This is the Stretch Run of the NHL Regular season. The time from the NHL Trade Deadline to the very end of the season is crucial for many teams. This is the time for playoff-bound teams to jockey for position. This is the time for playoff-hopefuls to sink or swim. Those with little to play for can spoil others, evaluate players for next season, and/or racing for the bottom. There is a lot happening as there are five full weeks left in the season. And in the Metropolitan Division, this week’s snapshot begins with a tie at the top.
One fewer game played gives the New York Islanders the first place spot and the headline photo for this post. But that game against the Washington Capitals was huge and you can see why today. The Capitals are right with the Isles in points and now the division is up for grabs. Below those two is a tight race between Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Columbus. Not in the snapshot is Montreal (77 points) holding onto a wild card spot, so it’s three Metropolitan teams battling for two spots. And a surging Philadelphia squad is hoping to crash that party. There is a lot going on and so the weeks coming up are important for many. Here is what is coming up this week for the eight teams in the division. Games within the Metropolitan, of which there are many in this week, are highlighted and in bold.
Let’s go over the week that was for all eight teams in the Metropolitan.
New York Islanders
The center of the hockey world is Toronto if only for their media. As such, Toronto’s game against the Islanders last Thursday received a lot of attention. It was John Tavares’ return to Long Island and a lot of the fans have not forgiven Tavares for signing a huge deal with Toronto last Summer. It was a rousing chorus of disapproval at Nassau for over three hours for Tavares and the Leafs. It was also a massive victory by the Isles as they beat Toronto 6-1. However, their other two games are why they may be losing their grip on first in the Metropolitan. They lost at home to a very hot Calgary team, 3-1, last Tuesday. The big one against Washington was a big 3-1 win for the visiting Capitals. They needed to keep ahead of Washington and instead they went 1-2-0. The Toronto was an emotionally driven and celebrated affair for the Isles; but the standings do not care for the fans’ emotions.
The Islanders will be looking over their shoulder this week as they have four games coming up. Fortunately for them, they only have two opponents. Today, they will host a Philadelphia team that has been striving for better things as of late. On Tuesday, they will host an Ottawa team that they should stomp all over. The Isles will go up to Ottawa on Thursday night for a re-match that they should still win because Ottawa is that bad right now. The week ends with another home game against Philly. They can go 2-2-0 but if they want to stay in first place by next week’s snapshot, they need to get results over Philadelphia. And I would think Pittsburgh, Carolina, and Columbus would appreciate the Isles beating Philadelphia.)
Washington swept this past week and are in a prime position to move up to first place. You cannot ask for much better than that. Last Sunday, the Capitals survived a high-scoring against the Rangers and prevailed in overtime for a 6-5 win. Last Tuesday, the Capitals got to host an Ottawa that became significantly weaker by the NHL Trade Deadline. Washington rolled over Ottawa 7-2. As mentioned earlier, the Capitals’ 3-1 win at Nassau Coliseum was the big one. The swing in points mean they’re right with the Islanders in the standings. Again, you cannot ask for much more than that.
Mathematically, the Isles may pull ahead by way of playing one more game than the Caps this week. It appears their game in hand will be used up in this coming week. As the Isles do that, the Capitals will visit the Rangers for an afternoon game today, visit Philadelphia on Wednesday night, and host the Devils on Friday. That’s two trap games surrounding a not-so-trap game in the middle. The Capitals could very well sweep another week. Unless the Isles earn more than six points, that could be enough for Washington to take the division lead by next Sunday’s post.
Carolina followed the example of their fellow former Southeastern Division rivals and swept this past week. They trounced Los Angeles 6-1. They took down a rather hot St. Louis team 5-2. They prevailed in overtime in Florida last night, 4-3. That’s three wins in three games and that’s enough for them to be three in the division standings. At least for the day. They are there by way of a superior ROW count. That could come into play if the fight in the standings between Pittsburgh, Montreal (77 points and in the second wild card spot now), Columbus, and themselves continues for the next five weeks. Carolina and Columbus has that edge over Pittsburgh and Montreal at the moment and this past week was a big boost to Carolina’s ROW count too.
Carolina is the only team in the Metropolitan Division who is not playing within the division this week. They may wish they have had because they have three tough games coming up. Carolina will go to Boston on Tuesday night. Boston has been fantastic in February and at home all season; to say it will be difficult is a bit of an understatement. At the end of the week, the Canes have a tricky Western Conference back-to-back: at home with Winnipeg on Friday and on the road in Nashville on Saturday. Those two are battling for the top of the Central Division so they have additional reason to want to win those games. Carolina has done well to actually be in a playoff race in early March for a change. But this week will test them on the ice. If they pass, though, then their pathway to the postseason may open up a bit. They will also be cheering super-hard against three-point nights in those two Pittsburgh-Columbus games towards the end of this week.
The Pittsburgh Penguins almost had a perfect week. The race in the middle is so tight that even dropping one point is a big deal. The Pens helped themselves greatly by beating the two teams in that battle for the wild card spots in regulation: 5-2 over Columbus last Tuesday and 5-1 over Montreal last night. The dropped point came in an overtime loss at Buffalo. Buffalo is all but faded from the playoff picture, so going to overtime at all is not a big deal - but not getting that second point made the difference between finishing third in the division for this snapshot and finishing in a wildcard spot. Still, 2-0-1 in a week is nothing to sneeze at and so the Penguins should be pleased amid worrying if they’re going to keep up the pace to stay in a playoff position.
