Welcome to December. It is the final month of the 2018 year and the third month of the 2018-19 National Hockey League regular season. The Metropolitan Division is still somewhat compact, although the wild card spots are still in command of the Atlantic Division. However, there will be plenty of hockey coming up for things to change for most teams. All the same, there is no change at the top of the division to start December. The Washington Capitals were in first place for last week’s snapshot. They are still in first today.
The only change in position is the Carolina Hurricanes getting ahead of the New York Rangers. That is only by tiebreakers - ROWs matter, Rangers fans - but it is a step in the right direction. They’re also one of three teams that won the prior week, by which I mean they earned more than half of all potential points from last week. The other two are at the top: Washington and the Columbus Blue Jackets.
This week will be a little lighter for everyone not named the Washington Capitals. There are only three games within the division, with a particularly interesting one at the end of the week. Those games are highlighted in yellow in this chart detailing the upcoming schedule for all eight teams in the division:
Let’s go over how each team did last week and how things look. To add a little flair, I will add how each team has done beyond 60 minutes.
Washington Capitals - 3-2-2 in OT, 1-1 in Shootouts
The Capitals have given some points away beyond regulation but they have been winners more than not. With only the one shootout win, their ROW is a high percentage of their total number of wins.
Washington had just two games last week and they obtained the best possible result: two wins. The Capitals enter this week with seven straight wins. That winning streak includes three wins within the division thanks to their 4-1 win over the Isles and 6-3 win over New Jersey in this past week. It was enough to keep ahead of Columbus to stay in first. More importantly, they have separated themselves more from the New York teams, Carolina, and the Pennsylvania teams. The defending champions look very much like it.
This week will be a challenge. The Caps will have four games in these next seven days. They’ll host Anaheim this afternoon and then they’ll hit the road. They’ll fly to Las Vegas (Tuesday), Glendale (Thursday), and Columbus (Saturday). That last game could be a big one for the Caps to really take hold of first place - or keep it up for grabs with the Blue Jackets. Look for it.
Columbus Blue Jackets - 2-1-1 in OT, 0-1 in shootouts
Similar to Washington, Columbus has dropped a few points but only two instead of three. They also picked up two post-regulation, so this is exactly .500 between both overtime and shootout sessions. Unlike Washington, all of their wins are ROWs, which may help down the line.
Columbus had a good week. They won two out of three. They won a high-scoring affair in Detroit, 7-5. The Jackets returned home to play Minnesota and won 4-2. Alas, they dropped their one game this week within the division, 2-3 to the Islanders. This kept the Islanders in third (and three points behind Columbus) and Columbus in second place. Still, being a point behind Washington is not a bad place to be at all. Sure, the Caps have a game in hand, but that will be used up this week.
Of course, that will require Columbus to continue to pick up points. They’ll have Calgary at home on Tuesday, a trip to Philadelphia on Thursday, and a big home game against Washington on Saturday. Now may be a good time to play Philly given their management situation. But that Washington game looms as one that could determine the leader of the division for next week and maybe beyond.
New York Islanders - 2-1-3 in OT, 1-2 in shootouts
The Isles have taken 6 games beyond regulation where they end up splitting the points. The good news is that two of those extra wins were in overtime so that’s 2 more in the ROW column. I’m sure they’d wish they got those shootout wins, but it hasn’t been a big deal.
The New York Islanders remain in third place through splitting last week. Their one win was last night; a big home regulation win over Columbus. They’re holding onto third by a mere point, so getting a ‘W’ over a team ahead of them in the standings was important. Especially since they opened last week with a 1-4 loss to Washington and went to Boston and fell 1-2 through a shootout. The improbable dream of the Islanders 2018-19 remains alive.
The Islanders will get a chance to stay ahead with three more games this week. They’ll host Winnipeg on Tuesday, which will be Winnipeg’s third game in four nights. That’s a more favorable game than it seems. They’ll go to Pittsburgh on Thursday and then Detroit on Saturday. Good results there should keep the Isles in a playoff position for another week. Of course, by being just ahead of three teams (Pittsburgh is behind them by four points), they need to keep getting results.
Carolina Hurricanes - 2-3-2 in OT, 1-1 in shootouts
Post-regulation play hasn’t been so kind to the Canes. They’ve won just three out of seven. It is not the worst in the division, but that’s some lost opportunity for an organization that seemingly loses plenty of them in past seasons. It can be salvaged, though.
It came up again as they lost 1-2 in OT to Anaheim last Thursday. However, the Canes did beat Montreal 5-2 earlier in the week. So that made it three points out of a possible four last week, which is good. It was enough to match the Rangers. With fewer games played and a superior ROW count, the Canes are now in fourth place. They’re right behind the Islanders to take that third place spot too. While they may lament not finishing Anaheim in OT (or in regulation), they should feel good about where they are now.
The Canes will be on the road this week in the Golden State. They’ll play Los Angeles tonight. Later, they’ll visit San Jose on Wednesday and have a revenge matchup in Anaheim on Friday. This trip can always be tricky, but they at least do not need to play any of it on a back-to-back set. Plus, now is pretty much the best time to play Los Angeles.
