The Montreal Canadiens might be in a little more trouble in the Atlantic Division than what a first glance would suggest. Following Thursday’s action, where Montreal lost to the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1, the Canadiens are just 4-5-1 in their last ten games. Meanwhile, the Ottawa Senators have played well of late, going 6-2-2 over the same stretch. With three games at hand, the Atlantic Division could be viewed as close at the moment.
The Senators are 7 points back of Montreal in the standings, but the Canadiens have played the three extra games. How an advantage with games at hand will play out is never clear. However, if Ottawa used the extra games available to their full advantage, then they would only be a single point back of the Canadiens for the divisional lead. Minimally, the Senators have the potential to make a stretch run interesting in the Atlantic Division after Montreal opened the season with a huge lead. If Ottawa can chip away during the month of February, then the last five weeks of the season could see a race for a divisional title between the two Canadian-based franchises.
The Toronto Maple Leafs, the other Canadian team in the division, certainly aren’t out of the picture yet either when it comes to the divisional lead. However, Toronto have a lot of work to do. They dropped a 5-1 decision to the St. Louis Blues on Thursday night and remain 12 points back of the division lead in the Atlantic. It was the third straight game that the Maple Leafs lost.
The lead in the division aside, Toronto will be aiming to improve their form in order to target the Boston Bruins. Currently, Boston have a three-point lead over Toronto, a tenuous lead given that the Maple Leafs hold five games at hand. The cutoff point for automatic playoff entry in a division is third place so there is some importance to finishing in that position. Teams that finish outside out of the top three in any division have to hope their records hold up in the Wild Card races for each conference.
There really isn’t a team in the Atlantic that is a total write-off for playoff contention at this point. Florida, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and Detroit hold the 5th to 8th spots in the Atlantic. Last-placed Detroit is only six points back of Toronto so any team that makes a strong move in the division has the capacity to get back into the thick of things still.
Montreal’s next game is on Saturday (1 pm ET), one that they will host at the Bell Centre against the Washington Capitals. Toronto and Boston play directly in the evening (7 pm ET) with the latter team hosting a game that has four-point swing potential. Lastly, Ottawa will be in Buffalo (7 pm ET) as the Sens look to chip away at Montreal’s lead with what they will hope will be a two-point night.