Saturday night featured a big-time #1 vs. #2 match-up for the top of the Metropolitan Division. As you can see in the headline photo for this week’s Metropolitan Division snapshot, the leader remained the leader. They did so in a dominant fashion - and on the road. Now they’re three points ahead. This may be the start of a team pulling away from the pack. Of course, nothing is ever simple or guaranteed. And that pack remains a pack. Here are the standings after Saturday night’s games:
The Washington Capitals are not ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets by a ton, but it is a lead. It definitely is a sizable lead over the NY teams, Pittsburgh, and Carolina. Yes, Pittsburgh is back in the picture.
Before getting into that, check out this week’s upcoming schedule, which has multiple games on every day. There is not much within the Metropolitan though. The two games coming up this week within the division are highlighted:
Let’s go over how each team did last week and what’s next for each of them in the near future:
The Capitals entered December with a seven-game winning streak. That promptly ended in December with a 6-5 loss at home to Anaheim. Ouch. The Caps hit the road and lost again on Tuesday at Vegas, 5-3. Could the Caps be slipping after such a hot streak? Washington salvaged matters in Arizona on Thursday with a 4-2 win. They went into Ohio last night with a mere one-point lead on Columbus. They left Columbus with a 4-0 win and a more secure hold on first place. A 2-2-0 week is decent and decent was enough to take a step ahead from the pack. Such is the division in 2018-19.
The Washington Capitals will get to control more of their destiny with three games coming up. They’ll return home to host Detroit on Tuesday. Then, they have a back-to-back set at the end of the week. They’ll have a favorable match-up with Carolina on Friday (Carolina plays the night before) and then Buffalo. Buffalo will not play the night before so the Saturday game is more favorable for them from a rest standpoint. Still, the Caps have a say on what happens atop the division.
Columbus Blue Jackets
With the Washington stumbling a bit at the beginning of last week, the Blue Jackets had a chance to overtake them. Instead, they engaged in a really wacky game against Calgary. They were up as much as 4-1 early in the second period - and lost the lead within the same period. The Jackets tried to catch up but Calgary kept on scoring to hand C-bus a 9-6 loss. That’s an impressive loss. Two days later, the Blue Jackets went to Philly and won - in overtime. Giving the Flyers a point does not matter much at the moment and, hey, Columbus got a win. The Saturday match-up with the Caps at home could have given them first place with a regulation win. The Capitals won 4-0. So close, yet so far for the Blue Jackets.
The loss to the Capitals started a six-game home stand that will continue into this week. The Blue Jackets will host Vancouver, Los Angeles, and Anaheim without any consecutive games. This is a favorable schedule for Columbus. Should Washington slip up again, they could challenge for first again. At least they will not have to take on the Caps again to do so in this coming week should it come to that.
The Islanders split last week in terms of points. They were not as positive this week. Winnipeg dispatched them 3-1 in Brooklyn last Tuesday. Last Thursday saw the Islanders go into Pittsburgh and leave the steel city with a 6-2 loss. They were staring down a winless week going into Saturday’s game against Detroit. Fortunately for the royal blue and orange, they broke through in the third period to go up 3-2 and held on to win. The victory was enough to stay in third place for another week. But the not-so-successful weeks will catch up with them in time.
The Islanders can start this week to make things right. They’ll be home, albeit in two different arenas, all week. They will host Pittsburgh on Monday in a game that could see the Pens jump past them. Nassau Coliseum will be the site for that one. The Isles will go back to Brooklyn on Wednesday night to host a Vegas team that has seemingly made their own situation right in recent weeks. On Saturday, the Isles will go back to Nassau and play Detroit again. We’ll see whether they’ll do better than 1-2-0 with this week coming up.
It was a short week for the New York Rangers, but they maximized their length of games by going to a shootout in both contests. Heading into this week, the Rangers were the best shootout team in the NHL as they were undefeated in four shootouts already. So imagine the shock that the Rangers lost a shootout last Sunday. The few bodies at MSG saw Winnipeg prevail after 65 minutes over the Blueshirts. All good things must come to an end. And sometimes they return. Last night, the Rangers went to Sunrise, Florida, went the distance again, and prevailed in a shootout. That was a long way to get three points out of four, but they did it. Shame about that ROW number.
The Rangers have another short week coming up. They’ll go to Tampa Bay on Monday night. Given the Bolts’ six-game winning streak with their most recent win being a 7-1 pounding of the Avs, I would not expect the Rangers to turn it into another shootout. Stranger things have happened though. After that, the Rangers will host Arizona on Thursday and that’s it for what is coming up.
