Goodbye bye weeks, hello shortened week in the National Hockey League. Next weekend is the NHL All-Star Game. With that comes a break in the season for all 31 teams. Everyone is off from Friday, January 26, to Tuesday, January 30. This break is a good time for all teams to reflect on where they are and make some decisions on what to do with the rest of the season given the trade deadline near the end of February. Of course, if you’re in the Metropolitan Division, then the decision is tougher because everyone is still in play for the postseason. The Washington Capitals are still the leaders and they lead everyone by at least four points. Yet, eighth place is still only ten points behind them.
In this past week, Washington, Columbus, and Carolina all experienced some or all of their bye week action. They didn’t move around too much from where they started. In fact, only New Jersey, Philadelphia, and Columbus won their weeks - and it’s not like they gained much either. The other five teams picked up points just to be interesting. While only five days in this coming week will actually have games, all eight teams will be in action. Games within the division are highlighted in yellow and they could mean something in the short-term given how tight things are.
Since it’ll be All-Star Weekend next weekend, this week’s snapshot will highlight the all stars from each team. And some players that maybe should have been named or at least considered based on how they have done this season. All All-Star rosters are from NHL.com.
Washington Capitals - All Stars: Alexander Ovechkin, Braden Holtby, coach Barry Trotz
John Hynes was close to sniping the coaching spot, which was decided by the points percentage leader in the division by mid-January. The Devils lost that game in Dallas, so Trotz secured it. And that’s more than fine. Being able to lead a division as tight as this one and have a lead is a big accomplishment. As for the skaters, Ovechkin is a superstar and stud scorer. He started Saturday as the league’s leader in goals and was one shot shy for the league’s leader in shots. He’s Washington’s everything on offense. He’s also a Big Name Player. So, yes, he deserves to go this year. Holtby is more arguable. His PK save percentage is excellent and a 92.5 Sv% at even strength is quite good. But that even strength save percentage is behind Sergey Bobrovsky’s more impressive 93.2% and Holtby’s just a thousandth ahead of Cory Schneider in that same category. Not exactly heads and shoulders above everyone else. It’s a defendable choice, but if you wanted Bobrovsky has the other goalie, then that would be defendable too. In terms of other Caps who could be there: John Carlson can be called a snub. He’s the division’s leader among defensemen in both total and power play points on top of playing a ton. While Noah Hanifin was Carolina’s lone representative, Carlson arguably has a better case to be there than Kris Letang.
It’s a good thing I had that much to say about their All-Star selections because the Capitals did not play that much. They had a back-to-back set after having four days off last week. They came back but lost in overtime to the Devils for their lone point of the night. The very next night, the Caps went up to Montreal and lost in regulation. Not a great return from a lengthy rest. The good news is that no one behind them in the standings was hot so they remain atop the division with a four point lead. The Caps will have two more games before the break. They’ll host Philadelphia today in an afternoon game and then go to Florida for a game on Thursday. They’ll have plenty of time to prepare for that last game
New Jersey Devils - All-Star: Taylor Hall
Taylor Hall is the Devils’ superstar left winger. He’s ninth in the division in scoring with 48 points in 43 games. What’s astounding is that he has 18 more points than the Devils’ second leading scorer: Jesper Bratt, who has been on Hall’s line for most of the season. Hall is not just the big producer, his blend of speed, bravery, and intensity makes him a fun player to just watch. He is a great fit for a 3-on-3 All-Star mini-tournament. There really isn’t any other Devil to really highlight. If there was a rookie game, then absolutely, but this isn’t a rookie game.
The New Jersey Devils entered last week with a six-game winless streak that included losses to all three teams that they would play. And those three teams were in the division: The Islanders, Capitals, and Flyers. The Devils ended their streak with a decisive 4-1 win in Brooklyn; the team’s first ever regular season win in the Barclay’s Center. The Devils picked up their first win over the Capitals in overtime. They lost the lead in regulation, but they picked up the ROW. Unfortunately, the Devils came out flatter than a pancake against the Flyers and gave up three goals in the first twelve minutes in a 1-3 loss to the Flyers. A perfect week would have had the Devils two points behind Washington with two games in hand. Still, a 2-1-0 week after going winless in six straight games is a positive step. The Devils will be quite busy in this shortened week. They’ll host Detroit in the team’s only Monday game for the rest of the season followed by a trip to a very difficult Boston squad on Tuesday. On Thursday, the Devils will host another also difficult opponent in Nashville. Three games in four nights is not easy and not against these opponents. But if the Devils want to keep proving they’re for real, then they need to continue to get results.
Columbus Blue Jackets - All-Star: Seth Jones
Seth Jones has emerged to be the anchor of Columbus’ blueline. He’s also third in the division among defensemen in both average ice time (24:48) and in points (30). He also leads Metropolitan defensemen in shots (146) too. With only three defensemen spots on the roster, Jones is a very fitting choice as one of them. As far as Blue Jackets who deserved some love, goaltender Sergey Bobrovsky could have been one of the two goalies selected. While Holtby has been better on the penalty kill, Bobrovsky’s 93.2% even strength save percentage leads the division among starting goalies in addition to just being impressive on its own. He’s a big reason why Columbus has allowed fewer goals than anyone else in the division. It is not a huge snub, but I think it is a snub of sorts.
