Funny how, with almost exactly two months remaining in the NHL's regular season, the two teams in the Eastern Conference who have played the fewest games have the most points, isn't it?
While the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins and Philadelphia Flyers will be engaged in a heated battle over the next 30-plus games for the first seed in the Eastern Conference, there is a very clear line being drawn in the Northeast Division, where three teams (Boston, Ottawa, Toronto) are within eight points of the top while Buffalo and Montreal are looking at longer and longer odds for the playoffs in 2012.
It was an ugly week for the Montreal Canadiens, which lost two-goal decisions to both Buffalo and New Jersey, but which really shamed itself by engaging in a petty war of words with the Sabres' Paul Gaustad over which team had taken a bigger beating from the division-rival Bruins. Such is the plight of two under-performing teams, I suppose, but where it really got bad was when Carey Price said that Gaustad "doesn't do much out there," just minutes after Gaustad assisted on two goals and scored the game-winner for Buffalo in the win.
Yeah, doesn't do much out there at all, I guess.
After being shut out at home by Washington on Saturday, Montreal managed to save face with a 3-0 win against Winnipeg, but that was hastened by the news that management has brought in a sports psychologist to help fix the team.
There will be lots of buzz about Montreal getting involved in the trade market in a big way over the next few weeks, and all of it is deserved.
The Sabres, meanwhile, followed up their big win against Montreal with a deflating 1-0 shootout loss to the Rangers, which, after seeing them for the first time two weeks ago, is exactly the kind of game the Rangers were built to win. But they didn't let down, spotting the New York Islanders a 3-1 lead before beating Al Montoya twice in a shootout to give the Sabres two more points.
Meanwhile, the Toronto Maple Leafs saw James Reimer return to all-star form on Wednesday night as they blanked the red-hot Pittsburgh Penguins by a 1-0 score at the Air Canada Center. That win came just a night after losing a 5-4 shootout decision in Pittsburgh. Reimer continued his hot play on Saturday night, recording 49 saves at a Scotiabank Place that looked an awful lot like the ACC, shutting out Ottawa 5-0 on Hockey Night in Canada.
The Ottawa Senators lost a heart-wrenching 4-3 decision to Boston after leading the game 3-1 with less than a minute to play in the second period, but a late collapse by a team that's played well in the third period cost them two points. The loss seemed to throw the Sens, who took just one point from a 2-1 overtime home loss to the hapless New York Islanders and couldn't find the back of the net once against the Leafs, who embarrassed the Sens at home with a big win.
Ottawa has now lost six games in a row, and now has just a single point's advantage on the Leafs in the Northeast, with Toronto holding three games in hand.