This week is the last full week in the season before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. Teams have until 3 PM ET on Monday, February 24, 2020 to move players and assets. The roster limits will lift after then and teams are limited to four non-emergency call-ups. This is a time where every team’s management staff will be busy. From taking and making calls with other organizations about potential deals to even deciding how the team should approach the deadline. With four - maybe five - teams in the Metropolitan Division on the playoff bubble in the East, it is not as simple as deciding of whether to just “go for it” or sell off completely. Only two teams in this division know the playoffs are a near certainty; and one of them continues to lead the Metropolitan for another week.
The Washington Capitals managed to keep their gap of at least one game ahead of the Pittsburgh Penguins. If nothing else, there will be some intrigue for the division crown as we head into the deadline itself and beyond. The playoff bubble remains contentious as ever. Columbus slipped, Carolina remains on the outside, Philadelphia and the Islanders rose up, and the New York Rangers are right behind Florida in the standings. You can now see them as an outside threat for the moment. If they stay hot, then the bubble may expand. Games involving and especially between these teams will be important to keep tabs on in the weeks ahead. It just so happens that there are plenty of them as teams determine what to do before the trade deadline. Here is this week’s upcoming schedule, with games within the Metropolitan 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 is not fully secure, but the Washington Capitals went into their final game of this past week knowing they will be in first for another weekly snapshot. Their goal is simple: Keep pace or get ahead of Pittsburgh in terms of points. The job was done. Washington did stumble with a home loss to the Islanders on Monday. They lost 5-3, which was a big boost for New York City’s Better Team. It was a disappointment for the Caps, especially as they got creamed in their previous home game and they would embark on a three-game road trip. But the trip has been fruitful so far. They prevailed 3-2 over Colorado, which all but ensured first place for another week. However, the position failed to be further secured last night. They went to Arizona and left with a 3-1 loss, which meant a rare losing week for the Capitals.
Washington’s goal remains the same as they enter a week that should get progressively easier on paper. Tomorrow, they will visit Las Vegas in the third and final game on their trip. Las Vegas is in a dogfight of their own for a playoff spot in the Pacific Division. It will not be easy. The Caps will return home on Thursday to host Montreal, who are getting to a point where they may be too far back to make any noise for a playoff spot. Their week ends with an afternoon game at New Jersey, who have been well outside of the playoff picture since December 2019. The Caps should come out of this with a winning week. If not, then the Penguins will have every reason to be inspired by it. And it makes next Sunday’s game absolutely massive. More on that in next week’s snapshot.
The Penguins had a two-game week and picked up three points out of it. On Tuesday, they hosted a Tampa Bay team that has been hot but was also coming off an overtime win in Columbus. The Tampa Bay team provided the same result: a 2-1 overtime loss for the home team, who were the Penguins. The Penguins rebounded with a decisive 4-1 win over Montreal. They won another week and remain close enough to the Capitals to make them sweat a little bit. They remain at least one game back, but they have two games in hand so that could give them an opportunity.
The Penguins will use up one of those games in hand with a busy four-game week coming up. In about 90 minutes from this posting, the Penguins will host the worst team in the NHL in Detroit. That should be a win on general principle alone. The Penguins can do a lot to impact the Atlantic Division scene as they will have a non-consecutive home-and-home set with Toronto. They will host them on Tuesday and then visit them on Thursday. Pittsburgh’s week will end with a matinee home game with Buffalo, who practically has not much to play for at this point. The Toronto games will be tough but the Penguins should be able to take at least two wins in this week. It is possible for the Pens to out-earn the Caps. Should that happen, next Sunday’s game will truly be gargantuan in its importance. More on that in next week’s snapshot.
New York Islanders
While it was not a perfect week, the name of the game in the standings is to out-perform your opponents to move up. The fall of Columbus meant two wins by the Islanders were enough to jump them in the standings for this snapshot. The Isles impressively helped their own cause by winning their back-to-back set with Washington and Philadelphia. They won each game 5-3 and the latter game was especially helpful in giving them an advantage in the short term. Alas, the Isles were hammered in the second half of past week. They began a road trip on the wrong foot as they got pounded by Nashville in a 5-0 loss. Their trip continued into Nevada last night. While they did concede fewer goals, they did not score any themselves. The Isles were shutout for the second straight game, 1-0. A 2-2 record for the week is not bad but it could have been better. It was still enough to take back third.
