Welcome to the first weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot of 2018. As it was in 2017, it is a very tight division. It is the only division where last place is only nine points behind first place and that team has twenty wins and 18 regulation/overtime wins. There is no place for relenting in the Metropolitan Division. The Washington Capitals remain at the top. While they may have a solid lead in both wins and ROW, they are just two points ahead of second place. It goes without saying that nobody is really that far ahead or behind anyone else. Here are the standings:
For five of the eight teams in the division will have short weeks with only two games. It is an opportunity for Washington, Columbus, and Carolina to improve their lot in the division for the time being. Here are the schedules for all eight teams, games within the division are highlighted in yellow:
After today’s games, all eight teams in the division will be in the second half of their season. Since it is also a relatively new year, this week’s snapshot will include a suggested resolution for each team as they aim to meet their goals in the final three-ish months of the season.
Washington Capitals - Suggested resolution: Crank up the shots. This is weird to suggest on a team that features Alexander Ovechkin, but the Capitals are dead last in 5-on-5 shots for per sixty minutes per Natural Stat Trick. Dead last! Mind you, the Caps are also shooting at 9.23% in 5-on-5 play so the scoring hasn’t suffered too much. But if the Caps want to really take hold of the division and really set themselves as contenders, they need to generate more shots for themselves. This will be huge if/when that shooting percentage doesn’t show up in a game. It’s telling that the highest shooting forward not named Ovechkin enters Sunday with just under half of Ovechkin’s shot totals (Evgeny Kuzentsov with 90, Ovechkin with 181). Basically, everyone not named Ovechkin: shoot.
As for the Caps, they had a really, really short week last game. They played one game. They beat Carolina in overtime. There you are. Summary done. The Caps will have more to do this week. They’ll host St. Louis in a battle of good regular season/questionable playoff teams today. They’ll host Vancouver in one of the few games the division has between 1/8 and 1/10. Then they’ll have a home-and-home session with Carolina. This could be big for the Caps to maintain their division lead - or give the Canes a big boost in the standings. Watch out for that one.
New Jersey Devils - Suggested resolution: Sustain the gains. Alex wrote about this on Saturday and I noted it in my December Month in Review. The Devils were not a terrible possession team last month. They are making gains in CF%, a category that they were near the bottom in to start this season and shows up in games when the opposition basically pins the team back and does what they wish against them. If the Devils are seriously going to go for it, then they need to at least maintain the improvements in the run of play. The Devils aren’t going to only succeed by special teams or high shooting percentages. Being competitive in 5-on-5 will go a long way to ensure that they play meaningful games in March, early April, and hopefully mid-to-late April.
What will go a long way in the short term would be a win. The Devils ended 2017 with two winless games. Last week, they lost to St. Louis in a shootout and they lost in Dallas in regulation. Now they are winless in their last four. While they have not dropped in the standings, they could do so very soon between the lack of results and the lack of games coming up. Sunday’s game against the Islanders, who are also hapless of late, is huge. After a five-day break, they’ll have another big game, a rivalry matchup against Philadelphia. It’s a crucial two-game week.
New York Rangers - Suggested resolution: Learn to succeed on the road. The Rangers played a home-heavy first half of the season schedule. On the road, though, they’re 7-7-2 with a recent shootout win over Arizona. That 7-7-2 record has yielded the fewest road points in the division. Their second half schedule will have 16 home games and 25 road games. If the Rangers want to secure a playoff spot, they’ll have to show they can be successful away from Manhattan. Improving their 5-on-5 play would be a big help in doing that as their road CF% is a mere 46.25% - the third worst in the NHL per Natural Stat Trick.
The Rangers did make some strides to be more successful on the road in this past week. It took overtime, but they won “on the road” in Queens in the Winter Classic against Buffalo. Last night, it took a shootout, but they won legitimately on the road in Arizona. Their one home game was a 5-2 loss to Chicago. The Rangers will have a five-day break after today’s game. It will be a tricky one: a road game in Las Vegas. The expansion team has been sensational at home; it will be difficult to leave Nevada with points. After the break, they’ll have a rivalry game against the Islanders. Expect some excitement there regardless of the stakes.
Columbus Blue Jackets - Suggested resolution: Sort out the power play. Whatever they are doing, it has not been that successful. As of the evening of January 6, NHL.com has the Blue Jackets with the worst success rate in the league at 11.4%. They have scored a mere 14 goals out of 123 opportunities. That’s a lot of potential game-breaking and game-winning situations left unanswered. It’s not just that the pucks are not going in. Per Natural Stat Trick, the Jackets have the league’s lowest SF/60 rate in power play situations. In other words, they’re struggling to generate shots relative to all of the other power plays in the league. If Columbus wants to take that proverbial next step in 2018, then they need to get their power play to be more threatening, more efficient, and more successful.
The Blue Jackets could stand to be more successful in general after this past week. Tiebreakers dropped them to fourth place, but the Jackets did themselves no favors by winning one of three games last week. Their one win was a 2-1 victory in Dallas. This was book-ended by a 5-0 shutout loss to Tampa Bay and a 2-0 shutout loss to Colorado. That’s not good for the Jackets. Like Washington, they’ll be active in this coming week to make up for the losses. They’ll host Florida tonight and visit Toronto tomorrow. Two days after that they’ll have another back-to-back: a road game in Buffalo and a home game against Vancouver. The second half of those back-to-back sets tend to be tricky. If the Jackets can get points out of both, then that should see them move up in the short-term.
