A little over one week away from the NHL Trade Deadline and the Metropolitan Division remains a tight one. While the Washington Capitals are in first place, there is a familiar team right behind them thanks to a winning streak. While the New York Rangers have started to “commit to the re-build,” the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference is still up for grabs among three teams. A bad week or two can still doom a team and a hot one can lead them to glory. The stretch run is upon us and the decisions made by seven of the Metropolitan Division teams will be crucial. Here is how the division standings looks after Saturday’s games.
(Note: Moneypuck’s predictions now include Saturday’s games.)
That’s right, Pittsburgh got hot and they are now breathing down Washington’s back. The games played is rough, but note the ROW difference. Washington needs to stay ahead of Pittsburgh; a tie may not be enough. Elsewhere, the last playoff spot is held by the New York Islanders and by a thread. Columbus and Carolina are only a point behind and they each have at least a game on the Isles. The New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers aren’t so safe at the moment but they can breathe for a little bit as they battle for a crucial third playoff spot. The stretch run will be tough for everyone.
Here’s the upcoming schedule for this week. Games within the division are highlighted in yellow. Today is a big day (three games within the division!) and only Washington stays out of the Metropolitan entirely for this week.
For this week’s snapshot - there is no gimmick or special thing to note. Let’s get to it.
Washington Capitals - It wasn’t the smoothest of weeks for Washington. Sure, they split the potential points. But they lost in overtime to Detroit and then to Winnipeg. The Capitals did pick up a regulation win over Minnesota, 5-2. But then they went to Chicago and were blown out by a 7-1 score. Only one win (and one ROW) doesn’t help with a Penguins team that has just been hot. They have a one-point lead on the division and that could end soon.
The good news is that Washington will use up a game in hand on Pittsburgh with a mostly-winnable week on paper. Not that any opponent is easy, but the Capitals should be able to get something out of two games with Buffalo and Florida - even if two of them are on the road. The Tuesday night game against Tampa Bay will be a fun one against two of the top teams in the NHL.
Pittsburgh Penguins - They are on fire. The Penguins swept their week with four regulation wins. St. Louis? 4-1. Ottawa? 6-3. Los Angeles? 3-1. Toronto? 5-3. The only way it could have been more successful is if the Pens had a Metropolitan Division opponent to beat on. No matter, the Pens now lead the division with 32 ROW and they are a point behind the Caps and four points clear of Philadelphia and New Jersey. While it is no guarantee they’ll overtake Washington or that New Jersey and Philly will catch them, the ROW advantage helps and the Pens remain solidly in a playoff spot. Of course, the Pens aren’t going to just stop getting results. In this coming week, they’ll visit Columbus today before traveling to Carolina and Florida for a back-to-back. There’s a four day break before that back-to-back so the Pens should be rested and prepared for it. I’m not saying they’ll end the week with seven straight wins. But it is quite possible.
Philadelphia Flyers - The Flyers did something very few teams have done this season: win in Las Vegas. Vegas has lost all of four games in regulation at home this season. Philly did it last Sunday night. The Devils beat them in a shootout to end what was a four-game winning streak last Tuesday. Undeterred, the Flyers picked up a 2-1 overtime win over Columbus. That’s five out of six points and it’s enough to stay ahead of the Devils by way of ROW. It’s been a successful month for Philadelphia save for games against New Jersey and Ottawa.
The Flyers will visit the increasingly hapless New York Rangers today for a lunchtime game. They’ll host Montreal and Columbus next, the latter of which could pour further misery on a team that can ill afford it. The Flyers will visit Ottawa for some revenge on Saturday. Provided the Flyers don’t start flopping, they’re in a good position despite what Moneypuck’s odds suggest.
New Jersey Devils - The Devils ended their losing streak in this past week and ended the week with three straight wins. They lost to Boston 5-3 last Sunday, which made it four straight losses. However, they edged Philadelphia in a shootout to end that run of ‘L’s. The Devils picked up a huge regulation win over Carolina on Thursday and survived an onslaught from Tampa Bay to win 4-3 in regulation. The Devils have now won three in a row and have a little breathing room in fourth place. They are neck-and-neck with Philadelphia and their two games in hand on Pittsburgh would be enough to match them in points but not ROW. It’s always a challenge as this team continues to defy preseason expectations.
