Apologies for the lateness of this week’s Metropolitan Division snapshot. Even with the change in clocks, the division as a whole remains tight. The top three teams are all within a win of each other. First place is only six points ahead of fifth place. The wild cards are now a four-team race. Even last place is a battle. Here are how the standings look after Saturday’s games:
Despite a good week from the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals were able hold onto first place. Still, Washingtion, Pittsburgh, and the Philadelphia Flyers are all within striking distance of each other. Down in the wild card spots, fourth and fifth place in the division still have them. However, Florida in the Atlantic is right on the tails of the New Jersey Devils and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Carolina Hurricanes have faded into the background, but they’re not totally out of anything yet. They will be joining the New York Islanders and the New York Rangers soon if they don’t get their acts together.
Here is this week’s upcoming schedule, with Florida’s information included. Games within the division are highlighted in yellow:
A quick word about Florida: They’ve been hot with an 8-1-1 record in their last ten games. They have become one of the best teams at home; their home record is currently 21-9-3. They have three more home games and only one of them should be a challenge on paper: Boston on Thursday. Given how close they are to the standings, Florida doesn’t need three wins in their three games in hand; they just need a few points at this point. And if they keep on taking care of business at home, they may not even need that. New Jersey, Columbus, and Carolina need to hope they cool off as soon as possible.
Since this snapshot is later than usual, let’s just get into it:
Washington Capitals. New Jersey fans, take note as Washington went on California road trip last week. They were blanked 4-0 by Anaheim and beaten by LA 3-1. In order to keep first place, they had to salvage the trip. They did so by shutting out San Jose, 2-0. Which was 1-0 with an empty netter. The point is: California isn’t easy. It wasn’t for the Capitals.
The Capitals will return home on Tuesday to host Winnipeg, which isn’t an easy game either. There will be some easier games later in the week: a home-and-home set with the New York Islanders. Washington should do better than 1-2-0 in this week. If they don’t, they could end up in second or even third place by week’s end.
Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pittsburgh Penguins had a positive week of results and so they moved up to second place. They prevailed over Calgary in overtime for their first win of the week. They smacked their rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers, in a 5-2 victory. The win not only gave them bragging rights (always important), but moved them up in the division. Unfortunately, they failed to overtake Washington because they lost 5-2 in Toronto. A 2-1-0 week is still pretty good. Repeating those will get them to first place if Washington continues to falter.
Pittsburgh has an interesting set of three games this week. They’re going to host a Dallas team that’s in a wild card position but would surely love some security. After that, they’ll have two road games back-to-back. At the Rangers and at Montreal, two opponents who have effectively thrown in the towel on this season. They’re trap games, though. After Montreal, they’ll have a rare bit of rest: four days off. Perhaps they’ll be able to relax in first place after Thursday? We’ll see.
Philadelphia Flyers. Philadelphia has charged up the standings throughout the 2018 portion of this season. Therefore, a 1-3-0 week from them seems really out of the ordinary. Last Sunday, they were Florida’s latest victims at Sunrise: a 4-1 loss. Last Wednesday, Pittsburgh beat them in Philly, 5-2. Last Thursday, Philly lost in Boston, 3-2. The Flyers salvaged the week by picking up a 2-1 win over Winnipeg. It’s a good thing too. Going pointless would have set them up to be just a point ahead of New Jersey and two points ahead of Columbus. While the Flyers faithful may be looking up to first and second, the team is in just of much danger of falling down. For their sake, they should hope this past week was just one bad week.
Their upcoming week of games will be tricky. On Monday, they’ll host Vegas. The Flyers are one of the few teams to have won in Vegas, but nothing about that team is easy this season. Later in the week, they’ll host Columbus on Thursday and visit Carolina on Saturday. Even if the Flyers beat Vegas, they would do well to win those two if only to ensure they stay down in the standings. For Philly to move on up and/or avoid any risk of slipping, they will have to help themselves.
New Jersey Devils. Speaking of helping themselves, the New Jersey Devils really could do a better job of doing just that. Last Sunday, they came up lame in a one-goal third period in a 3-2 loss to Vegas. Last Tuesday, they opened up a six-pack on Montreal and cruised to a 6-4 win. Last Thursday, despite firing a lot of shots, they fell to Winnipeg 3-2. Yesterday, they let up a late equalizer in Nashville, survived a penalty in OT, and won in a shootout in Nashville for a 3-2 final score. It’s a 2-2-0 week where if the Devils picked up an extra point or two, they really could be challenging for the safety of a third place spot in the division. Instead, they’re warding off Columbus and Florida with the thinnest of margins.
