The year is now 2020 and the headline is now correct for a change. The transition into 2020 took place last week and most of the teams in the Metropolitan Division are at or surpassed the halfway mark to their seasons. Five teams in the division are still playoff-bound as of this writing. However, one is becoming more at risk of losing it. No, it is not the Washington Capitals. They are still comfortably atop the division for this week’s snapshot:
They still have a cushion of four points on Pittsburgh, assuming that game in hand is a win. The team that should now be worrying is the Philadelphia Flyers. Their bad week has opened the door for their wild card spot. Florida is right behind them by two points with a game in hand and an edge in regulation wins (16-15). Columbus is behind them by three points. And while they have played one more game than Philly, Buffalo is only four points back. Should Philly fall out of the wild card spot, then Carolina should also start to sweat too. If they are not already, that is. Things could get mighty interesting over the next few weeks there.
For the week coming up, here is who each team in the Metropolitan Division is playing. Washington and Carolina will be busy; Columbus will be on the road; and New Jersey has an all-division week coming up. All games within the division are highlighted and in bold:
For the first time in 2020 and in this decade, let us go over the week that was and the week that will be for each team in the Metropolitan Division.
It was a short week for Washington and it was a split one. They lost their New Year’s Eve game to the Islanders at home. Specifically, it was a 4-3 defeat. The ‘L’s count all the same. Washington would avoid being shut out of points for the week on January 3. They went into Raleigh, North Carolina and came away winners in a tight, contentious game. Specifically, a 4-3 victory. With the Capitals where they were in the division before last week, a 1-1 week does not impact them much. There is nothing wrong with adding to an established cushion. However, the whole point of having a cushion is to absorb weeks like this one. So the Caps did. They are still in first and it will take quite a bit to take them down a peg.
The Capitals will have a four-game stretch coming up against some beatable teams on paper. They will host San Jose for an afternoon game today, which will get started just a few hours after this post goes up. On Tuesday, they will host Ottawa. Their trickiest game will be a Wednesday night road game in Philadelphia. Philly will play the night before so both teams may be fatigued. But Philly has more to lose than Washington so their opponent could be a desperate one by mid-week. After two days off, the Caps will host the Devils on Saturday night. San Jose, Ottawa, and New Jersey are all way, way out of the playoff picture in their respective conferences. These are teams that can only spoil the Capitals. Given their record this season, I doubt Washington will trip up much against any of them.
The Penguins welcomed in 2020 with five out of six points last week. They were an overtime period away from a sweep and a small step closer to the current rulers of the division. The Penguins put away Ottawa 5-2 last Monday. A power play goal against in overtime to San Jose gave them their only blemish on their record last week: a 3-2 defeat last Thursday. Last night, the Pens went into Montreal in another game that would require additional time after regulation. On this night, Pittsburgh would triumph in the fourth period and make it a 3-2 win. The Pens are 8-1-1 in their last ten despite their injuries. Can you imagine how good they may be if they get healthier? Washington fans may want to start paying attention to these guys again.
The Penguins will seek to keep their recent run of excellence alive in the three games coming up this week. Today, they will host Florida in an early evening game (5 PM ET). Their cross-state rivals may have to swallow their pride and hope the Pens win that one in regulation. After Sunday, the Penguins will go on the road for their next three games with two of them taking place this week. On Tuesday, Pittsburgh will visit a Las Vegas squad with eyes set on the Pacific Division crown. On Friday, Pittsburgh will face the high-powered offense of Colorado. Their trip will end next Sunday, which will be touched on in next week’s snapshot. With how Pittsburgh has been playing as of late, I would not be surprised if I am writing about another winning week by them in the next snapshot.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders played in four games last week: two in 2019 and two in 2020. The 2019 games went in their favor. Last Sunday, the Isles prevailed over Minnesota in a 3-1 win on their rink. Last Tuesday and as previously mentioned, they went into the nation’s capital on New Year’s Eve and left with a 4-3 win. The week was shaping up to be a good one. Then 2020 hit. Last Thursday, on national television and in Nassau County, they played a close game where defense was kind of optional against New Jersey. They lost that one 2-1. Last night, the Isles traveled to Toronto and were shutout 3-0. The Isles split their week 2-2, which is not really bad. However, it does mean another week in third place without a lot of separation between them and Carolina. At least that three point gap is larger than the two points they are behind Pittsburgh. Still, the Isles will have to get some results and quick before things really start to go awry.
