Is the Metropolitan Division the toughest division in the NHL? I do not know. I do know that six teams are either in a playoff spot or within two points of one at this moment. I know that you can drop any of those six teams into the Western Conference and they may be in it. I also know that not much changed within the Metropolitan Division. Some teams have put themselves into positions for moving up soon, but only two teams saw their actual position in the division change from this time last week. Here’s the division as it stands this morning.
Alas, the New York Rangers remain solidly in first, now for three weeks in a row. They won in Edmonton and routed Vancouver to be perfect on their three game road trip through Western Canada. Their only slip up: a regulation loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Still, the two wins in the week were enough to keep them ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The Capitals definitely bounced back from last week and had the better week between those two teams. Blowing out the Penguins 7-1 on national TV last Wednesday certainly helped Washington. The Caps shutout Detroit 1-0 last Friday and lost beyond regulation to Columbus last Tuesday to earn five out of six points. As for the Pens, they only picked up three points after their loss to the Caps: they beat the New York Islanders in overtime and lost to Buffalo in a shootout. All the same, the Pens and the Caps are right behind the Rangers. As much as the Rangers fans have a lot to be thankful for their team’s start to 2016-17, they are by no means safe in first place for the long haul.
In the middle of the division, there are the New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Philadelphia Flyers. The Devils began a four-game road trip that took them to Texas and California. They did extend their winning streak to five games in Dallas, but dropped two straight in regulation for the first time this season. The one win was enough to keep them in fourth and in a wild card spot for the time being. The Blue Jackets beat the Rangers and Capitals last week. Those are statement wins if only because those two teams just have not lost many games. Being within the division just makes it sweeter. Combined with big wins over Montreal and St. Louis earlier this month, the Blue Jackets are definitely darkhorses for a playoff run at this point of the season. Unfortunately, they only had the two games last week so their perfect week did not move them up (or down) in the standings. As for the Flyers, they did not continue their winning ways on in three games last week in a four game home-stand. They lost a shootout to Ottawa, solidly beat Winnipeg, and got shut out by Tampa Bay. With 19 games played, everyone else in the division has games in hand on them. They may rue those lost points soon. Still, these three teams remain both in the middle of the division and well within striking distance of a wild card spot in the East. I would not discount any of them for now. After all, if they were in the Pacific somehow, then they’d be in a guaranteed playoff spot or the wild card.
The bottom of the division saw the only change among teams. The Carolina Hurricanes beat San Jose and Montreal at home. While they only had two games, they won both for their first winning week of the season. It was enough for them to surpass the New York Islanders. The Isles continue to flounder. The Isles only had two games and lost both: a shutout loss to Tampa Bay and an overtime loss to the Penguins. So the Canes went up and the Isles just fell to eighth in the division - and sixteenth in the conference. While no one is out of anything yet, one can start seeing the Isles just a bit further in the distance every day. That has to change and soon.
In America, this week brings Thanksgiving. In the National Hockey League, this week brings a lot of games. Especially for the Blue Jackets. Here’s the upcoming week’s schedule; games within the Metropolitan are in bold.
Let’s start from the top and go down. The Rangers will get to host Florida tonight before a home-and-home set with Pittsburgh. The Pens will get the benefit of a tired Rangers team on Monday, but the Rangers have played so well recently that I wonder if it will matter much. If it does, well, they can get revenge on Pittsburgh on Wednesday. After then, the Rangers will visit Philadelphia for a matinee game. With two games against the second place squad, the Rangers can really pull away this week.
As for the Penguins, after their home-and-home set, they’ll have a back-to-back set after Thanksgiving. It’s not a fun one: they have to travel to Minnesota and then host the New Jersey Devils. The main focus for the Pens will surely be those two games against the division leaders; but points are points and picking them up in that back-to-back set would be ideal.
The Capitals will get a chance at revenge against the Blue Jackets today. Since the Blue Jackets are four points behind them with two fewer games, they’ll want to get revenge for their own protection. The Caps will get two days off before a three-game in four-night run around Thanksgiving that begins with St. Louis and has Buffalo and Toronto in a back-to-back set. The Caps, on paper, should do well in that back-to-back set. We’ll see if they do.
Our favorite team and yours, the New Jersey Devils, will wrap up their road trip this week. The California portion has not gone well, but they could salvage it with a result in San Jose on Monday. If not there, then they’ll get two home games with Toronto and Detroit before going to Pittsburgh. That Saturday game could feature two tired teams, so it remains to be seen how that could go. With their winning streak going up in smoke last week, coming away with even half of all of the possible points would help them keep pace in a competitive division.
Speaking of tired, I feel bad for Columbus. Poor Columbus. They have five games this week. They’ll be making up games in hand as go to D.C. today, go back home for Colorado and Calgary on Monday and Wednesday, and then travel to the Sunshine State for a back-to-back with Tampa Bay and Florida. That’s a lot of movement, especially around a holiday. But given who they just beat, their opponents should not take them lightly at all.
Speaking of Florida-based teams, the Flyers will get to go visit them before Thanksgiving. That Tampa Bay game on Wednesday should be interesting since the Bolts shut them out 3-0 last night. With the Flyers already at 19 games, their week of games is a little lighter. Even so, they’ll play three games in four nights too. Oh, and that includes the division leaders on Friday. Good luck, Flyers.
The Hurricanes get to be in one of the two games on Thanksgiving itself. It’ll be in the middle of a road trip through Eastern Canada, where they’ll visit Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa. At least they’ll have days off before those games. The Canes are coming off a perfect week of their own with two home wins. They can make it three in a row tonight as they host Winnipeg. But those road games will help them close the gap with the other teams - or increase it.
Lastly, the struggling Islanders will go to California for this week. With Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose starting to improve, that does not bode well for a team that needs points. It is not an easy trip given how the games are laid out - three games in four nights - and the quality of opponent. Just ask the Devils, among other teams, about that.
That was the week that was in the Metropolitan Division and now we know what lies ahead in this coming week. What are your thoughts on what happened in the division last week? Will the Rangers make it four straight weeks at the top, or will the Pens or Caps catch them? Can Columbus move up in the standings or will the Devils effectively ward them off? Will the Islanders get anything out of their trip to the West Coast? Please let me know your answers and other thoughts about what the eight teams did in the division last week and what they may do this week in the comments. Thank you for reading.