The 2020 NHL All-Star Weekend is coming up next weekend and so the league as a whole is effectively shortened to four days of games this week. With the NHL Trade Deadline a little over a month away, this is the time where some teams take some time to decide whether they like where they are, whether they want to go for better or not, and start figuring out who to move and for what. With the Metropolitan Division close together in its middle, it will not be an easy decision. Who does have an easy decision? The division-leading Washington Capitals, who continue to be led to greatness and enter this week with healthy lead in the Metropolitan.
Your eyes are not deceiving you. Washington and New Jersey each have no games coming up. This is their bye week and so they are off. It is a time for the teams below for Washington to make up some ground. It is also a time for New Jersey to see how much further back they will be in the league standings after their bye. Here are the games coming up for this week in the division with games within the division highlighted and in bold. Again, it is a short week; the regular season is on hold from Thursday to next Sunday.
Let us go over the week that was and the week that will be for each team in the Metropolitan Division.
In the three games the Washington Capitals played in last week, Alex Ovechkin scored eight goals. He is now tied for ninth in goals in NHL history with 690 in his career. Short of a (heartbreaking) injury, he will hit 700 before the end of this season. And the Capitals will continue to succeed on the strength of those scores. Ovechkin scored the only two goals of the game in a 2-0 win against Carolina last Monday. On Thursday night, Ovechkin led the Caps with a hat trick to put New Jersey away, 5-2. Yesterday afternoon, the Capitals entered the third period down 1-4 to the Islanders. Who would lead a comeback? You guessed it: Ovechkin. He would score twice in the third as part of a five-goal, all-unanswered run by the Caps. His second hat trick goal in as many games ensured a 6-4 regulation victory for Washington. The Caps swept the week and secure their first place spot through the All-Star Weekend.
Washington has the week off coming up. While they may do some scoreboard watching of the second place team, they cannot mathematically catch the Caps in the standings. The team can get some well-earned rest and relaxation before the grind of the season ramps up over the next two months.
It was a successful week for the Pittsburgh Penguins but far from an easy one. Last Sunday, Pittsburgh scored a late equalizer in regulation to force extra time in Arizona. The game needed an eight-round shootout but the Pens would prevail to take the win. Pittsburgh returned home last Tuesday to host the Wild. This was not close. The Penguins stomped all over Minnesota in a 7-3 rout. It was also the game where Sidney Crosby returned to the lineup. He put up four points just in case you forgot about Crosby’s dominance. The Pens traveled to Boston on Thursday night with a four-game winning streak on the line. It ended in a 4-1 loss to the B’s. More worringly, the Penguins went to Detroit on the following night and struggled. Yes, the Penguins struggled against the undoubtedly worst team in the NHL this season. They could only score one goal against them in regulation and they needed it as they went into the third period down a score. But the game held through to overtime, Detroit took a penalty, and Crosby converted that power play to make it a 2-1 win. The Penguins avoid the humilation that would come to losing to Detroit and ended the week with a 3-1-0 record.
This week, the Penguins will have two chances to close the gap between them and Washington as well as expand it between themselves and the Islanders. They will host Boston in an afternoon game today. Revenge by the Pens would be productive in their cause to rise up in the standings. On Tuesday, they will travel across the state to play their hated rivals in Philadelphia. As the home team is fighting to stay in the playoff picture in the East, the Penguins have an opportunity to not only earn bragging rights but make their rivals’ view of the season a little murkier heading into a long weekend. With Crosby back, look out for Pittsburgh.
New York Islanders
This was not a fun week to be an Islanders fan. Pittsburgh pulled away and the results were, well, deflating to say the least. Last Monday, the Islanders visited their hated rivals in the Rangers. They left with a 6-2 decisive loss. Last Tuesday, the Islanders hosted Detroit. They took their frustrations out on the hapless Red Wings and blew them out, 8-2. On Thursday, the Isles had the chance for revenge against their rivals only this time the game was at the old Nassau Coliseum. It was tight but an untimely penalty gave the visitors a late power play in the third and it broke the game their way. The Isles lost, 3-2. Yesterday, the Islanders played a great 40 minutes against Washington. At least, they were winning by a healthy margin after two periods. Then the Isles had an epic failure of a third period. They conceded five unanswered goals to lose to the Caps, 6-4, in regulation. In regulation! Not even a point out of that one. It was a loss that surely led some to claim that, yet again, a three-goal lead is the most dangerous in hockey. Whether or not that is true, it was a bad week for the Isles as they went 1-3-0. Fortunately for them, Carolina also struggled last week too so they remain a little safe in third place in the Metropolitan.