The game in Nashville was the start of a six-game road trip for the Devils. This road trip is arguably the most difficult of the season for New Jersey as they’ll go to Vegas, all three California-based teams, and end with Pittsburgh followed by a home game with Tampa Bay afterwards. For this coming week, the Devils will get to wait. They will visit Vegas on Wednesday night and then have an afternoon game in Los Angeles on Saturday. They’ll make up the game in hand right away in the following week, which is four games. So the Devils may be passed for a bit just by being idle. Getting points in Vegas and Los Angeles is a lot easier said than done. No one ever said making the playoffs is easy.
Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus has re-established themselves in the wild card picture in a big way last week. They swept their week. Four games, four wins. They won in San Jose, 4-2, to salvage their California trip (similar to Washington). They beat Vegas 4-1. They won in overtime over Colorado, 5-4. They beat Detroit, 3-2. For a day, they surpassed the Devils - their win in Nashville moved them back down to fifth. For the moment, they’re holding onto the second wild card spot. Are they safe? Not at all.
The Blue Jackets will seek to keep their winning streak going in this week. They’ll host Montreal tomorrow, which could be a win. They’ll have a tough game in Philadelphia on Thursday, which could be a problem. They’ll host Ottawa on Saturday, which could also be a win. This upcoming week on paper should be a positive one. Will they achieve it? Maybe. The Blue Jackets are good but they’re in this position in the standings for a reason.
Carolina Hurricanes. Poor Carolina. Florida has surged. Columbus has surged. New Jersey hasn’t fallen much. Meanwhile, the Hurricanes won only one out of three games in this past week. They fell to Winnipeg, 3-2, at home. They lost big-time on the road in Minnesota, 6-2. Their only win was a 3-2 win in Chicago. Carolina was on the outside looking in at the start of this past week, but they were close. Between earning only two points for themselves as Florida and Columbus earning more, they’re now really on the outside. If they’re not careful, they may be effectively out of the picture soon.
Therefore, their upcoming week of games is crucial. It’s not easy. They’ll visit Manhattan on Monday. While the Rangers are out of it, MSG has been a better place for them than the road. On the very next day, the Canes will host Boston, one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. That’s a tough game on its own, nevermind as the second half of a back-to-back set. After several days off, Carolina will host Philadelphia - another difficult game. Carolina needs a big week to have a shot of getting close to the wild card spots. It will not be easy. Nothing ever is in the NHL.
New York Islanders. Snow hit the area hard last week. Frustration has continued to hit the Islanders hard. It’s not good when the money quote from the head coach involves a swear in a complaint about how the results are getting old. It’s not good when the star player says that this isn’t fun. The schedule last week had the Islanders play just two games on the road in a spaced-out Western Canada trip. The Isles lost 4-3 in overtime to Vancouver. They lost 1-2 to Edmonton in a shootout. Their two points earned moved them up to seventh place but they needed wins to have a semblance of a faint hope of the playoff picture. Moneypuck’s odds considers how the team performs in their simulations. That they’re down to below 2% tells you how out they really are.
This coming week doesn’t look like relief will be coming soon. They’ll visit Calgary tonight to end their Western Canada road trip. Later in the week, they have a home-and-home with Washington. By that point, they may just be spoilers. Philly and Pittsburgh (and New Jersey and Columbus?) fans may want the Isles to take some points. Given that the Islanders have not won a game since February 16 (eight games ago), that’s asking for a lot.
New York Rangers. In last week’s snapshot, the Rangers went 3-0-1 in their prior week and moved up to seventh place. For this week’s snapshot, the Rangers went winless. I suppose if you’re competing for a few more lottery balls, then this was a successful week. In their only home game last week, Winnipeg blanked them 3-0. New York went to the Sunshine State for two more road games. Tampa Bay beat them 5-3. The Rangers took a hot Florida team beyond regulation, but lost in a shootout, 4-3. That’s a 0-2-1 week, which is more like it if you’re hoping they drop down. No, they won’t “catch” Ottawa, Buffalo, or Montreal. But could they fall behind Chicago or Detroit? Sure. To think, this team was a playoff team or a near playoff team about a month and a half ago.
Anyway, the Rangers will keep on doing, well, something in this coming week. They’ll host Carolina on Monday and host Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Anyone hoping they’ll be spoilers may be disappointed; see how they just did last week, for example. Their week ends with a game in St. Louis. The Blues may have some chance - not a great one, but a chance - at a wild card spot. Since the Rangers have nothing to play for, they may welcome the ‘L’ there too. Again, it’s all about odds at this point for them.
That was the week that was and the week that will be for the Metropolitan Division. There will be three more snapshots for this season. As teams will have 13 to 15 games remaining in their season, a lot can still happen.
In the meantime: What do you think will happen in this coming week? Will Washington be able to retain first place? Will the Flyers bounce back from a bad week or could they slip even further? Will the Devils somehow get points on the road? Even if they do, will the schedule mean they’ll be passed? Can Columbus retain the second wild card spot? Will Florida cool off? Which New York team will end up in last place by next Sunday? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division in the comments. Thank you for reading.