For this fifteenth Metropolitan Division snapshot of the 2019-20 season, the leaders have slipped a bit. By tiebreakers, the Washington Capitals are no longer first in the NHL. More relevant to the division, they are only two points at worst ahead of second place - who has two games in hand on them. The Capitals did not have a bad week but it is an example that even the seemingly safe teams may not be so safe after a week or two of less than ideal results. Hence, the reason for this snapshot every Sunday. It could be worse. They could be Philadelphia. They are holding onto their playoff spot just by a tiebreaker right now.
This week’s schedule is heavy on games within the division. Only the two Pennsylvanian teams avoid a playing a fellow team in the Metropolitan. There is even a non-consecutive home-and-home set between the two New York City teams for those who want a hated rivalry coming up soon. All games within the division are highlighted and in bold:
Let us go over the week that was and the week that will be for each team in the Metropolitan Division.
It was a busy week that the Caps ultimately split. The Capitals were about a minute away from losing 4-2 in regulation to San Jose just after they put in an empty net goal. Yes, a 4-2 loss to San Jose on their home rink. Washington would not stand for that. The following two shifts were reminiscent of EVO Moment #37 in its main message: Never give up. The Caps clawed back two goals in less than a minute to force overtime. They won the game 5-4 in OT to avoid A) a regulation loss, B) a regulation loss to one of the worst teams this season in San Jose, and C) giving any kind of joy to any San Jose fan in the world on January 5. The remainder of their games in the week were not as dramatic. They crushed Ottawa 6-1 last Tuesday. Their power play faltered and gave up a game-winning shorty to Philadelphia last Wednesday in a 3-2 defeat. After two days off, the Capitals closed out their week by hosting New Jersey. The Caps pulled away big time in their last meeting. The opposite happened. New Jersey went up on the Caps early and kept adding to their lead. Sure, they scored a power play goal but they missed, duffed, and mis-hit a lot of shots. New Jersey did not and so Washington lost 5-1. A decisive end to a week that began with a massive comeback.
Washington has three games and three opportunities to make their divisional opponents feel a little more miserable. On Monday, they will host a Carolina team that continues to be all about trying to dominate play in 5-on-5 hockey and could be a thorn in the side of a playoff opponent. On Thursday, they will host New Jersey again. Yes, after just hosting them last night, they will host them less than a week later. I would expect more of the same. Lastly, they will take a trip to Nassau County for a Saturday afternoon game against the Islanders. The Isles have been anything but tricky to deal with (and figure out). As with Carolina, it would be ideal for the Caps to take them down a peg if they can. A sweep of a week for the Caps will only strengthen their hold on first in the division. And they can absolutely do it. But if they stumble again, the proverbial door will only to open up even more for Pittsburgh and you know they would love to see it.
Another week for the Penguins, another week where they get results in spite of whoever is on the injured list. The week had an auspicious start as they lost 4-1 at home to wild-card hopefuls Florida. But when the Pens hit the road for two games out of a three-game trip this week, they left those two games with wins. Pittsburgh prevailed over Las Vegas 4-3 where they made their shots count against ex-Pens legend M-A Fleury (four goals, 16 shots). On Friday night, the Pens conceded an equalizer in the final minute of regulation against Colorado. But they would take the extra point and the ‘W’ with an overtime winning goal, 4-3. The Pens won the week by taking two out of three. And the one they dropped, well, it was not good news for Philadelphia. Anytime Philly suffers is probably a small win for the Pens faithful.
Even with that loss, it has been uncommon. The Pens have lost just four games in their last 17 games and they are not even close to 100% in terms of health. They are still some ways back of Washington but do not be surprised if they start closing that gap further in the future. The best is yet to come. But first, they have to contend with this week of games coming up. Their road trip will end tonight in Arizona, who are also not the picture of health either. The Pens will return home on Tuesday to host Minnesota. After that, they have a back-to-back set against the best and worst of the Atlantic Division. They will visit Boston on Thursday night and then will visit a hapless Detroit team on Friday night. The Pens could very well end the week at 3-1-0 or 2-1-1 or some other winning combination. They have been rolling and I expect them to continue to roll on.
