It took a sweep of their week but there is a new team atop of the Metropolitan Division. The Washington Capitals have jumped the New York Islanders for the time being. With just four Metropolitan Division snapshots to go this season, there is plenty of intrigue among the top five teams with one team with faint hopes in sixth and two teams firmly playing out the rest of this season. Here are the standings after Saturday’s games:
ROW stands for Regulation/Overtime Wins and it is a tiebreaker. With first through fifth in the Metro all having between 35 and 37 ROW, winning one more game before a shootout can make a big difference as to who a team plays. ROW is why the Carolina Hurricanes are ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the moment. The difference is a potential first round match up with the Islanders instead of the Capitals. Do not disregard the ROW column next to the points. Also please note that Columbus is currently occupying the second wild card spot. Montreal has 79 points but only 34 ROW. This means if the playoffs were to start today, Columbus will go to Tampa Bay and Montreal fans and media people will complain about how unfair the system is or somesuch. ROW matters.
What also matters is the upcoming schedule for the division. With third through fifth place divded by two points, the Philadelphia Flyers behind them by five points, and a win separating first and second, the games matter for a majority of the division. For the two teams where the games do not matter much, well, they’re hitting the road. Here’s the schedule for this week; games within the division are highlighted and in bold.
Let’s look back at the week that was and the week ahead for all eight teams in the Metropolitan.
The Capitals had the best possible week. They had three games and they won all three. They needed a shootout to take down the Rangers last Sunday, but that’s still two points. They picked up regulation wins over Philadelphia and New Jersey. That win over the Devils put the Capitals in first place/ Thanks to Philly beating the Islanders last night, the Capitals held on while being idle last night. While they are by no means secure in first place, they do have a good cushion over the trio of Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Columbus. Provided they do not falter in a big way, they only have to worry about the Islanders for the next few weeks. For the start of this week, they have a lead on them.
In this week, the Capitals have a tough run of games coming up. They’ll host a Winnipeg team that just crushed Carolina in their last road game today. In the middle of the week, they will take on both Pennsylvania teams; two teams with something to play for. The Caps have dispatched the Flyers recently so that is the less-concerning game but this is the time of the season where those games can surprise. The end of the week is a game in Tampa Bay, which has been a difficult place for any opponent this season. They’ll finish the week with one more game played than the Islanders. They will need to play really well to keep ahead of them in points.
New York Islanders
The Isles had four games and two opponents last week. The good news is that the Isles beat Ottawa twice. They needed a shootout in one of them, which was a surprise. But they got four out of four points against the worst team in hockey. The bad news is that they lost to the Flyers in regulation in the two games against them last week. They lost 4-1 at home last Sunday and 5-2 at home last night. Wins or even a post-regulation point could have had them at least tied with Washington in points. Instead, they are now in second place and separated by a win. At least they did not lose to the Senators.
In this coming week, the Isles will have two tough games before an easier one to close out the week. On Monday, the Isles will host a Columbus team that should be fighting with some desperation to secure their own playoff spot. On Thursday, they will host a Montreal team that should have same kind of desperation as they directly fighting Columbus, Pittsburgh, and/or Carolina for a wild card spot. The easy game: a trip to Detroit on Sunday. Detroit has nothing to play for. Hopefully for the Isles’ sake, they do not enter that one with two straight losses. Even with an expected win on that night, two losses may be enough to fall behind Washington and get a little closer to being jumped by any of the three teams behind them. You’re so close to the postseason, Islanders; don’t start blowing it in the final four weeks.
It is a tight race between third, fourth, and fifth place. The good news for those teams is that Montreal has also not pulled away so it is possible that the division sends five teams to the playoffs again. The bad news is that a non-successful week may hurt a lot. Fortunately, the Carolina Hurricanes split the points last week. They went into Boston last Tuesday and lost in overtime for a hard-earned point. Last Friday, they got embarrassed by Winnipeg in a 8-1 loss. 8-1! At home! In a playoff race! Not good! But what was good was the response. Last night, the Canes went to Nashville and more than salvaged their pride. They left Music City with a 5-3 win for two big points in the standings. Their ROW gave them third place over Pittsburgh. They should accept this and look to do better soon.
The Canes will get the opportunity in their next three games. They’ll go to Colorado for a game on Monday night, which will be a challenge. While Carolina is in a playoff spot, Colorado is hoping to take one. Both teams could use the win. The biggest game for Carolina in this coming week is this Friday in Columbus. This one can make a big difference as to who is in and who is out by next week’s snapshot and perhaps by the end of this season. Carolina will return home on Saturday to play a Buffalo team that is all but out of the playoff picture, yet they are capable of being spoilers. It is not the hardest week on paper but it is not easy. Canes fans may be tired of reading it, but if they want to show they’re a playoff team, then they need to come out of weeks like this with success. Good luck.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won their week by going 2-1-0, which is good. But it could have been better. The first two games were victories: 3-2 over Florida in overtime, so they got a ROW; and a 3-0 win over Columbus. While shutting out a fellow playoff-battler is normally a big deal, the benefits were erased when Pittsburgh lost in Columbus 4-1. The home-and-home was split. But since Pittsburgh beat Florida, they remain just ahead of the Blue Jackets.