Speaking of Carolina, the Islanders will play in Raleigh this evening. This is a big one as an Islanders win in regulation would do a lot of good to secure third place. A loss in regulation and the Isles could be dragged into the wild card picture very soon. The Islanders will also get one more chance of redemption on Tuesday when they visit the Rangers. Not only do the Isles need the points, but they need to take something in this rivalry after two losses to them last week. It is imperative that the Isles get something out of this short week coming up. They have done so well to be this high up in the standings after 47 games. The last thing the fans want to see a collapse that starts right around the All-Star Weekend. Good luck bouncing back, Isles.
No Joonas Korpisalo? No problem as Elvis has entered the net. Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins has been hot since he has become the #1 goalie in Columbus by necessity. On the strength of his performances, the Blue Jackets have been racking up the wins and climbing up the standings. This past week sent them to where they want to be: a playoff spot. Last Tuesday, the Blue Jackets took on a Boston team that had a long night Philly. Columbus took advantage and shut them out in a 3-0 win. Last Thursday, the Blue Jackets won a big four-pointer by beating Carolina 3-2. It is a reason why the standings are what they are. Columbus hosted a team that they have done exceedingly well against over the past few seasons in New Jersey last night. Elvis was indeed the king in net and the Blue Jackets made it rain goals on the Devils. They won 5-0 and, more importantly, end the week with the first wild card spot in the East. They’re tied with Philly in points but a superior regulation win count means they are above them for the time being.
Columbus will be back at it today with a road game against the Rangers. Should Columbus want to keep staying in the playoff picture, then they really need to beat teams beneath them like the Rangers. Of course, the Rangers have proven to be no doormats just as Columbus showed a few months ago. On Wednesday, the Blue Jackets will host Winnipeg. Winnipeg has a game in Carolina on Tuesday, so Columbus could take advantage of them as well since they will be well-rested. Provided Elvis remains wiggling his hips to deny all kinds of shots, the Blue Jackets can continue their torrid run into the All-Star Weekend and really consider going for it afterward.
The Philadelphia Flyers really needed points in this past week to stay ahead of the pressure brought by Columbus, Toronto, and Florida in the standings. Philadelphia succeeded. Last Monday, the Flyers hosted Boston and managed to prevail in a shootout by winning 6-5 thanks in part to the final shooter on Boston, Brad Marchand, touching but not moving with the puck. Philadelphia picked up another post-regulation win on Wednesday. They prevailed in St. Louis with a 4-3 OT win. The Flyers’ only let down of the week was at home on Thursday. They hosted Montreal and lost decisively by a 4-1 score. But the Flyers would rebound and end their week on a happy note when they hosted Los Angeles. Philadelphia shut them down and cruised to a 4-1 victory. The Flyers remain holding onto the second wild card spot in the East by a small margin (one point, behind Columbus due to tiebreakers), but they hold onto it all the same thanks to a 3-1-0 week.
Philadelphia just has one game coming up before the All-Star Weekend and it is a big one. It is a rivalry game. It is one where a win will help them enter the break with a good position. It is a home game against Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Unlike their rivals, the Flyers are off for two days so they will have a little time to prepare for that one. They may lose ground to Columbus and Carolina even with a win but that is the nature of the schedule. The Philly faithful will just have to do some scoreboard-watching and hope for some losses to those two previously mentioned teams.
