This coming week in America is highlighted by Thanksgiving. A holiday where families and loved ones come together, feast, and be thankful for what they have. This year, it falls on the final Thursday of the month which makes this week’s snapshot the final one for November. The National Hockey League has surpassed the “quarter pole” of the season and so it is becoming clearer who are the real players in the league and who are fodder short of a big run. The Metropolitan Division is no different. The leader remains the same: the Washington Capitals. Four other teams have emerged to have real hopes for a playoff spot. The remaining three, well, they have a lot to do with decreasing time to do it.
Every day of the week will feature at least one game by a Metropolitan Division team. Yes, even on Thanksgiving Day itself. That said, most of the action will take place on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with plenty of games within the division. There could be some big swings by next week’s snapshot. Those games within the Metropolitan are highlighted and in bold:
Let us go over the week that was and the week that will be for each team in the division.
On paper, the division leaders had a fairly favorable schedule in this past week. Two home games against Anaheim and Vancouver with a road game against the New York Rangers. Given how the Capitals have played this season, another winning week was in the cards. It was not to be. The Capitals did dispatch Anaheim with a 5-2 win. However, they went into MSG and were pantsed by the Rangers. The Capitals suffered a 4-1 regulation defeat. Yesterday afternoon, the Capitals were caught in a tight one with Vancouver. It was 1-1 at the end of the first, second, third, and overtime periods. Even the shootout ran long at seven rounds. Alas, Vancouver prevailed in that seventh round which meant Washington ended their week at 1-1-1. That is not such a bad week - they split the points. But it showed a little vulnerability for the team atop the division.
The Capitals will close out November with an Atlantic Division-based week of games. They will have three days off before hosting Florida on Wednesday. After Thanksgiving, they will host Tampa Bay and then visit Detroit. Florida has been turning it up and they now sit second in their division; that will be a tough one. And Tampa Bay has shown signs of righting their own ship. The Detroit game should be a win but it is not a guarantee. Especially if the Caps struggle in these first two games. I would expect them to stay in first place when December starts but they may not have such a grip on the position.
The New York Islanders lost in overtime to Pittsburgh back on November 7. Since it was in overtime, the team has managed to have a point streak of 14 games heading into this past week. The Isles have also won three in a row since that game. I do not know if that game was on the minds of the players but it makes for a nice story so let us pretend they did. This way I can state that they meted out some revenge. The Isles and Penguins had a non-consecutive home-and-home series. In Pittsburgh, the Isles won 5-4 in overtime. In Brooklyn, the Isles won 4-3 in overtime. This extended the winning streak to five games and the point streak to a franchise-record 16 games. The Isles just kept on finding ways to get something out of their games. This was challenged on the West Coast as the Isles began their California road trip last night in San Jose. It was close. It did not start off so well but the Isles tied it up in the second period. At 1-1, the game went beyond regulation. While the Islanders did not win in overtime, their point streak was extended to a staggering 17 games. Now they sit three points behind Washington and have plenty of games in hand on them - and on third place Carolina. The Isles are in a great spot.
Of course, they need to keep getting results to stay in a great spot or possibly move on up. They will do so with their three games coming up in this week. On Monday, the Isles will visit Anaheim. On Wednesday, the California road trip ends in Los Angeles. The Isles will get Thanksgiving and Black Friday off. They will get back to work on the Unnamed Saturday as they will host Columbus at the Barclays Center. I could state that they need to be careful but given how they have kept on earning points as they are not three easy games. The California trip can trip teams up and Columbus is not a doormat. But these days, I see little reason to be so concerned about the Isles.
The Carolina Hurricanes are now back in third place in the Metropolitan Division, having jumped Pittsburgh on Saturday night. It is a tight race in the middle of the division and so being down by only a point can make a difference when the result that night is a win. Such was the case for Carolina. They opened the week with a 4-2 win in Chicago on Tuesday night. They suffered a setback on Thursday night when they returned home and lost 5-3 to Philadelphia. Given how the standings worked out, Philly did not jump Carolina so Carolina still had a chance to get up to third with a win on Saturday night. They did by beating Florida 4-2 in Raleigh. They went 2-1-0, they have more wins and ROW than the Penguins, and they have one more point for them. It is not at all safe but it is better to be ahead for a little bit than not at all.
