The first full week of December is now has now past and the ruler of the Metropolitan Division continues to have an iron first gripping first place. The Washington Capitals are not just ahead of everyone else in the division. They are the hottest team in the Eastern Conference. They have the best record in the NHL as of this morning. Winning is their business and business has been great. The others in the Metropolitan Division might as well play for second place unless Washington seriously falls apart in the future. It just so happens that second place is up for grabs too.
Your eyes do not deceive you. Three points separate second and fifth place. The good news is that fourth and fifth place own the wild card spots, much to the chagrin of the Atlantic Division. The bad news is that a lot can change over a given night of games. To be aware of when that could be, here is this week’s upcoming schedule of games. There are only two games within the division; they 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.
The road trip through California is usually a tricky one. The games are far away from home, they are three hours behind the time zone at home, and they tend to come in succession. Sometimes as part of a larger road trip and sometimes as a trip by itself. The Washington Capitals may have had some struggles during their three games but their results were pristine. The Caps swept their week by beating San Jose 5-2, Los Angeles 3-1, and Anaheim 3-2. The three wins in four nights extended their winning streak to six games and their non-regulation loss streak (is that a thing?) to seven. Even if second place wins all of their games in hand, they cannot catch the Capitals at the moment. Washington is in full control and woe to the team that has to face them soon.
To that end, my sympathies to Columbus, Boston, and Tampa Bay. OK, that is a bit harsh. The Capitals will get to host Columbus on Monday and will likely keep their winning streak going while also adding to Columbus’ losing streak. The Wednesday night game against Boston will be a real battle. It will be #1 vs. #2 in the NHL. The game is in DC, which favors Washington. But Boston has been a pain to play against for just about everyone so it remains to be seen if the Caps will extend their streak. On Saturday, the Capitals will head to Tampa Bay - who has had a real up-and-down season so far. Will the Capitals get the best version of their former Southeast Division rivals or will they get the version that has struggled this season? Even if the Capitals stumble through this week, they will remain in first place. I doubt they will since they are so hot right now. Let it ride, Capitals.
The Islanders were so hot and productive in getting points on every night. But those days are past. In this recent week, the Isles split the week. They beat Detroit on the road 4-1 last Monday, but then dropped the game at Montreal, 2-1, on Tuesday. On Thursday, the Isles returned to Long Island to host Las Vegas and picked up a 3-2 overtime win. However, the Isles hit the road again last night and played in Dallas. The Islanders left the Big D with a 1-3 regulation loss. A 2-2-0 week is not a bad one necessarily, but in this division it only opened the door for the three teams behind them. The Isles will have an advantage in games played as well as ROW, but a lead of one to three points is hardly a lead to be comfortable with. And those three teams won last week. Get ready for some movement within the division, Islanders fans.
Of course, the Isles can best guard themselves from a fall in the standings by winning more games. It will not be easy. They will go to Tampa Bay on Monday and find out which Tampa Bay team they are going to get. On Thursday, they will visit a Florida team that is good at a lot of things except goaltending - which can make them a tough opponent if the goalie can have a decent night. The Isles will return to Nassau County on Saturday for an afternoon game against another tricky Atlantic Division team: Buffalo. Good luck.
The Philadelphia Flyers remain in third place for another week. They are sandwiched in between the Islanders and their cross-state rivals. Their margin for error is slim to stay in third, but they have at least established themselves to be in the competitive middle of the division. Philly had banked another positive week of results with three home games. They creamed Toronto 6-1 last Tuesday and they prevailed over Ottawa 4-3 yesterday. The only misstep was a 3-1 regulation loss to Arizona last Thursday. Still, 2-1-0 was enough to keep pace with everyone else. Combined with the Isles’ results slowing down, they could even move up another spot. It was a good week.
The Flyers will have a light week coming up. They will only have two games. They will also be on the road for their next three games. Philly will have some time off to prepare but they will get a really difficult opponent in Colorado on Wednesday. Colorado, like Washington, is on a six-game winning streak. Philly fans should hope that streak ends on Monday before that game comes. The Flyers will play their second game of the week on Saturday in Minnesota. They should be careful how much they put into that one since they have to go play on the next night. But the bigger concern will be to get points in both games somehow. Just by not playing, they may fall in the standings a bit. It will not be a big deal if they get something out of their two games. If they do not, they could end up back in fifth place in a hurry.
Washington was not the only team to sweep their week. The Pittsburgh Penguins did exactly that. In the face of significant players getting hurt, reeling off three wins is a big achievement. Two of them came with shut outs. They blanked St. Louis last Wednesday, 3-0, and they held Arizona scoreless last Friday, 2-0. Yesterday, the Pens went into Detroit and did give up three goals - while scoring five of their own. Other than healthier players, you could not have asked for a better week of results. The Penguins jumped Carolina but Philly and the Islanders are definitely within striking distance. Imagine how they will perform when they get some of those injured players back in action.
The Penguins will be at home all week. They are the only team in the division that will not have to travel. Pittsburgh will host Montreal on Tuesday, Columbus on Thursday, and Los Angeles on Saturday. Those are three winnable games, especially Columbus and L.A. as they are two of the worst road teams in the NHL this season. We could see the Penguins get as hot as Washington is right now. A jump from fourth to second is entirely possible. And, again, their roster is not nearly 100% as they could do this. Beware of Pittsburgh.
