Happy New Year and apologies for the very late posting of this week’s Metropolitan Division snapshot. The year ended with three teams getting or staying hot atop the division, a surprising stumble from one team, and our favorite team falling into the basement. While two games are going on now within the division, here are the standings as of the first morning of 2017:
The Columbus Blue Jackets have been on fire for over a month now. They won fifteen games in a row, including a similarly-hot Minnesota squad in the last day of 2017. The Blue Jackets have a shot at the league record of seventeen wins. What’s crazy is that if/when they do lose a game, they still have games in hand on their closest competitors in the standings. The Blue Jackets forced their way to the top and ended 2016 in the best place possible in the best division in the league. What’s equally impressive are the weeks from the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers. The Pens won before Christmas before winning three more, meaning they ended the year with a four game winning streak. The Rangers swept their week to start 2017 on winning ways too. Getting six out of six points is always good and it was important because, again, the Blue Jackets haven’t finished winning yet. They are both in positions to take first place in the near future. The hard thing is that they may need to keep up the winning just to keep close to Columbus before Columbus falls a bit.
The three-wins-in-three-game weeks from those three teams meant the Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers fell further behind them with the weeks they had. The Caps split their week in terms of points. They lost a game in regulation and were stunned in a shootout loss by a Devils team they absolutely wrecked on the last afternoon of 2016. It was a better week than the Flyers. The Flyers hit the road for two games and were soundly beaten 6-3 by St. Louis and 2-0 by San Jose. That stumble opens the door for that wild card playoff spot they currently occupy. Tampa Bay is just two points behind and Toronto is three points back with two games in hand. The Flyers should be wise to avoid a losing streak at this juncture.
Down in the bottom end of the division, the Carolina Hurricanes remain the best of three. They had a tough week against Pittsburgh, Chicago, and Tampa Bay. They beat Chicago, so there’s that. The Canes should be a little more careful of the New York Islanders. The Islanders had a good, winning week where they picked up four out of six points. It was enough to get them out of last place and get them just a little closer to Carolina. While it may be too late for a playoff run, getting hot at this point of the season will make up plenty of ground to change that thinking. Alas, the New Jersey Devils ended 2016 at the bottom. While they beat the Caps in a shootout, it was in the middle of two really bad losses between the Penguins and Capitals. Other division teams perhaps would have preferred the Devils to take points from them; instead, they just helped them stay where they were at the cost of falling further. With 35 points, they’re just one point away from dead last in the Eastern Conference. May New Jersey resolve to be more competitive in 2017.
That was what happened in the division in the last week of 2016. That was then. This is now. What does the beginning of 2017 looks like? Let’s look at the upcoming weekly schedule for all eight teams. Games within the division are in bold.
Let’s start at the top. The Columbus Blue Jackets will attempt to match the league record for a winning streak starting on Tuesday. They’ll host the Edmonton Oilers before two divisional games: visiting the Washington Capitals and hosting the New York Rangers. Those two games will be difficult if only because the Caps and Rangers would love to take the Blue Jackets down a bit, and the Oilers aren’t doormats. Then again, Columbus has been so hot so it’s difficult to entirely bet against them. Even if they do stumble, the Pittsburgh Penguins cannot do anything about it. They have a bye week this week. Yes, they have no games in this week. They’ll pick up games in hand on teams, but they could be set back further from Columbus and even end up behind the Rangers, depending on how they play. Speaking of the Rangers, they’ll begin 2017 with a back-to-back set where they’ll host Buffalo before visiting Philadelphia. Should that set go well, they’ll visit Columbus in what should be a big divisional game on Saturday.
The two middle teams are playing as of right now. The Capitals are hosting Ottawa to begin a week that will see them host Toronto and Columbus prior to going to Ottawa. The Flyers are visiting Anaheim to wrap up their road trip before returning to Pennsylvania to play the Rangers and Tampa Bay. They’ll have more rest, but what they need more in the week are wins to keep their position and hope to gain ground on Washington.
The Carolina Hurricanes will try to pull away from the bottom two teams with three games in this week. They’ll want to beat the New Jersey Devils at home. If only to keep them back. Also because they’ll have two difficult road games back-to-back later in the week: at St. Louis and at Chicago. At least the Canes will be at home for a game for a bit; the New York Islanders will be on the road entirely. They’ll have plenty of time to prepare for a road back-to-back with Colorado and Arizona. Given how poor those teams are, the Isles should come away with that set with points. We’ll see if the 2016-17 Isles can manage that. Lastly, the New Jersey Devils will be very busy in this first week of the new year. They’ll host Boston tomorrow before going to Carolina on the next night. There will be two days off before hosting Toronto and Edmonton back-to-back to close the week. Those are nights where they could get some standings points and regain some of their pride. Whether or not they will, well, is up to them.
That was the week that was in the Metropolitan Division and now we know what is coming up next. I repeat: Can anyone stop Columbus? Will the Rangers take advantage of an idle Pens team in this week? Do you think the Flyers will remain in a wild card spot by next Sunday? Can the Devils get out of the basement? 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. I apologize for the lateness of this post; I thank you for reading.