The Islanders’ road trip will continue for two more games this week. They will visit Arizona for an afternoon game because President’s Day is a thing in Arizona, I guess. Regardless, it is still a game and it counts. On Wednesday, the Isles will end their trip in Denver when they face a tough Colorado squad. Once the trip is over, the Isles have a very favorable match-up on Friday. They will go to Nassau and host Detroit. Again, that should be a win on general principle alone. Since the Isles only have three games coming up compared to the four for Columbus and Carolina, they may fall back just based on the schedule alone. However, if the Isles can get results throughout the week, then they can continue to stay ahead of the pack as they have done for most of this season so far.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets suffered their first regulation loss in quite some time two Saturdays ago. Unfortunately, that loss was followed up by a winless week. They held their own against Tampa Bay. However, they lost 2-1 to them in overtime. Last Thursday, they visited Buffalo and had a tough time. They were able to get a late equalizer to force overtime. However, they fell in overtime for a 4-3 loss. Last Friday, the Blue Jackets hosted the Rangers and did not even get beyond regulation. They lost straight up, 3-1. By earning just two points out of six last week, the Blue Jackets at least remain ahead of Carolina. However, they are holding onto that first wild card spot by a thread. ROW, to be precise.
This means it is critical for Columbus to end their four-game winless streak. They will have a great chance to do so this evening in New Jersey. Columbus has a nine-game winning streak against the Devils. Surely they will not see that end tonight? After that, it gets harder for Columbus. They have a non-consecutive home-and-home set with the Flyers. Their two games against Philadelphia will be critical. Dropping both would really hurt. Taking both would benefit them big-time at Philly’s expense. After that, the Blue Jackets will head to Nashville on Saturday, who also have plenty to play for themselves. It will not be an easy road game by any means. The Blue Jackets have done well to come this far to be in the playoff picture at all, much less just on the right side of the bubble for this snapshot. But they need to keep proving that they belong there. Otherwise, they will fall onto the wrong side very quickly.
Like the Islanders, the Philadelphia Flyers jumped ahead in the wild card race with some victories in the face of others not getting them. The Flyers had three big games against teams in this bubble: two against Florida and one against the Islanders. The Flyers were dropped 5-3 by the Isles. However, they smacked down Florida in both of those games. Last Monday, the Flyers clipped the Panthers 4-1. Last Thursday, the Flyers went down to Sunrise and left with a 6-2 win. I am sure Toronto and Carolina fans appreciated those two wins. The results were enough to enter Saturday with a chance to take third place. Alas, they had to play a very hot Tampa Bay team. The Flyers tried to mount a comeback in the third, but it fell short by the end. The Flyers lost 5-3 as Tampa Bay remains perfect in February. While they are tied with Columbus in points, they are also tied in regulation wins with 23. The second tiebreaker is ROW and the Blue Jackets have three more of those than the Flyers. That is why Philadelphia is holding onto the second wild card spot.
Similar to the Isles, the Flyers have a three-game week coming up and that could see them fall back a bit depending how it works out. However, the Flyers will be able to have a say as to whether Columbus can move past them. The Flyers and Blue Jackets have a non-consecutive home-and-home set on Tuesday and Thursday this week. If the Flyers can take both games, then that would really be a punch in the stomach to Columbus’ playoff chances while enhancing their own. If they split them, then it is status quo. Losing both, well, let us not go there yet. After those two important games, the Flyers will host Winnipeg in an afternoon game on Saturday. How valuable that game will be will depend on how those first two go. All the same, try to win more in regulation or overtime. The tiebreakers may make a difference in April. They did for this snapshot.
Carolina also had a short week. However, they split their two games. They lost in Dallas, 4-1. They did beat on New Jersey on Valentine’s Day, 5-2. While going 1-1 in a two-game week is not bad, it did not help their playoff cause whatsoever. The schedule itself hurt since they only had two games. While Columbus had a bad week, Philadelphia and the Islanders did so they stay ahead of the Canes. They may have games in hand on Philadelphia and Columbus but that only matters if they win them.
Carolina will use one of those games in hand on Philly in this week coming up. The problem is that the Canes have three difficult games out of four coming up. They will host an Edmonton team that is close to the playoffs and will try to battle hard to avoid missing them for a change. On Tuesday, the Canes will visit Nashville, another team with every reason to battle fiercely for points. The end of the week is a tricky back-to-back set. They will host a recently-hot Rangers team on Friday and then visit a hungry Toronto team on Saturday. This is a difficult set of games on paper. But if Carolina is going to show they are worthy of the postseason, then they need to find ways to get results. They are not far outside of the bubble but a bad week would be a big setback. Good luck, Canes.
