Welcome to the final weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot of 2018. A year will end on Tuesday and a new one shall rise on Wednesday. The teams at the top remain the same as we enter the week where the calendar will flip. The Washington Capitals continue to rule the Metropolitan Division with the Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburgh Penguins following them. However, there is some more intrigue behind those teams. Something the Penguins may want to not ignore:
Yes, that is the New York Islanders in fourth place and not far behind third place. And, what’s more, they’re within a point of a wild card spot. The Atlantic’s hold on the two wild card spots may be weakened enough to be overtaken soon.
As for the schedule of the week that ends 2018 and starts 2019, this is what is coming up. Games within the division are highlighted in yellow.
Everyone is off today (the only game is out West) and just about everyone is off on New Year’s Day. Only Philadelphia will be in action, which makes their upcoming week the busiest of the Metropolitan teams. They would do well to take advantage given their current spot right now.
Let’s go through what each team just did and what they have coming up.
The Washington Capitals are the division leaders heading into the new year. They cannot be caught on December 31, so this is a true statement. The Caps just had two games last week and they won them both. They downed Carolina 3-1 in a game that somehow ended with the coach getting a game misconduct. There was less drama involving coaches but a tighter score in a 3-2 win at Ottawa. Two games, two wins, two sweet for Washington.
Their competition level will step up a little bit for this coming week. Nashville are no pretenders and they should give the Caps a challenge at home on New Year’s Eve. Washington will hit the road to start 2019. Just a simple 3-game road trip that will end next Sunday. They’ll have a hapless St. Louis team and a conundrum in Dallas back-to-back. Given the profane rant Stars CEO gave about Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin plus a not-so-subtle message that GM Jim Nill’s days may be numbered, Dallas could be extra motivated by it - or more willing to let the game happen as it happens. We’ll see. Back-to-back games are not easy but Washington should get something out of the set.
Columbus Blue Jackets
It was a successful week for the Columbus Blue Jackets. While they did not make up any ground on Washington, they did win two out of three games and stayed ahead of Pittsburgh. The Blue Jackets blanked New Jersey last Sunday. After Christmas and Boxing Day, Columbus extended their winning streak to five games with an overtime win against the New York Rangers. Alas, the streak ended the next night in Ohio when they hosted Toronto. Toronto beat them 4-2 in regulation. Still, the Blue Jackets poured more misery on teams beneath them in the standings and won their week. Job done even with a team clad in yellow and black still right behind them.
The Blue Jackets have three games coming up this week that they should probably take for themselves. They’ll host Ottawa on New Year’s Eve. In 2019, they’ll have a three-game road trip of their own starting with a back-to-back set with Carolina and Florida. Not that these games are easy, but the Blue Jackets are a good team and good teams beat the teams well below them in the standings. Penguins fans will be cheering for their underdog opponents as well their own squad.
Like Washington, the Penguins had a short week of just two games to play. Like Washington, they won both of them. Unlike Washington, these were not close ones. Pittsburgh hosted and dropped Detroit in a 5-2 victory. They hit the road and went to St. Louis last night. They left St. Louis with a 6-1 win. That’s excellent. They’re still right behind Columbus for second place in the division, but they are doing what they need to do to put themselves in the best position possible. Also, to stay further away from the New York Islanders.
Pittsburgh will end 2018 on the road. They will be playing in Minnesota on New Year’s Eve. In 2019, they’ll start on the road but closer to home when they visit the New York Rangers. That is another divisional game where a playoff team can keep a non-playoff team down. The Penguins will return home to host a challenging and talented Winnipeg team on Friday night. That game may be a good measuring stick as any for what Pens fans hope to be a better half of their season.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders continue to be the pleasant surprise of the Metropolitan Division. Instead of wilting without their former star, John Tavares, they have managed to stay somewhat in the playoff picture throughout the 2018 portion of this season. They helped out their own cause greatly in this past week by sweeping it. The Isles beat Dallas on their rink 3-1 last Sunday. The Isles hosted and scored a touchdown on Ottawa in a 6-3 win last Friday. Yesterday was their crowning achievement: going into Toronto and handing Tavares and his new team a 4-0 loss. Seriously: a 4-0 win in Toronto. Driven by Mat Barzal putting up a hat trick. That’s a statement. The Isles now remain relevant to the playoff picture and could very well take a wild card spot. They’re just a point behind Montreal right now.
The Isles will take their three-game winning streak into Buffalo on New Year’s Eve. They will open their 2019 schedule with a home (Nassau) game with Chicago. The Isles will then return to the road with a game in St. Louis on Saturday. The Buffalo game will be tough, but the other two are potentially winnable games for the Isles. The Isles could keep their playoff hopes alive as they begin the fourth month of this season.
