This might be the most pivotal point of the 2013 NHL season.
With some teams taking charge in their respective divisions, and others struggling, now may be the point in the season where certain teams begin to establish themselves as serious playoff contenders.
For the New Jersey Devils, this weekend will say a lot about what their identity will be for the rest of the season.
The Devils will play a home-and-home set against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday and Sunday. Pittsburgh is the only team that has handed New Jersey a regulation loss — a 5-1 bombardment last Saturday at Consol Energy Center.
But, the Penguins have been just as impressive since their last meeting, ripping off wins over the Islanders and two over the Washington Capitals. In all, the Penguins have won five straight games, with their last loss coming on Jan. 29 against the Islanders.
So far, the Penguins and Devils have been, by far, the best teams in the Atlantic Division. Amid their current winning streaks, Pittsburgh, with 16 points, holds a one-point advantage over the Devils, who have 15 points. The next closest team behind those two is the Rangers, who are .500 at 5-5 and have 10 points.
If either the Devils or Penguins could win both games this weekend, that team would have to be considered as the division favorite, especially considering that the three other divisional teams have barely posed as serious threats through the first three weeks of the season.
But, from the Devils standpoint, coming off a game that Pittsburgh controlled and took it to them physically, a split this weekend might even be considered a win.
If last season can provide any evidence, regular season records mean little come playoff time. And in a shortened season, those records could mean even less. Few people gave the Devils a fighting chance against the Philadelphia Flyers or the Rangers in the postseason, but New Jersey won both series’ without reaching a game seven.
If the Devils lose both games this weekend, they would fall into second place in the division and will play catch-up against Pittsburgh for the rest of the season.
However it falls, one thing is known: Saturday and Sunday will say a lot about the Devils, Penguins, and the Atlantic Division as a whole.