Columbus had one game last week due to the bye. They won it; they beat Dallas in a shootout. Not picking up a ROW is not ideal, but it’s better than only one point earned. Between New Jersey winning twice and being off for most of the week, Columbus slid down to third place. They’ll have two games to try and climb their way back up. They’ll have to travel to Las Vegas, who has been remarkably good this season - especially at home. That Tuesday will be tough. The Blue Jackets will visit Arizona on Thursday. If the Jackets are smart, then they won’t take Arizona lightly. While their season’s fate may be sealed, they can drop a good team down a peg - like they did to St. Louis last night.
New York Rangers - All-Star: Henrik Lundqvist
Not that I follow Rangers fans because I care that much about what they think (they are Rangers fans), due to being on this blogging network, I do get wind of what’s going on in Manhattan. The sense I get is that this team is a bunch of poorly coached dudes being dragged to victories thanks to Henrik Lundqvist. More seriously, Lundqvist has been a superb goaltender this season. His 92.8% even strength save percentage is second only to Bobrovsky in the division and his penalty killing save percentage is an astounding 89.6%. He’s definitely one of the top two goalies in the division, so he deserves to be on this roster. As far as the other Rangers, well, no one really jumps out. The speedy Michael Grabner with his fun stat line of twenty goals and four assists may fit in a 3-on-3 format but he’s certainly not among the best forwards in the division. And none of their defensemen have really stood out. Only Lundqvist has been a star for the Rangers and based on what I see from the Rangers faithful, that’s appropriate.
The Rangers jumped right from the bye week into a four-game week last week. The home games went well: they smacked Philly around in a 5-1 win and edged Buffalo 4-3. The road games that bookended those two home games did not go well. They opened last week in Pittsburgh and lost 5-2. They began a four-game road trip yesterday afternoon and lost to the red hot (seriously) Colorado Avalanche 3-1. While they’re still in fourth place for another week, the Rangers have to be sweating about their situation in the standings. The Rangers have more road games than home games coming up so they really need to figure things out away from Manhattan. Unfortunately, their road trip will continue until the All-Star Break. The Rangers will hit up Los Angeles tomorrow night, Anaheim on Tuesday night, and San Jose on Thursday night. All three teams are talented and jockeying for position in their own conference. Lundqvist may have to put the team on his back again and hope for the best, which apparently may be their strategy.
Pittsburgh Penguins - All-Stars: Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang
Sidney Crosby is one of the world’s best players. While Pittsburgh as a team has struggled to score, Crosby still has 50 points (same as Ovechkin) and scares . As a name he belongs and I’m not opposed to him being at the All-Star Game. Kris Letang has bounced back from a shortened 2016-17 due to neck surgery and is among division leaders in defensemen scoring. However, I think one Penguin was snubbed: Phil Kessel. He’s out-produced Crosby and he’s third in the entire division in scoring with 54 points prior to Saturday’s games. Only Ovechkin has shot the puck more than Kessel, he leads the whole division in power play points, and he is fifth in the division in goal scoring. Kessel should be involved and possibly in place of Crosby. One could argue that Letang, while he is having quite a good season, is not as good of a fit as possibly Shane Gostisbehere or a bunch of Carolina’s defensemen.
The Penguins beat up on the Rangers 5-2 in Pennsylvania before embarking on a three game road-trip through California. The trip started off with a 5-3 loss in Anaheim. The Pens bounced back with a 3-1 win over Los Angeles. However, it was ultimately a negative one as they lost to San Jose, 2-1. The Pens had an opportunity to move on up, but they faltered. Worse, they’ve played more games than anyone else around them so they could suffer from games in hand from the opposition. Still, they occupy the second wild card spot in the East for the time being. Like the Rangers, they cannot be too comfortable with how things are. For this shortened week, the Penguins will return home. They’ll host Carolina for a big division game among the “bottom” teams on Tuesday and then host Minnesota on Thursday. A couple wins at home should keep them in the playoff picture. But like most of the division, they cannot relent.
Philadelphia Flyers - All-Star: Claude Giroux
This is weird to type for a sixth-place team in the divison, but the Flyers could arguably have three other players. Don’t misunderstand, Giroux deserves to be here. Giroux is just behind Tavares for the division lead in scoring with 55 points and is second in the entire NHL in assists. I’m arguing that other Flyers could be here too. Jakub Voracek leads the whole league in assists with 45 and is fourth in the division in scoring. He’s not here. Sean Couturier has broken out in a big way with 26 goals, third in goal scoring behind Ovechkin and Lee in the Metropolitan. He’s not here. Shane Gostisbehere is second among defensemen in the division in points. He’s not here. A larger question could be, “If the Flyers have four all-star worthy players, then why are they in sixth?” I don’t have the answer and the Flyers better figure out an answer in the coming months.