Carolina should be desperate in tonight’s game after the week they just had themselves. Last Monday, they were shutout by Washington in a 2-0 loss. A loss to Washington is not so bad provided they get something out of the back-to-back set on Thursday and Friday. They ended up with just one point. The Canes lost a big game to Columbus, 3-2. This loss not only kept the Canes stuck in the first wild card spot in the East, but it also meant that Columbus tied them (and Philadelphia) in points for the evening. The loss was bigger than that; the Canes lost defenseman Dougie Hamilton as he suffered a broken leg in the game. He has been one of their best players; that will hurt. On Friday, the Canes needed to get going against Anaheim. They got an early score and then they could not solve the goaltender. Anaheim had an equalizer, the game went to overtime, and a Duck prevailed with the winner to make it a 2-1 overtime loss to the Canes at home. With the Islanders’ struggles last week, it would have been really helpful to have been more successful. But the Canes also faltered by going 0-2-1. Now they are actually outside of the wild card spots in the East and they will need to rebound quickly to get back in it.
The Canes will host the Isles tonight and, again, this is a big one for both teams. Should the Canes win in regulation, they will close the gap between them and the Islanders while possibly taking back a wild card spot. On Tuesday, the Canes will host Winnipeg. Again, it would be useful to them to get a result out of that one given their position in the standings. Further failure will only throw another wrench into this season.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers have had some really light weeks in this season. This past one will be their last one for 2019-20. They just had two games: they hosted their hated rivals, the Islanders, on Monday and visited them on Thursday. The Rangers did what their fans would hope for and beat the rivals in regulation. They put on a 6-2 beatdown in their own home last Monday. When the rivalry went to Long Island, the Rangers took advantage of a late power play to win 3-2 in regulation. Two games, two wins, and two marks on their proverbial belts to signify another two successes in the NYC Rivalry.
The Rangers will have two games over the next three days before the NHL All-Star Weekend. Tonight, they will host a Columbus team with plenty to play for and has enjoyed hot goaltending and plenty of wins. However, the Rangers go into this one with some rest as Columbus played last night. They can spoil the Jackets for a little bit with a win. On Tuesday, they will host those hated Islanders again. A third win within eight days over a rival would earn some serious bragging rights. It might get the Rangers fans thinking that if Columbus could claw their way up, then why not them? That is the position they are in.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils fired general manager Ray Shero hours before their game against Tampa Bay last Sunday. The team followed that news by beating the hottest team in the league at the time, ending their ten-game winning streak with a 3-1 win. Seriously. Unfortunately, that would be the high point of the week for the Devils. They fell behind big time in Toronto last Tuesday and while they managed to make the score closer in the third period, they still ultimately lost 7-4. Last Thursday, the Devils visited Washington. In the previous game in D.C., the Devils won big-time, 5-1. There would be no repeat of that. The Capitals won decisively by a 5-2 score led by a hat trick by Ovechkin. Last night, the Devils went to Columbus. They have not won their previous eight games against the Blue Jackets. Make it nine. The Devils could not beat Elvis and the Jackets stunned them with five unanswered goals. The Devils ended their 1-3-0 week with the crushing thud of a 5-0 loss.
The Devils have been effectively locking down last place in the Metropolitan Division. Their three game losing streak bumped them down to 29th in the league standings. They will have no games in this week. Given how ugly their losses have been in this past week and throughout this season, I think the fans will benefit from eight days without Devils hockey.
The sixteenth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season is now in the books. As it stands, Washington has only one true challenger in their rear view mirror: Pittsburgh. With Crosby now back, you know the Pens are going to keep on finding ways to thrive. The middle of the division is now more interesting. Columbus finally crashed the wild card scene. With Philly having such a good week, Carolina is now on the outside looking in. With Florida and Toronto in the mix, it will be a contentious couple of months for all of them plus Philadelphia. Should the New York Islanders falter, they may join them. The Rangers fans can feel good about a better-than-expected season. The Devils fans now need a new GM and are coming off another week where one wonders when the season will end. April 4. It will end on April 4.
As the season enters a short week, what are your thoughts on the Metropolitan Division? Who do you think has exceeded expectations? Who has fallen way short of them? Who will hold the two Eastern Conference wild card spots by next Sunday? 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.