The Penguins will get to be busy with four games coming up this week. As with Washington, it is a tough run on paper. They’ll host Boston today, they’ll host Washington on Tuesday, they’ll go to Buffalo on Thursday, and they’ll host St. Louis on Saturday. That’s three playoff teams and a non-doormat non-playoff team in Buffalo. The three playoff teams are looking to secure their spot in the standings, so they are going to go into their matchups with the Pens with an incentive to perform. As with Carolina, these are the weeks where you would expect a real playoff team to perform. Good luck, Pittsburgh.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus was seemingly on their way to having another disappointing week. It could be argued that they did disappoint. They lost 5-2 at home to Winnipeg, they lost 3-0 in Pittsburgh, and they needed a shootout to beat a New Jersey team that has a forward group consisting of minor leaguers. For a team that went big at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline, the Blue Jackets have floundered since then and could still miss the playoffs. However, they ended the week with a 4-1 win over Pittsburgh. With the shootout win over NJ, the four points was enough to stay in the mix and still be ahead of Montreal by ROW. As of today, they are in a playoff spot. That is not disappointing.
However, they are not at all safe. Columbus needs to perform and get results. They will need to really earn it this week. Not only do they have the Islanders and Hurricanes, they get to play Boston right after each of those games. On paper, this may be the toughest week of the eight teams in the division. Columbus needs points as do their opponents. Getting to play Boston twice in the same week on the second-half of back-to-back sets is tiring and a challenge in of itself. The Carolina game could make a huge difference as to who makes the playoffs and how out of this division. Columbus could do really well and help themselves a lot. But a bad run and the fear of missing out on the post season will only grow more real and real.
The issue with catching up from being so far behind is that even one failing is a big misstep. On its own, the Flyers had a good week. They beat the Islanders twice and in decisive fashion in regulation. They lost to Washington in the middle of the week. However, going 2-1-0 is not enough to make up the ground they need to make up. While Philadelphia is now behind Montreal, they are five points behind them (and Columbus). That loss to Washington keeps the gap wide enough to keep the fans somewhat hopeful but only if the Flyers keep doing very well. If the fans want the playoffs, then they really need a winning streak plus help. 2-1-0 may not be enough for the rest of the way and Philadelphia absolutely cannot afford to have a bad week. Catching up is hard to do.
The Flyers will have three games coming up and two challenging ones to keep the dream alive. The first game is on Monday and it is a home game against Ottawa. If the Flyers drop that one, then that is just sad. The challenge is on Thursday and Friday, where the Flyers will host Washington on the first night and visit Toronto on the second. A big statement can be made if the Flyers get results on both nights. They almost have to if they want to keep crawling their way up the standings and get closer to Montreal or Columbus. It may not be fair to say that the Flyers really could use five or six points out of this week, but if they want the postseason, then they almost have to.
The Sherman Abrams Zone
Hey. Where’s my chart?
What do you mean no? Are you still salty about the Devils loss to the Rangers last night?
Well, get over it. While you may think blowing a lead in the third period for a regulation loss is a bad thing, I say it is a good thing. Anything to increase the chances of getting a lottery ball to get a top-tier prospect that may or may not become a star, much less one immediately, is a good thing.
You’re still not getting a chart, this post is long enough as-is. And, Sherman, the Devils gained nothing by losing - much less in that way.
No, but the Devils did lose out in this past week. They foolishly scared the Blue Jackets all the way beyond regulation. But one point is enough as it followed a 0-for-4 back-to-back set. Good! Keep it up! Thanks to Anaheim winning some games, the Devils are now in 28th (a.k.a. fourth worst in the NHL) with Anaheim ahead of them by four points. This makes it more likely they will finish in the bottom five, which I think is swell. Provided the Devils continue to be the same awful road team they have been this season, I am confident they will be futile as they visit Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver. While Edmonton and Vancouver aren’t making the playoffs, they are not going to catch the Devils. So keep on losing and cheer on Detroit (2 points below NJ) and Los Angeles (3 points below NJ)!
What about the Rangers?
Ah, them. I don’t like them. Last February, they said they’re going to blow it all up. Now, they could finish outside of the bottom ten. Do they know how to tear a team down? Don’t they know that now is the time to have the totally crummy season that chases some fans away and makes others rationalize it with fictional characters that support tanking? The people in charge have the leeway to do this! So do it! Instead, the Rangers pick up four points out of eight last week. They lost three games, but they lost to Washington and Detroit in shootouts. Shootouts! Empty points that do nothing for a tank! They beat the Devils but in this NHL, someone has to be a winner. The only regulation loss was a sad 1-0 defeat in Dallas. Rangers, be worse! At 68 points, you have five teams within three points of your spot: three below and two above. Your gameplan for a top-tier prospect at this point is to win a lottery or hope the guy at #9 is amazing. And you’re taking fewer balls out of the machine at this rate. So go and lose! You’re going all the way north and west this week like the Devils. You can afford to lose to Edmonton, Vancouver, Calgary, and Minnesota. Those first two games are against two of those teams close to you in the standings. Don’t do a stupid thing and beat them or go beyond sixty minutes with them. Follow the example of your owner’s other team and actually be terrible! John, I can’t stand these Rangers!
You and me, both.
That was the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division. What are your thoughts? Will Washington rule the division for another week or will the Isles rise up? Can Carolina keep barely ahead of Pittsburgh and Columbus? Will Columbus not fall apart after their big deals by the deadline? Who will do worse on their road trip: the Rangers or the Devils? Who even has the toughest schedule coming up for this week? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.