The Stretch Run to the Playoffs is on in the National Hockey League. Some teams are looking to take a spot and others are jockeying for a more desirable position. It has been a tight race nearly all season long in the division. It will remain one in March. And the one team that decided to blow it up - has re-entered the fringes of the playoff picture. Here is how the standings look after Saturday’s games:
Here is the schedule for this upcoming week, starting with today’s games. The one game within the division is highlighted in yellow and it’s a legitimate rivalry game on Wednesday night. I hope you like road games because just about everyone is traveling to some degree this week.
By the way, since Florida is now in the playoff picture for the second wild card spot, I’m going to include their weekly schedule. If you’re a fan of the Isles, Carolina, Columbus, and New Jersey (you should be a Devils fan regardless), then you would want to keep tabs on the Cats - and hope they falter in this coming week:
Columbus is returning from California, Washington will head out there, New Jersey begins a six-game road trip at the end of the week, the Islanders will stay in Western Canada, the Rangers will go to the Sunshine state as the Flyers finish up in Sunrise and travel to Boston in the middle of the week, and Carolina hits the heartland for two games. The airline miles will be racked up. With all of this traveling, this week’s snapshot will highlight everyone’s road record.
Washington Capitals Road record: 31 GP, 14-12-5, 33 points (14th in points, third in division)
The Capitals are ahead of the league median when it comes to playing away from D.C. This isn’t bad but it is an area where they can improve. They’ll have ten games left in this season to do so, although they’ll have it hard in this week.
The Capitals opened last week with a back-to-back set in Columbus and at home against Ottawa. The game in Ohio went poorly as the Caps were smacked down in a 5-1 loss. Washington would pick up a win in regulation over Ottawa, albeit by a close 3-2 result. The Sens tried to make it interesting but they could not complete the comeback. Washington hosted Toronto for a big game - literally. This home game took place in Annapolis, Maryland at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. Yes, stadium games are still a thing. The Caps won it cleanly, 5-2, to make the week a successful one.
It will be challenging to repeat a 2-1-0 record for the week as the Washington will head out West. They will play all three California teams: Anaheim, San Jose, and a matinee in L.A. At least none of them are back-to-back. With the two hot teams from Pennsylvania right around them, the Caps would do well to boost that road record of theirs.
Philadelphia Flyers Road record: 33 GP, 18-10-5, 41 points (tied for 4th in points with one other team, best in division)
With only three non-wins in February, the Flyers have been hot. Being away from home has not deterred them all season though. They have been one of the best teams in the NHL on the road. They should have every reason to feel confident in their final eight road games of this season. Of course, a lot has been going their way anyway so the confidence is all over.
On February 26, the Flyers were in Montreal and both teams put up a shutout in 65 minutes. The Flyers won the shootout to take two points and cap off a 10-1-2 month for them. They were hot. Philadelphia has not lost a game in regulation since February 1 in New Jersey. That run would end in this past week. The streak of no regulation losses ended on March 1. In Philadelphia, Carolina just beat them decisively 4-1. Not with a bang, but it ended with a whimper. Philadelphia finished the week in Tampa Bay for the first half of a Florida back-to-back. In a wild, high-scoring affair, the Flyers were edged in the shootout for a 7-6 final result. Philadelphia picked up three out of six points to keep pace in the top three spots in the division, so they managed to take care of business.
While Philadelphia has shown to be able to play against anyone, they will be tested with four games in this coming week. Philly starts today with a road game against a on-fire Florida squad. Those Cats want the playoffs and they will put up a fight. The Flyers will have a tough back-to-back set in the middle of the week: a home rivalry game against Pittsburgh and a game in Boston on the next night. Winnipeg is one of the best teams in the West and they’ll come to Philadelphia on Saturday. The Flyers have answered the “Are they for real?” question. This week will ask, “How good is your real, Philadelphia?”
Pittsburgh Penguins Road record: 33 GP, 13-17-3, 29 points (tied for 20th with five other teams, tied for sixth in the division)
The Penguins have been utterly fantastic at home. They just had an eleven-game winning streak at the Neo-Igloo snapped in this past week. The road has not been kind to the Pens given their losing record. No one doubts the talent but if you’re wondering why they are not ruling this division, then this road record is at least part of the reason they are not.