The Canes can make it safer today. They are the only team in the division with a game today; they will visit Detroit tonight. Detroit just took a 5-1 defeat in New Jersey last night and looked bad in doing so. The Hurricanes should be able to get a result from Michigan tonight. Carolina’s week picks up on Wednesday with a road game against the Rangers. The Rangers have taken down some bigger teams in recent weeks including Carolina a couple of weeks ago. The Canes will need to be careful there. After Thanksgiving, the Canes will have a really tough back-to-back set. They will host Nashville on Friday night and then head to Tampa Bay on Saturday night. This could be a really tricky week for the Canes. Should they come out with five or more points, then they should be seen more as playoff contenders than playoff hopefuls.
The Penguins won their week of games the hard way. They took two overtime losses to the Isles. That had to have sting, plus it ensured further distance in the standings between the two teams. But two points out of a potential four is still two points. A win in their final game of the week would secure a positive set of results. They were to host the Devils on Friday night, right after losing late in overtime in Brooklyn. Pittsburgh dusted themselves off, went to work, and out-classed the Devils for most of the game in a 4-1 win. A 1-0-2 record may not seem so great but it is still a winning week by definition. Plus, it kept them just ahead of Philadelphia. While Carolina passed them last night, they are only down by a point. Even with significant injuries to Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang, Justin Schultz, and Nick Bjugstad, they are not wilting on the ice or in the standings.
Pittsburgh will be busy in this week coming up. They will host Calgary on Monday and Vancouver on Wednesday. Calgary finally won a game recently so Monday night may not be a gimmie for the Pens. After Thanksgiving, the Penguins will be on the road. They will visit Columbus on Friday night and then head to St. Louis on Saturday night. The Penguins should be able to get a couple of results. If they really win the week, then that should serve some notice that the Penguins are legitimate threats. If not, well, they’ll fall a bit but not likely far enough that Philadelphia, Carolina, and, to a lesser extent, the Islanders will create a large gap between them. Keep at it and hope for no more big injuries.
In this past week, the Philadelphia Flyers split the points in this past week. Each game could cause a very different reaction. The 5-2 road loss in Florida could cause Flyers fans to really question the team’s quality. Are they really a wild-card worthy team? Can they get the job done against their bretheren in the other division? The 5-3 road win in Carolina could cause Flyers fans to pump the team’s tires. After all, Carolina is a great 5-on-5 team and they are a team the Flyers are chasing in the standings and it was such a bounce back from the Florida game and this team could be for real. The 3-2 shootout loss to a struggling Calgary team at home could cause Flyers fans to be more confused. Was it just the other goalie standing on his head? Was the afternoon start time enough to throw things off? What if that late second period goal allowed to Calgary did not happen? Is this team that good to compete? I do not have the answers and I presumed a lot of these feelings based on the results. But the Flyers are still in the mix whether their fans think they should be or not. They currently hold the second wild card spot.
Philadelphia will try to make things more clearer for themselves and their fans with an four-game week coming up. They will host Vancouver on Monday, they will visit Columbus on Wednesday, they will host Detroit on Friday afternoon, and then they will visit Montreal on Saturday night. It is a mixture of games. Only the Detroit game seems like a game the Flyers will really likely win. Columbus is a team they should beat, Vancouver is not that great on the road so that is another potential night of earnings, but who knows what will really happen with the Flyers. Should they have a good week, they could move on up in the division.
New York Rangers
Due to one fewer game played, the New York Rangers enter the last week of November sixth in the division. While they are not close to the wild card race, they are not near last in the East either so credit to them for not making this rebuilding year a nightmare to witness. Some wins help with that too. The Rangers clearly prepared for their game last Wednesday with Washington with three days off prior to it. They came away with a 4-1 win over the division leaders. Unfortunately, the Rangers took a setback by losing 4-1 in Ottawa on Friday night. But the Rangers rebounded from that with a rather eventful night in Montreal. They were down 0-3 after the first period and gave up a fourth goal early in the second period. The Rangers roared back to make it 3-4 after two periods. While Montreal tacked on a fifth goal for insurance early in the third, the Rangers stormed Montreal and scored three straight to make it 6-5 - which held up by the game’s end. Yes, the Rangers came back from a four goal deficit to win in regulation on the road against a playoff-expected Montreal team. What a night.
The Rangers will seek to build off of that resilient effort with a four-game week coming up. On Monday, they will host Minnesota and on Wednesday, they will host Carolina. The Rangers could really help the Isles, Pens, and Flyers by being a spoiler on Wednesday night. We’ll see if it happens, though. After Thanksgiving, the Rangers will have two big afternoon games in a back-to-back set. They will get a lot of attention in a 1 PM game with Boston on Black Friday. It will be on NBC and it is advertised as the 2019 NHL Thanksgiving Showdown. Boston is really good so it would take a real effort to get something out of that one. On Saturday, the Rangers will be in Newark to play the Devils. It is a hated rivalry. The Devils want to move up and they will need to take the Rangers down to do it. The Rangers will want to hold the Devils down even further. It is a big week for the Rangers coming up. They have proven that they are not doormats. We shall see how they end up by next week’s snapshot.
