After the first month of the season it was apparent that the Pittsburgh Penguins were going to run away with what looked to be the worst division in the NHL. They had a large lead over the Carolina Hurricanes while other teams were struggling to find an identity.
Now we have entered the midway point of November, and just as Pittsburgh is struggling to stay consistent other teams are creeping their way up the standings.
New divisional foe, the Washington Capitals have won five of their last seven games while scoring 27 goals over that span (3.85 GPG). And do not expect that offense to slow down either. Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are firing on all cylinders right now and they are also getting secondary scoring from guys like Joel Ward, Jason Chimera and Mikhail Grabovski.
This team has its moments, but much like the Penguins they can put a winning streak together in no time.
Pittsburgh may also want to keep a close eye out for the third place New York Rangers. After a slow start to the season, the boys in blue are ready to prove they are not messing around either, and they proved it in a 5-1 shellacking of the Penguins last week. They have won six of their last eight after starting the season 3-7-0.
New York can never be denied with one of the best goaltenders in the game, and as long as Henrik Lundqvist is healthy this team will be a threat. Ryan Callahan is one of the most underrated players in the game, and he leads this team with poise and comes to play every night. Oh yea, and All-Star Rick Nash just returned to practice as well.
The New York Islanders are a team that have some scratching their heads. It is uncertain whether or not this team will contend or not after trading Matt Moulson to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Thomas Vanek. So far it is too early to tell, but Vanek just does not seem comfortable yet in this new system. But with John Tavares leading the pack they can also put together a quiet winning streak.
Speaking of quiet, the Penguins also learned first hand Wednesday night how serious the Philadelphia Flyers are. They have now won three straight after a horrific start.
The irony of this team’s 3-9-0 start was they simply could not win games when their captain Claude Giroux could not buy a goal in the month of October. It was showing that his frustrations spread throughout the entire team. Their goaltending has been solid enough, but once they get their defense on track the Flyers could fly their way to the top of the division.
Teams like the Hurricanes (who have fallen off) and the Columbus Blue Jackets will find themselves in the basement of this weak division when it’s all said and done.
The Penguins need to find a consistency in their game because of the contenders mentioned are knocking at their door. Everyone wants to be in one of those top three spots in each division as the qualifications for the playoffs have slightly changed.
Sadly enough, if Pittsburgh were in any other division as of now, their 11-7-0 record would not be good enough for a secure playoff spot and would be fighting for a wild card. Instead, they are in first place in the weakest division in hockey and must get out of this slump as these other teams are starting to make a run.