The Flyers are definitely not a weak sixth-place team. They’re just a point behind Pittsburgh in the standings and three behind Columbus, who are in third place. They also had a good week after the bye. While they lost big time to their hated rivals, Pittsburgh, the Flyers rebounded with an overtime win in Toronto and a 3-1 afternoon win over New Jersey. The 2-1-0 week puts them right behind Pittsburgh and the Rangers. They’re a tough opponent and if they can get on a roll, they’ll shoot up the standings. The Flyers will seek to extend their winning ways with an afternoon game in D.C. today, a game in Detroit on Tuesday (Detroit would be playing right after they visit the Devils), and they’ll host Tampa Bay on Thursday. The Caps and Bolts in the same week is never favorable, but the Flyers have the firepower to do more than just hang with them.
New York Islanders - All-Stars: John Tavares, Josh Bailey
John Tavares is a hot topic for the Islanders. Will he stay and for a boatload of money? Will he want to hit free agency and make a boatload of money? Those are big questions because Tavares is big-time player. Tavares leads the Isles in scoring and pulled ahead of Giroux for the scoring lead in the Metropolitan Division after Saturday’s games. He plays in all situations and he just keeps making things happen. He is very much deserving to be an All-Star. Josh Bailey has also been a point-machine with 41 assists and 53 points in 44 games. He’s among the division leaders in scoring; he belongs too. A really good case could be made for rookie sensation Mathew Barzal, who leads all rookies in scoring in the whole NHL, as well as being close to 50 points himself by this post. Anders Lee likely deserves consideration for having 27 goals, second also to Ovechkin. Like the Flyers, if the Isles have this many players who could/are going to the All-Star Game, then why aren’t they higher up in the standings. Unlike the Flyers, the answer is simpler for the Islanders: defense and goaltending.
The Isles picked up two high-scoring wins around their bye-week two weeks ago. Last week, there was plenty of scoring - but not always for them. First, they went to Montreal on Monday and won a high-scoring affair 5-4 in overtime. Second, they hosted the Devils on Tuesday and were blasted in a 4-1 loss. Third, the Islanders hosted Boston, who sent them packing with a 5-2 loss. Lastly, they went to Chicago and beat them in a huge 7-3 win. The Isles have been trying to just straight up out-offense their opposition with varying success. Their road record has been poor and their lack of defensive prowess is hurting them. Still, they are tied with the Flyers in points and can absolutely put more pressure on Pittsburgh, the Rangers, and beyond. In this coming week, the Isles will have to strive for more road success. They’ll go to Arizona first on Tuesday before going to Fort Rarely Lose in Las Vegas on Thursday.
Carolina Hurricanes - All-Star: Noah Hanifin
On a team that lacks productive scorers and certainly lacks strong goaltending, defense is the way to go for an All-Star Selection. Carolina’s D is very much on-point. Noah Hanifin is certainly not a bad choice. He is their blueline leader in points (21, tied with Zach Werenski in the division) and he’s no slouch at all at limiting shots on net. It would have been cool for Brett Pesce or Jaccob Slavin to be given more of a limelight for their excellent defensive play. But neither are productive, offensive players so I can understand why they would not be picked for an offense-oriented All-Star mini-tournament. If you figure everyone should be represented (and I do), then Hanifin is a good choice.
Carolina had two games bookending their bye week last week. They stumbled at home to Calgary, 4-1, before going off for five days. The Canes returned yesterday and won 3-1 in Detroit. That split the short week of games for the Canes. It was not good enough to really go anywhere in the standings, but it was good enough to keep pace with the two teams right in front of them and keep the division as a whole close. The Hurricanes remain a difficult opponent to break down. They’ll need to utilize that and more with this coming week. They’ll host Las Vegas today, go to Pittsburgh for a division game that could shake up the bottom half of the division, and then go to Montreal on Thursday. Despite being in last place in the Metropolitan, the Canes are not done with this season. They cannot be taken lightly - like anyone else in this division.
I know I named more deserving players for the All-Star Game than there are roster spots. It’s a shame because players like Kessel, Couturier, Lee, Voracek, and Barzal deserve some more attention. At the same time, the six forwards chosen absolutely belong. Crosby may be the “weak” link, but he’s still over a point-per-game on top of being a Big Name Player like Ovechkin. So I’m not so bothered by the six forwards they have picked. I had to make any swaps, I’d put Carlson in for Letang and Bobrovsky in for Holtby. I wish there were more roster spots, but that’s how it goes.
Anyway, that was the week that was and the (shortened) week that will be. Now I want to know what you think. Will the Capitals’ lead on the division be cut down? Who will occupy second and third place in the division? Will Philadelphia or the Islanders make their move on up? Who would be on your Metropolitan Division All-Star team (six forwards, three defensemen, two goalies, 3 vs. 3 format)? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division and the upcoming schedule in the comments. Thank you for reading.