As the middle of February approaches, the Metropolitan Division opened up somewhat. Eighth place is now twelve points behind first place. Of course, it helps when the New York Rangers openly state that they’re blowing it up amid a run of bad results. It remains super-tight between second and seventh place. There is just four points between them!
It’s crazy that two out of six teams could end up on the outside looking in by the first weekend in April. If this continues, a bad week or a good week from someone else could be enough to make the difference. At the least, it means every game in the regular season matters in the short-term for everyone.
There are quite a lot of them coming up in this week. Nothing on Monday, only one game on Wednesday, and all other days have games. There are even six games within the division; those games are highlighted in yellow (and they are meaningful):
Valentine’s Day is on Wednesday. For this week’s division snapshot, I’m going to highlight one thing each team should love given their current state.
Washington Capitals: Your sticks. As of this writing, the Capitals are first in the NHL in 5-on-5 shooting percentage at 9.46% per Natural Stat Trick.
The Capitals lost at home to Vegas before breaking down Columbus twice in regulation. Those two wins helped keep Columbus back while ensuring their spot in first place. In a division where no one has really emerged and sustained it, the Caps going 2-1-0 is more than sufficient to keep them safe. A five point lead in this division is pretty big. They’re going to be very active in this coming week and could seek to expand their lead with a home game in Detroit today followed by a road trip that will take them to Winnipeg, Minnesota, and Chicago. If they can enter next week with a positive record out of that, then their fans should also love their spot in the division (likely first).
Pittsburgh Penguins: A rising PDO. Check it out at Natural Stat Trick. The Penguins now have a team save percentage above 90%, the shooting percentage has cracked 6%, and combined with a 52 team CF%, that makes the Penguins a legitimately dangerous squad. If they can rise to average shooting and goaltending, look out Eastern Conference.
The Pittsburgh Penguins took 3 out of 4 points last week. They edged Vegas as they honored the return of Marc-Andre Fleury. They lost in Dallas in a shootout. While the Penguins have played more games than almost anyone else in the division, the points moved them up to second place to give them an edge on everyone else. Hopefully they rested up with the short week of games. They’ll go to St. Louis today before hosting Ottawa, Los Angeles, and Toronto. Those latter two games can be real challenge; at least they’ll be at home for them.
Philadelphia Flyers: The creativity of Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek. Voracek leads the whole NHL with 53 assists as of this writing. Yes, that is nearly an assist per game. Giroux is second on Philadelphia with 45 - which places him in a tie for fourth place in the NHL in assists. Many teams want a player to be the straw that stirs the drink for offensive production; Philly has two.
The Philadelphia Flyers have charged up to third place. Since losing in a shootout to Ottawa last Saturday, the Flyers have found ways to win. They beat Carolina 2-1 in overtime on the road. They took down Montreal, 5-3. In Arizona, the Flyers prevailed in a shootout over Arizona. That’s three wins in three games and that’s huge in this division. By no means are they safe in third place, but getting to the spot is the first step to safety. The Flyers will have a challenging week to get there. They’re in Vegas today, a place where very few teams have taken points from the home squad. They’ll have a huge game against New Jersey on Tuesday; the Devils won the last game in Newark back on February 1. On Friday, the Flyers will go to Columbus, who may appears to be out their slump. Three wins in a row is nice; but the trick will be in continuing to get points.
New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall. Last season, Hall had 53 points in 72 games. Hall has 54 points in 49 games. His twelve-game point streak ended in Columbus last night, but the man has been a monster at even strength for the Devils. He isn’t likely to be a Hart Trophy contender as he’s not the only player for his team having this kind of season. But he’s definitely NJ’s MVP at this rate.
As the Flyers, well, flown, the Devils sank. The Devils lost three games, all in regulation. After winning three in a row, this week was a bust. The game got out of hand in Ottawa in a 5-3 loss. The performance was good but the Devils couldn’t complete a comeback in a 3-2 loss to Calgary. The Devils got demolished by Columbus in a 6-1 loss. The three-game losing streak resulted in a drop to fourth place and a mere two points ahead of seventh. A single win would have been huge for the Devils to keep pace, but they got nothing. It’s going to be hard to get some more wins coming up. The Devils get to host one of the best teams in the NHL, Boston, today. The Devils get to go to Philadelphia for what could be a contentious match-up on Tuesday. The Devils will host a strong-at-5-on-5 Carolina squad on Thursday. The week ends with a the start of a back-to-back set on the road with Tampa Bay, another one of the best teams in the NHL. No one ever said the road to the playoffs would be easy. This week, on paper, certainly is not.
