February is a crucial month of the year for all 31 teams in the NHL. Right by the end of it, on February 26, is the NHL Trade Deadline. The next couple of weeks will be filled with speculation and maybe some deals. For the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division, everyone is so close to being in or out that it’s hard to identify who should be a buyer, who should sell, or who should do nothing. As we enter the first full week in February, the Washington Capitals are still in first. But as has been the case for months, they’re not exactly too far ahead of everyone else and last place is just ten points behind them.
The Capitals do hold a three point lead over the new second place team, the New Jersey Devils with the same number of games played. They also have a commanding amount of ROW. Still, they aren’t entirely safe if they don’t keep on picking up results. What’s noticeable is that only three teams had a winning week in the division and the Caps split their week. This gave New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Carolina opportunity to sustain or make gains; and their odds for making it have improved per Moneypuck.
In this coming week, there are four games within the division - which are highlighted in yellow - as everyone but Pittsburgh has at least three games to play.
Columbus can make a short-term impact about the state of the upper half of the division in this week. You may want to keep an eye on them other than the team you support.
For this week’s snapshot, I will highlight the split in games for the goaltenders on each team. All stats from NHL.com.
Washington Capitals: Clear Starter: Braden Holtby (38 GP, 92.1% EvSv%). Clear Backup: Philipp Grubauer (17 GP, 93.4 EvSv%). Holtby’s been the main man for the Capitals and Grubauer has been more than a capable backup in this season.
The Capitals had two games last week and they split them. The Capitals beat Philadelphia, 5-3, in regulation to keep them down in the standings. The Capitals made a comeback against Pittsburgh, but ultimately lost as the Pens pulled away with a 7-4 result. That loss means the Caps are just three points ahead of the Devils. They still have an advantage in games played (51 ties New Jersey for the fewest in the division) and ROW (27 ties them with Columbus), so Caps fans shouldn’t sweat unless they slump.
In this coming week, the Capitals will host Las Vegas, which is far superior than playing in Vegas. They’ll get to face Columbus both home and away on Tuesday and Friday. Columbus would do well to get something out of those games. Washington would do well to beat them down to solidify their spot over them. While the Caps have a three point lead holding first, they’re seven points up on Columbus. Denying them points on those nights will only increase that lead. Washington is a strong team so it is possible they can do it. We’ll see if they will.
New Jersey Devils: Clear Starter: Cory Schneider (35 GP, 92.2 EvSv%), Clear Backup: Keith Kinkaid (17 GP, 89.3 EvSv%), #3 Goalie: Ken Appleby (3 GP, 95.6 EvSv%). Schneider has been the main man for New Jersey in net in the past few seasons and Kinkaid emerged to be the #2 goalie. This season has been rough for Kinkaid and the last month wasn’t good for Schneider, who is currently out. Appleby was called up to fill in when Schneider was sick/hurt and when Kinkaid was hurt, he stepped in and performed very well. The good news is that Kinkaid has played much better in this past week. It remains to be seen how well Schneider will play when he returns and whether Kinkaid can turn his season around in a bigger way.
The New Jersey Devils were the best team in the division in this last week. They won all three of their games. They played well in all three of their games. They won all three in regulation; they gave no points away. Buffalo? 3-1. Philadelphia? 4-3 with a late breakthrough goal to break Philly’s heart. Pittsburgh? I don’t know who showed up for Pittsburgh but the Devils beat them down 3-1. Now they’re back in second and continue to control their destiny with respect to a playoff spot. Well done, Devils.