Last week was not such a good week for the Penguins. The New Jersey Devils came into their building and snapped that home winning streak with a 3-2 final score in regulation. The Devils gave as good as the Pens did. Two nights later, the Penguins went up to Boston and the two teams engaged in a wild, defense-optional first period. The B’s pulled away to make it a rout of the Penguins. Pittsburgh left Boston with a 8-4 defeat in their hands. On Saturday, they hosted the Islanders in an early evening contest. . In a week where they could have jumped or put pressure on Philadelphia or Washington, they end up within striking distance of the Devils in terms of points. This will not be a smooth ride for a Penguins team wanting to three-peat.
The Penguins will have to get things sorted with three games coming up in this week. They’ll host Calgary on Monday before hitting the road for two games. A game in Philadelphia is always a big deal and Wednesday’s game has some real implications on the division. At the end of the week, they’ll visit a Toronto squad that definitely has home-ice to play for. Pittsburgh could do it, but will they do so? We’ll see soon enough.
New Jersey Devils Road record: 33 GP, 16-12-5, 37 points (tied for 9th with two other teams, second best in division)
The New Jersey Devils won last Saturday. This team hasn’t won or lost more than one game at a time for several weeks. This past week was no different. On February 27, the Devils went to Pittsburgh and tipped ahead of them with a strong performance. They won that game 3-2 to make it two wins in a row. The Devils then had a road back-to-back set in Florida and Carolina. Both games were close on the scoreboard but the Devils struggled on the ice. With a chance to keep both teams back in the standings, the Devils failed twice: a 2-3 loss in Florida and a 1-3 loss in Carolina. Now both teams are very much in the playoff picture as the Devils look to secure their own spot.
This coming week begins a grinder of a schedule. The Devils will be at home for Vegas tonight, Montreal on Tuesday, and Winnipeg on Thursday. They’ll begin a six-game road trip in Nashville on Saturday. That Tuesday night game will be the last game the Devils will play against a team currently outside of the playoffs until the end of March. And nobody is a real pushover in this league anyway. This and the following two weeks will tell the world what the Devils are. It would behoove the Devils to pick up points in this week if only to help protect their position in the standings in case this upcoming road trip goes all kinds of awry.
Carolina Hurricanes Road record: 32 GP, 13-14-5, 31 points (tied for 15th with one other team, fourth in division)
The Carolina Hurricanes helped themselves in this past week and re-entered the playoff picture. By tiebreaker, they currently own the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference ahead of Columbus. The Canes lost in overtime at Boston to start their week. They rebounded with a strong 4-1 win in Philadelphia and a strong 3-1 win at home against New Jersey. That’s five points out of a potential six. That’s a Carolina team making a statement in this past week. Before they start eyeing the Devils’ spot, they still need to be very aware of Columbus, Florida, and, to a lesser extent, the Islanders.
Carolina will seek to keep the good times rolling with three games coming up. Today, they’ll host a Winnipeg team that is loaded with talent. On Tuesday, the Canes will go to the State of Hockey to play Minnesota. As Minnesota is battling to keep their position in the Central Division, they will play that game with a purpose. The Canes will end their week with a road game on Thursday in Chicago. While Chicago may be effectively out of the playoff race, they’re still a tough opponent. Should the Canes continue to help themselves, they’re going to be a real thorn in the side of a lot of teams in the standings - in addition to just being a pain to play against on the ice.
Columbus Blue Jackets Road record: 33 GP, 13-17-3, 29 points (tied for 20th with five other teams, tied for sixth in the division)
The Blue Jackets have the same road record as Pittsburgh and the Islanders. Like Pittsburgh, the road has not been so kind to the Blue Jackets. Like Pittsburgh, it is part of the reason why they are not higher up in the standings. Unlike Pittsburgh, Columbus has not made their rink a fortress despite containing a loud cannon. Like Pittsburgh, this will have to be better for Columbus to improve their situation.