I keep writing how hard it is to catch up in the NHL. The Pittsburgh Penguins are a great example of this. Last week, the Pens were in sixth place with 25 points and three points behind the Rangers. Pittsburgh went on to crush Colorado 6-3 last Tuesday, crush the Isles last Thursday, and lose in OT to Ottawa (seriously?) 2-1 last night. That’s five out of six points. Pittsburgh earned the most points out of any team in the division in this past week. They moved up one spot in the division, jumping only Carolina (who faltered), and remain by the Rangers. Granted, it is one point but that’s the big issue with catching up. It’s not enough to just play well and get wins - you need help and that help is not always available. At least the Penguins are in a better spot than where they were last week.
Pittsburgh will need to keep the good times rolling in this coming week to make another move up, which could be more substantial given the current standings. Their Monday night game at the Islanders will be a huge one from that standpoint. They will also want to succeed in Chicago on Wednesday and get points out of a home back-to-back with Boston and Los Angeles. The last game may be seen as a trap game. But it is possible for the Pens to enter next week’s post with at least five more points and maybe, just maybe, higher up in the standings.
The Hurricanes spent all last week playing teams based out of California in California. It was not a golden state for them. Los Angeles shut them out last Sunday, 2-0. They scored one (1) goal at San Jose amid a 5-1 steamrolling. The Canes did get a win, a solid 4-1 win in Anaheim. Still, going 1-2-0 in a week after being a point behind third in the division in last week’s snapshot is rough. By points, they are not out of anything; but they fell back when they needed to keep pace at a minimum. Such is the story of the Canes for a lot of these weekly Metropolitan Division snapshots in the first half of seasons. It hasn’t been better for the second half.
But the 2018-19 Canes can be different. They’ll return home this week with a tough set of games. They’ll host Toronto on Tuesday night, which is not easy. They’ll have a back-to-back set at Montreal on Thursday and hosting Washington on Friday. Playing in Montreal is no picnic and Washington will go into Friday’s game without having played a game the night before like Carolina. No one ever said the upcoming week is an easy one. Carolina coming out of it with at least three points should be seen as a feat (assuming they didn’t blow the games where they could have had more).
The Flyers were idle to start last week. So they decided to hire a new general manager in Chuck Fletcher. The Fletcher Era of Philadelphia hockey has started off on a good foot. While they lost in overtime at home to Columbus, 4-3, they did get a point out of it and were at least in a position to succeed against a team better than them. Yesterday, the Flyers went into Buffalo, a team who are far from the doormats they have been in past seasons. Philadelphia danced all over the Sabres. They did the hustle on them without it being Saturday night. All to the tune of a 6-2 victory. A 1-0-1 week is music to the ears of a fanbase that has seen their team nearly drop to the basement of the division and the Eastern Conference. Combined with a new front man in Fletcher, there may be a happier tune coming out of Philly in coming weeks.
That game in Buffalo started a five-game road trip that will take the Flyers north and west. The remaining four will be played in these next seven days. They’ll be in Winnipeg for an afternoon game today. They’ll go visit a Calgary team that has been great in Alberta on Wednesday night. The Flyers will play Edmonton and Vancouver, back-to-back. On paper, the latter two games may be easier games than the others. In reality, there is little easy about a road back-to-back against teams with legit superstars (McDavid, Petterson - I’m a little early but he’s getting there). If Philly can come away from this trip with a winning week, then the rest of the division will need to look out for them.
Unlike the Capitals, the Devils entered December with a five-game winless streak. Unlike the Capitals, the month began with a continuation of that streak. The Devils hosted Tampa Bay and like the previous two games against the Bolts, the Devils were rocked by a dazzling array of boo-yah from the talented Tampa Bay offense. They lost 2-5. New Jersey started a road trip against the three California teams on Thursday night in Los Angeles. The last place team in the East against the last place team in the West. Surely, the excitement was felt. It actually was an eventful game. More importantly, the Devils got a badly-needed 6-3 win over LA. Not that it helped the Devils in the standing very much, but the winless streak is finally over. That is step one for any kind of redemption or comeback.
Step two will be pulling out more results in this coming week. Unfortunately, it will be a challenge. The four games the Devils have coming up are split between two back-to-back sets. They’ll have Anaheim tonight and San Jose tomorrow to end their trip out West. At the end of the week, the Devils will host Vegas and visit Nashville - two challenging opponents in their own right, much less on consecutive nights. As with Philadelphia’s situation, the road to redemption is a hard one. But a week with positive results would be a great step forward towards a better tomorrow.
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 increase their hold on first place, or will it take some damage? Can the Islanders hold onto third place, or will there be a new team joining Washington and Columbus up top? Will Carolina bounce back? How well do you think Philadelphia and/or New Jersey will do with their busy week coming up? Please leave your thoughts about all of this in the comments. Thank you all for reading.