The Isles have three games coming up and it is not at all an easy week. First, the Isles will host Colorado on Monday. Colorado is fast and can score a lot of goals. The “structure” of the Islanders will be tested. Second, the Isles will visit New Jersey on Tuesday. New Jersey will be rested for this one as they do not have games on Sunday and Monday. The Isles will have to find something in their tank after whatever happened against Colorado to try to get some revenge in Newark. After three days off, the Isles will host Boston in Brooklyn. Boston remains atop the Atlantic Division and a difficult opponent to play against in general. The Isles have two really tough opponents plus another game against New Jersey where they will have a potential disadvantage when it comes to rest. This is very much a challenge.
Carolina only had two games last week. Like Washington, they split them. The Hurricanes hosted and beat Montreal 3-1 on New Year’s Eve. However, the Canes would host and lose 4-3 to Washington. Unlike that Washington team, the Canes are not in a great position to be splitting weeks of results. It is true that they still hold the first wild card spot in the East and are only three points behind the Isles. Their spot is not immediately at risk. Yet, they are also just one point ahead of Philadelphia. And Florida, Columbus, and Buffalo are appearing closer to them in their rear view mirrors. As Philly fans are worried, so should Carolina fans if their team does not get some more positive results in this coming week.
The good news for the Canes faithful is that Carolina will continue and finish a six-game home stand this week. The bad news are with the teams coming up on the schedule. They will host Tampa Bay in an early evening (5 PM ET) game. Tampa Bay is hot with six straight wins. Instead of floundering outside of the wild card spots, they are now third in the Atlantic Division. That may speak more about the division but the point is still the same: this is not the same, struggling Tampa Bay team from October or November. On Tuesday, Carolina will have a huge inter-division game with Philadelphia. The potential four-point swing could impact not only the division but the wild card race. On Friday and Saturday, they will have an interesting back-to-back set: Arizona and Los Angeles. Arizona is actually good whereas Los Angeles is not. With those two opponents being in the opposite conference, it is OK if extra time is needed. I hope for their sake they would not really need it against Los Angeles - their easiest opponent on paper in this coming week. If the Canes go into that one with four to six points earned, then the Canes fans should be able to breathe easier. If they go into it with three or fewer points, then start to get concerned.
The Flyers spent all of last week on the road. They played the bulk of their six-game road trip, which began two Saturdays ago with a loss in San Jose. The trip has been a bad one for the Orange and Black. Their one positive was a 2-1 overtime win in Anaheim last Sunday. Since then, it has been nothing but regulation losses. New Year’s Eve in Los Angeles? A 5-3 loss. January 2 in Las Vegas? A 5-4 loss. January 4 in Arizona? A 6-2 loss. Those trips to California and out West can be challenging and the Flyers received a rude awakening of a reminder as to how challenging. The 1-3-0 week has put their wild card spot up for grabs. Florida is just a regulation behind them, and Columbus and Buffalo are within four points each. They may still be close to Carolina but the bigger threat is behind them. Get ready to start scoreboard watching, Flyers fans. The other games now matter to you.
Of course, Philadelphia games still matter to them. And to the Flyers themselves. Winning will allay the real and current concerns in the standings. Fortunately, their trip will end on Tuesday night. Unfortunately for Philly, that is going against a Carolina team that could really use a win to get some separation from them. And on the next night, they have to host Washington. While Washington will have played the night before, they own the best record in the division for a reason - they are really good. It is a real nasty back-to-back set to start the week. When that is over, the Flyers will host a rejuvenated Tampa Bay team on Saturday. This is a very tough week on paper and it comes at a time where the Flyers need results to avoid falling into the playoff bubble. Good luck, Philadelphia. You may need it.
