Every week, we’ll provide updates for each division. The biggest contenders and/or closest races will receive the greatest amount of attention.
Bold = playoff contender; Italics = likely lottery fodder.
Northeast Division outlook (March 11 -March 18th)
1. Boston Bruins (38-20-9 for 85 pts; 67 Games Played)
Current streak: Three losses in a row.
Week ahead: Three road games - vs. Islanders (Friday), Columbus (Tuesday) and Nashville (Thursday).
Thoughts: There are two basic ways the Bruins can react to all of the Chara-broiled controversy: they can either shrink away from physical play for fear of criticism or take an “us against the world” mentality. If their feud with the Canadiens wasn’t already bitter, this certainly made it so, but the bottom line is that Boston still has the inside track to take the Northeast.
2. Montreal Canadiens (37-24-7 for 81 pts; 68 GP)
Current streak: One loss.
Week ahead: Away vs. Pittsburgh (Sat), home vs. Washington (Tues) and home vs. Tampa Bay (Thurs).
Thoughts: For unbiased fans, it’s tough to root against the Habs (but for once, it’s tough to root for them for reasons beyond their gorgeous uniforms and rich history). Hopefully Max Pacioretty will play again some day, but it certainly won’t be anytime soon. Don’t expect Montreal to get much sympathy on the ice, either, as they play three playoff-quality teams this week.
3. Buffalo Sabres (33-26-8 for 74 pts; 67 GP)
Current streak: One win.
Week ahead: Away vs. Toronto (Sat), home vs. Ottawa (Sun) and home vs. Carolina (Tues).
Thoughts: The Sabres are finally in the top eight, as their hard work and the struggles of others allowed them to slide into seventh place. In fact, they’re actually in much better shape than the eighth-place Rangers because they’ve played in two less games. Instead of the previous notion that the bottom spot in the East coming down to Buffalo, Carolina and whatever other bubble teams made it into the conversation, things seem even more complicated.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs (29-29-10 for 68 pts; 68 GP)
Current streak: Three straight losses.
Week ahead: Home vs. Buffalo (Sat), home vs. Tampa Bay (Mon), @ Carolina (Wed) and @ Florida (Thurs).
Thoughts: If the Leafs are going to make a legitimate run, they’re going to need the Sabres and other teams to stumble. They have a good chance to trigger that response, as they play Buffalo on Saturday and Carolina on Wednesday. Of course, losing three games in a row won’t help that cause.
5. Ottawa Senators (24-34-9 for 57 pts; 67 GP)
Current streak: Away vs. Tampa Bay (Fri), @ Buffalo (Sun), home vs. Pittsburgh (Tues) and home vs. New Jersey (Thurs).
Thoughts: Trading for Craig Anderson might hurt their chances of landing the best pick possible, but if they keep him around, it might just be worth it. Playing the next four games might make that discussion moot anyway, because it’s very possible they can go 0-for-4 this week.