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Atlantic Division Watch (March 9)

Mar 9, 2011, 11:30 AM EST

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Darroll Powe, Marc-Andre Fleury AP

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.

Atlantic Division outlook (March 9 -March 15th)

1. Philadelphia Flyers (41-19-6 for 88 pts; 66 Games Played)

Current streak: One win.

Week ahead: Away vs. Toronto (Thursday), home vs. Atlanta (Saturday) and @ Florida (Tuesday).

Thoughts: Look, I don’t think the Flyers are going to lose their Atlantic Division lead to the scrappy but undermanned Penguins. Still, if Pittsburgh were to make headway, it would be soon. Philadelphia plays four of their next five games away from Cream Cheese Land. Granted, the Flyers have a nearly identical road (20-9-3) vs. home (21-10-3) record, but if you want straws to grasp … there you go.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins (39-21-8 for 86 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: Home vs. Montreal (Sat), home vs. Edmonton (Sun) and away against Ottawa (Tues).

Thoughts: The Penguins are turning heads with their all-out effort, although one cannot help but wonder how much damage they can really do during the playoffs in their current format. If they want to maintain their fourth seed, they better play well in the next week or so, because they finish the season with four of their last five games on the road.

3. New York Rangers (35-29-4 for 74 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: Two straight wins.

Week ahead: @ Anaheim (Wed), @ San Jose (Sat) and home vs. Islanders (Tues).

Thoughts: A late slump sunk the Rangers into a race with the Sabres, Hurricanes and x amount of bubble teams for one of the last two playoff spots in the East, so now they need to make the most of every game. The Islanders would be the cherry on the top of a tough week, but the Long Island gang has been awfully pesky lately. As most weeks, the Rangers should feel disappointed if they come away with less than four points.

4. New Jersey Devils (30-32-4 for 64 pts; 66 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: @ Atlanta (Fri), home vs. Islanders (Sat) and home vs. Atlanta (Tues).

Thoughts: It’s been a long time coming, but I think I’ve stumbled on a good (if obscure) parallel for these Devils. Have you ever played a fighting game such as “Mortal Kombat” or “Street Fighter” in which you fought poorly until you were down to the “Danger” mark? You know, that spot when one more leg sweep or blocked jump kick would cause your doom? Those are the times when you’re most dangerous; you get to play with that sense of freedom and danger that you never play with when you’re running with a full bar of health. The Devils are really scary right now, but can they really dodge every fireball thrown their way for the next month?

5. New York Islanders (26-32-10 for 62 pts; 68 GP)

Current streak: One loss.

Week ahead: Home vs. Boston (Fri), @ New Jersey (Sat) and @ Rangers (Tues).

Thoughts: After Friday’s home game against the Bruins, the surprisingly surging Islanders play their next five contests on the road. Maybe they can sit in their hotel rooms and read the memo that they’re supposed to tank right now. Don’t get me wrong, the team’s probably tired of losing, but what good will moving up a few rungs on the ladder really do? Just saying.

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