After trading spots with the New York Rangers, the Blue Jackets have jumped back to sixth place for the time being. With the Rangers’ struggles, Columbus’ 2-1-1 week was enough to make it happen. The last week started with a shootout loss to Chicago, 3-2. That was a point earned but I am sure the Columbus fans would have wanted both points. On New Year’s Eve, they picked up a big 4-1 regulation win over Florida. As Florida is a team to watch for with respect to the Eastern Conference wild card picture, that win helped Columbus rise up in that picture. Columbus picked up a big statement win on January 2 with a 2-1 overtime win in Boston. Any kind of win in Boston is a statement. Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets would fall at the end of the week. They lost 3-2 at home to San Jose. Had they been able to pull a point out of that game, or even a win, and they suddenly are really close to fifth. But the Blue Jackets did take a step forward in this past week. Those steps may start to add up real soon.
There is currently only one team is now between them and Philadelphia, owners of the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. That team is Florida. So Columbus fans who think the playoffs may be a possibility may want to consider cheering for Florida’s opponents in the coming weeks. This also means Columbus needs to take care of their own business. It will be tough as they are on the road for a four-game road trip out West to California and Nevada. On Monday and Tuesday, Columbus will visit Los Angeles and Anaheim back-to-back. On Thursday, they will visit San Jose for an opportunity for some revenge. On Saturday, the trip will end in Las Vegas, the only playoff-eligible (and likely playoff-bound) team on their schedule coming up. This trip is not to be taken for granted. Just as Philadelphia. But if Columbus can make this coming week a successful one, then they could possibly pass Philadelphia. Keep aiming high, Blue Jackets.
New York Rangers
Last week, the New York Rangers continued their road trip into Canada. Specifically, Western Canada. This trip is never an easy one and the Rangers found that out the hard way. On New Year’s Eve, they visited Edmonton. They fell behind by a large margin, made an inspired attempt at a comeback, but the deficit was too large. As such, they lost 5-7 in Edmonton. On Thursday, the Rangers lost a close one to Calgary, 4-3 as they were unable to match that fourth goal allowed. Last night, the Rangers visited a very hot Vancouver team. They became their seventh straight opponent defeated in a 2-1 loss. The Rangers lost all three games and sagged back into seventh in the division and fell behind all of the Atlantic Division teams in the wild card race save for Ottawa and Detroit.
The Rangers will return home this week with a doozy of a matchup: Colorado on Tuesday night. In their favor, Colorado play the other New York City team the night before. Not in their favor, Colorado is really good. On Thursday, the Rangers will host New Jersey in what will be their easiest game of the week on paper. However, rivalry games are rarely easy. On Saturday, the Rangers will visit the defending Stanley Cup Champions, St. Louis. That will not be easy at all either. Things could get worse (or stay bad?) before they get better for New York.
New Jersey Devils
Believe it or not, the New Jersey Devils earned the most points last week. They achieved something they have not done in a long time: a winning streak. It was earned the hardway. They let a small lead slip in Ottawa, but they prevailed in overtime to start last week with a 4-3 win. On the afternoon New Year’s Eve, the Devils hosted Boston and put in one of their more spirited performances of the season. It required a shootout and the Devils ended 2019 with a 3-2 win. On Thursday, the Devils had a rare game on national television as they were in Long Island. They left the island with a 2-1 win. They had three wins in a row heading into a home game against Colorado. Could they make it four and pull themselves out of 30th place? No. They lost 5-2 in a game marred by shoddy officiating and, well, being outplayed by their opposition.
The week coming up for New Jersey is all within the division. The Devils will host the Islanders on Tuesday. I am sure the visitors will want some kind of revenge for the loss last week. Potentially helping them out is the fact the Devils will wear their old uniforms again.
Yay. On Thursday night, the Devils will visit their hated rivals in the Rangers. That will at least make for an interesting matchup. Their week will end in the nation’s capital as they will visit Washington. The last Devils-Caps game back in December went poorly, hopefully this one will go better for New Jersey. At least they won this past week.
That closes the fourteenth 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 has been rising up the ranks, too. The Rangers’ fall really set them back and so they are long shots as the Devils remain too far back.
As the first full week of 2020 begins, what are your thoughts on the Metropolitan Division? Can Pittsburgh mount a challenge to Washington? Can Carolina and/or Philly stabilize their control on the wild card spots in the East? Will Columbus keep being in the mix? How many wins will the Devils get in the week 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.