New York Islanders
If you like close games, then the New York Islanders gave you what they wanted. Last Monday, the Isles edged Colorado with a 1-0 victory. Yes, they shut out Colorado and their terrifyingly terrific offense. Last Tuesday, the Isles visited New Jersey with hopes of avenging their recent defeat to them. They attained it in overtime with a 4-3 win. The Isles had three days off before hosting Boston in Brooklyn. While they tied it up in the third period, they fell to the B’s in overtime, 3-2. Still, they earned five out a potential six points this week. That is excellent by any measure. As a result, they stay ahead of Carolina for another week.
The Isles fans will be up for this week. They get to play their hated rivals twice coming up: the New York Rangers. As the Rangers are way behind them in the standings, the stakes between the two are mostly for bragging rights. The Isles have much more to gain given their situation in the standings. They should push to win both. Especially since they get to host the division leaders, Washington, for an afternoon game on Saturday. That could be a big one if only for how it could keep the Isles in the mix. There is also a game in Detroit on Tuesday in between the home-and-home set. Do not get tripped up there, Isles. With Pittsburgh rolling, the pressure is on to keep pace with them and to stay ahead of the following two teams.
The Canes had four games, all of them in Raleigh, North Carolina. This week wrapped up a six game home-stand. The week did not start so well as Carolina fell victim to a super-hot Tampa Bay team, 3-1. Business would pick up for Carolina. On Tuesday, they won a huge game against Philadelphia, 5-4 in overtime. While they handed a point to the visitors, the extra win helps keep them high in ROW (25). Those four goals against were the last ones the Canes would allow this week. Carolina shutout Arizona, 3-0, two nights ago and did it again against Los Angeles, 2-0, last night. It was not easy but the standings do not care. It is all about results and three wins out of four helps Carolina get a little breathing room from Philadelphia (and the wild card battlers) and keeps them a little closer to the Isles.
After spending most of the last two weeks at home, Carolina will be on the road for a little bit. Not too far from home, though. They will be in the nation’s capital to visit the division leading Washington Capitals on Monday. After that, they will go to Ohio to play Columbus on Thursday night. That one could be a real interesting one as Columbus has started to knock on the door of playoff contention. The Canes can ease the pressure from them with a result on that night. Carolina will return home on Friday night to host Anaheim. Hopefully, they have enough left in the proverbial tank for that one. Third place in the division is entirely possible; watch for the Canes to keep competing for it.
It was not a bad week on its own. However, they were not in a very safe place in last week’s snapshot. Going 1-1-1 did not do them many favors in terms of staying ahead of the teams right behind them in the wild card race. Their back-to-back set with Carolina and Washington was fruitful. They did take a point from the Carolina game and beating Washington is always a positive. However, the Flyers had the misfortune of hosting Tampa Bay last night. That Tampa Bay team has remained ridiculously hot. The Flyers became their latest victims in a 1-0 loss. Their tenth straight win means that they split the week. What does it mean? Well, Columbus is tied with them in points and Florida is just a point behind them. If you’re a Flyers fan and you’re not worried yet, then you may want to be at least a little worried now.
Unfortunately for them, Philly may have the second-hardest week coming up on paper among the eight teams. They will host the current Atlantic Division leaders in Boston on Monday. They will visit a very good St. Louis team on Wednesday and then return back to Philadelphia to host a possibly desperate Montreal team on Thursday night. Back-to-back sets are hard enough, that one could really be a tough one for the Flyers. They do get a potential respite on Saturday night when they host Los Angeles. It could just as easily be a snare if they are not careful. If the Flyers come out of this week with a winning record, then they should earn some respect along with a possibly more secure hold on the second wild card spot in the East. But if not, then they could end up in sixth by next week’s post.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The trip out to California plus Nevada are always a challenge. Some times, a team will rise to the challenge and succeed beyond expectations. The Columbus Blue Jackets did just that. They prevailed over Los Angeles, 4-2, last Monday and on the next night, they beat Anaheim, 4-3. The only slip-up on the trip was in San Jose. There, the Blue Jackets lost 3-1. But they rebounded not only with a win but a shutout win in Las Vegas, 3-0. Taking six out of eight points on a road trip on the opposite coast is always a laudable achievement. It meant even more to the Blue Jackets. They are now tied with Philadelphia in points. They are only behind them due to point percentage. They are knocking on the door.