This coming week will be somewhat tricky. They’ll go to Ottawa for a game on Tuesday before returning home for a game against a challenging Calgary squad. Their week will end in Columbus, where a big divisional game awaits them. It’s also the first half of a back-to-back set that weekend, so the Devils will need to manage their play. But if this past week is the start of a run, then the Devils could stand to make it another positive week as they strive for a playoff spot.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Clear Starter: Matt Murray (33 GP, 90.7 EvSv%), Clear Backup: Tristan Jarry (18 GP, 91.8 EvSv%), #3 Goalie: Casey DeSmith (7 GP, 92.6 EvSv%). Goaltending has not been kind to the Penguins this season until this past month or so. Murray hasn’t been so hot and the backups have been better save for Antti Niemi’s poor three appearances. The hope is that Murray rebounds in this half of the season while Jarry and DeSmith provide adequate support. The latter has been true from this distant perspective. We’ll see about the former.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have played more games than anyone else in the Metropolitan Division, which puts them in a short-term disadvantage. But they kept on winning until they came up incredibly lame against the Devils on Saturday night. The Pens beat on San Jose 5-2 before winning a 7-4 goal-fest over Washington. The loss to the Devils means they fell to third place. But they are not the goal-challenged squad of the first half. They’ve shown in recent weeks that they can be a frighteningly good team when the percentages aren’t holding them down.
The Penguins will have a short week to rest up. Other teams around them will use some games in hand on them. This makes their two games more important in the short-term to get results: a home game against Vegas and a road game in Dallas. Good luck, Pens.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Clear Starter: Sergey Bobrovsky (42 GP, 93.4 EvSv%), Clear Backup: Joonas Korpisalo (11 GP, 90.7 EvSv%). The Blue Jackets have been riding Bobrovsky hard. And why not? He’s been fantastic this season. He’s also way, way better than Korpisalo. The Blue Jackets will go where Bobrovsky goes.
The Blue Jackets did not have a good week. They lost to Minnesota in a shootout on January 30. On February 2 and February 3, the Blue Jackets lost in regulation on both nights: at home to San Jose, 3-1 and visiting the Islanders, 4-3. The latter stings more as the Isles gained at Columbus’ expense in the standings. The Blue Jackets need to cut this winless streak short.
As noted earlier, they have a great chance to do that while possibly shaking things up at the top of the division. They’ll play Washington twice before hosting New Jersey on Saturday. The Blue Jackets can use them as stepping stones up the division. But if they keep on sliding, they could find themselves lower than fourth before they know it.
Philadelphia Flyers: Clear Starter: Brian Elliott (38 GP, 92.4 EvSv%), Clear Backup: Michal Neuvirth (16 GP, 93.8 EvSv%), #3 Goalie: Alex Lyon (3 GP, 88.6 EvSv%). Brian Elliott has been good for the Flyers. But he’s been hurt recently, which has allowed Alex Lyon to get into some games. Lyon has not been so good. But the backup, Neuvirth, has been very good. Elliott may return in this coming week, which is good news for a team on the bubble.
The Flyers picked up one out of six points in this last week. Washington beat them 5-3 on Wednesday night. On the next night, the Flyers almost salvaged something against the Devils - only for Nico Hischier to re-direct a puck past Alex Lyon within the final minutes in a 4-3 defeat. Against the hapless Senators, the Flyers needed a near-last-second goal in regulation to tie it up. They lost in a shootout for a 4-3 final score. Just when you think the Flyers are about to step up and make a move in the division, they put up one of these weeks. It must be frustrating supporting this team.
The Flyers remain in a wild card spot and will have this week to start making up for what they didn’t earn last week. They’ll have a big game in Carolina on Tuesday, which could see the Flyers fall behind the Hurricanes - depending on what the Canes do on Sunday. The Flyers will host Montreal on Thursday and then go to Arizona on Saturday. That Saturday game may be a trap game and on the next night, they’ll be in Vegas - a place where road teams tend to lose. So winning that game in Arizona is kind of important. It may be if they don’t get something against Carolina or Montreal before then.
New York Islanders: Clear Starter: Jaroslav Halak (35 GP, 92.3 EvSv%), Clear Backup: Thomas Greiss (22 GP, 89.2 EvSv%). Greiss has been heinous this season. His last start involved giving up five goals against and he has allowed at least four goals in four of his last five starts. On the other hand, Halak has been good. I know backup goaltending is not usually a “need” for a team, but maybe the Isles want to address that? Or just ride Halak more often since Greiss has been so leaky?
