Two teams had big weeks in terms of results last week in the Metropolitan Division. One further secured their position. The other moved them back to a familiar spot to them for the past several seasons. The rest were a mixed bag at best. Here are how the standings look as of the morning of December 16, 2018:
Thanks to sweeping this past week, the Washington Capitals have a strong hold on first place in the Metropolitan Division. The team that gained the most was the Pittsburgh Penguins. While they earned as many points as the Caps, their six-point jump moved them from fifth to third with at least one win ahead of the fourth-place New York Islanders and one point behind second-place Columbus Blue Jackets. The Penguins were struggling earlier, but they have re-discovered what they can do on the ice in a big way.
Here is the schedule of games for this upcoming week. Pittsburgh will be the busiest with four games coming up as opposed to three for everyone else. There are some tantalizing games within the division that could cause further shifts by next Sunday’s snapshot. Those games are highlighted in yellow:
That Pittsburgh-Washington game has been A Thing for over a decade now. As the game could help the Caps further secure first place or give the Pens a small foothold for moving up, it is still very much A Thing.
Anyway, let’s go over how each team did last week and what’s next for each of them in the near future.
The Capitals swept their week. Three games, three wins. They have now won five straight games. The only downside is that two of those wins were through the shootout. That will not help with ROW. Of course, the best way to avoid a ROW-tiebreaker situation is to not get into a tie. Washington helped themselves plenty in that regard last week. They stomped all over Detroit in a 6-2 win last Tuesday. The Caps came from behind in Carolina and went up as much as 5-4 - only to squander that lead. But the Caps did prevail in the shootout for a 6-5 win last Friday. On the next night, Alex Ovechkin - who is the hottest player in the world right now with a 14-game point streak - scored his 29th goal of the season to tie it up 3-3 in the second period at Buffalo. The score held through and beyond regulation. Once again, Washington won in the shootout.
The Capitals will get a little rest before a three-game-in-four-night situation later in this coming week. They’ll have the nationally televised game against Pittsburgh on Wednesday. With the Caps at home and winners of five straight, they may be seen as the favorites. Look out if Pittsburgh rolls in strong, though. After then, the Caps will host Buffalo (who may want some revenge) and then visit Ottawa on Saturday. They are not easy games, but with the way the Capitals have been playing, I would expect them to increase their lead on the division by next week’s snapshot.
Columbus Blue Jackets
In last week’s snapshot, Columbus was shut out by Washington at home. That game was the first of a six-game home stand for the Blue Jackets. In this past week, the struggles at home continued. Vancouver beat them in regulation 3-2. Columbus did get a regulation win in a 4-1 victory over hapless Los Angeles. However, the Blue Jackets lost in overtime to Anaheim last night. Columbus is now 1-2-1 on their stay in Ohio. Not only as this allowed Washington to pull away in first place in the division, but they are now under pressure by the new third-place team in the Metropolitan.
The Blue Jackets will finish up their home stand in this coming week. They’ll host a tricky Vegas team on Tuesday and then host New Jersey on Thursday. The Blue Jackets will be back on the road for the first half of a weekend back-to-back with an afternoon game in Philadelphia on Saturday. On paper, Columbus should beat New Jersey and Philadelphia. On the ice, well, who knows. Both New Jersey and Philly could very well spoil the Blue Jackets. And the Golden Knights will not make it easy. In other words, I would not be so surprised if Columbus slips a bit in the week ahead. Prove me wrong, Jackets.
Pittsburgh took care of a lot of business in this past week. It was a four-game week and they won three of them. They prevailed in a shootout against the Isles in Nassau last Monday; they beat Boston at home 5-3 last Friday; and they pulled out an overtime win against Los Angeles at home, 4-3, yesterday. Their one loss was a 6-3 defeat in Chicago, which seems strange on paper given all of the struggles Chicago has underwent this season. Still, 3-1-0 was enough to move the Penguins from the middle of the non-playoff teams to being a playoff team. Columbus is right in their sights too.
The Penguins will play one more game than everyone else in the division in this coming week. While it may move them up further, it will mean everyone else will get a game in hand on them. The schedule is what it is. Anyway, the Penguins will host Anaheim on Monday, go to Washington for a huge game in D.C., visit Minnesota on Thursday, and visit Carolina on Saturday. None of these games are “gimmies.” That back-to-back set in the middle is going to be tough. That said, for the Penguins to prove that they really are back where most expected them to be (a playoff team), then they need to get results out of these four games. It is possible. Should they win the week (earn more than half of all available points), then they will truly be back.
New York Islanders
This was not a great week for the Islanders. They slipped from their third-place position down to fourth and they may be trending down. Pittsburgh did beat them through a shootout last Monday. Last Wednesday, Vegas beat them 3-2 in regulation. The Islanders went into a home game against Detroit needing a win to avoid a winless week. They did do just that - through a shootout to make it a 4-3 final score. While they are not far behind Pittsburgh, none of these three home games would convince one to think they can rise up.
The Islanders will hit the road for their next four games. Three of them are coming up this week and they are tough ones. The Isles will get Colorado and Arizona back-to-back on Monday and Tuesday. Colorado are no pushovers and Arizona finally ended their losing streak last week. On Thursday, the Isles will see Vegas again in the state of Nevada. They may want revenge, but those Golden Knights are good and they may not be having any of it. The Isles can shut a few naysayers up with a positive week. But it does seem unlikely.
