Everyone is aware that the New Jersey Devils started off the year on the wrong foot, but the poor play of the New York Islanders over the last eight games is overshadowing the Devils in the Atlantic. Philadelphia is pulling away from the pack with 20 points sitting atop the division while the Rangers and Penguins would just love to put a win streak together of more than two games.
Last night we watched as the Devils went back and fourth with the Sabres on the score board until eventually, after eight goals were scored, it went to a shootout. With the game on the line it came down to Ilya Kovalchuk to extend the shootout and force Buffalo to score again. Skating down the ice slowly thinking about where to put the puck, Kovalchuk lost control at the last second and did not even manage a shot on goal. If this was a one time thing then fine, he made a mistake but Kovalchuk has not produced consistently this season and the Devils need him to be the go-to guy in these types of situations. With Zach Parise hurt the offense needs to step up and the star players need to act like stars and start finishing.
Fortunately for the Devils, the Islanders have managed to turn their four game slide into an eight game losing streak. In some cases they are having way too many defensive breakdowns allowing too many goals and in other cases they are losing low scoring games. It seems that they are aware of their problems but when they fix one, they allow another to surface. The NHL season is all about consistency. If they are not able to put it all together then we are going to continue seeing this type of play throughout the year.
This losing streak could be due to the fact that the Islanders have played 10 road games already this season or the fact that they have many injured players including their top defenseman Mark Streit, but there is still no excuse for not managing one point in eight straight games.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming off a 7-4 loss to the Bruins continuing to allow way too many goals making it very difficult to put together a win streak. Offensively they need to get back to where they were last season but for now the more important problem to fix is the shaky defense and goaltending. They are losing battles in the corners and allowing opposing forwards to knock their defensemen off the puck. Aggressiveness is key when playing defense and they need to find a spark to re-energize their squad.
The New York Rangers should receive a huge offensive spark with the return of Marian Gaborik to tonight’s line-up. After missing 12 games, the Ranger super-star will hopefully jump right back into his scoring ways and help the team string together some much needed victories.
Similar to the Penguins, the Rangers have not been able to win more than two consecutive games so far this season. Two games into their four game home stand, New York is 0-for-2. The return of Gaborik could ignite the offense and energize the defense with an opportunity to win the next two against the Sabres and Oilers.
The only team that seems to be firing on all cylinders in the Atlantic are the Philadelphia Flyers. Trailing only the Washington Capitals in point totals and tied with Los Angeles and St. Louis, Philly is on the right path to making another Stanley Cup run this post-season. The Flyers are fourth in the league for goals scored behind offensive juggernauts Washington, Chicago and Pittsburgh. They are finding scoring from throughout the line-up and coupling that with some solid goaltending makes for a very dangerous team.
If the Flyers can stay injury free through the remainder of the season look for them to secure first place in the Atlantic.