Welcome to the final weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot of the 2016-17 season. I know these aren’t the most popular posts, but they serve as a good reminder to look at the standings, to look at what other teams are doing, and to look at what is coming up. As the regular season ends next Sunday on April 9, there’s no need for a snapshot for one day of games. So this snapshot will include it.
And let’s do the schedule now too. Games in bold are within the divison. Games in italics affect the Race for 28th.
The Washington Capitals remain in the driver’s seat to secure first place in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference. Despite a surprising loss to Arizona, they still have a lead over second-place Columbus and third-place Pittsburgh. Their road trip will continue with a very, very, very interesting game tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Caps will end their road trip in Toronto on Tuesday and host the New York Rangers for their final inter-division game of the season. Everyone in the Metropolitan is getting a back-to-back set to close their season. Washington is the only one without a game within the Metropolitan; they’ll have Boston and Florida. That Boston game may be rather important to multiple teams depending on how this week goes.
The Columbus Blue Jackets are four points back with eight days left. It’s not impossible, but if they want the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference crown, then they need to win in regulation over the Caps. They’ll also need the Caps to slip up a bit while the Jackets prevail. They’ll have another big challenge on Tuesday; a very likely playoff match-up preview with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Should the Blue Jackets come out of those games with results, then they’ll have a little relief: Winnipeg, Philly, and Toronto. Those last two could, in theory, have something to play for. We’ll see how the week goes first. But the Blue Jackets could make a lot of noise if they win tonight and ideally their game over the Pens - and both in regulation.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are only one point behind Columbus. But they’ll need a little more help. I think they’ll end up facing Columbus in the first round and, as such, should probably strive for home-ice first. They’ll take on a tricky Carolina squad as the Canes have a (long) shot at the postseason before a big game against Columbus. They’ll visit the hapless Devils before their back-to-back with Toronto and the Rangers. Toronto may need those points. The Rangers, well, they’re set so they should try to take that game a little more easy.
In fact, the New York Rangers can afford to take all of their games easy. Two post-regulation losses and one regular loss last week? Who cares. They’re in. They clinched their berth in the postseason. The first wild card spot is all but set. The Rangers are too far behind to move up. They are too far ahead of the second wild card spot to move down. They have the luxury of resting players, lightening up a little, and getting a little rest. Plus, they only have four games left so they can do the latter for a bit. They’ll get a Philadelphia team that needs points to keep their dreams alive first. Then they’ll have a road game in D.C. prior to a back-to-back with Ottawa and Pittsburgh. The Rangers shouldn’t just limp into the playoffs, but they have no reason to push to the limit ahead of a postseason where everyone will be from the first minute.
The New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, and Philadelphia Flyers are all now even in points. And they are also all behind Tampa Bay and the current second wild card berth owners, Boston (78 GP, 90 points). Those three teams need to win and get help. A loss or two may be it for them.
The Islanders limp into this week having went 1-2-0 last week. That big loss to Philadelphia gave the Flyers hope while undercutting their fading chances. The Isles will need to get wins and do so on the road: Buffalo, Nashville, Carolina, and New Jersey before the season-ender in Brooklyn against Ottawa. While the Isles should likely get points against Buffalo and New Jersey, the middle two games may be their undoing. And the Canes certainly will need those points too; it’s going to be a massive game on Thursday.
The Hurricanes at least won last week by picking up 5 out of 8 points. Dropping a game to Dallas on Saturday took the winds out of their sales. Their margin for error is small. If they can get two wins going into that game with the Isles, then they could still have a shot. And still have one at the end of the season if they beat the Isles. A split with St. Louis and Philadelphia will be a tough one. It may be easier if the Flyers (or Canes) have their fate sealed earlier.
The Flyers won big against the Isles and took down the Devils to give their playoff hopes a shot from the proverbial defibrillator. In fact, the Flyers are hot right now with four straight wins. They need to keep the fire burning since they only have four games left and three of the teams ahead of them have a game in hand on them. The Flyers will need to stay hot against the Rangers today, the Devils on Tuesday, and then hope they’re still alive with a nasty Columbus-Carolina back-to-back. The good news is that both games are in Philly for the weekend. The bad news, well, Columbus has their own incentive and Carolina has just been tough for most opponents in the last few weeks. Keeping up winning streaks is hard, but it’s necessary for the Flyers at this juncture.
Lastly, there are the New Jersey Devils. They enter the final week of this season with a six game losing streak. They’ll be seeing Patrik Elias off, the last reminder within the organization of when the Devils were regular Cup contenders and a real pain to play against. Now, the Devils are points for others. Given the Race for 28th, that’s not so bad. But I can also understand wanting to salvage a little pride with a home win against either the Flyers on Tuesday, the Penguins on Thursday, or the Islanders on Saturday. It would be nice before that Sunday season-ender in Detroit; a battle of playoff-less teams closes the Joe Louis Arena. Either way, the end is nigh for the Devils faithful.
Speaking of the Race for 28th, here’s how it looks so far. I also included 29th place Arizona just for intrigue.
The rule is that to be in the standings for this race, you have to be within ten points of 28th place. That’s why Florida, Buffalo, Dallas, and Detroit are here. However, the Devils are at least six points behind each of them. For either to come into play, they’ll need to lose a lot - Florida ended up here from dropping four games last week - while hoping that a slumping, struggling Devils team wins a bunch. With the Devils’ schedule coming up, I wouldn’t hold my breath if you want those four teams to get really back into the picture.
In effect, this race involves three teams. The Devils, who are in 28th, is in the “driver’s seat.” The Vancouver Canucks are in 27th and just one point ahead of the Devils. They have also been losing a lot, such as their last three games in total and apparently their last ten home games. For intrigue purposes, I included Arizona. They’re three points behind the Devils. Arizona is also a really bad hockey team, but if they somehow win a bunch of games, then this will come down to the wire. Still, it’s simple at this point. The Devils have Philly, Pittsburgh, the Islanders, and a road game in Detroit. The Canucks will host San Jose today, they’ll visit them on Tuesday, they’ll go to Arizona on Thursday, and then have a home-and-home with Edmonton. It’s going to come down to who has a worse week: Devils or Canucks.
For the last time this season, that was the week that was in the Metropolitan Division and the week (plus one day) to come for all eight teams. Will the Capitals stay at the top? Who will get home ice between Columbus and Pittsburgh? Will the Islanders, Hurricanes, and Flyers keep on winning to stay in the ever shrinking playoff picture? Who will have a worse week: Devils or Canucks? 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 in the remaining eight days of the season in the comments. Thank you for reading all season long and today.