Welcome to the penultimate Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2017-18 season. There are two full weeks left for the majority of the NHL. After months and months of the Metropolitan Division being the tightest in hockey, there is now clarity in the standings.
The bottom three are the Carolina Hurricanes, the New York Rangers, and the New York Islanders. Whereas the Rangers formally announced that they were re-building, the Canes and Isles had higher hopes - and crashed hard. As a result, they are clearly on the outside looking in. If they have any mathematical hopes of making the postseason, then it would take something utterly unlikely to occur. At this point, they are spoilers and nothing more.
At the top, it’s the Washington Capitals. While a five-point lead is not totally ironclad, it might as well be given how this season has went. Washington has been able to stay just ahead of everyone else. Given that everyone else has slipped a bit, they control their own destiny at this point. Short of a sudden slump, the Metropolitan Division crown should be theirs once again. That will come with taking on the owners of the first wild card spot in the playoffs, as the top of the Eastern Conference is a two-team race between Tampa Bay (106 points) and Boston (102 points).
To that end, this week’s snapshot is going to focus on the postseason as per dr(d)evil’s request. First, here are the standings after Saturday’s games:
I’ve added “Position/Lotto Odds” for the team’s current playoff seeding or odds of winning the Rasmus Dahlin Sweepstakes. These percentages come from Moneypuck, which is also where I get the playoff odds. Moneypuck has the Capitals as locked into the playoffs. Do not be surprised if they get an ‘X’ (and maybe a ‘Y’) very soon. They also have the Canes with a incredibly slim chance with both New York teams being out. The Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Philadelphia Flyers are all safe bets. New Jersey, well, they have work to do.
Here is this week’s upcoming schedule, featuring the wild-card fighting Florida Panthers and the Eastern Conference leaders, Tampa Bay Lightning:
Washington Capitals - Philadelphia Flyers
The Washington Capitals took a big step towards winning the division with a 3-1-0 week. After losing to Philadelphia 6-3 last Sunday, the Caps picked up wins over Dallas, Detroit, and Montreal. They were close wins, but wins all the same. With a five point lead over Pittsburgh, the Caps will have to fall quite a bit. In this coming week, they’ll have to deal with spoilers in their division: the Rangers twice and Carolina on Friday. The Canes may prove to be a tough out and the Rangers have been weird recently, so these are not gimmies for the Capitals. But Washington should be able to make it a positive week of results, secure a playoff position, and stay ahead of the Pens. They won’t catch the Lightning, who has an eleven point lead on them. But they can secure facing the first wild card opponent.
For now, that opponent is Philadelphia. After flailing in March, the Flyers have turned it around. They beat Washington 6-3 to win a back-to-back set that weekend. They lost in a shootout to Detroit, so they still picked up a point. They beat the Rangers 4-3 in regulation. That’s five points out of six. They gave themselves some breathing room over New Jersey plus staying in range of Pittsburgh (2 points ahead of them) and Columbus (1 point and Philly has a game in hand). The Flyers have a huge rivalry game against Pittsburgh at 12:30 today that could really create some chaos in positions two through four. The Flyers will stay on the road this week, where they’ll play Dallas and Colorado back to back before having three days off. It’s an odd quirk in the schedule. But the Flyers will try to keep it up. Who knows, they may move up in this coming week.
Pittsburgh Penguins - Columbus Blue Jackets
The Pittsburgh Penguins split this week of results. Normally that is not so bad, but a winning week could have put them in closer range of catching Washington instead of trying to stay just ahead of Columbus and Philadelphia. The Penguins lost to the Islanders of all teams last Tuesday, 4-1. Talk about being spoilers, Isles. The Pens rebounded with a 5-3 win over Montreal. They made up a two-goal deficit in the third period to New Jersey, but they lost in less than 30 seconds in overtime to the Devils. That’s how they got three out of six points and how they’re just ahead of the Blue Jackets. The Pens will definitely make the postseason at this rate, but their spot remains up in the air. They’ll try to secure things with a four-game week. They’ll host Philadelphia for a huge afternoon game today before visiting Detroit, visiting New Jersey, and hosting Montreal. It could be a good week for the Penguins, but that’s on them to not drop points.
The Blue Jackets went into their game against St. Louis last night as the hottest team in hockey. Columbus won ten straight to go from battling for the second wild card spot to possibly earning home ice in the first round of the postseason. Prior to that game against St. Louis, they edged Boston in overtime 5-4, they beat the Rangers 5-3, and they blanked Florida 4-0. However, the run would end to a St. Louis team fighting for their playoff lives in a 2-1 regulation loss. It was an awesome run. Now we will see how Columbus responds. They’ll take on three non-playoff teams in this coming week. Problem is that they’re all on the road in Western Canada: at Edmonton, at Calgary, and at Vancouver. This is not a simple trip. Columbus will need to be careful in these games if they want to challenge or overtake Pittsburgh.
