The league has taken notice of the strength of the Metropolitan Division. How could they not? Five of the top ten teams in the league by record are in the Metropolitan Division. Those five teams have been winning at torrid paces with the worst record in their last ten games was “only” 6-3-1. While some of those winning streaks just ended as this past week did, the standings show that it’s a tough, tough crew taking up five playoff spots in the Eastern Conference. Here’s what the division looks like after Saturday’s games:
The top five kept on winning until four out of the five hit a bump in the road. The New York Rangers began the week with their fifth straight win, lost a game, and then went right back to winning. The Pittsburgh Penguins have not lost in regulation in December; they won seven in a row before dropping two games beyond regulation. Their “lead” in games played keeps the Pens in first for the time being. The Washington Capitals won six straight before dropping a close one to Montreal last night. It was enough to tie the previously-hottest-team-in-hockey, the Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers ran up as many as ten wins in a row before losing to Dallas on Saturday. The excellent run of results has them in contention for a guaranteed playoff spot. Now we will see if they can maintain the pace. The exception to those top five? Columbus. The Columbus Blue Jackets began their trip into Western Canada and won both of their games to extend their winning streak to eight. While they’re three points behind the Rangers and Penguins, their advantage in games played makes them serious contenders. They’re hot, they’re very good, and they’re here to stay for the time being. Keep an eye out for them.
That’s all well and good for the top five. What about the bottom three? Well, the winning streaks by those top five teams only widened the gap between them and the other three teams. So while the Carolina Hurricanes had a good week where they took five out of six points, they’re still well behind in the wild card race. Due to tiebreakers, they’re actually the closest team in the East behind the Flyers for the second wild card spot. And they’re behind by eight points. That’s how strong the top five have been in the standings. Anyway. The New Jersey Devils have their own streak going: a losing streak. They lost all three games last week for a five-game slide. That’s not at all what they wanted; they have now slipped to seventh in the division. The New York Islanders’ surge was short lived. They went winless last week with only one point earned out of six. They may be able to jump the Devils soon, but any hopes of the playoffs remain bleak at best.
This coming week will be a short week, despite the healthy number of potential points for all eight teams. Christmas is next weekend, so everyone has the 24th, 25th, and 26th off in the NHL. This means there will be a lot of action in the next six days. Here’s what is coming up next. Games within the division are in bold.
Let’s start from the top. The Pittsburgh Penguins will get an opportunity to make a stand in first place or potentially fall from it. They can do some damage to the Rangers and Blue Jackets on Tuesday and Thursday. They can get two more points in adding to New Jersey’s misery on Friday. Of course, slipping up this week will likely lead to actual slipping. The Pens may be watching the scoreboard on Sunday. While they’re off, the New York Rangers are playing the Devils. They may hope for the Devils to spoil their rivals; that would help the Pens. The Rangers will be more focused on Tuesday when they play the Pens as that game could decide who enters Christmas as the division leaders. They also benefit with two days off before finishing up the week at home with Minnesota, who has been hot too. It’s a slightly easier week for them, we’ll see whether they take advantage.
The hottest team in the NHL, Columbus, will try to extend their streak in this week. They’ll visit Vancouver before returning home with a tough stretch of games: Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and then Montreal. Of course, Columbus has proven themselves in enough match-ups. It may be just as tough for their opponents as it is for Columbus. The Washington Capitals will have a short week. They’ll get a chance to hold Philly down on Wednesday before hosting Tampa Bay on Friday. As for the formerly hottest team in the NHL, the Flyers will be busy with Nashville on Monday before hosting the Caps and going up to Newark to play the Devils. They’ll get an early start on this holiday weekend as the only Metropolitan Division team off on Friday.
Down at the bottom, the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders share a similar schedule. They both will play Atlantic Division teams. For the purposes of jockeying of position to get close to the wild card spot, these games do have value. The Canes get Detroit first and then a back-to-back that takes Carolina to Buffalo and then back home for Boston. The Isles will host Ottawa tonight, travel to Boston on Tuesday, and then return to Brooklyn for Buffalo on Friday. It’s a little easier travel-wise; maybe not on the ice. As for the New Jersey Devils, well, they lost five in a row. The priority is to win first instead of worrying about positioning. All of those ‘L’s lead to the same spot anyway. With the Rangers, Nashville, Philly, and Pittsburgh coming up, it’s going to take a really good night by New Jersey and/or a really bad night by those teams for a win to appear. The Devils do return home, but that may not be much comfort given their current slide. Hopefully, it will be - somehow.
That was the week that was in the Metropolitan Division and now we know what is coming up next. What are your thoughts on what happened in the division last week? Will Pittsburgh enter Christmas in first place? How long can Columbus extend their winning streak? Can the Devils end their losing streak? How much will the gap be between fifth and sixth place after this week? 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.