New York Rangers
There is no question who had the best week in the Metropolitan Division last week. The New York Rangers impressively swept their week. They did it largely in regulation too. They prevailed 4-1 over Los Angeles last Sunday. They took down Winnipeg in their building, 4-1, last Tuesday. They came from behind in Minnesota with a two-goal third period to force overtime and won 4-3 through a shootout. The win also resulted in Bruce Boudreau getting the axe in Minnesota, so the victory had an impact beyond the standings. Last Friday, the Rangers ended their three-game road trip by spoiling Columbus with a 3-1 win. The Rangers’ hot streak of four games has propelled them to place behind Florida in the Eastern Conference standings. It is now possible that they could jump Florida and join an already large playoff bubble in the Metropolitan Division and the East. There is no guarantee that the Rangers can sustain their new position. But getting this far is impressive for a team that figured on being in “rebuild mode” for a while just over a year ago.
The Rangers will have their winning streak challenged with another four-game week coming up. They will host a Boston team that finally got a win over Detroit (yes, they have had issues with them somhow) on Sunday. The Rangers will visit a Chicago team that, like the Rangers, has had no scruples on pulling off some big wins to defy some expectations. The Rangers’ week will end with a back-to-back set with a trip to Carolina on Friday and then returning to Manhattan to host San Jose on Sunday. The Carolina game will be tough. San Jose, well, the Rangers should be able to dispatch a San Jose team having a poor season. Who knows what will happen? Maybe they will catch and surpass Florida. Or fall back closer to Montreal and Buffalo. We shall see how much longer the Rangers can sustain their winning streak.
New Jersey Devils
After winning two weeks in a row, the New Jersey Devils returned to their losing ways. In this past week, the Devils went 1-2-0 where they probably played well in about two out of nine periods. The Devils were out-classed by Florida last Tuesday and had no answer for a fourth-line featuring two defensemen playing as wingers. They lost that one 5-3. The Devils had struggled against Detroit for two periods last Thursday. In the third period, the Devils righted their ship with a four-goal blitz in four minutes to win 4-1. However, the Devils were then out-classed by an Eastern Conference team with actual playoff asipriations for the second time this week. The team was Carolina, the game was last Friday, and the Devils lost 5-2. The Devils were not really charging up the standings. At the least, they do not own the worst non-Detroit record in the East for another week.
The Devils will be active as they try to figure out what they will do ahead of this year’s trade deadline. They will host Columbus later this evening. Columbus has had New Jersey’s number for over two years now, so expectations will likely be low at the Rock. The Devils will travel to Missouri on Tuesday and visit the defending Stanley Cup Champions, St. Louis. That will not be easy at all; St. Louis is having a very good season. On Thursday, the Devils return to the Garden State to host a hapless San Jose team. That will likely be their best chance at a win on paper. Their week will end with an afternoon game in New Jersey against Washington. As Washington could use the points to hold Pittsburgh back, the Devils should expect a motivated team. Although if they are looking ahead to Sunday, maybe the Devils can surprise them. Stranger things have happened this season to New Jersey.
That was the twentieth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. It was not a successful week for the division as a whole as only the Penguins and Rangers won their respective weeks. That stated, it was a positive one for the Isles and Flyers in that they helped their own positions. Combined with their own failings, it was rough one for Columbus and Carolina. Columbus is barely holding onto a wild card spot and Carolina remains on the outside. Sure, they have games in hand but they need to win them. As for the Rangers, they enter this last week before the deadline in an odd spot. “Going for it” may be viable. Yes, they’re hot at the moment but it could be enough to propel them to push forward. It is not like Florida, Carolina, or Columbus are running away with anything. Do they? Had they faltered this past week, I would say no. But now? Who knows. The only certainties in the Metropolitan are that Washington and Pittsburgh will definitely be in and New Jersey, unfortunately, is definitely out.
As we enter the last full week of the schedule before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline, what do you think will happen in this coming week? Will Washington further solidify their first place spot? Will Pittsburgh continue to challenge the Caps? Can Columbus and Carolina rebound to rise up and take spots back from the Islanders and/or Philadelphia? How much longer will the Rangers keep on winning? How many games do you think the Devils will win in this coming week? 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.