All-Star Game weekend means all 31 teams get a break from the regular season for a four-day weekend. The season was effectively put on pause last Thursday and will resume this Tuesday. It’s a good time as any for all teams to assess where they are and what they can do for the remainder of this season. The NHL Trade Deadline is now less than a month away and some tough decisions will be made. For the eight teams in the Metropolitan, who wouldn’t want to go for it? There’s only five points separating second place from eighth. The Atlantic Division is likely only going to send three teams since Detroit is the closest to getting in and they’re six points behind Carolina, who are three teams behind the wild card spots. This is why I’m not designating who’s in the wild card. You can safely assume for the time being that fourth and fifth place in the Metropolitan have taken those spots.
To that end, I’ve added a new column to the standings snapshot: playoff odds from Moneypuck. Their model incorporates simulated seasons based on a game model that takes a team’s performance into account. Keep that in mind as you see the percentages; it explains why Carolina’s odds are a bit higher than Philadelphia’s or the Rangers’ own odds.
Basically, the teams that can best control their destiny have superior odds. So while the New Jersey Devils have been slumping hard, they still have at least a game in hand and they have the advantage of having been in a spot. Plus, some of their underlying stats have actually improved to being decent. Contrast that with Philadelphia, who may have played better as of late, but the future isn’t so bright short of some serious improvements. Of course, in a division this tight, there will be some swings in odds on a night-by-night basis. Especially with games within the division.
It just so happens that there will be a couple of those coming up in this week. While it is a five-day week for the purposes of playing games, everyone will have at least two games and everyone except the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes will face someone else in the Metropolitan.
For this week’s division snapshot, I will highlight each team’s February schedule. The NHL Trade Deadline is coming, it’s a short month filled with games, and this could be the one month that breaks up the division.
Washington Capitals - 14 games, 8 road games, 4 Metropolitan opponents, and a game on the NHL Trade Deadline date of February 26. Enjoy Columbus, Caps fans, you’ll see them three times in February.
The Washington Capitals are in the safest spot in the division: the top. They’re in first, they have a six point lead over second place, and they are not showing signs of slipping. The Capitals did drop a point in a 1-2 overtime loss to Philadelphia, but they did make it a win in Florida with a 4-2 result. The three points only added to their lead. As long as they can maintain, they are in control. They will also get a chance to make some noise for the teams below them. The Capitals will host Philadelphia on Wednesday and visit Pittsburgh on Friday. The non-Pennsylvania teams in the division will surely want the Capitals to beat them and, ideally, in regulation.
Columbus Blue Jackets - 13 games, 6 road games, 10 (!!) Metropolitan opponents, and that Capitals game on the day of the NHL Trade Deadline. Columbus fans, you will see the Capitals the most with three games. You will also have to see your team really go through the divisional gauntlet to aim for first - or even stay where they are.
The Jackets were on the road for their two games last week and predictably split them. Like a lot of teams, they lost in Las Vegas. Like a lot of teams, they won in Arizona. Not exactly ideal to need OT to beat Arizona, but it’s still a ROW in the standings. Columbus will come back from the All-Star Game festivities with two home games and a trip to Brooklyn. Those home games will be tricky as they’re up against San Jose and Minnesota. I’m still amazed the Blue Jackets will have ten of their thirteen games in this coming month against divisional opponents. I guess they’ll be the kingmakers at best or the jobbers to their peers at worst.
Pittsburgh Penguins - 12 games, 6 road games, 5 Metropolitan opponents, and no game on the day of the deadline. The Penguins’ most common foe will be New Jersey as they’ll see each other twice.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have risen up to take third place at the time of the break. Yes, it is not ideal that they have played more games than everyone else. Yes, their shooting and save percentages remain far from ideal. And they are in third. They are going to be frightening if they get some puck luck and the teams around them do not use their games in hand. The Penguins took care of business last week: they held down Carolina in a 3-1 win and polished off Minnesota with a 6-3 result. Two wins is a winning week and enough to be in a tie. They also hold a healthy ROW advantage too. Don’t call it a comeback - they were never really out of it. The Penguins will return from the break with a home game against San Jose, a home game against Washington, and a road game in New Jersey. Not easy and that Devils game can be a trap given how much Washington works them over in the night before.
New Jersey Devils - 14 games, 6 road games, 9 (!) Metropolitan opponents, and no game on the day of the deadline. The Devils will get to see Carolina and Pittsburgh for the first time this season too. This is a crucial month for a team that has surpassed expectations in the first half of the season. They have home games, they only have two back-to-back sets, and they have an array of opponents. It’s put up or shut up time in February.
The New Jersey Devils really need to put something up and soon. They are mired in a four-game losing streak. They lost all three games last week, they lost them all in regulation, and they lost by a combined score of 2 to 9. Their 3-2 loss at Boston was a very good performance and it was sandwiched by two bad shutout losses. As a result, they have slipped to fourth place and they are not at all safe for the time being. With games in hand and the fact it’s hard to over take teams, the Devils do have some say in their destiny. They will have to speak loudly and victoriously when they visit Buffalo on Tuesday, host Philadelphia on Thursday, and host Pittsburgh on Saturday. A winning week would not just be grand, but it’ll be the ideal start to a very busy month.
