It is an active Sunday for the Atlantic Division, but an unusually high three teams are on the back end of a back-to-backs. This really does not happen more than a few times a season (April 11th being another example). There are back-to-back matinees and much more. The fun part is this is where we start separating the bubble teams, the locks, and more.
When looking at the division, also note that a team like Boston now has possibilities of moving up, which is something that could not be said even a week to ten days ago. From here on out, the final 28 days ring out like a call for judgment. Maybe we see it a little differently than most but this is a different kind of rundown Atlantic style. We focus on two of the teams.
Detroit On Leg Two In Pennsylvania
After the trip to Philadelphia, Detroit drives across the Pennsylvania Turnpike to Pittsburgh for another matinee game in Pittsburgh. This is a defining moment for the Red Wings. Can they deliver at least a split? Does Jimmy Howard play both games? He might have to.
Their line combinations involve a nice Pavel Datsyuk duo with Tomas Tatar. Luke Glendening is the creator of space as they say. With all due respect to the other lines, this is the trio Pittsburgh will probably key on. Ironically Tatar and Datsyuk will be used on the second power play unit to try and create a match-up advantage for Detroit. Tatar floats from unit to unit so keep that in mind every so often.
Can Detroit stop the Evgeni Malkin line if he plays? That seems to be the line they have the most trouble with in past meetings.
Detroit faced a more physical Philadelphia team on Saturday, a more desperate team. Pittsburgh brings a different kind of desperation though. Remember they were the ones who blew a 4-0 lead to Edmonton. The Red Wings may have to just hang in early. Sunday afternoon games and Detroit always seem to be an adventurous sort. Expect some high event hockey in this one with spurts of laying back and playing conservative.
It will still be rather entertaining to be quite honest. The Penguins and Red Wings really do not like each other and that goes back to the 2008 and 2009 meetings in the Stanley Cup Final. Again this is a pivotal Sunday for Detroit if they want to look up instead of peaking behind them.
Needless to say we are going to learn a lot about Detroit. Are they overachievers or maybe we underestimated them? Either way, this will be an entertaining road test.
Some Boston Road Dogging It
Boston is on the second leg of their roadie weekend. They take a little different route as they played an afternoon tilt in Pittsburgh on Saturday before heading to Washington to play a Capitals team that they can see in close range. A good finish to the weekend moves them that much closer to the first wildcard spot and maybe aspirations of catching Detroit if they get a little help.
The key line will be the Patrice Bergeron line and how he has sparked the resurgence of Brad Marchand. Marchand is a point-a-game player the last couple weeks and that almost has to continue because the youngsters, Ryan Spooner and David Pastrnak can still be a bit streaky.
However, Boston’s fortunes all come down to Tuukka Rask. We are going to talk about shots per goal a bit but it has taken a lot to beat Rask lately. He has around a .950 save percentage over the last four starts or so (as of March 13th). When it takes 20 shots to beat a goalie, that is an awfully good ratio, especially against quality opposition of late.
The Bruins have mucked their way through the Atlantic and are still trying to move up despite a real lack of depth. You have to tip your hat to them for bouncing back like this no matter the ultimate result.
How does Zdeno Chara hold up in all of this? Some will argue other defenseman on the team have taken over a bit for the Atlantic stalwart but Chara still stirs the drink even if more teams attack him than they used to. He still uses the long reach well and blocks some shots. That slap shot is still a weapon on the offensive side of things. Can he mount another run to lead his team into the playoff on a hot streak? Who could they catch? Stay tuned!
The Atlantic is heating up fast and by Monday, things could get that much closer, maybe too close for comfort for some. Let the fun really begin!