Last week, Columbus hosted Washington and then flew to California for a back-to-back set in a three-game road trip against all three teams. The home game went splendidly for the Jackets as they won 5-1. The two road games in California did not go well. Columbus lost both in regulation: 5-2 to Los Angeles despite scoring the game’s first two goals and 4-2 to Anaheim. Columbus is not out of any picture but those two losses were two lost opportunities to stay ahead of Carolina and Florida. The pressure is now on them as they are just outside of the second wild card spot (again, due to a tiebreaker).
Columbus will go to San Jose tonight and that will be that for their California road trip. If they salvage something for it, it’ll be a good first step ahead of three home games this week. The Jackets will take on Vegas on Tuesday and then host Colorado and Detroit in a back-to-back set. Columbus needs to get out of their varying levels of funk and get some results should they want to re-take fifth place or aim higher. If they’re not careful, they could be behind Florida and the Islanders before they know it.
New York Rangers Road record: 32 GP, 12-18-2, 26 points (28th in points, eighth in division)
The Rangers have been one of the most unsuccessful road teams in the NHL this season. Even before they announced that they would re-build, they were just struggling to get points away from Manhattan. Now that the team has moved several key players by the NHL Trade Deadline, the bad road record is moot. They’re playing for lottery balls now.
Or are they? This past week of games put the Rangers back to the fringes of the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Rangers opened last week with an overtime loss at home to Detroit. A trip to Western Canada followed that game - and it could not have gone any better for the Blueshirts. Last Wednesday, the Rangers would get their first win since February 11 (seven games prior) in Vancouver. They prevailed 7-6 in overtime. Last Friday, the Rangers went into Calgary and won 3-1 in regulation. Last night, the Rangers held on to beat Edmonton 3-2 in regulation. After selling quite a bit by Monday, here come the Rangers. Much to the chagrin of those who wanted a mini-tank or Islanders fans.
The Rangers will return home in this coming week for one game: a Tuesday game against Winnipeg. They will go back on the road with games in Tampa Bay and Florida to close out their week. They may spoil their own lottery hopes in the process, but another strong week of results and this division gets very tight once again. Nothing is technically over.
New York Islanders Road record: 34 GP, 13-17-4, 30 points (tied for 18th with one other team, fifth in the division)
The Isles have the same road record as Pittsburgh and Columbus. Their position is similar to Columbus’, so I’m not going to repeat the same part for them. Just replace Columbus and Jackets with Islanders from the last one as appropriate. They have one fewer road game remaining, so there’s that.
The Islanders last won a game on February 16. In this past week, they lost two more games. Their home-and-home with Montreal yielded two more regulation losses. The game in Montreal was a 3-1 loss. The game in Brooklyn was a 6-3 loss. On Saturday against the Penguins, the Isles took Pittsburgh to overtime. They lost in OT; the winless streak is now six games long. With no major moves at the trade deadline, no wins in the last two weeks, the Rangers are ahead of them for the moment (tiebreakers), and the team has been mired in the bottom end of the division for weeks, the fans are understandably restless. A billboard will not get Garth Snow to go. But missing the postseason by limping to the end of the season might do it.
The Isles need to get their acts together and fast to stay in the picture for the second wild card spot. Florida has already jumped them in the larger standings and the Cats have three games in hand on them. The Islanders will have at least time to prepare for their two games this week. They’ll go out to Vancouver for a game on Monday and then they’ll play in Edmonton on Thursday. Their Western Canada trip will end next Sunday in Calgary. If they come back to Brooklyn with nothing, then they may be effectively done. It’s time to get desperate, Islanders.
That was the week that was and the week that will be for the Metropolitan Division. A lot of traveling is coming up and a lot of teams have something to prove or something secure. There are only a four more weekly snapshots left in the regular season. This truly is the Stretch Run for the Playoffs.
In the meantime: What do you think will happen in this coming week? Can the Devils get points to secure their spot before their massive road trip? Who will take first? Can Columbus or Carolina (or somehow, the Islanders) take that second wild card spot? How will Florida factor in - they’re hot now, but will they stay in the picture with those three teams? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division in the comments. Thank you for reading.