The NHL announced for the 2013-2014 season there would be two divisions per conference. As part of the NHL’s realignment plan that will be implemented for the 2013-14 season, the league will be in a more geographically appropriate two-conference, four-division format with 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and 14 teams in the Western Conference.
The Atlantic Division stayed together but added three new teams to the newly renamed Metropolitan Division. Those teams are the Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Washington Capitals. Of the 82 game schedule this year, the Penguins will play 30 games against their division opponents, 24 games against the new Atlantic Division and finally 28 games against the entire Western Conference.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are no strangers to the new teams. However, these new divisional foes could prove an even tougher road for their quest for another Stanley Cup appearance.
Every team in the division has talent and potential to be a tough test in the regular season. The new division alignment could mean more rivals.
Everybody knows about the Rangers, Flyers, Islanders, and the Devils in the division. Let’s take a look at the new opponents for the Penguins this year and beyond.
The Penguins’ main rival is their in-state rival, the Philadelphia Flyers. In recent years there has been rivalries between the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers, as well as the Washington Capitals.
Ever since drafting Alexander Ovechkin, the Capitals and Penguins have started a bitter rivalry between their teams and star players. One of the major highlights for the Pens came in 2009 when they beat the Capitals in seven games in the Eastern Conference Finals and then went on to win the Stanley Cup. Most notably, the rivalry was highlighted in the 2011 Winter Classic when both teams faced off. That game altered the playing career of Sidney Crosby, who suffered a major hit to his head, prompting concussion-like symptoms that didn’t fully subside for more than a year. This rivalry could be a test for the Pens near the end of the season when the two of these teams will be battling for a top spot in the division.
A team that is a mere three hours from Pittsburgh, the Columbus Blue Jackets are a team that is hoping for a playoff berth after losing a tiebreaker to the Minnesota Wild last year for the final position in the playoffs. The Blue Jackets made a strong move at the trade deadline last year by acquiring Marian Gaborik. The Jackets will be looking to star players like defenseman Jack Johnson, center Brandon Dubinsky, and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky. Columbus will hope to make progress and prove they can keep up with the teams in the division with a plethora of young and veteran talent. With such a short distance and three away games, Penguins fans will certainly flock to Columbus this year for a few away games.
Finally, the Carolina Hurricanes have an ex-Penguin and the Penguins have an ex-Hurricane. During the 2012 NHL Draft, the Penguins and Hurricanes swapped centers. Jordan Staal, who was a crowd favorite and great player in Pittsburgh, went to Carolina for Brandon Sutter. Jordan joined his brother Eric Staal in Carolina. It will be interesting to see how Carolina handles themselves in the new division.
The new alignment not only affects the regular season but the playoffs as well. The playoffs are now division-based and with an added wild-card system.
The number of total playoff spots, 16, remains the same – eight for each conference. That means the Western Conference will have 14 teams competing for eight playoff spots, while the Eastern Conference will have 16 teams competing for eight playoff spots. It will likely end up being a tighter race for Pittsburgh and the rest of the Eastern Conference.
With the new realignment, the Penguins will have to play tougher and face a harder road than usual to secure a spot in the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.