The 2020 NHL All-Star Game and Skills Competition are now in the books. Today is a day of rest for the league and the season will resume tomorrow. This is when the schedules become tighter. The games start to matter more for teams with something to play for. The pressure will mount for many in the Metropolitan Division - a division where Washington still reigns even after a full week off.
Both Washington and New Jersey had their bye weeks last week. They will be busier right after the season resumes on Monday. The remainder of the division will have most of this coming week off. No one is totally off but you will need to wait until Friday for four of them to resume their seasons and Saturday for two others. Here is what is coming up within the division, with the sole game within the division 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.
The Capitals were off last week. They are still in first place in the Metropolitan Division with a lead. Yes, Pittsburgh is now four points back but the Capitals currently have three more regulation wins and a game in hand on them. They remain in the driver’s seat.
They will jump back into action on Monday with a game in Montreal against a team that really needs to get going real soon to get back in the wild card race in the East. On Wednesday, they will host a Nashville team that also needs to get going right away even though they are not as far back in their race as Montreal is in the East. Their week will end on Friday in Ottawa. Washington should come out of this week with an even larger lead on Pittsburgh. We shall see.
Pittsburgh had two games last week and they split it. Last Sunday, they pulled out a 4-3 win against Boston at home. They went into the break with a game against their hated rivals Philadelphia and they got rocked in a 3-0 loss. The Penguins are currently safe in second place for the moment. It may not last but getting shutout by the Flyers does not hurt them in the standings. It may hurt for other reasons but not that.
They have one game in this coming week and the Penguins will get a chance at redemption. They are hosting Philadelphia on Friday. A win by Pittsburgh will not only help keep them where they are and also hurt Philly’s chances. A loss, well, that depends on what the team behind them does.
The Islanders took three points out of a potential four in their last week. They lost last Sunday at Carolina in a shootout. That is one point that I would think the Canes wish they did not give away. Anyway, the Islanders redeemed themselves a bit from their two losses against their cross-city rivals two weeks back. They visited the Rangers last Tuesday and left with a solid 4-2 win. The Islanders are still in third and just ahead of Columbus, Carolina, and Philadelphia. The playoff odds at Moneypuck like the Isles’ chances as it stood by the All-Star Game but it is not going to be a smooth sailing trip during the grind coming up in the next two months. Still, it is better to be ahead of the pack and worry about falling behind in the NHL than it is to be in the back of the pack and worry about trying to catch up.
The Islanders are off until Saturday. Then, they will host Vancouver in an afternoon game in Brooklyn. Fortunately for the Isles, the teams right behind them are similarly inactive. Still, the job for the Isles is simple: keep getting results and do not drop points to the three teams behind them.
Columbus went into the All-Star Game break with a significantly hot winning streak. They went into this past week with four straight wins. They extended it to six. Last Sunday, the Blue Jackets prevailed in a close 2-1 win against the Rangers with two big, late goals from the returning Oliver Bjorkstrand. Last Tuesday, Bjorkstrand did it again with a game winning goal in the third period in a 4-3 against Winnipeg. The heat remained on for Columbus and as a result, they are fourth in the division and owners of the first wild card spot in the East. They could take third, even. Although they are by no means stable in the standings, they are exceeding expectations from before this season and what the team seemed like in October and November.
The Blue Jackets will try to show that they are not so cooled off from all of the time off when they return to action on Saturday. The Blue Jackets will visit Buffalo for an afternoon game. We shall see if they make it seven straight wins or if they start to fall off after such a run.
You know how tight it is in the Metropolitan Division? The Carolina Hurricanes won both of their games last week. They just moved up one spot in the standings and they are just a point ahead of Philadelphia. Again, it is hard to catch up. That stated, the Canes took care of business. They prevailed 2-1 over the Islanders last Sunday through a shootout. Last Tuesday, they hosted Winnipeg and won decisively 4-1. Two games, two wins, and just one step forward. At least they own the second wild card spot for a hot minute.
The Hurricanes are off until Friday. They will host Las Vegas on Friday, which should be an interesting one. Both teams need to secure their positions with a result. Both teams have something to play for. Who will prevail? We shall see. But the Canes may slip a bit due to the schedule, provided that the next team also takes care of business.
The Flyers had one game last week and it was against their hated rivals in Pittsburgh. They tasted a sweet 3-0 victory over the Pens. Unfortunately, since they only had one game and Columbus and Carolina had two games and won them, they fell out of the wild card spots by the All-Star Game break. They are by no means out of it. They are just a point behind Carolina and two behind Columbus with a game in hand on the Jackets. They are also three points ahead of Toronto, so they have a slight lead over them.
The Flyers can jump up with another successful short week. It will not be easy as they have a back-to-back set on Friday and Saturday. On Friday, they will go to Pittsburgh and play a team that has had a long time to stew about that 3-0 game last Tuesday. Rivalry games are never easy. This one will prove to be no different. On Saturday, the Flyers will host the offensive machine that is Colorado. Getting more than two points out of this set will be tough but if they can do it, then that should get them one of the wild card spots for at least the next snapshot. We shall see if they can accomplish that.
New York Rangers
The Rangers followed up their previously good week with a poor one. They had two games last week and lost both. They were stunned in a 2-1 loss to Columbus last Sunday. Their hated rivals, the Islanders, gave them a 4-2 loss. The two losses kept the Rangers further back in seventh place in the division and well outside of the wild card race. At ten points behind Philadelphia, even with two games in hand, they have a mountain to climb - assuming they want to climb at all.
The Rangers are off until Friday when they will start a home-and-home set with the worst team in the league, Detroit. Those that would like the Rangers to avoid dreaming big and pushing for the best position possible may not want them to get a lot out of this set. For the sake of dignity, both games are definitely potential wins and the Rangers may want to strive to win them both. We shall see what happens; the games are on the ice for a reason.
Like Washington, the Devils were off all last week. Like Washington, they are safe in their spot in the Metropolitan. Completely unlike Washington, they are dead last in the division and their odds to make the playoffs are next to nothing. At nine points behind the Rangers, it will take a lot for the Devils to even escape eighth place. To quote their ex-head coach, “It is what it is.”
The Devils will be busy right after the All-Star Game break. They will visit a similarly hapless Ottawa team on Monday night. On Thursday, they will see their ex-head coach behind the bench of Nashville. This is after they would have played in Washington so in theory, the Devils may have an advantage in terms of fatigue. It has not done them much good this season but it is something. On Saturday, the team will honor their 2000 Stanley Cup winning team as this year is the 20th anniversary of the franchise’s second championship. Appropriately, they are hosting Dallas. We shall see if the current team will be inspired enough by the tribute to past successes to at least make it a win on a ceremonial night.
That was the seventeenth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. The 2020 All-Star Game break is now over and the grind of the season is ahead. Washington remains in the best position with Pittsburgh also being quite safe when it comes to making the postseason. It will be a really tough time for the Islanders, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Flyers as they are so close to each other. The Rangers may decide to fade away as the trade deadline gets closer. As for the Devils, they need to establish their new direction for the future to at least make the remainder of this season constructive.
As the season enters a short week for six of the eight teams in the division, what are your thoughts on the Metropolitan Division? Will Washington increase their lead over Pittsburgh? Who will hold the wild card spots by next Sunday? And who will be in third place? Will the Devils pull themselves closer to their hated rivals and does it matter? 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.