Thanksgiving is upon us. Those who appreciate competition and tight division races should be thankful for the 2017-18 Metropolitan Division. The division enters this week with three teams tied for first place, three teams tied for last place, and first and last place are separated by only five points. Tiebreakers mean that the New Jersey Devils (amazingly) remain at the top of the standings at the beginning of this week.
Yes, there are only five points between the penthouse and the basement in this proverbial building. A bad week - or a really good week - can make a difference. But nobody has pulled away and everyone has kept some kind of pace. It’s a holiday week but it is anything but short on hockey games. Here is what is coming up in this week. Games within the division are in bold.
For this week’s snapshot, I will highlight the team’s #1 goaltender and their save percentages from NHL.com. This division is loaded with goaltending talent and so they deserve a little spotlight. Just something in addition to summarizing what each team has done and what is coming up for them.
New Jersey Devils - #1 Goalie: Cory Schneider - 14 GP, 92.6% ES Sv%, 87.4% PP Sv% (save percentage against power plays). After a rough 2016-17, Schneider has bounced back in a big way so far this season. Schneider was two seconds away from a shutout on Thursday; although he suffered five goals against in one period in Winnipeg. Still, his percentages show that he is a reliable stopper of the puck.
The New Jersey Devils had themselves some week on the road. On this past Sunday, the Devils went down 1-4 to Chicago in the first period and then proceeded to lead 6-5 by the end of the second period. They prevailed 7-5 in Chicago for a win. Thursday night saw the Devils play a very tight and conservative game against Toronto. The game was scoreless until the final two seconds of overtime; the Devils fell to a deflection for a 0-1 OT loss. Just yesterday, Winnipeg blew up the Devils with three goals in 1:35 in the second period that turned 1-1 into 1-4. Then they scored again in the second period and the Devils fell by a score of 2-5. It was a week full of goals one night, no goals on another, and a whole mess for the opposition in the afternoon. Their three points keeps them at the top for another week thanks to the first tiebreaker: games played. The Devils still have games in hand on most everyone in the division. That will be used up in this coming week. Their road trip will end in Minnesota on Monday. They return home for games before and after Thanksgiving against Boston and Vancouver, respectively. Right after that Vancouver game, the Devils will head to Detroit. A strong week can help them stay at the top, which has proven to be an increasingly difficult task.
Columbus Blue Jackets - #1 Goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky - 16 GP, 94.3% ES Sv%, 87.3% PP Sv%. That even strength save percentage is crazy good. Bobrovsky has been a big reason for the resurgence of the Blue Jackets in recent seasons. He continues to be one of the best in the world.
Columbus has only two games last week. Fortunately for them, they won both. They edged Montreal in OT and then they blanked the New York Rangers. As a result, they remain right near the top of the division. The Blue Jackets will be more active in this coming week. They’ll visit Buffalo to start. Then they’ll return home for home games against Calgary and Ottawa surrounding the Thanksgiving holiday. A three-win week is possible for Columbus and if they can do it, then it is likely they can finally take the crown.
Pittsburgh Penguins - #1 Goalie: Matt Murray - 18 GP, 91.1% ES Sv%, 88.9% PP Sv%. Murray’s even strength save percentage is below average. But he has been successful enough to keep the Penguins in games. Or is that the Penguins skaters have done well enough to keep him in games? Whichever way, Murray is the keeper of the crease in Pittsburgh. Should he improve, the Pens will become that much tougher of an opponent.
The Penguins made it a winning week. They beat Buffalo quickly in overtime 5-4 last Tuesday. Then they beat Ottawa in regulation, 3-1. Alas, their sweep was denied by Chicago, who beat them 2-1. Still, the two wins kept the Pens towards the top. Now they get to rest a little bit before a three-game week. The Penguins will host Vancouver before Thanksgiving. After the holiday, the Pens will visit Boston and then host Tampa Bay on the next night. That Saturday night game could be interesting as both teams will have played the night before. The Pens remain a team that could stand to benefit big time with some upticks in their percentages. Even without them, they’re still near the top. They remain a dangerous opponent - even if they have played more games than everyone else in the division.
New York Islanders - #1 Goalie: Nobody? Games have been evenly split between Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Both have played 10 games; although Halak has replaced Greiss in one game. I’ll list both. Halak - 10 GP, 91.7% ES Sv%, 88.9% PP Sv%; Greiss - 10 GP, 90.8 ES Sv%, 90.4 PP Sv%. Both goalies have been excellent on the penalty kill and far from it in even strength situations.
Like Columbus, the Islanders had a short week. Like Columbus, they won both games. They picked up a big divisional win in a 6-4 victory over Carolina. Then the Isles made a statement by taking down Tampa Bay in regulation, 5-3. That’s quite good and the points keep Islanders very much in the mix. They will have a chance to cause even further chaos in the division. The Isles will visit Carolina today. Before and after Thanksgiving, the Islanders will have a home-and-home set with Philadelphia. Right after that road game against Philly, the Isles will head up to Canada’s capital to play Ottawa. Those divisional games could start breaking things up - or have the Isles fall really fast. Keep an eye on what the Isles do in this coming week.