Columbus returns home for this week after spending all of last week on the road. The first two games will be tough. They will host Boston and Carolina on Tuesday and Thursday, respectively. The good news is that Boston will have a game on Monday so at least Columbus will be more rested for that match-up. The Carolina game could be a massive one in the short term. A four-point swing in Columbus’ favor could very well put them into the middle of the division and open up the competition there. At the end of the week, they will host New Jersey. Not that you want to assume anything in the NHL, but Columbus has not only had New Jersey’s number but they crushed them in their last meeting in Ohio. I doubt much will change by then, but there is a reason why they play the games on the ice and not in the history books. Expect Columbus to keep scratching and clawing their way as playoff contention as they right on the edge of it - and they presumably do not want to
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers returned home in this past week and made their two home games successful. First, they pulled off a 5-3 win over Colorado last Tuesday. That is impressive given how good Colorado is. Second, they pummeled their rivals, New Jersey, 6-3 last Thursday. Rivalry wins are always pluses. The issue for New York is that they had to leave the city for their third and final game of the week. Specifically, they went to St. Louis. It did not go well as they left with a 5-2 loss. While the Rangers are not really close to a wild card spot, they stay on a distant edge with a 2-1-0 record last week.
The Rangers’ week of games coming up is short and to the point. They have two games and they are both against the Islanders. They will host the first meeting on Monday night. They will travel to Nassau for Thursday’s game. That is it. More than halfway through the season and the Rangers continue to get some light weeks. I can assure you, those will go away when February arrives. The heavy weeks are loaded all the way through to the end of the season. Enjoy the time off now. There will not be much of it in a few weeks from now.
New Jersey Devils
Last week, the Devils had three games within the division. They hosted the Islanders last Tuesday with the hopes going 2-for-2 against them. Nope. They lost in overtime, 4-3. They went to Manhattan in the hopes of getting a victory over their hated rivals, the New York Rangers. Nope. They lost 6-3. Last night, the Devils went to Washington D.C. with few expecting any kind of result. A loss seemed imminent. Nope! The Devils went up big on Washington and never looked back in a 5-1 decisive win. The win salvaged the week to be 1-1-1. While the Devils remain firmly entrenched in last in the Metropolitan, they are no longer 30th in the NHL. They are now 28th.
The New Jersey Devils have the toughest week of games coming up among all eight teams in the division. Given how far back they are in the standings as well as how they have performed this season, this week could be a really nasty for the players and demoralizing for the fans. Right on the heels of the Washington game, the Devils will host Tampa Bay tonight. You know, the Tampa Bay team that won their last ten straight games. Great. After that, the Devils will travel to Toronto, who made their defense look like pylons in their last meeting, on Tuesday night. The Devils will go back to Washington D.C. on Thursday night, which may not be a repeat of what happened last night. Lastly, they will visit Columbus on Saturday. Columbus is the only non-playoff opponent but they have been pushing to become a playoff opponent in recent weeks. They also have been wrecking the Devils for multiple seasons now, especially when they are hosting the game. The Devils will be off in the following week and they may need the time to recover from these four games coming up. Any wins out of this week coming up should be, well, a win to appreciate.
That closes the fifteenth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. Washington is still on top, Pittsburgh holds onto second, and the wild card spots are not as safe as they were in past snapshots. Columbus is knocking on the door for the second wild card spot. They are in a position to jump Philadelphia sooner rather than later. The Rangers’ fall really set them back and so they are long shots as the Devils remain too far back. A slump from one of the top four teams could make things really interesting as the trade deadline is a bit over six weeks away.
As the January continues onward, what are your thoughts on the Metropolitan Division? How frightening will Pittsburgh be if they can get some players back from injury? Will Columbus jump past Philadelphia in this coming week? Who will prevail in the New York City home-and-home set? Do you even expect the Devils to win one of their four games coming up? 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.