Philadelphia Flyers - 13 games, 8 road games, 6 Metropolitan opponents, and a game in Montreal on February 26. The Flyers haven’t been bad on the road this season, but they will be tested. They’ve had a strong January; can they continue it?
The Flyers pulled out two overtime wins before falling 5-1 to Tampa Bay before the All-Star Game break. Giving a point each to Washington and Detroit doesn’t really affect their situation. The Flyers have been knocking on the door and are now occupying a wild card spot. It’s a tenuous spot but Philly has been trending up in the past few weeks. The Moneypuck model doesn’t like their future but that doesn’t mean the Flyers have to follow it. Philadelphia has progressively easier games on paper for this coming week. They’ll return to action on Wednesday night against first place Washington. While they’ve done well against them, the New Jersey Devils will be itching for revenge on Thursday. Then the Flyers will host an increasingly hapless Ottawa squad on Saturday. Enjoy that home game because there will only be four more in February after that.
New York Rangers - 14 games, 8 road games, 2 Metropolitan opponents, and no game on the day of the NHL Trade Deadline. The Rangers have been bad on the road. With a two game trip out to Nashville and Dallas, a four game road trip from February 11 to February 17, and the beginning of a Western Canada trip on February 28, the Rangers will need to turn things around. If they want to actually do so, that is.
Now, for these posts, I try to be somewhat neutral. This is the weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot. I try to ease up on the rivalry hatred. But I cackled when I saw this report from Larry Brooks at the New York Post with the headline, “The Rangers are going to blow it all up.” It is what you think it is. And it’s hilariously short-sighted.
A team that’s one point out of a playoff spot in a super-tight division is going to be a seller. They’re entering a month where they’ll still have six games at their own arena where they are very successful and eight games to make up for past road issues. It’s not ideal but it could be worse. And with so few Metropolitan opponents, they don’t have to care about giving extra points away for the next month. I understand this makes sense in the long term but in a super-tight division, they’re going to try pulling off being less talented currently and still somehow being competitive. As if the Rangers haven’t been trying to break their goaltender’s back enough. Somewhere, Henrik Lundqvist is banging his head against the wall and yelling, “WHYYYYYYYYYY,” while the Rangers look for another plug to pick up off waivers. I know their California road trip didn’t go so well last week what with two regulation losses before edging San Jose 6-5. I know they’ll host Toronto before going to Nashville, so a split week is definitely in the cards. There’s a lot of hockey left - and the Rangers are just saying, “Nah. The fans know we know this isn’t happening this year. Shut it down.” I’m shaking my head for them. I almost feel bad for the Rangers fans - except that they are, you know, Rangers fans.
New York Islanders - 12 games, 5 road games, 5 Metropolitan opponents, and no game on trade deadline day. The Islanders have a few more home games and they won’t have to travel far for one of their road games. Not a bad situation for a team that kind of needs to turn it up.
I’m sure the Islanders would relish the Rangers blowing things up. They can believe they’re still in it - and they may have to in order to please their ace forward, John Tavares. The Isles had two road games last week and they split them somewhat. They lost to Arizona but it was in overtime so they got a point. They amazingly beat Vegas in Vegas in regulation, something that has happened only two other times this season. The three point week wasn’t enough to get them out of the bottom end but it keeps them in good standing. In this coming week, the Isles will get Florida and Toronto back to back before hosting Columbus on Saturday. It can be a bit tricky but after winning in Vegas, their confidence should be a bit higher from that. There aren’t any reports of blowing the whole team up as far as I’m aware.
Carolina Hurricanes - 13 games, 3 (!) road games, 5 Metropolitan opponents, and no game on trade deadline day. Do you like home games, Canes fans? This is your month as Carolina has ten home games coming up. If you include their home game on January 30, the Canes have an eight game home stand. This would be huge if they had been better at home. 10-7-4 isn’t exactly a killer home record. But they can make it one over the next two weeks.
The Carolina Hurricanes have seemingly figured out the whole run of play and defense thing. The whole finishing shots, stopping shots, and special teams, well, not so much. They’re not so far back that they need to put up this amazing record for the rest of the way. But with each failed opportunity, the need for amazingness only increases. A three point deficit from seventh place could be the start of a larger gap forming. Going 1-2-0 last week didn’t help. Sure, beating Montreal 6-5 must have been fun but losing home games to Vegas and Pittsburgh made it a negative week. The Canes will begin a long home stand in this coming week. They’ll host Ottawa on Tuesday before a back-to-back set with Montreal (that can be fun given the 6-5 game last week in Montreal) and Detroit on Thursday and Friday. If Carolina can sweep a week, then their presence will be more pronounced. But the time for stepping up is now and the Canes, well, have yet to really do so in 2017-18.
The regular season will resume on Tuesday and a lot can happen. That whole trade deadline thing is a big deal and it’s already a thing in Manhattan. That and those Metropolitan games coming up should make for yet another competitive week in the Metropolitan Division. What do you think will happen? Who will be in the top three - I’ll spot you Washington? Who will be in the wild card spots? When will the Rangers’ blow up of their roster blow up their actual 2017-18 season? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the week that was and the week that will be in the comments. Thank you for reading.