Washington Capitals - #1 Goalie: Braden Holtby - 15 GP, 93.8% ES Sv%, 86.4% PP Sv%. Holtby has been one of the best tenders in the league in the last few years or so. He has been a rock for the Caps. A 93.8% save percentage in even strength situations will do that. He will continue to give the Capitals opportunities to succeed - though apparently less so when they have to kill penalties.
The Capitals had a busy week of games and it went oddly. First, they needed a shootout in DC to defeat an Edmonton team that has been struggling. Last Tuesday, the Caps were flatly beaten by Nashville, 6-3. Then last Thursday, the Capitals lost in regulation to Colorado, 6-2. But the Caps salvaged the week by beating Minnesota at home, 3-1. Are these Caps legitimately good? I think so. But the results have left something to be desired. Instead of being at the top of the division, they’re smack in the middle of it. It’s a tight division but if the Caps cannot sort it out soon, they may stay there for some time. The Capitals will have four games in this coming week to start sorting it out. They’ll have three home games in a row: Calgary on Monday, Ottawa on Wednesday, and a big one with Tampa Bay on Friday. Saturday has the Caps visiting Toronto. It can be a tricky week for a team that has to sort out what they can do.
Carolina Hurricanes - #1 Goalie: Scott Darling, 14 GP, 91.2% ES Sv%, 87.5% PP Sv%. The Canes went out and acquired Darling. They paid him a handsome sum to be a better goalie than Cam Ward. These percentages are not exactly confidence-inducing so far this season.
What did induce some confidence is a winning week last week. The Hurricanes beat Dallas big-time by a 5-1 score. After losing 6-4 to the Islanders, the Canes beat Buffalo 3-1 to win two out of three this week. While tied in points, the tiebreaker of games played put the Canes in sixth place. Carolina still has the fewest amount of games so they remain an X-factor in a division where all eight teams are close to each other. The Canes will get to cause some chaos in the division. In addition to playing the Islanders today, the Hurricanes will host the New York Rangers on Wednesday. The Canes will end their week hosting Toronto on Friday in a game that Washington fans hope Carolina gives their opponents a good work out. Don’t sleep on this team - especially if Darling can bring up his save percentages.
New York Rangers - #1 Goalie: Henrik Lundqvist, 17 GP, 90.9% ES Sv%, 89% PP Sv%. Lundqvist has been a mainstay for the Rangers for over a decade. That said, a 90.9% ES Sv% is really surprising for a goaltender of his caliber. It’s definitely a far cry from the days where Lundqvist would routinely put the team on his back to get them through games. The Rangers are going to struggle in this season if that persists and they keep him as the #1 guy.
The New York Rangers were hot. They had a six game winning streak entering a short, two-game week. After this past week, they have a two-game losing streak. The Rangers lost to Chicago, 6-3, and then to Columbus, 2-0. As much as the winning streak put the Rangers back in contention, a losing streak will knock them back down a peg quickly. And it has, as they’re tied with Carolina in points and behind them due to games played. They avoid the very bottom due to a superior ROW. For the Rangers to stay in contention, they need to win now and win often after now. For this week, the Rangers will host Ottawa tonight before visiting Carolina on Wednesday and hosting Detroit on Friday. They need points because another lost week and they may end up back to where they started very quickly.
Philadelphia Flyers - #1 Goalie: Brian Elliott, 14 GP, 92.5% ES Sv%, 81.3% PP Sv%. Elliott is now the latest in a long line of starting goaltenders for a franchise that does not settle on one for one reason or another. The even strength percentage is fine. The power play save percentage is low. The latter is more volatile than the former. In the interest of continuing the Philadelphia tradition of goaltender controversies, I will helpfully point out that the #2 man, Michal Neuvirth, has a 95.2% ES Sv% and a 87.1% PP Sv% in six games.
The Philadelphia Flyers picked up two points the hard way in their past week. No, they did not win any games. They were first blanked by Minnesota before they lost to Winnipeg in overtime. Last night, they lost to Calgary at home in a shootout. Those two points kept the Flyers from being definitively in the basement. But four straight winless games is not a good trend in a division that is seemingly up for grabs at this point. The Flyers will have to wait to Tuesday for their first opportunity to end their winless streak when they host Vancouver. On Wednesday and Friday, they will have a home-and-home with the Islanders. Those games will be an opportunity for them to climb back up while taking someone ahead of them down. However, further misery and the Flyers may be solely in eighth place before they know it.
That was the week that was in the Metropolitan Division and the week to come for all eight teams. What do you think will happen in this coming week? Who will be in first place after this holiday week is over? Will there be a larger separation between first and last place by next Sunday? Who do you think has the most to prove in this coming week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division in the comments. Thank you for reading.