New York Rangers
It was a short week for the Rangers. They had two games; a potential to earn four more points. They got one. In Tampa Bay, the Rangers were zapped in a 6-3 loss. On Friday, the Rangers hosted Arizona, who entered the game with a long losing streak. The Rangers blew a three-goal lead to Arizona. Overtime was necessary and Arizona provided the difference maker. Ouch.
The Rangers will be more active in this week. They have Vegas at home today at 12:30. They’ll host Anaheim on Tuesday night, which is favorable for the Rangers since Anaheim will play in Pittsburgh the night before. On Saturday, the Rangers will visit Toronto - which will not be easy. It is a tough week, even though Anaheim may be a bit tired from the Penguins game on Monday. This may be the point where the re-building Rangers have to lean a bit more into that.
The Carolina Hurricanes were smacked down in this past week. Toronto beat them down 4-1 last Tuesday. Montreal kept staying ahead of comeback attempts by Carolina to serve them a 6-4 loss. Despite building up a big lead at home against Washington, the Caps scuttled that too. The Canes at least forced a point out of that one - but they still lost in a shootout. Whereas the Penguins helped themselves greatly by going 3-1-0 last week, the Hurricanes dug themselves in deeper with a 0-2-1 week. This situation is not good for an organization that went through a lot of changes in this past offseason because the team could not earn enough results. What is the answer? More change? Stay the course and hope it improves?
The shootout loss to Washington was the first of a five-game home stand for the Canes. In other words, Carolina is home all week long. They have Arizona today for an afternoon game. They have Detroit on Thursday night. They have a game with Pittsburgh on Saturday. The Canes will need to turn things around fast to get back into the playoff picture in the Metropolitan. This home stand may be a turning point for the 2018-19 Carolina season. Or it may be another valley in a season with a lot of them. We’ll find out next week.
New Jersey Devils
Yes! The Devils are not in last place in the Metropolitan Division and in the Eastern Conference! They did it the hard way! Last Sunday, the Devils visited Anaheim and scored eight goals: five on Anaheim and three against themselves. The game required a late equalizer by New Jersey to force overtime and it led to the Devils’ first shootout of the season. They lost to make it a 6-5 final score. Last Monday, the Devils ended their California road trip in San Jose. There would be little drama as San Jose smacked them down in a 5-2 loss. The Devils returned home and started awfully against Vegas, going down three goals within the first ten minutes. But the Devils would make a comeback in the second and third periods. An own goal by Vegas tied it up at 4-4 in the third. Overtime was needed and, thanks to Nico Hischier, the Devils finally won one! The Devils beat Vegas 5-4 through an incredible comeback! Last night, the Devils went into Nashville and played in a tight game. Nashville got one goal, one goal disallowed after a challenge, and the Devils only tied it up with the extra skater near the end of regulation. Overtime yielded no answer so a shootout was necessary. This one went six rounds but the Devils still lost to make it a 2-1 loss in Nashville. For most teams, getting three out of four in a Vegas-Nashville back-to-back is a good thing. Ditto for getting a point on the road in a game where you scored on yourself, much less three times. However, if the Devils are serious about getting back into the playoff picture, they need to do better than 1-1-2 to make up ground. It’s great they are no longer in last but they are still way too far back to be seriously considered in any playoff race.
So if there is a turnaround, it needs to really happen now. It may not be enough, but it has to happen to have a real shot at moving on up further in the standings. The Devils have Toronto at home on Tuesday, a game in Columbus on Thursday, and Ottawa at home on Friday. Toronto and Ottawa kicked the tar out of the Devils in their previous games. Columbus is talented and has given New Jersey fits for the past few seasons. However, Ottawa has been as bad as New Jersey on the road (current road record: 4-11-1); and Columbus has been far from unbeatable in Ohio (their current home record is 8-7-2). The Devils have found more success in Newark than elsewhere, so it is not the worst or toughest possible week of games.
In last week’s snapshot, Philly ended the prior week in Buffalo with a big 6-2 win. The game was the first of five straight away from home as the team went out further north and west into Canada. On December 9, the day after the win in Buffalo, Winnipeg served the Flyers a huge feast of humble pie by wrecking them 7-1. Philadelphia was seemingly on their way to beating Calgary on December 12. Calgary scored two goals within the final two minutes of regulation to tie up the game and then won in overtime 35 seconds into the fourth period. That meltdown would be the only point the Flyers would get in this week. On December 14, Edmonton continued it’s great run with a 4-1 win over the Flyers. Last night, on December 15, Vancouver repeated Edmonton’s act of beating the Flyers decisively. The high point of the road trip was in Buffalo and it is the last time the Flyers won a game.
Fortunately, the Flyers will not be on the road in this coming week. All three of their games will be at home. While home has not been good for Philly (their current home record is 5-7-2), it is a far better alternative to what they just experienced. The Flyers will host Detroit on Tuesday, Nashville on Thursday, and Columbus on Saturday. They need to break their winless streak first before figuring out how (or if) they can move on up from eighth in the division. We’ll see if they can do so because after this week, the Flyers will embark on another five-game road trip.
That was the week that was and the week coming up for all eight teams in the Metropolitan. Now I want to know what you think. How long will Washington keep up this winning streak? Can Columbus rebound in time to ward off Pittsburgh, or will the Penguins jump past them in this coming week? Will the Islanders stay in place or fall back further? Out of the bottom four teams, do any of them have something to play for? Will any of them even earn more than half of the points they could get in this coming week? Please leave your thoughts about all of this in the comments. Thank you all for reading.