For this coming week, they have a great opportunity and a great risk. After hosting Florida on Tuesday, they will have a home-and-home set with Columbus. Splitting the two games will keep Columbus in the picture. If the Penguins can win both games - ideally, in regulation - then they can really pin back the Blue Jackets and can focus more on maintaining position. If they drop those games, then their positions could be flipped as early as next week and the Pens’ climb will become even tougher. With 17 games left in their season, it seems trite to say each one has value but it is true. This week can be one where they really establish that they are a playoff-bound team and a potential force to be reckoned with. Or it can be the one that proves their critics correct and pleases their detractors. It’s up to you, Penguins. And the next team in this post.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus kept Panarin and Bobrovsky and added Duchene and Dzingel at the NHL Trade Deadline. They are clearly going for it. However, they are not even in it at the moment. The Blue Jackets stumbled in this past week and are now on the outside looking in. The Blue Jackets lost 5-2 to fellow playoff-fighters Pittsburgh. That hurt. Columbus picked up a victory in overtime over Philadelphia to avoid helping another Metropolitan team out. Yesterday afternoon, they were embarrassed in a 4-0 loss to Edmonton. Yes, Columbus at home were shutout by Edmonton. That’s terrible.
The Blue Jackets will have four games to sort this out and fast. It will not be easy. The Blue Jackets will host a challenging Winnipeg team today. Columbus has to avoid a trap game in Newark on Tuesday. Then comes Thursday and Saturday night. The Blue Jackets will have a home-and-home set of games with Pittsburgh. Columbus needs to get something out of those two games. By stepping on the Pens, they can step on up. If they do not, then it will only become harder for them to take that third place spot in the division and/or second wild card spot. Columbus added talent and kept their two big pending free agents last Monday. They now need to execute.
While their odds per Moneypuck should put them squarely in the Sherman Abrams Zone, they are closer in points than it seems and another good week will put them at the fringes of the playoff picture. Philadelphia picked up a huge 5-2 win over Buffalo last week, lost 4-3 in overtime to Columbus, and smacked New Jersey down in a 6-3 victory. That’s a five-point week that put the Flyers ahead of Buffalo in the East and within five points of the battle in the middle of this division. If only they did not lose in OT to Columbus.
The Flyers have three games coming up and both opponents have something to play for. Their week will begin and end with games on Long Island with a game with Washington right in the middle of it. The games are spaced out enough for the team to prepare for each one. They can both spoil the battle at the top of the division and help themselves out with victories. It is still very much a long shot that this team will play beyond the first week of April this year, but it is not entirely not-feasible.
The Sherman Abrams Zone
Give me back Philadelphia! It’s in the rules! I want Philly!
No. You have two teams this week. Deal with it.
The New York Rangers picked up pride and two points in overtime losses to Washington and Tampa Bay. Good for them that they did not do something as stupid as score a 3-on-3 goal on either night. That said, they picked up the equivalent of one win and are now six points ahead of the Devils in the East. If you guys are serious about re-building, then you may want to fall more from 23rd place. Do what you did at home against Montreal from this past Friday (a 4-2 loss) more this week. You have Washington, at Dallas, at Detroit, and New Jersey coming up. Lose those games! Especially those last two. You’re not going to fall in the standings by beating a rival (New Jersey) or beating someone who is on the fast track to a bottom-five spot (Detroit).
The New Jersey Devils also annoyingly won one game instead of being swept away this week. They apparently have competent goaltending now. They used it to beat Montreal 2-1. Despite that victorious start, the Devils went to my kind of business: a 2-1 loss to Calgary, a 6-3 loss to Philadelphia, and a 1-0 loss to Boston. Three losses, all in regulation, and with no streak. The Devils have lots of call-ups and a week that sees a six-game road trip coming up (the Devils have been awful on the road this season), so I’m expecting more losses. The Devils will host Columbus in a game Columbus should not fail in and take on Washington and the Rangers in a back-to-back set. It’s hard to lose six in a row but I believe in the Devils to do so. And it could help them get closer to 30th place.
Since this is a Devils blog, let me make it clear for the fans who see things my way. You want, want, want, want points to be earned by Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Detroit. Cheer for them to get results. I would add Ottawa but they have 49 points right now. The maximum number of points they can earn is 85 and I doubt they’ll get to 70 at this rate. You’re not catching Ottawa, Devils fans. But Anaheim, Los Angeles, and Detroit are within three points of the Devils right now. Those spots are viable. As far as teams ahead of New Jersey, the Devils are five points back of Vancouver. I would not be so concerned about Vancouver, Edmonton, Chicago, and the Rangers just yet. If the Devils do something stupid and win a bunch of games in a row, then I would be. But not now.
Thank you for that.
You’re welcome. If you’re super nice to me, then I may have a chart of my own next week.
That was the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division. What do you make of it? Who will take first place? Can Columbus bounce back after a bad week of games after a big trade deadline? Should anyone believe Philadelphia has a real hope for the playoffs at this point? What will it take? Can the Rangers start tanking? Can the Devils continue it? Please leave your answers and other thoughts in the comments. Thank you for reading.