New Jersey Devils - Tampa Bay Lightning w/ Florida Panthers Behind the Devils
The New Jersey Devils concluded their very difficult road trip in this past week. After shutting out Los Angeles last Saturday, the Devils started Keith Kinkaid again and lost 4-2 to an Anaheim that picked on them all game long. In San Jose, the Devils were blown out 6-2. With other results in the league, the back-to-back set against Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay became crucial games. The Devils lost a 3-1 lead in Pittsburgh but won the game 4-3 in overtime for one massive win within the division. The Devils held on 2-1 to beat Tampa Bay for another massive win. The Devils split the week 2-2 but the back-to-back set should have fans feeling more hopeful.
The Devils remain as holders of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. They do not quite control their own destiny as Florida is three points behind them with two games in hand (as well as one more ROW). But the Devils have the edge for now as they continue on with a four-game home stand. In this week, it’s all within the division: vs. Carolina, vs. Pittsburgh, and vs. Islanders. The Canes are a tough matchup, the Pens likely do not want to be swept by New Jersey, and the Isles can take down a bigger team (see Pittsburgh). It’s not easy. Nothing in the NHL is easy. But the Devils can help themselves best by taking care of business in this coming week.
It’s better to be at home than away. The Florida Panthers’ surge in 2018 is largely due to how they have turned their arena into a fortress. But in this past week, they won another week despite being on the road for three out of four games. The Cats shut out Montreal 2-0 and blew away Ottawa 7-2 before Columbus pounded them in a 4-0 loss. In their lone home game, they came from behind to beat Arizona 4-2. That’s a 3-1-0 week and they remain behind the Devils for the final playoff spot in the East. Florida will be on the road entirely for this week and will need to keep getting results to keep pace. They’ll visit the Islanders, Toronto and Ottawa in a back-to-back, and Boston on Saturday. Could they do it? Sure. Will they? I don’t know. But Devils fans are huge Isles fans on Monday and Atlantic Division fans for the rest of the week.
Should the Devils hold onto their wild card spot, they are currently set to face the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. The Lightning have a four-point lead on Boston for first in the Atlantic and in the division. They mathematically secured a playoff spot earlier in the week, but they have reason to keep on getting results. They did just finish a 3-1-0 week of their own, where they beat Edmonton (3-1) and edged Toronto (4-3) and the Islanders (7-6!) before New Jersey, of all teams, beat them in regulation 2-1. Tampa Bay should bounce back with their schedule against Arizona on Monday and a back-to-back involving Boston and the Rangers later in the week. If the Devils do keep their wild card spot, then the Lightning will likely be their opponents. That may be a good thing as they’ve beaten Tampa Bay three times this season - and have not beaten Boston at all.
The Carolina Hurricanes had a successful week where they finally started scoring a whole bunch of goals. They beat the Isles 4-3, they beat Arizona 6-5, and they beat Ottawa last night 5-2. Their one loss was a 7-3 loss to Edmonton. That is still a minimum of three goals scored in their last four games. Carolina is not an easy out for anyone. Their opponents - looking at you, Devils - should keep that in mind. The Canes will get to play a rested Devils team as they’ll host Ottawa the night before. Later in the week, they’ll face Washington and the Rangers in a back-to-back set.
The New York Rangers lost in regulation to Columbus and Philadelphia last week before beating Buffalo 5-1. They were heavily out-shot by Buffalo, but scored five goals on fifteen shots because hockey is not a fair game. Anyway, the win moved them ahead of the Islanders but still remain behind Carolina. Their odds for Dahlin remain low so who knows if that matters. Anyway, the Rangers will get Washington in two straight games before a nasty back-to-back with Tampa Bay on Friday and a game in Carolina on Saturday.
I don’t think the New York Islanders can really tank. I mean, six teams have had a “head start” on that. But you wouldn’t know it from the L’s they’ve been taking. Despite making it seem close, they were on the wrong side of scores against Carolina, Tampa Bay, and Chicago. They did beat Pittsburgh and that game is worth noting for any team thinking they’re an easy two points. The Isles will take on Florida on Monday (the Devils fans will be cheering for the Isles), before visiting Ottawa on Tuesday, going to Toronto on Friday, and playing a rested Devils team on Saturday (the Devils fans will be cheering for the Devils). They’re playing out the string, with a capital ‘L.’
That was the week that was and the week that will be for the Metropolitan Division. There will be one more snapshot for this season next week.
What do you think will happen in this coming week? Will Washington secure first place or will someone rise up at the last minute? Who will be in second place among Pittsburgh, Columbus, and Philadelphia? Can the Devils keep fending off Florida in the standings? How will the spoilers do in this coming week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division in the comments. Thank you for reading.