Welcome back to the EC. After a long layoff due to a crazy work schedule, we begin to re-examine the Eastern Conference and the playoff pictures for each team. Comments, criticisms, and anything else are welcome.

Standings
New Jersey, 42-20-3, 87pts, 17GR, 2nd overall
Philthadelphia, 35-19-10, 80pts, 18GR, 4th overall
Pittsburgh, 35-26-6, 76pts, 15GR, 8th overall
NY Rangers, 34-25-8, 76pts, 15GR, 9th overall
NY Islanders, 22-37-7, 51pts, 16GR, 15th overall

Playoff Picture
New Jersey has looked good all season long. With Brodeur back, the team is now soaring. Although the Islanders embarrassed them, making Marty look human for the first time since he came back, don’t count on anyone else in the division catching them.
The Toolbags continue to maintain their 2nd place hold in the division despite injuries and poor management. They’re prone to giving up a lot of goals (see also: 5-1 shellacking at the hands of Calgary), but with Jeff Carter leading the way they can put up just as many points. I don’t think anyone is going to overtake the Clowns for 4th in the conference, but with Biron in net you can’t like their chances for making a deep playoff run.
Pittsburgh and their magical run as of late is well documented. Finishing 3rd in the division seems like a failure after last year, but you can bet on the Pens finishing in the top 8 and making the playoffs. They’re playing unreal hockey right now and Fleury finally looks like the guy that led us to within 2 wins of a Stanley Cup last year. It’s really hard to prognosticate this one, but I suspect Pittsburgh will finish 5th in the conference and we’ll get a matchup with the hated Flyers in the first round. Just don’t quote me on that.
NY Rangers... well… just aren’t that good right now. The firing of Renney was long overdue, but not even the great Tortorella can turn this group of under-achievers into a consistent hockey team. The longer the Rangers go putting up low numbers on the scoreboard, the more it seems as though they’ll be watching the playoffs from the Country Club. It’s still hard to believe with Lundqvist in net, but I just don’t see them making it this year.
NY Islanders seem to be fighting against the idea of moving to Kansas City. After trading away Guerin for practically nothing, as well as being riddled by injuries, the Islanders have actually started to play good hockey. Yann Danis seems like he could be a good goaltender in this league (rumor has it that Garth Snow is in talks with him on a 37 year deal… more on that as it develops). No playoffs again this year, but with a good draft class and a creative free agency period, you just never know what this team can do next year.

News and Notes

  • Flyers coach John Stevens is in just his third season leading the Jokes, but he is the longest tenured coach in the Atlantic division. Incredibly, Stevens is 2nd in the Eastern Conference in current tenure with the same team, behind only Buffalo’s Lindy Ruff (Montreal’s Guy Carbonneau was 2nd, but Bob Gainey was not having any of that)
  • Henrik Lundqvist missed his last start against Carolina due to an illness. The team has not disclosed whether he will return Thursday against Nashville, but you’d think he would return soon with the Rangers in the midst of a playoff dogfight.
  • Martin Brodeur’s chase for Patrick Roy’s all time victory mark was put on hold after an embarrassing loss to the Islanders. That makes it impossible for Marty to pass the 522 mark against Montreal on Saturday. However… inevitability, thy name is Martin.
  • The Islanders had a little bump in their chase for a playoff spot when they found out RW Trent Hunter would be out for the season with a broken ankle. Alright, so they’re chasing the 1st overall pick, but they’re hoping the injury doesn’t have any lingering effects early next season.
  • Apparently Miro Satan doesn’t like bus rides. He’s yet to report to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and it looks as though he’s played his last bit of hockey this season. And we thought $3.5M sounded a little steep back in July?
  • In other news, Tyler Kennedy loves his stick. Whatev.

Public Service Announcement
Always remember: Friends don’t let friends yell “Shoot!” at hockey games.