The Islanders were close to flopping this whole past week. They lost 4-1 to Florida in Brooklyn and then were blanked 5-0 in Toronto on the next night. That’s a bad start after the All-Star Game break. The good news for the Isles was that they held onto a lead (!) in a 4-3 win against Columbus. That four-point swing puts the Isles right behind the Blue Jackets (and tied with Philly). They’ll need to do better to push into a playoff spot, but that last win against Columbus was a big one.
In this coming week, the Islanders will get to stay outside of the division. They’ll host Nashville on Monday, which will be tough because Nashville is one of the best teams in the league. The Islanders will then have a back-to-back set where they’ll go to Buffalo on Thursday night and then back home to host Detroit on Friday. That will be a tricky one, especially if Buffalo sticks to their defense.
Carolina Hurricanes: #1A Starter: Scott Darling (30 GP, 90.1 EvSv%), #1B Starter: Cam Ward (25 GP, 91.6 EvSv%). For years, Ward has been paid quite a bit to provide underwhelming goaltending for Carolina. It could be argued it sunk them in a few seasons. So the Canes went out and signed Darling to a big deal so he can be the starter and Ward could be a backup. This season, Darling has not been good and Ward has been good enough to be more than just a #2 guy. We’ll see who wins out as the season goes on.
It was a good week to be a Carolina Hurricanes fan. They kicked off an eight game homestand last week. The Brass Bonanza is apparently returning. The team also won two out of three games. They beat Ottawa 2-1 in regulation and shutout Montreal 2-0. Very nice. On the night after the shutout win, Detroit knocked them down 4-1. That stunk. But the four points was enough to get Carolina out of eighth place and have reason to challenge teams ahead of them. If the goaltending can be sorted out, Carolina will be a tough out for any opponent.
Carolina will be the busiest team in the division in this coming week. They’ll host San Jose today, host Philadelphia in a crucial divisional game on Tuesday, host Vancouver on Friday, and then host Colorado on Saturday. At least they will not be traveling. I like Carolina’s chances in most of their games. Don’t be surprised if they occupy a wild card spot in next week’s snapshot.
New York Rangers: Clear Starter: Henrik Lundqvist (44 GP, 92.3 EvSv%), Clear Backup: Ondrej Pavelec (14 GP, 92.1 EvSv%). The Rangers have been carried by Lundqvist for years. Seeing him with more games played than any other goalie in the division should surprise nobody. Pavelec has actually been good as a #2 goalie, which is probably news to Winnipeg fans who suffered from his play for multiple seasons. With the Rangers wanting to blow it all up, maybe they’ll ease up on Lundqvist a bit and give Pavelec more games? Just a thought.
The Rangers had two games last week and they lost them both. They lost 4-0 at home to Toronto. They lost 5-2 in Nashville just last night. Maybe the news of blowing it up was not received well? Maybe the team is truly declining and management is right to get in front of it by proclaming they are sellers? Maybe it’s just a slump? All the same, the Rangers are now last in the division. They’re not so far behind Carolina and the Islanders, but they’ll need points to catch up. Before they know it, catching up will only become that much harder.
The Rangers need points and fast. Unfortunately for them, they have a road game next: they’ll be in Dallas on Monday. On Wednesday, they’ll host a very powerful Boston squad. At least on Friday, they’ll host a Calgary team that will have played in New Jersey the night before. They’ll have that advantage, at least.
That was the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division. It’s still tight. Teams that faltered can make up for it with a quick turnaround - if they get points. What do you think will happen? Will Columbus shake up the top of the division or will they fade further down the standings? Can the Devils stay up where they are? Will the Islanders or Hurricanes jump into a wild card spot by next Sunday? Are the Rangers going to keep declining? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the week that was and the week that will be in the comments. Thank you for reading.