson, Drew Stafford, Ben Lovejoy, and Keith Kinkaid all impending unrestricted free agents and able to draw in decent returns for their services.
The Devils’ game against the St. Louis Blues on February 13th epitomized their struggles this season. Not only was the team without top forward Taylor Hall and top defenseman Sami Vatanen but they also lost 8-3 at the Enterprise Center.
Islanders continue to surprise everyone
Following years of losing their best players, seeing elite center John Tavares turn his back on the team, and another lackluster offseason of acquisitions, the New York Islanders were expected to be scrapping for draft lottery odds. Instead, the underdog status and physical style of play has galvanised the Isles to shoot them to the top of the Metropolitan Division.
The team is incredibly hard to beat: not only do they boast pace and flair on the top lines, but their bottom six will batter, bruise, and overall stifle any line that they face. Despite leading their division, the Islanders still aren’t among the top contenders to win the Stanley Cup. While it’s much more difficult to predict champions in ice hockey, unlike in the sport’s on-field sister of field hockey, where it is much easier to find an edge, the Tampa Bay Lightning look far too strong to be toppled before the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Islanders have surpassed expectations and are playing exciting hockey but, as shown in their 3-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres at the KeyBank Center, the Islanders only have one way to play, hard-driving, so when they opt to play with a bit for skill or a bit ‘cuter’ they come apart. This one-dimensional style could be picked apart by better teams at the more serious end of the campaign.
We all knew that it was a rebuilding season for the Rangers
There will always be teams in the NHL who are in the middle or starting up a rebuild. The New York Rangers are in full swing with their rebuild but have still managed to produce exciting nights of hockey for their fans throughout the season.
With a distinctly average points tally of 56 through 56 games, future stars of the franchise, such as Mika Zibanejad – who has 56 points in 56 games – have been working hard at getting to grips with the strategies and style that their new head coach has been implementing, as well as continue to improve. The Rangers will most likely sell off some more pieces to bolster their standing in the upcoming draft, which boasts a great crop of prospects. They’ve already traded Cody McLeod and Marek Mazanec this month, as well as Ryan Spooner back in November, and are expected to ship out Kevin Hayes, Mats Zuccarello, or Adam McQuaid before February comes to a close.
On February 13th, the Rangers put in a spirited display against one of the top Stanley Cup contenders in the Western Conference, the Winnipeg Jets, while on the road. The Jets took a commanding 2-0 lead in the first before the Rangers answered back with two of their own in the second. Going 3-2 up in under one minute of the third, it all came crashing down with the Jets moving into a 4-3 lead with over 12 minutes to play, to which the Rangers couldn’t come up with an answer.
Flyers making up for lost time
While Brian Elliott wasn’t fantastic last season and goaltending was certainly an issue for Philadelphia entering the season, we didn’t expect the Flyers to capitulate quite as horrifyingly as they did once Elliott went down with injury this season. Six goaltenders have worked the crease for Philly this season, but luckily the highly-touted prospect Carter Hart has stepped up to pull the Flyers back up the rankings.
On January 13th, the Flyers sat a whopping 18 points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins – who they trailed by a mere two points to make it to the playoffs last season – but, ten games later, Philadelphia has earned 19 points to close the gap to eight while the Pens continue to slip down the standings. With their incredibly talented squad and new-found stability in net with Hart, the Flyers should be able to continue to push for a playoff spot.
In their last game out, the Flyers came up against the tricky Minnesota Wild, who are battling to hold onto their wild card place in the Western Conference. In a true show of the team’s reinvigorated attitude, after going 3-1 down in the first, the Flyers tied up the game in the second. The Wild went 4-3 up early in the third, but Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk netted to add both points to the Philly tally. If they can continue to play to their ability, the Flyers should soon be sitting in a playoff place, possibly booting their Pennsylvania rivals out of the postseason equation in doing so.
The Devils and Rangers will continue with their rebuilding effort through the trade deadline and into the offseason. For the Islanders, it’s a matter of unexpectedly getting to the playoffs and trying to make some noise, while the Flyers will have to battle hard to earn a place, which many expected them to secure comfortably at the start of the season.
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