With the Devils win over the Flyers last night and the Penguins simultaneous loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning, New Jersey emerged from the basement of the Metropolitan Division and inched into seventh place. With two big division wins this week, the Devils have clawed back a chunk of the ground they had lost on their awful seven-game road trip. The Devils were four points back of seventh place in the division on Monday, but are now just three points back of third place as of this writing. That is good news for the Devils, but it also reveals just how deeply mediocre the Metropolitan Division is right now.
The Metro’s defining characteristic right now might be that nobody seems all that good, but no one has looked particularly bad, either. The two teams everyone expected to be flat out awful, the Islanders and Rangers, are currently sitting in second and third place, respectively. On the other end, the defending Cup champs in Washington and their nemesis in Pittsburgh have both failed to get out to a quick start, looking like themselves in flashes, but mixing a fair amount of lousy hockey in with it (the Penguins have now lost seven of eight). Even the Devils two-week long tailspin on the road couldn’t bury them in any meaningful way as it took only a couple wins to climb right back into things.
As things currently stand, there are only two teams in the Metro with more wins than losses on the season. With the Devils win last night, nobody is below “NHL .500” either. The goal differentials reflect how middling everyone is, with the Islanders being the only team with a double-digit goal differential, either positive or negative (they are currently +12). Columbus, the division leader, actually had a negative goal differential up until last night when they beat Florida 7-3. Only seven points separate the first place team from the last. The division’s bottom six teams are currently separated by three points. A look at the total wins and losses for each team really drives home how top-to-bottom “meh” everyone in the Metro is right now:
- Columbus: 11 wins, 8 losses
- NY Islanders: 10 wins, 8 losses
- NY Rangers: 9 wins, 10 losses
- Washington: 8 wins, 10 losses
- Carolina: 8 wins, 10 losses
- Philadelphia: 9 wins, 10 losses
- New Jersey: 8 wins, 9 losses
- Pittsburgh: 7 wins, 10 losses
Yes, that is six out of eight teams with more losses than wins. The way the NHL presents their standings has a way of warping this fact, but 75% of the Metro has left the arena holding an L more often than they’ve won. The Rangers, ostensibly off to a pleasantly surprising start as they sit third in the division, are actually tied with Los Angeles for the fewest regulation and overtime wins in the league.
Every other division in the league has a discernible identity right now. The Central continues to be a brutal division to play in, with only one team having a negative goal differential. The Pacific is awful, with a grand total of zero teams with more wins than losses and one team with a positive goal differential (Arizona, +2). The Atlantic is the only division seemingly interested in having both good and bad teams, with expected frontrunners like Tampa and Toronto comfortably leading the way, expected bad teams like Detroit and Ottawa sliding toward the bottom, and the others looking to figure it out in between.
Meanwhile, in the Metro, the division, in spite of being home to the last three Cup champions, is just kind of aimlessly plodding along. There are no “haves” and “have nots” right now, it’s just a bunch of teams kind of existing. Columbus, the current leader, is probably the only team feeling somewhat confident in their outlook, though the proverbial Sword of Damocles hovers over their season in the form of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract statuses. The Isles and Rags, two early season surprises, are also probably both mirages, with the Isles having lousy underlying numbers and the Rangers propped up by a 4-0 record in the shootout. The Caps are living through a perhaps quite literal Stanley Cup hangover. The Hurricanes are living through year six (?) of the same exact mediocre nightmare. The Flyers are stumbling along as their fanbase plans to kidnap Dave Hakstol, set him adrift on an ice floe, and install Gritty as the new head coach. The Devils’ frustrations are well documented in these parts. And the Penguins are hanging around waiting for their coach to get fired so they can start trying again in January.
In short, nobody in the Metro is happy right now. At the same time, it’s also pretty hard for anyone to be despondent, given that even the teams at the bottom are one good week from being in a playoff spot. As the Devils search for their identity this season, they can take comfort in the fact that no one else in this division seems to have any idea who they are, either. They should also be pleased that despite just getting back from a 1-6-0 road trip, they could theoretically sweep this weekend and immediately find themselves back in third. That the Devils play in a division that amounts to “what if we made eight NHL teams entirely out of the shrug emoji” feels wholly appropriate, as it’s hard to say whether the team will be ascendant or circling the drain by this time next week. Either way, for the eight fanbases in the Metro, if this keeps up, I guess we’ll all just have to take turns being mad for the next five months. Should be fun!