Welcome to the penultimate week of the 2015-16 NHL season. The Washington Capitals have not only secured the playoffs but that glorious letter, 'Z.' That means they have clinched the Eastern Conference. They will have home ice through the first three rounds. With a lead of twenty two points over second place Dallas, they will have it for the Stanley Cup Finals - if they get that far. The Caps will get the President's Trophy in this season. How's the rest of the Metropolitan Division? Well, it could conceivably send four other teams to the playoffs:
|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 3/27 Before Games Played
The New York Rangers should be the next team to get a letter next to their name. They had the best possible week last week with three straight wins. This gave some them some breathing room over the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Islanders in addition to moving them closer to an 'X' in the standings. Home ice is what they are striving for and they're ever closer to it. It also helped that the Penguins and Islanders were not perfect. The Penguins' loss to New Jersey was their sole slip up in this past week. That allowed the Rangers to extend their lead beyond that game in hand Pittsburgh has on them now. As for the Isles, they needed overtime to beat Carolina to avoid a losing week. While four out of eight isn't bad but now their spot is likely to be third or fourth in the division. That's not a bad thing. It's still the playoffs. But after spending most of the season of chasing the Rangers, it's a bit of a downer.
The Philadelphia Flyers have been a surprise to say the least. They have rose up to make a playoff run. Despite dropping some games to teams they probably should beat (Like Arizona last night. Really, Flyers?), they continue to rise. They're now in a playoff spot. They're tied with Detroit in points for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They are also in the driver's seat as they have a game in hand on Detroit. Philadelphia still needs to take care of business. Winning these final two weeks will likely do it. After going so far, can they finish? We'll see.
Down among the lottery teams, the New Jersey Devils have surged by picking up five out of their last six points. They finally beat Columbus, they shut out Pittsburgh, and they took a point out of a game against Washington. That's all well and good. It now means they're ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes (and Ottawa, and Montreal, etc.), but only by a bit. Today's game with the Hurricanes could go in some way to decide who's the first of the last in the division. The Carolina Hurricanes did win a game in regulation in this past week and did lose a game in regulation. This is notable as they have spent most of this month playing beyond sixty minutes and often losing - like their most recent game. The points earned keep them in pace for sixth in the division. Lastly, the Columbus Blue Jackets are back to racing for the bottom. They won one game - against Philadelphia (Really, Flyers? Really?) - and dropped the rest. Now they're among the bottom five teams in the league and only three points ahead of thirtieth-place Toronto. It's tight at the bottom, so they need to keep up this losing pace to have a real shot at the cream of the crop of prospects at the upcoming 2016 NHL Draft.
What's going on for the upcoming week of games? I hope you like games within the Metropolitan as there are plenty of them. Those games are in bold.
|WSH||vs. CBJ||@ PHI||@ COL||@ ARI|
|NYR||vs. PIT||@ CAR||vs. BUF|
|PIT||@ NYR||vs. BUF||vs. NSH||@ NYI|
|NYI||vs. CAR||vs. CBJ||vs. PIT|
|PHI||vs. WPG||vs. WSH||vs. OTT|
|NJD||@ CAR||vs. BOS||@ FLA||@ TBL|
|CAR||vs. NJD||@ NYI||vs. NYR||vs. CBJ|
|CBJ||@ WSH||@ NYI||@ CAR|
|DET||vs. BUF||@ MTL||vs. MIN||@ TOR|
Let's start with Detroit. They're not in a playoff spot now but, again, they're even with the Flyers in points. Philadelphia is in that spot because they've played one fewer game. It'll become two after this week. All the same, the Flyers fans will be cheering on Detroit's opponents as well as their own team. With three non-playoff teams coming up, spoilers are their friends - except those against Philly.
Speaking of spoilers, the Blue Jackets will hit the road to play the Islanders on Thursday. They'll also play Washington and Carolina, but they can't really spoil them. The Caps are set and the Canes aren't going anywhere beyond this season. As for the Canes, they can spoil both New York teams. Something the Penguins certainly would want to happen. Their week is bookended by games against the Devils and Columbus, which aren't spoil-able opponents. As for the Devils, they're only spoiling teams in the Atlantic Division. After the Canes, they're done with the Metropolitan for this season. Their last six games are against teams in the other Eastern Conference division. Sorry, Flyers fans, no games against Detroit.
As for the Flyers, they'll have three games before their final (and busy) week of the season. They'll stay at home with games against Winnipeg, Ottawa, and right in the middle, Washington. That's two non-playoff teams. The Flyers can ill-afford to drop more games against teams starting to look at the draft if they want the postseason. Of course, if they come out of these three games with a positive amount of points, then they may just do it.
The Islanders have to make sure they don't slip to the aforementioned Canes and Blue Jackets before a massive game against Pittsburgh on Saturday. That game could really help decide who plays the Rangers in the first round. The Penguins will need it if they want to get that game and catch the Rangers. First, they play the Rangers today which is arguably a more important game for that latter goal. In between, the Penguins get to use up that game in hand against Buffalo and Nashville before playing the Isles. The opportunity is there, will they take it? Meanwhile, the Rangers will visit Carolina before hosting Buffalo to close out their week. Even if they drop today's game, they could clinch a playoff spot in this week. Lastly, the Caps can ride it out against Columbus, Philly, and then a road back-to-back with Colorado and Arizona. They don't need the points; they just want to stay healthy and in form for a postseason run. History isn't on their side, but this Caps team may be one for the books all the same.
That's the week that was and the week that will be. Next week will be the last snapshot of the season. Tomorrow, I'll have a closer look at the Devils' record. Later today, coverage of the Devils-Hurricanes game. What do you think will happen? Who will end up facing who in the Eastern Conference playoffs? Can the Flyers stay ahead of the Red Wings? Do you even want them? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division and upcoming schedule in the comments. Thank you for reading.