Carolina Hurricanes - Suggested resolution: Go beyond 5-on-5. Carolina must be such a frustrating team to follow this season. Their 53% CF% shows that they know what they’re doing in 5-on-5 play. Their defense has been really good and they generate a lot of shots. But the shooting percentage isn’t that high, the goaltending has not been up to par, a lot of their games go beyond regulation, and the special team success rates both rank in the bottom third of the NHL. Improvements in these areas can only help them. Their saving grace: the division is in a state where such gains could still get them to the playoffs.
The Canes had three games. Losing in OT to Washington was still a point from the division leaders. They smacked down Pittsburgh 4-0. Then they proceeded to get dominated in Boston 7-1. That’s three out of six points, although I can understand that a 7-1 loss ending the week leaves a bitter taste for the Canes faithful. The Hurricanes will get the fortune of playing three games when five other teams are only playing two games. The bad news is that these three games are incredibly difficult. They’ll visit Tampa Bay on Tuesday and then have a home-and-home with Washington. A good statement would be made if they come out of this coming week with points. But I could just as easily see them losing all three. Hold on tight, Canes fans.
Pittsburgh Penguins - Suggested resolution: Hope for a better PDO, or at least get better goaltending. As of this writing, the Penguins are dead last in the NHL in PDO. This is a rule-of-thumb stat that just sums up team shooting and save percentage in 5-on-5. They tend to regress to the team’s true value in time, so it’s a quick way to see who’s been fortunate or not. 43 games into this season and they remain terrible. Pittsburgh has the league’s lowest shooting percentage at 5.38% and the league’s lowest save percentage at 88.99% (!!) in 5-on-5 play. Both will hold the Penguins back from obtaining the results they want. Both need to improve in the next few months should the Penguins want to move up and stay up in the standings.
Despite the bad percentages in net and at shooting the puck, the Penguins aren’t out of anything in this division. That said, they split their previous week. They lost decisively to Detroit (4-1) and Carolina (4-0), but they beat Philadelphia (5-1) and the Islanders (4-0) decisively as well. Who are the real Penguins? You got me. They have a short week where they’ll host Boston today and Detroit on Saturday. Maybe the break will do themselves some good and try to figure out what can they do to improve their fortunes. I’d start in net; goaltending is easier to work on than figuring out how to get more pucks past opposition goalies.
Philadelphia Flyers - Suggested resolution: Play better beyond 60 minutes. The Flyers have eight post-regulation losses. They’re 2-5 in OT and they lost all three shootouts they have been in. That’s eight additional points that they lost that they could use right now. While the ideal it is to perform better in regulation so they don’t need to play overtime and win the game outright, that is not really likely. The team would do well to look at their 3-on-3 play, look for some improvements there, and continue to practice those shootouts. Philly may need those extra points in March and April. They could start earning them now.
The Flyers started a four-game homestand with three games last week. They were pantsed by their rivals, Pittsburgh, 5-1. After that, they dropped six-spots on the Islanders (6-4) and St. Louis (6-3). That’s a winning week and a good way as any to respond after a big loss to a rival team. The Flyers will play that fourth home game today against Buffalo. They’ll go on a break and resume playing with a game in New Jersey on Saturday. That last game could prove momentous in the division, so look for that one.
New York Islanders - Suggested resolution: Improve the entire back end: the defense and the goaltending. While Pittsburgh and Washington have lower save percentages and the Devils and Rangers have higher 5-on-5 SA/60 rates, the Islanders have a nasty combination of a low team save percentage and a high shots against rate. As a result, they have allowed the most goals in the first period in the NHL (47), the most goals in the second period in the NHL (58), and the most goals in the NHL in total with 153. The Islanders have scored a lot of goals, too; but the bleeding needs to be stemmed. It will not lead to much success in the future if the Islanders just continue to allow a lot of goals early in games and in total on top of allowing a lot of shots in 5-on-5 play. Both must be addressed and as soon as possible.
The Islanders are in a bad state. Their last win was on December 27. The Isles have proceeded to lose five games in a row since then. And they have not been close losses. Check out these scores: 4-2 at Winnipeg on 12/29, 6-1 at Colorado on 12/31, 5-1 hosting Boston on 1/2, 6-4 at Philadelphia on 1/4, and 4-0 hosting Pittsburgh on 1/5. The Isles have fallen to the bottom of the division with this slide. They need a win and they need one badly. In that sense, a two-game week coming up is not convenient. But maybe they need the time off to get their heads right. The Isles will be desperate for a win against New Jersey today. If that’s another L, they should be even more desperate on Saturday when they go to Manhattan to play their hated rivals, the Rangers.
That was the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division. Now I want to know what you think. Who will prevail on Sunday? Will the Capitals build up a lead in a division that will be mostly idle from Monday through Friday? Can the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes also take advantage of the idleness? Who among the five teams that will only play two games in this coming week will prevail by next week’s snapshot? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division and the upcoming schedule in the comments. Thank you for reading.