The challenge continues with a game against a rested Carolina squad this evening. Carolina will surely want revenge and this game will matter in that end of the division. The Devils will have another big divisional game against Columbus on Tuesday. Wins over both would help the Devils big time from keeping both away from them. The Devils will host Minnesota on Thursday. On Saturday, they’ll retire Patrik Elias’ number when they host the Islanders in, yes, another important divisional game. If there’s a time to maintain a hot streak, then this is the week to do it.
New York Islanders - It was not going to be a good week for the Islanders. They lost at home, 3-2, to Calgary on Sunday. They then lost at home, 4-1, to Columbus on Tuesday. The Isles losing home games? Still not defending? Not good. Not good at all. Then came the gift of hot goaltending. The Isles blanked their cross-city rivals 3-0 and then blanked Carolina 3-0 in their building on the next night. Those wins were enough to salvage the week and have them hold onto fifth place with a tiny margin.
The Isles will have to do some waiting as the Blue Jackets will use up their game in hand on them. They’ll play three times: hosting Minnesota on Monday for an afternoon game on President’s Day and then traveling to Toronto and New Jersey. Those two road games will be tough; the Devils should be up for it on Elias’ Night. By the end, Carolina will still have two games in hand on them. It’s not an easy time for the Isles, they’ll need some help to stay where they are - much less improve.
Columbus Blue Jackets - It’s been frustrating to be a Columbus fan in the past few weeks. After ending a long losing streak against New Jersey two Saturdays ago, the Blue Jackets picked up only one point out of six last week. They lost 4-1 to the Isles and 6-3 to Toronto before Philly edged them in OT. Columbus has plenty of talent, one of the best goalies in the league, and a coach who isn’t a fool. But it’s a results-oriented business and Columbus isn’t getting them these days.
They have an opportunity this week to cause a lot of chaos in the division that could help them. They’ll host Pittsburgh tonight, which will be tough as the Penguins are loaded and won their last four. They’ll visit New Jersey, which could be interesting given how the Devils are playing. They’ll visit Philadelphia, who has been very good in this month. At the end of the week, the Blue Jackets will host Chicago, who can still drop a hammer on an opponent like Washington. It’s time for Columbus to pull together. Otherwise, the decisions for the trade deadline and the stretch run will only get harder.
Carolina Hurricanes - Carolina ended their long homestand with a massive 7-3 win over Los Angeles. That’s a great way to start a week of games. They followed that up with a 5-2 loss in New Jersey and a 3-0 loss at home to the Isles. Those two losses helped nobody in Raleigh. Like Columbus, Carolina needs to get it together and soon.
The Canes will get right to work this evening. They were off last night and they’re hosting a Devils team that took on 51 shots in a 4-3 win against Tampa Bay on Saturday. It’s a prime opportunity for revenge and a win. They’ll be off for four days before hosting Pittsburgh (ouch) and Detroit (who may surpass last place in the Metropolitan soon). They’re not out of anything as they’re just one point behind the Isles. They’ll have games in hand on them at least by the end of next week. But if not soon, then when, Carolina?
New York Rangers - The Rangers have been bad on the road this season. They had a four-game road trip last week. The start of it was surprising: a 3-1 win in Winnipeg. Winnipeg is actually a good team. It suggested that perhaps the Rangers could get some points and still be in the hunt as they expect to sell on February 26. That did not happen. The Rangers proceeded to lose 3-2 to Minnesota, 3-0 to the Isles, and 6-3 to Ottawa. All in regulation. All on the road. Now the Rangers are four points behind seventh place, five points from the Isles for the last wild card spot, and just two points ahead of Detroit on the wild card list. If the plan is really to blow it up, then the Rangers faithful are in for some rough weeks coming up.
Good news for the Rangers, they’ll be at home today to play Philly. Bad news, uh, they’re still planning to blow up the squad. After today’s afternoon game, the Rangers will get some days off before visiting Montreal on Thursday and hosting Minnesota on Friday. It’s possible the Rangers could get some results and get closer to that big playoff bubble called the lower half of the Metropolitan Division standings. Whether that helps the re-build they want to do is another question.
That was the week that was and the week that will be for the Metropolitan Division. There’s likely to be some movement and the games absolutely matter for just about everyone. So pay attention, especially with that trade deadline happening on Monday. What do you think will happen in this coming week? Will we have a new team at the top? Will the Devils get past Philly or will the Flyers stay ahead of them? Who will have the second wild card spot by next Sunday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division in the comments. Thank you for reading.