New York Rangers - 1-2-4 in OT, 4-0 in shootouts
The Rangers have the best shootout record in the NHL. While several teams are undefeated, only two teams have won more than three so far. Buffalo, who is 3-0, and the Rangers. Basically, opponents should want to beat this team within 65 minutes. It’s not good for the ROW count, but wins are wins.
The Rangers only earned one of those last week. They beat Ottawa, 4-2, at MSG last Monday. Since then, the Rangers lost the runback in Ottawa 0-3 last Thursday and they lost in Montreal 2-5 last night. They remain tied for fourth in points, however Carolina has two games in hand on them plus a superior ROW, so they are in fifth place. Still, for a team who blew it up last February and expected to rebuild, being a point behind third place is not a bad place to be in on December 2.
The Rangers will have a short week with a long break in the middle. They’ll host Winnipeg, who won late in overtime last night in New Jersey, tonight. I’m not sure that will help the Rangers, since they played and lost last night plus traveled from Montreal to Manhattan overnight. The Rangers can rest and recover for five days before visiting Florida on Saturday. They may slip due to their idleness, but taking results in those two games should minimize that.
Pittsburgh Penguins - 2-3-2 in OT, 0-2 in shootouts
Post-regulation play has been less kind to Pittsburgh than it has to Carolina. Only picking up two extra points in OT out of seven opportunities hurts their cause. Given the Penguins’ struggles in November, an extra point here and there could have been useful instead of looking up at three teams ahead of them. Like Carolina, it is not non-salvageable. Still, they should aim to win in 60 minutes anyway.
The Penguins did not win another week last week. It looked promising last Tuesday when they beat Winnipeg 4-3. However, they played in Colorado the next night and the Avalanche made it snow all over them in a 6-3 win. The Penguins returned home for a big rivalry game with the Flyers yesterday. The Flyers took the game in regulation, which served to keep the Pens entrenched in the bottom three of the division. The rebound has to come soon for these fellows.
The Penguins can do just that with three games coming up. They’ll seek some measure of revenge over Colorado on Tuesday, they’ll host the Islanders on Thursday in a game Pittsburgh should really try to win in regulation, and they’ll visit Ottawa on Saturday. None of these games are simple. For Pittsburgh, the situation is bound to get worse before it gets possibly better if they put up more 1-2-0 weeks.
Philadelphia Flyers - 1-2-1 in OT, 1-0 in shootouts
The Flyers have not been beyond regulation very often this season. It has been OK with one overtime win, two overtime losses, and one shootout win. That’s 2 out of 4 potential extra points. If nothing else, this is not a reason why they are where they are in the standings.
The Philadelphia Flyers dumped general manager Ron Hextall on Monday and fired further members of the staff later in the week. Changes are coming in Philly as they look to hire a GM sooner rather than later. In the meantime, games were played. The first game of the post-Hextall era was a home game against Ottawa last Tuesday. The Flyers lost it 3-4. The first rivalry game of the post-Hextall era was last Saturday in Pittsburgh. The fans can be pleased that the Flyers won that one 4-2. It’s a split week, which only helped them secure seventh place for another week.
The Flyers will seek for their second win in the post-Hextall era in this coming week. After four days off, which is a convenient time to make announcements like a new GM or staff members, the Flyers will host Columbus on Thursday. It will be a challenge but they will have time to prepare. Philly will visit a surprisingly good Buffalo team on Saturday afternoon to close out their short week. New GM or not, the Flyers need results to get out of where they are in the standings. Continued floundering is only going to make the next GM focus on plans for 2019-20 and beyond.
New Jersey Devils - 0-5-0 in OT
The Devils are one of six NHL teams that have not been in a shootout this season. Unfortunately, this is because the Devils have been owned in overtime. It is not so much that the other team keeps scoring but the Devils have rarely attacked. Their recent OT loss to Winnipeg featured a rare shot on goal in overtime by New Jersey. They conceded six, including the game winning shot. While it is hard to be this bad at one thing for a while, the Devils need to keep games within 60 minutes for their own sake and prevent further agony for the fans.
The OT losses were unfortunately the only productive parts of this past week for the Devils. They had a busy four-game schedule last week where they would use up games in hand. This was a tough schedule on paper, but it was an opportunity to get back closer to the playoff picture. They went 0-2-2. They lost big time to Tampa Bay, 2-5; they lost a lead late in Florida that went to OT and became a 3-4 loss; they lost big time to Washington, 3-6; and they scored a late equalizer to force OT that became a 3-4 loss to Winnipeg. 2 out of 8 points was not going to get them out of the basement and it did not. They needed wins and went 0-for-4 in this past week and they’re winless in their last five games. The Devils are now in dead last in the Metropolitan Division and the Eastern Conference. So it goes.
The Devils will only have two games in this coming week to break this current winless streak. They’ll host Tampa Bay for their final game between the two teams this season on Monday. Then the Devils will go to California. They’ll get Los Angeles on Thursday night. The remainder of that three-game swing will be at the start of the next week (and it will be a back-to-back set). At this point, just hope for a win to break the slide.
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. Will Washington hold on for a third straight week at the top, or will Columbus jump them? Can the Islanders stay ahead of the pressure provided by Carolina and the Rangers? Will any of the bottom three teams make a move on up? Will the Devils win a game this week? Please leave your thoughts about all of this in the comments. Thank you all for reading.