All Star Game weekend will end tonight, practices will begin on Monday, and the 2015-16 NHL regular season will start playing games on Tuesday. While everyone has played 47-51 games, this is the start of the unofficial second half of the season. The next big date is February 29, which is the NHL Trade Deadline. For many teams, this is the time to take a hard look at themselves and plan accordingly. The games in this month will change those moments of self-reflection.
At the break, it appears there are two near-certainties in the Metropolitan Division. The Washington Capitals have all but locked up first place. While a bad run of games is possible - see Montreal - it's going to take a particularly miserable and long run of losses for the Caps' fifteen point lead to get erased. At the end, the Columbus Blue Jackets are seven points back of seventh place and it's going to take an impressive set of games to claw back up - and help from others to get on up. They've had their chances but after four months of remaining at the bottom, I have little confidence it'll happen. They're more likely to win the Auston Matthews Sweepstakes at this juncture. There's a lot of hockey left to play so anything can happen.
The other six teams within the division? Oh, it's up for grabs.
|Team||GP||W||L||OT||ROW||Pts.||Last Week||Ptl. Pts.||Weeks Won||Playoff||% AM|
As of right now (9:40 AM EST, 1/30/16), your playoff teams in the Metropolitan Division are Washington, the New York Rangers, the New York Islanders, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers split their two games and the Islanders lost their sole game last week. Therefore, the Rangers have a slight lead on the Isles. Yet, the Islanders have two games in hand on their cross-city rivals. A three point lead isn't that big in that regard. Those games in hand won't go away after this week so they can still apply pressure.
The Islanders do have to be concerned on who is right behind them. They're just one point ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils. While the Islanders have games in hand on them as well, it's a more precarious situation. The guaranteed playoff spot that comes with taking third in the division is as much for grabs as is the wild card in the Eastern Conference. The Penguins have the edge by way of having played two fewer games than the Devils.
Yet, they have to keep up as much as the Devils do as the other wild card spot is owned by Boston with 57 points; and there's additional competition from Montreal and Ottawa with 52 points. Oh, and then there's Carolina who is even closer. The Carolina Hurricanes won their two games going into the break and are also on the wild card bubble. That they have played more games than anyone else on this bubble hurts them. They will have to make the most of what games they do have to stay in the picture. For now, they're in it. Lastly, in the distance, there's the Phiiladelphia Flyers. They have an advantage coming with games in hand, but they're still behind the Hurricanes (and Montreal and Ottawa). And, like the Islanders, that's only an advantage if they get points in those games. With Philly solidly positioned in the bottom half of the division this season, who knows if they will.
The regular season will again return to proper action on Tuesday. As the Devils do have a legitimate shot at the playoffs, the upcoming schedule for this snapshot will include the Atlantic Division teams near the wild card spot at this moment. This way, it's easier to know what other teams are doing. Penguins, Devils, Hurricanes, Flyers, and even Islanders fans should have some interest. As always, games within the Metropolitan Division are in bold.
|WSH||vs. FLA||vs. NYI||@ NJD|
|NYR||@ NJD||vs. MIN||@ PHI|
|NYI||vs. MIN||@ WSH||@ DET|
|PIT||vs. OTT||@ TBL||@ FLA|
|NJD||vs. NYR||@ TOR||vs. WSH|
|CAR||@ CGY||@ WPG|
|PHI||vs. MTL||@ NSH||vs. NYR|
|CBJ||@ EDM||@ VAN||@ CGY|
|W1 - BOS - 57||vs. TOR||@ BUF||vs. BUF|
|MTL - 52||@ PHI||vs. BUF||vs. EDM|
|OTT - 52||@ PIT||vs. EDM||vs. TOR|
At the top, the Washington Capitals will get back to their season by hosting Florida, hosting the Islanders, and visiting the Devils. The rulers of the division can make it more compact within the division while preserving their big lead. The New York Rangers will be hoping for the Caps to stumble as they begin their February. They don't have an easy week themselves. They will visit Newark for a big rivalry game, they'll host Minnesota, and then they'll go to Philadelphia for another rivalry game of sorts. Not easy games. The New York Islanders may have it harder. They will host Minnesota first on Tuesday, go to D.C., and then go to Detroit for a game on Saturday. The Penguins, Devils, and Canes will be hoping that the tough week-on-paper brings the Isles further down to their level.
The Penguins will re-start their season on Tuesday by hosting Ottawa. As Ottawa is in the wild card picture, the Pens have ample reason to beat them. The Pens will follow that by going to the Sunshine State for a back-to-back with Tampa Bay and Florida. The Devils will host Our Hated Rivals in a game that could mean more than just bragging rights. They'll then go to Toronto and end their week with a tough afternoon game against the best team in hockey. The Hurricanes will hit the road to start a three game road trip into Canada. They'll play Calgary again (they beat them last Sunday) and then Winnipeg. In between, they'll be scoreboard watching to see where they end up in the standings.
Down with the bottom two teams, the Philadelphia Flyers will start the week by trying to be the latest team to make life miserable for Montreal. Montreal's been spiraling out of control since December and it seems like there isn't any end in sight. A win for Philly could pull them ahead of the floundering Canadiens. They may need it with tougher games against Nashville and Washington later in that week. The Columbus Blue Jackets appear to be playing for pride at this point. They did win their two games before the ASG break. If they can turn their road trip into Western Canada - Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver - into a successful one, then they may have a little hope for the future.
That's the short week that was and the shortened week that will be. A lot can happen and it can happen very soon. What do you think will happen? Will the Islanders fall into a wild card spot (or worse)? Who will prevail among the Devils, Penguins, and Hurricanes? Can the Flyers be for real? Does Columbus have a legitimate hope in 2015-16? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the week that was, the week that will be, and the Metropolitan Division in the comments. Thank you for reading.