There is now a new team at the top of the Metropolitan Division. It was neck and neck for months, and it still really is. But the depleted Pittsburgh Penguins lineup slipped up enough and the New York Islanders succeeded enough to force a switch. The Islanders are back in first place to kick off the first full week of hockey in 2015.
|Team||GP||W||L||OT||ROW||Pts.||Last Week||Ptl. Pts.||Weeks Won|
Source: NHL.com - Links go to SBN Blogs
The rest of the division had mixed results, with the exception of the Isles and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Islanders won all of their games last week. As a result, they're in first by way of the first tiebreaker: games played. It's a slight advantage as that game in hand could theoretically secure first in the short term. However, the Penguins ended their slide, added a NHL forward, and will end this coming week with a game in hand on the Islanders. The Flyers, on the other hand, did the opposite. They won none of their games, picking up a mere point. They've been in the bottom half of the division. This past week may be the wake up call that they really belong there.
And that half really is on the outside looking in. The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers can and will still in fight for third place. And the loser is in a good spot to get a wild card spot. The Capitals are below the Rangers now, but they're way above the Columbus Blue Jackets, Flyers, New Jersey Devils, and Carolina Hurricanes. A ten point lead may not be an epic; but it would take any of Columbus, Philadelphia, and New Jersey to get really hot to get to get close to fourth in the division. (Carolina is so far behind that it is an epic gap.) And hot streaks eventually end - like what Columbus and Rangers have felt recently. Only difference is that the Rangers have been good that a streak ending is not a big deal, whereas the Blue Jackets can't afford an inevitable ending because they have had so much ground to make up. And even if they do get close, that may not mean the postseason if it also means the Capitals (or Rangers) get so cold they lose a lot.
So while there's a lot of hockey left in the season, the division remains clearly divided between the likely and the not likely to make it into the postseason. For those in the former category, it should be a fun race for quite some time. The Isles and Penguins will likely trade off first place positioning for a bit. That guaranteed playoff spot for third place will also be a battle between the Capitals and Rangers. In the latter category, Columbus, Philadelphia, and New Jersey are in position to just swap spots for quite some time and their fans eventually realize that they all can't tank for Connor McDavid or Jack Eichel. Besides, Carolina already has a head start on that. Happy New Year, I suppose.
Here's the upcoming schedule for this first full week of hockey within 2015 for the division. A lot of teams will be racking up their airline miles:
|NYI||@ EDM||@ VAN||@ NJD||@ CBJ|
|PIT||vs. BOS||@ MTL|
|NYR||@ ANA||@ LAK||@ VAN|
|WSH||vs. FLA||@ TOR||@ PHI||vs. DET|
|CBJ||@ COL||@ DAL||@ TOR||vs. NYI|
|PHI||vs. OTT||vs. WSH||vs. BOS|
|NJD||vs. BUF||@ BOS||vs. NYI|
|CAR||vs. BOS||@ NSH||vs. BUF||@ STL|
The Islanders get their big chance to get some kind of standings lead over the Penguins. They'll have to do it all on the road as they are in the middle of a seven-game road trip. They've done well to start and they could keep it up. At least they'll be coming back into the local area on Friday when they visit the Devils. Pittsburgh only gets two games with two opponents in the Atlantic Division. The time off may get them some players back but they'll be waiting to see what the Isles have done.
Down for the third place spot, the Rangers will head west to take on Anaheim and Los Angeles before heading up to Vancouver. The Capitals could catch them by way of mathematics with an extra game - and they don't have to travel nearly as much. Yet, the Rangers already have a game in hand on Washington so this week will give them an extra one. So any lead the Caps may get in the standings after this week may be short lived.
The not-as-desirable fifth place spot will be up for grabs. The Columbus Blue Jackets get to play the most in trying to take it. They will travel to Colorado, Dallas, and Toronto before returning home to host the Islanders. Philadelphia will try to get a win at home in this coming week. They will get their chances against Ottawa, the Capitals, and Boston to do that. The Devils, who has played the most games in the division, will host Buffalo before a back-to-back at Boston and hosting the Isles. As for the Canes, they will be in eighth for sure after this week. They'll be busy playing for pride, nonetheless. They'll host Boston, head down to Nashville, return home for Buffalo, and then go to St. Louis.
Such are the three tiers of the Metropolitan Division. Of course, there's another half of the season to go and plenty may change. What do you think will happen in this coming week? Will the Penguins retake the top spot or will the Isles start clenching onto first place? Can the Capitals catch the Rangers? Who will be in fifth - who wants to be in fifth anyway? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the past week, the upcoming schedule, and the Metropolitan Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.