The Carolina Hurricanes had a good week. It just was not perfect and given how tight things are in the division, one loss is enough to lose a spot. At least they have the second wild card spot locked down for the time being as they are five points ahead of the nearest Atlantic team. Their one loss was in a place where a lot of teams have lost this season: Boston. They were shut out by the B’s 2-0 last Tuesday. The Canes returned home and pulled out a shootout win over San Jose on Thursday. Those that wanted to see Carolina assert themselves in a big win got that yesterday. They smashed Minnesota, 6-2. The Canes are in fifth but, again, they are in a position to move up real soon - assuming they get help along with their successes.
The Canes will have to get it done on the road. The game against Minnesota is their last home game until December 21. Carolina will head to Western Canada and Colorado over their next five games. Three of them are in this week: Edmonton on Tuesday, Vancouver on Thursday, and Calgary on Saturday. At least none of these are in a back-to-back set and the Canes will have a day off between games. Still, it will not be an easy time. Not only can the travel wear a team down, those three teams are hardly pushovers this season. We shall see if the Canes can make a move up. If nothing else, they should still be in a playoff spot for next week’s snapshot.
If only the Rangers were in the Atlantic Division. They would be in striking distance of a playoff spot. Instead, they are in the Metropolitan Division where they will settle on being stuck in sixth place. Being the best among the non-playoff teams is an achievement, I guess? The Rangers’ attempt at a surprise move up the standings stalled out in this past week by only winning one out of three games. Las Vegas put a hurting on them in Manhattan in a 4-1 loss last Monday. The Rangers did ensure a larger gap between them and Columbus by beating them 3-2 in regulation last Thursday. And in Ohio, no less. However, the Rangers returned home and were edged 2-1 by Montreal on Friday. It was a step back from the viewpoint of being an outsider of the playoff race. But from the perspective of not being the worst, at least the one win separated them further from Columbus.
The Rangers will be very busy this week as well as away from home. They will have a four-game road trip over the next seven days. And it is all out West, too. Talk about a grind coming up. It will start in Las Vegas tonight. It will continue into Los Angeles on Tuesday, San Jose on Thursday, and then ending in Anaheim on Saturday. While there are no back-to-back sets, the one day off will likely be used only for travel and maybe some meetings. Should the Rangers struggle to start the trip, then they could be in for a long week. At least they are in a good place to not fall to seventh,.
Columbus lost on Saturday, November 30. They had three chances in this past week to get a win. They did not. Therefore, they are on a four-game losing streak. I do not know if Columbus fans expected the team to fight for a playoff spot. But this past week seemingly hammered home that such a thing is highly unlikely this season for the Jackets. In this past week, they lost to Arizona at home 4-2, they lost to the Rangers 3-2 at home, and they traveled to Florida and left Sunrise with a 4-1 loss. They lost to a good team (Arizona), a fellow non-playoff team in their division (Rangers), and a bubble team in the Atlantic (Florida). Columbus is flailing and brighter days do not appear to be on the horizon.
I do not see them for this coming week. They will play the hottest team in the conference, Washington, on Monday. Columbus will have to travel to D.C. for the privilege of being the next victims of the Capital Punishing Machine. On Thursday, Columbus will go to Pittsburgh, who may also be hot, and try to get something against one of the best home teams in the NHL. On Saturday, they will go to Ottawa for an afternoon game to decide who is the third-worst in the East. Maybe they can win that one? It is a definite maybe and perhaps that, more than anything else, says a lot about 2019-20 for them.
After the Devils were utterly embarrassed by the hated rival New York Rangers two Saturdays ago, many wanted changes to come. They finally happened - after the team was blown away in a humiliating 7-1 defeat to Buffalo. The Devils played like a bad AHL team and Buffalo just pounded them. Before hosting Las Vegas on Tuesday, the team finally announced a change: head coach John Hynes was fired. Assistant coach Alain Nasreddine was made the interim head coach. Was this move going to solve all of the Devils problems? No. It at least partially solved some of the coaching. As much as the Devils looked better, the results were not. The Devils blew a third period to Las Vegas and lost 4-2. On Friday, they were edged by Chicago in a five-round shootout for a 2-1 loss. Last night, the Devils went into Nashville and while the offense showed up for this one, the defense and goaltender arguably did not. They lost 6-4. The Devils are winless in their last four.
The game in Nashville was the first of a four-game road trip that will conclude in this coming week. The Devils will head to Dallas on Tuesday night. Two nights later, they will have a really difficult back-to-back set. On Friday, they will visit Colorado - who is playing like one of the league’s best right now. On Saturday, they will visit Arizona - who do not concede a lot of goals and already beat New Jersey earlier this season in a third period comeback effort. The Devils may not have anything to really play for. And at the rate they are going, they really do not. That this can be accurately stated before this past week of games and it still applies now helps explain part of the reason why Hynes’ firing was deserved.
That closes the tenth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. Washington reigns over everyone else in the division right now. Second through fifth is now a four way dogfight for points. For fans of those four teams, every game night is going to make an impact. There are no meaningless games for them. The games may feel meaningless for Columbus and New Jersey (and to an extent, the Rangers )other than to play spoilers. It is still early in December but the roles among the eight teams appear to be set for the rest of the season. Will it last? We shall see.
In the meantime, what are your thoughts on the Metropolitan Division? How long will Washington keep their winning streak going? Can the Penguins extend their own streak and move up? Will Philadelphia avoid slipping too much in a two-game week? Can the Islanders win their week coming up? Can the Rangers come out well from a difficult road trip? Can the Devils or Columbus win a game in this coming week? 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.