With five out of the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division, this week’s snapshot will be a bit brief. After all, only three teams played a full week as those five played just two games with a five-day break in between. Only one of those three teams took advantage and won their week. That’s why the Washington Capitals are in first place - and with a lead in the standings.
A six point lead in this division is pretty big. Even if everyone used their games in hand and won, the Capitals cannot be caught at this moment. Washington, Columbus, and Carolina were the three teams that were active last week. Washington generally took care of business, Columbus split their points, and Carolina did not. Currently, the top three teams do have some space over the other five teams. But it is a real dogfight among those five and they will likely catch up sooner than you think. One thing is for sure, those games within the division matter. Speaking of, here’s the upcoming schedule for all eight teams. Games within the division are highlighted:
After being active last week, Washington, Columbus, and Carolina will all have breaks in their schedule. Conversely, the five squads who had a break this past week will all play quite a bit. The games that the New Jersey Devils and the New York Rangers have can make a real impact on the landscape of the division this week.
For this week’s Metropolitan Division snapshot, I will be highlighting each team’s leader in average ice time per game (TOI/GP) according to NHL.com. These are the men who handle the most on a regular basis.
Washington Capitals - John Carlson, D, 26:09 TOI/GP, 19:22 EV (Even Strength) TOI/GP
John Carlson is expected to be the premier UFA defenseman this Summer. Those interested in him just need to watch a few Capitals games because the man is just out there so, so much. He leads the entire division in TOI/GP too.
The Capitals were one of the few teams in the division to have more than two games last week. They made the most of it. They are now solidly in first place through winning three out of four. Two of them were dramatic; an overtime win against St. Louis and a game-winner in Carolina in the final second of regulation. The 3-1 win over Vancouver was not as dramatic. Their only loss was a home loss to Carolina, but it did not hinder them too much. Now the Capitals go on a break. They’re idle for five days, starting yesterday before returning to action with a back-to-back against New Jersey and Montreal. The Caps have done well against the Devils this season; that second night against Montreal may be trickier. Even if those games do not go well, the Caps should still be in first place for another week. Given how they took first place, I would anticipate them getting some results next week.
Columbus Blue Jackets - Seth Jones, D, 24:42 TOI/GP, 20:24 EV TOI/GP
Columbus traded Ryan Johansen to get Jones. Seth Jones has emerged as Columbus’ top defenseman. Some of his underlying numbers are second only to Zach Werenski, but even then Jones has been utilized more. He appears to be a stud and he should be a Blue Jacket for a long, long time. By the way, he’s the only player in the division to average more than twenty minutes at even strength per game.
Columbus’ week of four games started well enough. They went over Florida in a shootout and pulled out an overtime win in Toronto. Two wins, two games. Nice. The Blue Jackets proceeded to lose in regulation to Buffalo and Vancouver. Not so nice. The Blue Jackets will get to reflect on this week as they’re off until this coming Thursday. They have one game: a home game against Dallas. It would be in their best interest to win this game. Between having played the most games and being idle for nearly all of this coming week, the Jackets could be set to slip a bit. They do have some safety space from the five other teams, but the Devils are right behind them provided that they, you know, win a game.
New Jersey Devils - Andy Greene, D, 21:20 TOI/GP, 17:44 EV TOI/GP.
Sami Vatanen has a higher TOI/GP but that was helped out in part by how much he played in Anaheim. Greene has this time entirely in New Jersey, so I’m choosing him. In any case, Greene has been on New Jersey’s first pairing for about six years now. His age is seemingly catching up with him as is his usage. Throwing him into difficult competition and defensive zone situations over and over and over has not been good for what he could do or the team. It remains to be seen whether the Devils will keep that level of workload on him or shift it over. Who knows, maybe Vatanen’s time in NJ will exceed Greene by the end of this season.
The Devils picked up one out of four points as they are now winless in their last six games. They should have beaten the Islanders; they led in that game 4-2 in the third period and it ended with a 4-5 shootout loss. After the break, they disappointed in a 3-5 loss to Philadelphia. The good news is that the Devils have a buffer ahead of the New York and Pennsylvania teams. The bad news is that the Devils really need to win some games. They can make an impact in the division as all three of their games coming up are within the Metropolitan: they’ll go back to Brooklyn on Tuesday, they’ll host Washington on Thursday, and they’ll visit Philadelphia on Saturday. It will not be easy. After all, the Devils have lost to all three of those teams this season and recently at that. The Devils need a win in the worst way; here’s hoping they’ll get it.
New York Rangers - Ryan McDonagh, D, 23:58 TOI/GP, 18:52 EV TOI/GP
Ryan McDonagh has been a mainstay on the Rangers blueline. He’s typically their top defenseman. His numbers this season have not been so hot as the Rangers have become a poor possession team. I don’t think he is declining as he is 28. I’m not sure how this can be resolved; but I am admittedly biased about whether it could be or not.