New York Rangers
After blowing up the team last season, the New York Rangers have also been respectable in 2018-19 instead of being doormats. While they’re not in an ideal position in fifth place, they can enjoy being ahead of three other teams in the division. After all, they keep getting points. They lost their second shootout of the season to Philadelphia last Sunday. That’s one. They lost in OT to Columbus last Thursday. That’s another one. The Rangers went into Nashville last night and won. That’s two points. Four out of six makes it a winning week and avoids being at the peril of being dragged down to the bottom three spots in the division.
The Rangers will have a tough week to keep getting points. The easier game will be on Tuesday when they visit St. Louis. However, they will begin 2019 by hosting a good Pittsburgh team and visiting a good Colorado team. That Colorado game also starts a three-game road trip too, so if they want to improve that lousy road record, then soon would be an ideal time for them.
Tiebreakers mean they are in sixth for the moment. It was not a good week for Carolina. Their peak was last Sunday. They put on some throwbacks and beat Boston 5-3. It was fun and it gave the fans something to be excited for. Maybe this week would be the one for the Canes to turn it around. Nope. They lost 1-3 to Washington and then were blanked by a rookie goaltender in a 0-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils yesterday. That’s a 1-2-0 week to add to a 3-6-1 record in their last ten games. If they want 2018-19 to end better than 2017-18 did, then they need to turn things around A.S.A.P. P.D.Q.
They will have a week of divisional games to do that. They’ll have a broken-up home-and-home with the Philadelphia Flyers. The home game is on New Year’s Eve and the road game is on January 3. Given the standings, this set could break up the logjam at the bottom of the division. The Canes will not rest after that road game in Philly. They’ll have to return home to host Columbus. Columbus does not have a game on Thursday so it is a favorable matchup for them. Good luck, Carolina. Maybe this week will be the one.
New Jersey Devils
Yes! The New Jersey Devils are not in last place! Let’s hear it for tiebreakers! Last week did not start well. Columbus shut out the Devils 3-0 at the Rock. It was akin to receiving a lump of coal for the holiday. The Devils did much better after Boxing Day. They not only beat Boston 5-2 on Thursday, but the win was their first in Boston since 2013. They also defeated Carolina 2-0 yesterday afternoon. Not only did the Devils go 2-1-0, but the wins came with rookie goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood playing superb in his crease. It remains to be seen if he’s anything more than a guy with a hot hand, but the Devils badly needed a goalie with at least a lukewarm hand. They got it and with it, they won the week for the first time in a while. It is nice to not be at the bottom.
The Devils will take their two straight wins (first time since mid-November) and try to make it a winning streak when they host Vancouver on New Year’s Eve. Vancouver has been playing well as of late, so that is by no means a gimmie. The Devils will start on the road in 2019, which is bad news as their road record has been terrible this season. They’ll go to Dallas and Arizona this week. They may be able to take something out of those games but the Devils have only won four out of 19 road games so far this season. I would wait and see instead of expecting results.
ROW means the Flyers are entering New Year’s Eve in last place in the Metropolitan Division. It was not that bad of a week for the Flyers. They split the amount of potential points. Last Sunday, the Flyers beat the Rangers in a shootout, something only Winnipeg can also claim this season. The Flyers took a really good Tampa Bay team to overtime, making up a big lead with a three-goal third period. Alas, Tampa Bay did not blow the entire game so the Flyers took a 6-5 OTL. Last night, the Flyers lost 2-1 in Florida. The game winner came within the final two minutes of regulation too, so that was a tough one to take. 1-1-1 is not so bad on its own, but given where the Flyers have been this season in the standings, they need better and did not get it. Therefore, they are at the bottom.
The Flyers will become familiar with Carolina with games against them on Tuesday and Thursday in a broken-up home-and-home. However, the Flyers have four games scheduled for this week as opposed to the rest of the division, which has three. The Flyers are one of two non-Winter Classic games on January 1. They will visit Nashville, which will be a tough one. At the end of the week, Philly will host Calgary for a matinee game. Calgary is not a bunch of scrubs so that could be a tricky one. At least the Flyers can try to gain some measure of revenge for the OTL Calgary gave them earlier in December. It’ll a new year, so why not?
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 as we enter a new year. Can Columbus close the gap? Can Pittsburgh jump Columbus? Will the New York Islanders remain in the playoff picture? Who among Carolina, New Jersey, and Philadelphia break away from the tie at the bottom of the division? Please leave your thoughts about all of this in the comments. Thank you all for reading and have a happy New Year’s in case you do not see this site until after tomorrow.
Post-script: I just got another text message from a man with the initials S.A. saying he’ll return in 2019 once some things clear up. Uh oh.