Three full weeks to go in the regular season and we finally have it in the standings. Well, it happened during the fourth-to-last week. We have an 'X.' We have the first team in the NHL to clinch a playoff spot in the 2015-16 season. Surprising absolutely no one who has read even just a few of these posts, it's the Washington Capitals. I think we'll soon see that 'X' turn into a 'Y' for clinching the Metropolitan Division. And maybe even a 'Z' before the season's end. At 107 points, no one is close to them. Dallas is second in the league in points and they have 95. They rule the division. Everyone else, well, it's more interesting.
|Team||GP||W||L||OT||ROW||Pts.||Last Week||Ptl. Pts.||Weeks Won||Playoff||% AM|
Source: NHL.com - Playoff Spots & Auston Matthews Lottery Chances as of 3/20 Before Games Played
Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you. The Pittsburgh Penguins have caught fire and won five in a row. They lost Evgeni Malkin in the process and they're just winning games. The New York Islanders and New York Rangers have slipped up in the standings to a point where second through fourth could be up for grabs. Now the Isles own a wild card spot, Pittsburgh is in a guaranteed playoff spot, and the Rangers have to sweat despite splitting their recent road trip. As they should. The Penguins could match the Rangers in points with that game in hand on them. The Islanders could still usurp the two teams in front of them. If they don't get back to earning more points than they don't, then they could be moving down in the dying weeks of the season. Likewise for the Isles. While they're five points ahead of the closest non-playoff team in the division, another week with few points may open them up late for sadness. We'll see how far the Pens go with their streak. All the same, they've put themselves in a very good spot to succeed.
After Washington and Pittsburgh, the Philadelphia Flyers were the only team that earned more than half of the available points to them this week. They lost their first regulation game since dropping a game to Edmonton at the start of the month to close this week. Worse, it was to their hated rivals. Yet, the Flyers faithful are licking their collective chops right now. While it's not clear in these standings, the Flyers are three points behind Detroit, who have slipped to the second wild card spot, and the Flyers have two games in hand on them. If they take care of business, then the Flyers' playoff run could actually succeed. That would be impressive after a season of mostly going one step forward and one step back to remain in the bottom half of the division. The next three weeks for them will be more crucial to anyone else because they have a future to play for. Everyone else in the Metropolitan is confident they will play beyond April or that they won't.
As for those teams that are confident they won't, it's still unknown who finishes where. The Carolina Hurricanes are just ahead of the New Jersey Devils in points. Although a tie would give an edge to the Devils with their superior number of wins and ROW. The two will probably want to drop a little further in the standings. After all, they didn't sell at the trade deadline to stay where they are. That will depend on what other teams do, namely Ottawa and Montreal. Both got two points last week and lost all the others. The Columbus Blue Jackets ended a three-game slide by smacking the Devils around again. That was their lone win. Due to "help" from the Western Conference, they've slipped down into the bottom five. Good for their lottery odds, not so good for those hoping for a happy ending to a poor season.
The third to last week of the regular season is not at all short on intriguing and meaningful hockey games. Here's the upcoming schedule. Games within the Metropolitan are in bold.
|X - WSH||@ PIT||@ OTT||@ NJD||vs. STL|
|NYR||vs. FLA||vs. BOS||@ MTL|
|PIT||vs. WSH||vs. NJD||@ DET|
|NYI||vs. PHI||vs. OTT||@ TBL||@ CAR|
|PHI||@ NYI||@ CBJ||@ COL||@ ARI|
|CAR||vs. BUF||@ CBJ||vs. NYI|
|NJD||vs. CBJ||@ PIT||vs. WSH|
|CBJ||@ NJD||vs. PHI||vs. CAR||@ NSH|
|W2 - DET||@ TBL||vs. MTL||vs. PIT|
Washington will continue their search for clinching whatever they can clinch next with a busy week of games. They can be the ones to end their winning streak today. Then they'll go to Ottawa, New Jersey, and then return home on Saturday night for a not-so-easy game against St. Louis. The New York Rangers are the only team in the Metropolitan who will not play anyone within it in this week. That may be fine for them; they just need to get their heads right and not lose this week. The first two games are of particular interest if you're following the battle for first place in the Atlantic Division. Something the Penguins and Islanders fans may want to be aware of.
Again, the Penguins will get the Caps first in their quest to preserve their winning streak. They'll get a chance to knock down the Devils further before a game against Detroit on Saturday. You better believe the Flyers fans will hold their noses, roll their eyes, and sigh heavily as they hope their hated rivals beat the Red Wings in regulation on that night. You better believe the two New York teams hope that streak dies this week. Speaking of that other NY team, the Islanders draw Philadelphia and Ottawa at home before going to Tampa Bay and Carolina back-to-back. That first game against Philly could be mighty interesting if the Isles start falling to close out this season. Likewise, those concerned about Philly - Detroit, maybe the Isles too - want that to game to be an Islanders win. We'll see. While the Flyers will battle hard for points on Monday, they get to hit the road after that game. They'll go to Columbus before visiting Colorado and Arizona. Given that Columbus and Arizona are well below them in the standings, dropping points to them would be a shame and hurt their cause to get a wild card spot. The Flyers know they can't let up. Can they? Road trips are interesting as to what happens to a team's intensity.
As for the bottom three teams, the Canes will play Buffalo and Columbus before having a chance to spoil the Islanders. Those hoping Carolina stays above their favorite team in the standings will want those first two games to go beyond regulation. If they can spoil the Isles, great. The New Jersey Devils get to "enjoy" Columbus again before a nasty back-to-back with a Pittsburgh team aiming for an automatic playoff spot and the best team in hockey this season. A positive week of results out of that would certainly be impressive (except for draft position). Columbus gets to make New Jersey more miserable, act as a trap game for Philly, and make Carolina miserable before visiting Nashville. Columbus hasn't been good but they can shock some teams. Like the Devils. Again.
Anyway, we know Washington is in and they'll take the division. Will we get to the see the Rangers (finally) fall from second place for the first time in seemingly forever? Who will be stuck in the wild card spot among the Rangers, Penguins, and Islanders? Could the Flyers continue their push up the standings, or will they disappoint either by their own play or Detroit staying ahead? What would you want Carolina, New Jersey, and Columbus to do? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division. Thank you for reading.