Five full weeks remain in the 2015-16 NHL regular season. Amazingly, the rulers of the Metropolitan Division do not have an 'X' (clinched playoffs) or a 'Y.' They will have to settle for being the first team this season to hit triple digits in points. The Washington Capitals finished their busy week with three wins, launching them to an even 100 points. As well as the driver's seat for the President's Trophy as the second place team in the league in points is Chicago with 85. They are untouchable in the standings as far as I'm concerned. The gap over the New York Rangers is just massive at this point. Just look at this snapshot of the division:
|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 3/6 Before Games Played
The New York Rangers remain in the driver's seat for what would be a cross-city first round playoffs series. Their matching of the New York Islanders' results in the past week means they remain ahead by five points. They also enjoy a solid lead in ROW (regulation and overtime wins). The severity of Henrik Lundqvist's injury will add to the challenge of the Rangers staying ahead, but they control their own destiny. For the Islanders to catch the Rangers, they would have to surpass them in points. A tie is not enough due to ROW as the maximum the Islanders could get with those games in hand is 34 at the moment. With three games in hand, surpassing the Rangers in points is mathematically possible. Whether it will be done is up to the team; one of those games will be used up this week so that's a big one. But the first big one is today. This standings situation plus their general hatred of each other makes their match-up on Sunday one to watch for within the division.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are not only solidly in a wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, but they are one point behind the Detroit Red Wings for the other wild card spot. That should be Pittsburgh's goal unless the Isles crash and the Pens can make up the difference. Better to face whoever comes out of the Atlantic Division as the leader in the first round than a Washington Capitals team that lost a whopping thirteen times in regulation after 65 games this season. The Penguins have a small cushion over the teams behind them in the division with their point lead and two games in hand. Dropping that game to Calgary is a disappointment as they could have been in that first wild card spot to start this week and be further ahead of the lower-half pack in the Metropolitan - and closer to the Islanders.
As for the lower-half pack, the Philadelphia Flyers had a successful week. Sure, they got blown out by Edmonton (!?!) but they made up for that by laying a beating on Columbus. Because they went 2-1-0, they remain in fifth place in the division. Whether it's a desirable place to be is up to you. The Flyers fans that want to see them somehow pull off a run that makes them jump ahead of the Penguins somehow will be pleased. Those that don't want them drafting fourteenth overall are not. Someone's got to be there and they've been better than the other two teams recently. The Carolina Hurricanes beat the New Jersey Devils last week and picked up a point against Tampa Bay on Saturday. The Devils won only one game, thrilling as it was. The Canes are ahead of the Devils based on the second tiebreaker, which is rather convoluted (it's at the end of the Standings page at NHL.com) since there's still one more game between them this month. They'll take it for now. The Devils, well, with Cory Schneider hurt and his status still unknown, this may be the beginning of a long march towards the bottom. With only two wins in the last two and a half weeks, they may have already begun. Of course, the Columbus Blue Jackets remain keepers of the bottom. They may have won once, but that 0-6 defeat to Philly was a good reminder that the Blue Jackets won't be moving up to seventh without playing well - something that has eluded them against most opponents this season. What's bad for Columbus is that they're actually the best among the bottom-dwellers in the league so their shot at the lottery is smaller than one may expect.
As that was the week that was and the actual snapshot of the division, let's look ahead. The following is the schedule for all eight teams in the Metropolitan (and the first wild card spot owners, Detroit). Games within the Metropolitan Division are in bold.
|WSH||@ ANA||@ LAK||@ SJS|
|NYR||vs. NYI||@ BUF||@ DET|
|NYI||@ NYR||vs. PIT||@ TOR||@ BOS|
|PIT||@ NJD||@ NYI||@ CBJ|
|PHI||vs. TBL||@ TBL||@ FLA|
|CAR||vs. OTT||@ BOS||@ BUF|
|NJD||vs. PIT||@ SJS||@ LAK|
|CBJ||vs. DET||vs. PIT|
|W1 - DET||@ CHI||@ CBJ||vs. WPG||vs. NYR|
Sunday features one big game for playoff implications and one game that would have been big for it a few weeks earlier. The Isles and Rangers will engage in a crucial rivalry game. Should the Isles want to catch up in the hopes for home ice in their seemingly inevitable first round match-up, winning this game would be a big step forward to doing so. The Devils and Penguins facing off would have been more important earlier in 2016 when the two teams were neck-and-neck. With the Pens being up by five points with two games in hand and the Devils behind two teams, it's not so big. Still, if the Devils want to keep faint playoff hopes alive, earning a regulation win would be vital for doing so.
Monday is a light day for the division. Philadelphia will host Tampa Bay as they push on their plans. Whether that is to make the playoffs or not, I don't know. Their margin for error is becoming smaller by the day, so if they want it, a win on Monday helps them. Washington will visit Anaheim as they kick off one of two Metropolitan Division teams heading out to California this week. Tuesday is busier. Columbus gets a chance to spoil Detroit; something Penguins fans will be cheering for. They'll also being cheering for the Penguins (duh) as they play the Islanders. Rangers fans would appreciate the Pens taking the Brooklyn Boys down a peg. Though, the Rangers will have to try to avoid a trap game by Buffalo at about the same time. Carolina and Ottawa play, which will have implications as who falls down a little bit further in the league standings. Wednesday night hockey will feature Washington going to L.A. on their trip and the Penguins getting to beat up on
The end of the week starts a bit light before a busy Saturday. Thursday is the first night of New Jersey's annual trip through California. They'll start with San Jose, the opponent that the Devils earned their first point this season. Carolina will be on the road, though a little closer in Boston. Friday night is alright for a Columbus-Pittsburgh match-up where the Pens will be trying to avoid a Calgary-esque trap game. In the meantime, Philly will be in Tampa Bay to kick off a back-to-back in the Sunshine State. Yes, on Saturday, that means the Flyers will face Florida. There are five other games on Saturday. Carolina will get to face Buffalo in their quest to possibly go down as much as they can. The Devils will face Los Angeles, who will probably want some revenge for Valentine's Day this year. The Islanders will be going to Boston in the hopes of keeping pace or gaining ground on the Rangers. Those same Rangers will be in Detroit, forcing another scenario where the Penguins (idle on Saturday) will cheer hard for the Blueshirts. Lastly and certainly not least, the Capitals will close their week by closing their California trip with a game against San Jose.
With five weeks to go in this season, what do you expect to happen in this coming week? Will the Islanders make up ground on the Rangers that they couldn't before? Will the Penguins jump ahead of Detroit and possibly challenge the Isles? Or will they slip up and be threatened more by Philly, Carolina, and New Jersey? Should Carolina and New Jersey even go for it if the opportunity presents itself? Will Columbus fall back down the league and get some better odds for Mr. Matthews? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division.