For those of you who may still follow Tom Gulitti on Twitter from when he was the Fire and Ice beat reporter, you’ve probably noticed him tweet regularly about the Metropolitan Division and how amazingly close and competitive it has been. This is especially in comparison to the other Eastern Conference division, the Atlantic, which at this point should consider itself lucky that it is guaranteed three playoff teams in the current format.
As we head into the Christmas break, nothing has changed in that regard. Nine points separate first from last on the morning of Christmas Eve, and only five points separate first from fifth. It truly is anyone’s division at this point in the season, which is both a positive and negative for fans of the New Jersey Devils, or really a fan of any team in the Metro. The positive is that everyone still has a chance, so there is no reason to feel completely depressed. There are no teams like last year’s iteration of New Jersey which was basically done by this point. The negative, however, at least for Jersey, is that being in first does not bring with it any sort of cushion or leeway. With the division being so hyper competitive, everyone has to keep on winning just to remain in the logjam and not fall behind it.
Anyway, here are the standings as of the beginning of the NHL’s Christmas break:
The next time anyone in the division plays is on Wednesday the 27th, when everyone except for Philadelphia will play. So, you have a couple of days to sit on the fact that the Devils are in first place in the tightest, toughest division in hockey! When the NHL resumes, each team will play either two or three games between Wednesday and the end of the week. Here is the upcoming schedule for your convenience:
As you can see, despite the shortened week, there are still a bunch of divisional games happening and a lot of action that could shake up the standings come 2018. Let’s take a quick look at each team as they head into the holiday break. For the random stat of the week, this week let’s check out the leading point getter on defense for each team, with player stats coming from Natural Stat Trick.
New Jersey Devils: Will Butcher: 2 G, 21 A, 8 First Assists, 42 Shots, 23 Points
The Devils were the only team in the division to go undefeated this week, and as consequence, regained the top spot in the division. The shootout win against the Rangers was particularly awesome, but the fact remains that this team is still winning based on offense. The team combined for 13 goals in the three games they played this week, and did not score less than 4 goals in any one game. That is highly impressive, and that sort of production will almost always lead to points and wins. The scoring this week has jumped New Jersey back up to 3.15 GF/60 in all situations, good for third in the division and 9th in the NHL. The Devils are one of the three teams in the division that get three games next week, and by consequence have a back-to-back set. They start out by hosting Detroit and Buffalo before traveling down to Washington for a divisional date with the Caps in a huge game for both teams looking to gain some separation at the top of the Metro.
As to the fun stat, Butcher is basically all of the scoring on the Devils blue line, with no one else having at least 10 points. However, of all the players listed here, he has by far the least number of shots taken, and it is not even close. A majority of the rest of the d-men listed in this article have over double the number of shots that Will does. He is scoring strictly based on assists.
Washington Capitals: John Carlson: 3 G, 24 A, 11 First Assists, 106 Shots, 27 Points
Washington dropped a spot in the divisional standings due to only winning one of the three games they played. They were able to dispatch a good Dallas team in Dallas with a 4-3 overtime victory, but they got shutout by Vegas last night and also managed to lose in overtime to the lowly Coyotes. Overall, you have to say that was not a good week for a team that considers itself one of the better ones in the league. However, they have a huge chance to make up for the poor week by playing two of their three games this upcoming week against divisional foes. They start off the week playing in Manhattan before returning home to face both Boston and New Jersey. If they can win both of their divisional games, they should be back on top of the Metro come New Year’s Eve.
As for the defender, Carlson has been an absolute beast this season so far. His 24 assists are impressive, but he is also shooting a ton with 106 shots already. He may only have 3 goals to show for it, but that production cannot be overstated. His offense has been a huge asset to Washington this season.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Seth Jones: 7 G, 14 A, 6 First Assists, 111 Shots, 21 Points
Columbus had a pretty good week, earning 5 of 8 potential points and remaining in third place in the division. They were one of only two teams this week who played four games, and they still managed to win their week. Their wins came at home, where they were able to hold Toronto in check and dispatch the Flyers in a shootout. On the road, however, they were a completely different team. They got absolutely shellacked by Boston 7-2 back on Monday, and also lost in a shootout in Pittsburgh. This upcoming week, they have a chance to redeem themselves by playing in Pitt once again before traveling to Ottawa.
While most people think of Zach Werenski when it comes to blue line offense for Columbus, it has actually been Seth Jones leading the way for Columbus in that category. Werenski is not too far behind with 18 points, but Jones has done quite well with 21 points in 37 games played. Like with Carlson for Wash, Jones is shooting the puck all the time, with 111 shots at this point in the season. Unlike with Carlson, however, those shots have translated well on the scoresheet with 7 goals to show for them.