The Rangers had two games - and they lost them. They lost in Vegas, 2-1, like so many teams this season. After the break, they hosted the Islanders and were absolutely embarrassed. Their hated rivals, the Islanders, went into their house and put a seven-spot on them. A 7-2 loss that now puts the Islanders right behind them in the standings. Ouch. The Rangers cannot dwell on that big loss for long. They have four games coming up, starting with a road game in Pittsburgh tonight. That’s a big one given the standings. Also big is their Tuesday home game against the Flyers, also big for standing implications. The Rangers will get out of the division after Tuesday with a home game against Buffalo and the beginning of a West Coast trip on Saturday when they visit Colorado. The margin for error for the Rangers has become increasingly smaller. This week could see them make a move up or end up behind a bunch of other teams really soon.
Pittsburgh Penguins - Kris Letang, D, 25:42 TOI/GP, 19:05 EV TOI/GP
It is great to see Kris Letang play at all. His last season was cut short due to a herniated disc in his neck which required surgery. Letang is back and has become the big minute-man for the Pens. He has truly been their top defenseman as he helps their stars get forward and contribute plenty on offense.
The Penguins also only had two games, but they won them both. I don’t like counting out a team that features Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Now they may be showing the world why you should not do that. The Pens have moved up to fifth and are only behind the Rangers due to games played. They prevailed over Boston in overtime before their break and then proceeded to beat Detroit 4-1 last night. The Penguins took care of business and appear to be rising. They’ll host the Rangers in a game that could see them move up to fourth. After that game, they’re heading to California. A back-to-back with Anaheim and Los Angeles will be tough and San Jose are no pushovers. But a positive week and the Penguins will once again command everyone’s attention. Look out, Metropolitan Division.
Philadelphia Flyers - Ivan Provorov, D, 24:45 TOI/GP, 19:46 EV TOI/GP
The last time the Flyers had a stud defenseman, it was when they had Chris Pronger. It appears the Flyers have a new defender who can soak up tons of minutes and make positive contributions regularly. His name is Ivan Provorov and there’s a reason he is on the ice as much as he is. He’s only 21 so get familiar with him; you’re going to see him a lot in this division.
Philadelphia entered their five-day break with three straight wins. They beat Buffalo 4-1 with two empty net goals to boost the score. Wouldn’t a break kill their momentum? It didn’t as they picked up a fourth straight win by beating New Jersey, 5-3. The Flyers remain in the mix in the bottom end of the division. But extending this streak should see them moving up really soon. They’ll look to continue their hotness in a week where they’ll go to Manhattan to play the Rangers, host Toronto, and then host the Devils for a matinee game. That’s two rivalry games and two games that could cause some shifts in this tight division. Will the Flyers keep up their winning ways? We’ll see.
New York Islanders - Nick Leddy, D, 22:41 TOI/GP, 18:37 EV TOI/GP
Nick Leddy was a smart acquisition from Chicago when they had cap problems. The Islanders needed help on defense and Leddy fit the bill. Leddy remains an important part of a functional Islander blueline. At age 26 and a deal that takes him to the 2021-22 season, he will be one for quite a while.
The Islanders won their two games. They came back and beat the Devils in a shootout before their break. After it, they delightfully and gleefully ran over the Rangers in a 7-2 rout. The win over the Devils ended a five-game losing streak. The win over the Rangers was enough to keep the Rangers at 49 points and pull themselves up to 48. Should they want to make up ground lost from that losing streak, they need to keep up the results. They’ll have a tricky back-to-back to start the week: a road game in Montreal on Monday and a home game against the Devils on Tuesday. After then, the Isles will host Boston and then visit Chicago. It will be a busy and challenging week. But now that the Isles snapped their slump, they may be up for this one.
Carolina Hurricanes - Jaccob Slavin, D, 23:00 TOI/GP, 19:37 EV TOI/GP
Jaccob Slavin has emerged to be a top defenseman among a very talented top-four group in Carolina. Slavin has been very good at keeping the play going forward in spite of some tough matchups and zone starts. While not terribly productive, he’s been quite effective for Carolina. The thing is that if he doesn’t have a good game, they could give the minutes to Noah Hanifin, Justin Faulk, or Brett Pesce. That they have not done so points to Slavin taking care of business.
Carolina did not make the most of everyone else being idle. Tiebreakers are why they are in last. Had they held out for one more second in their second game against Washington, they could have picked up a point and instead be tied with the Rangers and Penguins in points. Alas, every second matters. The Canes did beat the Capitals once in their back-to-back set. But that last second GA created a loss to sandwich that one win as the Canes also lost to Tampa Bay last week. The Hurricanes have struggled to jump ahead when the opportunity has presented itself in the standings. Now they risk being left behind somewhat as they will be mostly idle in this coming week. The Canes will host Calgary today, be off for five days, and then visit Detroit. They can hope the other seven teams do not pull ahead. They can and should help themselves by trying to beat Calgary and get something out of that Detroit game. Will they? Who knows.
That was the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division. Now I want to know what you think. Will the Capitals be able to have a big lead by next week? Will the Devils win a game in this week and who will it be against? Who will rise the most among the five teams from fourth to eighth place? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division and the upcoming schedule in the comments. Thank you for reading.