Carolina Hurricanes: 5-on-5 play. The Hurricanes enter Sunday with the league’s second best CF% with 53.71%, second only to Boston by 0.1%, per Natural Stat Trick. While they may frustrate with the whole “stopping pucks” and “scoring goals” thing, this means the Canes are constantly in games and giving opponents difficult nights.
The Carolina Hurricanes have been at home since January 30. It’s been somewhat positive. The past week didn’t start so well with a 3-1 loss to San Jose. They also had to take a point in the OT loss to Philadelphia. But the Canes did rebound with a 4-1 win over Vancouver and a 3-1 win over Colorado. The five points out of eight was enough to get them up to fifth place for the moment. Stepping over a sputtering Columbus and Islanders is a good thing. The homestand on Tuesday as the Canes will host Los Angeles. Carolina will then travel to New Jersey and then return right back home for the Isles on Friday. That game starts another three games in a row at home. It’s a home-heavy month. Will the Canes take advantage? We’ll see.
For the first time since January 25 (or the All Star Game weekend), the Columbus Blue Jackets finally won a game. No, not against Washington. They lost those two games. They made it rain misery on the Devils in a 6-1 win. That stopped a free-fall in the standings in addition to confidence and other things that come with a winless streak. That win against New Jersey keeps them in sixth place for the moment. The Blue Jackets will get to rest a bit before they get to make up some lost ground. Divisional games are a great way to make up that lost ground; a win pulls down someone else around you and in this division, that four-point swing is big. The opportunity will be there with a game in Brooklyn on Tuesday and a home game against Philadelphia on Friday. Columbus gets a tricky game in Toronto on Wednesday that could throw some things off. The Blue Jackets have the goalie and the talent; can they get back into the mix of things soon?
New York Islanders: Mathew Barzal. Goodness, gracious, this rookie has been outstanding. He’s currently tied with Alex Ovechkin for 15th in league scoring with 58 points in 56 games. He has three 5-point games. He’s not even 21. This one is someone special.
The New York Islanders split their previous week. They lost in OT to Nashville last Tuesday; they lost in the final minute of regulation to Buffalo 4-3, and they beat Detroit 7-6 in OT on Friday. That game in Detroit required the Isles to score four goals on a major power play in the third period to go up 6-5. And true to the Isles this season, they gave up a late equalizer. The Isles believe in high-event hockey, namely because the concept of defense seems to be lost on them. The Isles are in the mix but they need to sort that out soon. They’ll host a good Calgary team today before three games within the division: hosting Columbus on Tuesday, hosting their hated rivals on Thursday, and visiting Carolina on Friday. The Isles can move up real fast by beating all three teams, which are around them in the standings at the moment. If they can clamp down on an opposing team, they just might.
New York Rangers: Henrik Lundqvist. Also known as the main reason the Rangers will be competitive for the rest of this season and arguably the main reason why they were ever competitive at all.
The Rangers were not at all out of the playoff hunt when they announced their re-building plan. I understand that the long term doesn’t look good. But the Rangers haven’t been nearly bad enough to really garner relatively good odds for a high draft pick. Their selling could come back to haunt them depending on who and how much they sell. Basically dooming their goaltender after having him carry the team on his back is hard to defend. It is what it is though. At least the Rangers didn’t announce this during a winning streak or something like it. They did so after a 2-1 road loss in Dallas and a 6-1 smackdown by Boston in their house. The Rangers did rally to beat Calgary 4-3 at home, so there’s a win. Whether the team wants that, well, that’s up to you. The Rangers will get to hit the road for this coming week. You know, the road. Where the Rangers are 8-14-2 so far this season. The Rangers will go to Winnipeg, then Minnesota, then Brooklyn for a rivalry game, and then Ottawa. Given the road record and what they announced, I’m not confident they’ll do well. The Metropolitan should be hoping the Rangers crash hard prior to their selling, if only to make it a seven-team battle for the playoffs. The Atlantic Division teams outside of the playoffs would appreciate also not being entirely behind the Metropolitan too.