February is the shortest month of the calendar year and one of the busiest in the NHL. Many teams get to “enjoy” playing fourteen games or so in twenty-eight days. The NHL Trade Deadline is usually towards the end of the month or just after the month ends. (Aside: This year’s deadline is on February 25.) This is the month where teams really act on whether they are going for it, standing pat, or selling off for next season. At the start of this month, the most improbable leaders of the Metropolitan Division in years remains in first. Yes, it’s the New York Islanders.
(Note: The Moneypuck odds may have been updated overnight so they may be slightly different when this post goes up. The larger point is the same; the fans of the sixth, seventh, and eighth place teams should not hold their breath about the postseason.)
What’s more is that they have a cushion on first place. Washington, Pittsburgh, and (to a lesser extent) Columbus have failed to make up enough ground on the SurprIsles. Their odds of making it to the postseason are in “near-lock” territory. Short of a massive collapse, the Islanders are in a great place.
Speaking of places, only one team will be featured in the Sherman Abrams Zone this week. He’s a bit salty about it.
Anyway, bye weeks and the All-Star Weekend are in the past. Everyone has at least three games coming up. A handful are even within the Metropolitan Division. Here is this week’s upcoming schedule with those divisional games highlighted:
Let’s go over what each team did last week and what they have coming up.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders had a break after the All-Star Weekend. They went right back to work with a tricky back-to-back: Tampa Bay followed by Los Angeles. First and nearly the worst. The results? Favorable. The Isles and Bolts earned the rare double-shutout after 65 minutes. Tampa Bay prevailed in the shootout; but taking a point from the Lightning is definitely a good thing. The Isles did not get tripped up last night as they dispatched Los Angeles 4-2. Three points out of four was good. Even better is that it extended their hold on first place. It’s going to be fun to argue whether the playoff games should be in Brooklyn or Nassau.
The Islanders will have two days off before having to take on a difficult sandwich in the schedule. They’ll have to go to Boston on Tuesday and then host a challenging Colorado squad on Saturday. The middle part: a game against the New Jersey Devils in Newark. Not that anyone is a doormat, but the Isles have beaten the Devils earlier in this season, so one could understand that their focus would be on the better teams.
Like the Islanders, the Capitals had their break. Unlike them, Washington just had to play one game. They hosted Calgary last Friday and they won 4-3. Well done.
Those two points plus the number of games played column was enough for Washington to take second place in the division. All by tiebreakers; they still have the same number of points as Pittsburgh. That game in hand will be used up in this coming week as Washington has four games coming up in the next seven days. At least they will all be at home and none of them are back-to-back. The Caps will host, in order, Boston, Vancouver, Colorado, and Florida. A strong week could help them secure second place and perhaps even put some pressure on the Isles for first place. With a 3-5-2 record in their last ten games, they would have to prove it instead of just expecting it.
Last week was a mixed bag for the Penguins. They came back from the All-Star Weekend and were beaten in a high-scoring 6-3 affair by the New Jersey Devils. Two nights later, the Penguins bust out a 4-2 regulation win over the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning. Last Friday, the Pens made Ottawa suffer a 5-3 loss. Last night, the Penguins lost 3-2 in Toronto, which has hardly been Fort Neverlose in recent weeks. Pittsburgh split the points in this past week, which was good enough to stay in third. But they may look back at this week and wonder if they missed an opportunity.
No matter. You cannot unspill milk. It was what it was. Coming up, Pittsburgh has three games coming up. They’ll host a Carolina team that believes they have something to play for on Tuesday. Pittsburgh will then head down to the state of Florida to play the Panthers and the Lightning. The latter game has the veneer of revenge. Pittsburgh can help themselves out with at least two out of three wins. We’ll see if they can do it.
The Columbus Blue Jackets had the worst week among the eight Metropolitan Division teams in this past week. Columbus had three games and an opportunity to move up in the standings. They lost all three in regulation. 5-4 at home to Buffalo, 4-3 on the road in Winnipeg, and 4-2 at home to St. Louis. Those are not blowouts but losses cost the same. Now the Blue Jackets are just three points ahead of Carolina as they hold the final playoff spot in the East. Even three post-regulation losses would have been better. Columbus truly missed an opportunity to help themselves out in this past week.
Columbus will try to rebound in this coming week. They’ll have to do so outside of Ohio. All three games are on the road. The Blue Jackets will visit Colorado on Tuesday, Arizona on Thursday, and Las Vegas on Saturday. It is not an easy trip, but the Blue Jackets should feel some kind of desperation to get results. It’s not like two of their best players remain unsure about their future with the organization or something.