Columbus finished up a three-game home stand in this past week. After prevailing over St. Louis in overtime two Friday’s ago, the Blue Jackets kept on winning in their other two home games. They beat on Montreal 5-2 last Tuesday (Aside: Does Montreal have a weakness to Metropolitan opponents?) and they beat on Detroit 5-4 last Thursday. The Blue Jackets headed up to Winnipeg on Saturday night with a chance to sweep their week. Unfortunately for them, they did not. A late third period goal by Winnipeg broke a 3-3 deadlock and secured a 4-3 defeat for Columbus. Still, a 2-1-0 week is progress and it keeps their faint playoff hopes somewhat less faint.
Columbus’ week coming up will have a real impact on the division by next week’s snapshot. Three out of their four games are within the division. After hosting Ottawa on Monday, the Blue Jackets will take on Philadelphia on Wednesday, Pittsburgh on Friday, and will visit the Islanders on Saturday. These three games have a real spoiler potential should the Blue Jackets take care of business. Who knows? Should they beat Ottawa and end up winning this week coming up, maybe they will pull themselves closer to fifth place and try to leave the Rangers and Devils behind. Of course, should the Blue Jackets falter, then this week could end up burying them deeper behind the middle of the division.
New Jersey Devils
After a successful week, there was some hope that the New Jersey Devils could keep taking steps forward in this past week. That really did not happen. Boston took them to school last Tuesday and the Devils received a 5-1 defeat to go with what you may consider a failing grade in How to Hang with Boston 101. On Friday night, the Devils went to Pittsburgh. In theory, the Devils had an advantage with two days off and time to practice while Pittsburgh lost in over 64 minutes to the Isles on the previous night. Despite making it close and interesting in the middle period, the Penguins out-classed the Devils for most of it as the Devils cruised to a 4-1 loss. Frustration among the fans still around to follow the team was burgeoning. Especially in a week where Toronto, who is ahead of the Devils in the standings by quite a bit, fired their head coach. Morale was low - did it matter much if the Devils beat Detroit? At the least, the Devils avoided falling to last place in the Eastern Conference. In a rare turn of events, the Devils won the third period big time and turned a 1-1 game into a comfortable-looking 5-1 victory. The Devils salvaged their week a little bit with a win. However, due to the Rangers coming from behind in a big way in Montreal and Columbus’ earlier victories in the week, the Devils remain in eighth place after the win over Detroit.
For reasons I cannot explain, the Devils have the oddest schedule among all the Metropolitan Division teams for this week. The Devils are the only team in the division and one of six teams playing on Tuesday night. They will host Minnesota. Another game where, in theory, the Devils should have an advantage with two days off before that game plus Minnesota coming off a game in Manhattan the night before. Given what happened in Pittsburgh, this advantage may not be taken advantage of. In any case, the really odd night is Thursday. Yes, the Devils are playing on the night of Thanksgiving. They will be in Montreal - a place where the Devils won their first overtime game of the season earlier this month. I am sure Montreal will want to avoid a similar fate. It still stinks that they cannot enjoy the day with their families but the schedule is the schedule. On Saturday afternoon, they will host the hated Rangers in what will be another heated rivalry game where both teams want to avoid being below each other in the standings. It will be a tough week, due in part that the Devils have made most of their games tough to deal with. But if they can close out the month strong, then they may restore a little bit of hope for a fanbase that is running out of it.
That closes the eighth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. Washington is still in first, although the Islanders are mathematically able to catch up when games in hand are considered. The Isles will need to keep up their torrid pace some how to do that; they could use some bad weeks from Washington to close the gap instead. Carolina retook third place and are two points ahead of the two Pennsylvania teams. I suspect these three teams will hand off the third playoff spot in the division and any wild card spots like a giant game of hot potato. The bottom three teams are becoming more entrenched at the bottom. They will need some amazing results over the next few weeks to avoid being fully entrenched and effectively out of the playoff picture.
In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the Metropolitan Division? Will there be a fight for first place soon? Who will be on top of the middle three teams in the division by next week? Can any of the Rangers, Devils, and Blue Jackets breakout? Does it not seem unfair that the Devils will play on Thanksgiving night but a Boston-Rangers game that is on Friday and not Thanksgiving gets the NHL Thanksgiving Showdown designation? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the eight teams in the division, what they did, and what is coming up for them in the comments. Thank you for reading.