New York Rangers: Kevin Shattenkirk: 5 G, 17 A, 12 First Assists, 76 Shots, 22 Points
New York’s week was a downhill slope. They started out with a nice win over a good Anaheim team 4-1 at the Garden. Then, they got absolutely dominated on the stat sheet but still managed to get a point against New Jersey before falling in regulation to Toronto last night in Manhattan. They have been on a downward trajectory on defense since the start of the year, with their CA/60 getting worse and worse as the season has gone along. They have been holding their own in the Metro logjam despite their worsening defense, and still remain in 4th place, but that could come back to bite them at some point. This week, they get the Caps at home before traveling to Detroit.
Shattenkirk has had himself a fine first season across the Hudson. None of his numbers particularly jump out as compared to the others I have listed here, but he has just been solid across the board. That is essentially what NY was looking for when they signed him, and he has delivered.
New York Islanders: Nick Leddy: 6 G, 20 A, 10 First Assists, 86 Shots, 26 Points
The Isles had two very different weeks, one on the ice and one off of it. On the ice, their week was very blah despite playing all of their games at home. They went 1-1-1, with a win yesterday against Winnipeg, an overtime loss to Anaheim, and a 6-3 beating by Detroit. This has kept them in 5th place in the division and in the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. However, off the ice, it was announced that they would be getting a new stadium in Belmont Park next to the raceway. This is excellent news for Long Island fans of the team, as they will be returning home after this not-so-great interim in Brooklyn. So while the team’s play on the ice was average, I am sure that many fans of the team were quite happy this week. After Christmas, they will get Buffalo and Winnipeg. The Isles are one of only two teams in the division this week who will not have a divisional game.
Nick Leddy has had a heck of a season so far, with 6 goals and 26 points. His offense has really gone a long way in giving his team a boost in the offensive zone, and he doesn’t look to be slowing down either with 2 assists in his last 2 games.
Carolina Hurricanes: Noah Hanifin: 7 G, 12 A, 8 First Assists, 81 Shots, 19 Points
Carolina made a nice jump up in the division this week, moving out of last place and leapfrogging both Philly and Pitt. They were able to do this by beating both Nashville and Buffalo, with the former coming in Tennessee. However, they also got humiliated up in Toronto on Tuesday, getting murdered 8-1. If they want to maintain their new position in the Metro and perhaps keep moving upward, they will have a nice chance this upcoming week. They get to play three games, one of those being a divisional tilt at home vs. Pittsburgh. They also get Montreal in their own building and St. Louis away. That final game will not be easy at all, especially with it being the 2nd game of a back-to-back.
With Justin Faulk struggling this season, Noah Hanifin gets on this list as the team’s top scorer on defense. He is the only player in this article who has under 20 points, but don’t let that deter you. This is a 20 year old kid still growing and developing, yet still leads Carolina’s blue line in points. Considering how Werenski has done in his career so far, being taken 3 picks after Carolina took this kid, I am sure they really love the fact that he is producing. If only NJ could say the same about the player they took one pick after Hanifin went…
Pittsburgh Penguins: Kris Letang: 2 G, 23 A, 10 First Assists, 111 Shots, 25 Points
The defending champs have fallen a spot in the division this week after dropping two of their three games in regulation. They managed to beat Columbus in a shootout in Pittsburgh, but lost to Colorado in Denver and got shutout by Anaheim yesterday. Despite their poor week, however, this week upcoming presents the Pens with a major opportunity. They have only two games, but both are divisional. They will once again get the Jackets at home before traveling down to Carolina. And considering that Carolina just passed them in the standings, I’m sure Pitt will want to win that one and regain higher ground in the Metro.
Everyone knows that Letang is one heck of an offensive defenseman when he manages to stay healthy, and so far this season he has been, playing in all 37 of the team’s games so far. He has 25 points in those games with an amazing 111 shots as well. And despite those shots, he only has 2 goals to show for them. That will certainly change at some point, so watch out for him.
Philadelphia Flyers: Shayne Gostisbehere: 7 G, 20 A, 7 First Assists, 96 Shots, 27 Points
Philly has dropped to the bottom of the division after winning only 1 of their four games this week. They did take down Detroit at home, but lost in regulation to both Los Angeles and Buffalo while also losing in a shootout to Columbus. However, it is worth noting that Philly’s 38 points would be good for 4th place in the Atlantic, so it isn’t like this team is totally done for. Like the Islanders, the Flyers have no divisional games this week, instead spending the week down in Florida, playing both teams in that state on back-to-back nights.
What a season the Ghost Bear is having offensively. His 27 points tie him with Carlson for the most in the Metro, and he has 4 more goals than Carlson does. Of course, I had him last year in fantasy, but not this year…
So there you have it folks. This is 2017, we are at the NHL’s Christmas recess, and the New Jersey Devils are in first place. What do you think about this? What do you think about the Metro in general? Which team do you think will soon fall out of it, and which do you think has a good chance to rise above the rest? Please leave your comments below, thanks for reading, and I hope everyone has a Merry Christmas!