Carolina was mostly off last week. They had one game, a home game against Las Vegas last Friday. Carolina won it 5-2. Well done.
The more interesting bit with Carolina is that they are crawling back into the playoff picture. They are three points behind of Columbus, the current owners of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Thanks to Buffalo eating two losses after they beat Columbus, Carolina has a better position in the standings due to ROWs. They just need to keep things going their way and hope the shooting percentage rises. Carolina will have to get some road results to keep their dream alive. The week will begin in Raleigh as the Canes will host Calgary today. After that, the Hurricanes will go visit Pittsburgh, Buffalo, and the New York Rangers. Carolina pretty much needs to beat Buffalo - who is right there with Carolina - and the Rangers to prove they are legit contenders for that wildcard spot. Any points from Pittsburgh are helpful. Carolina is closer than they have been in recent seasons to being in the playoff picture. Can they not blow it in this week? We shall see.
The Flyers were in the Sherman Abrams Zone in the last snapshot. They ended this past week with their seventh win in a row. They’re not in the Zone for this week. As an example of how difficult it is to move up in the standings, Philly won seven straight games and Moneypuck saw their odds of making the playoffs jump from 4% to a bit over 11%. Philadelphia is still seven points behind Columbus with Carolina and Buffalo in front of them for wild card contention. So it’s good for Philly that they beat Winnipeg 3-1, the Rangers 1-0, Boston 3-2 in overtime, and Edmonton 5-4 in overtime. The winning needs to continue to actually be in the playoff picture. Staying there, well, that is a different story.
Philadelphia will try to extend their seven game winning streak with three home games coming up in this week. They will host Vancouver on Monday night, Los Angeles on Thursday night, and Anaheim on Saturday afternoon. These are all winnable games for the Flyers. Is it enough to make it a ten-game winning streak? I doubt it but who knows with this team.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers did not have a successful week. They came back to the regular season schedule and lost 1-0 to a rival Philadelphia team. Their highpoint was edging their rivals, the New Jersey Devils, 4-3 in their building. The Rangers took whatever good feelings from that game and went into a home game against Tampa Bay. They lost it 3-2. Given that the Rangers are still in blow-it-up mode, a 1-2-0 week may not be looked upon so poorly. However, they’re still within ten points of Columbus so they avoid the fate of being in the Sherman Abrams Zone.
The Rangers will continue on and likely stay out of it given their upcoming schedule. They’ll play Los Angeles on Monday, they’ll play Boston on Wednesday, and they’ll play Carolina on Friday. All three games are at Madison Square Garden, so the Rangers should do well as their home record is superior to their road record. For those who think or want Carolina to get in, then the Rangers should be seen as legitimate spoilers. While they’re not so out of the playoff picture, that is a role they will likely re-visit in the next two months or so.
The Sherman Abrams Zone
Let me get this straight. Only the New Jersey Devils are more than ten points out from the last playoff team and this is after a 2-1-0 week? After a week where they beat Pittsburgh 6-3 and beat Montreal in overtime, 3-2? The Devils earned two wins? On the road? Are you kidding me?
Good thing they totally choked that game against the Rangers away and did not succeed of forcing any kind of overtime. Still, four points earned means the Devils just barely entered this zone. This is nonsense. I want more teams to come and stay in my zone!
In any case, tanks are not decided in late January and early February. There is enough time for teams to just collapse to an area well outside of any reasonable playoff picture. However, I’m worried there may not be a zone next week. The Devils have three home games coming up: Los Angeles on Tuesday (LA will play the night before), the Islanders on Thursday, and Minnesota on Saturday. The Devils have been much more successful at home than on the road. This could be another one of those annoying “won weeks.” I can only take solace in the fact that the Devils’ odds of not making the playoffs went down further and their #1 draft pick odds went up a bit - even after a 2-1-0 record. I don’t want that, though. I want regulation losses to slightly bump those odds of getting an 18-year old player that will fix all of the team’s issues. Tank on!
That was the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division. What do you make of it? Will the Islanders add further to their division lead? Who will make a move up in this coming week: Washington, Pittsburgh, and Columbus (if they can get some wins)? Do you believe Carolina has a real chance of getting into the postseason? Will anyone join the Devils in the Sherman Abrams Zone next week? Can the Devils leave that zone? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.