February is generally a busy month in the National Hockey League. The year’s shortest month tends to have a lot of games. The NHL Trade Deadline is typically near the end of February and it is on the 24th this year. Plenty of teams have to answer some tough questions real soon about whether or not they are going for glory. For the teams that have that already answered, then it will be about what can they do for future seasons. There remains one constant as this busy month begins: the Washington Capitals still rule the Metropolitan Division.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the only team with any kind of shot of usurping them in the future and even that is a long one. Washington has been in the proverbial driver’s seat for months and they are handling the drive well. Nothing is set in stone but they continue to take care of business. The real action is in the middle of the division where Toronto and Florida have been crashing the wild card party. It is at a point where the positions can change on most given nights. There is a lot of scoreboard watching to be done. To help with that, here is the schedule for this coming week of games. Games within the Metropolitan 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.
The Capitals went back to a normal schedule for this week as they had their bye week previously. As stated earlier, they went right back to winning their week. They went into Montreal in their first game after the All-Star Weekend and won 4-2. The Caps’ only stumble was on Wednesday when they saw a short lead go up in smoke in the third period; they lost 5-4 to Nashville. But Washington rebounded by beating on Ottawa on Friday night, 5-3. Alex Ovechkin continued to claw his way up the all-time goal scorer list all the while, finishing the month with 13 goals (!!). The Capital machine continues to roll on.
Washington begins a four-game home stand today. About 90 minutes after this post goes up, the Capitals will start their game with Pittsburgh. That will be a big one for the sake of first place. A Caps win in regulation will further tighten their grip on it. It should be a very competitive game. On Tuesday, the Caps will host a Los Angeles team that is, well, far away from the quality that Pittsburgh represents. The Caps are then off until Saturday when they will host a Philadelphia squad that will need points given their situation in the standings. With the Caps being in the safest part of the division, they would effectively be a spoiler for the Flyers with a win. I would not count on Washington slipping yet.
Much like most of the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins had most of this past week off. They had just one game: a home game against their hated rivals in Philadelphia on Friday. To the likely chagrin of Carolina, Toronto, and Columbus, the Penguins needed overtime in that game. To the likely cheers of their fans and any right-minded people that does not want to see Philly win, the Penguins won the game 4-3 in OT. One game, one win, and so they sit six points behind Washington with a game in hand on them.
Today’s game in Washington will be massive if the Pens have any real designs on taking first place. A regulation win for them would provide a massive swing in their direction and could put first place up for grabs. Of course, the Penguins would need to keep on winning to make such an event count. It will not be easy at all. After Sunday’s game in D.C., the Penguins are traveling to Tampa Bay on Thursday and Sunrise to play Florida on Saturday. Both of those teams have plenty to play for and Florida, in particular, has every incentive to take points to stay in a playoff position in their own playoff race. Once again, one cannot count out Pittsburgh this season.
The New York Islanders had one game in this past week as well. They hosted Vancouver yesterday afternoon. They managed to fall to them 4-3 - in overtime. That loser point plus other results secured a third place finish for this week’s Division Snapshot. They are holding onto the guaranteed playoff spot by a thread as Columbus, Carolina, and Philadelphia are right behind them. It is going to be contentious for the Isles fan unless the team starts winning more often. Falling out of third place puts them at a real risk of falling out of the wild card too given how well Toronto does in addition to those three other teams. It may only be February 2, but I would suggest paying attention to the out-of-town scoreboard.
The Isles will have three games coming up that they will need to get results in. Two of them will definitely not be easy on paper. They will host Dallas in Brooklyn on Tuesday night and they will be on the road next Saturday against Tampa Bay. Those are the two challenging-on-paper opponents. In the middle is a home game against Los Angeles on Thursday night. As Los Angeles has nothing much to play for, the Isles need to avoid being spoiled by LA. Looking a little ahead of this coming week, that might be their easiest opponent on paper until the 21st, or eight games after that one against LA. It is pretty much time for the Isles to step up and show that you truly belong as a playoff contender.
The Blue Jackets went into the All-Star Weekend and a bye week with six straight wins. They were hot. They were hot enough jump up and hold onto the first wild card spot in the East. Achiveing it is one thing. Maintaining it is another. Columbus only had one game to play this week and they lost 2-1 to Buffalo in overtime. While the loser point helps them, a win would have moved them up to third. As with the Isles, the Jackets faithful should be doing a lot of scoreboard watching in addition to watching their own team.
Columbus fans will have plenty to watch coming up as the team has four games. They will visit Montreal for an afternoon game today. After that, the next three games are in Ohio. Tuesday night, they will host Florida in a game that will have huge implications on the wild card scene as Florida falling out of third place in the Atlantic would throw them back in that mix. At the end of this upcoming week, the Blue Jackets will have a back-to-back against Detroit and Colorado. They should beat Detroit. Colorado, well, that is a tougher task. Again, staying in a playoff position is a challenge of its own and so it would be in their best interest to make the best of it this week.
Philadelphia was off for most of this week too but they had a back-to-back set at the end of their week. A really tough one too as they visited Pittsburgh on Friday night and hosted Colorado last night. The Flyers at least took a point in their 4-3 overtime loss to their hated rivals in Pittsburgh. Against Colorado, Philly went up and never looked back. Colorado may have come close, but the Flyers had an answer to each comeback attempt: a goal of their own. Philadelphia won big 6-3 to sweep their two-game week and jump past Carolina to take the second wild card spot in the East. All while tying Columbus in points and being right behind the Islanders. Things are looking up for Philly.
As they should as the Flyers’ week coming up will be easy on paper for them up until the end. They will visit Detroit on Monday and, honestly, they should beat a team with no desires or plans to win this season. On Thursday, they will host New Jersey. Philly has smacked them down earlier this season and while rivalry games tend to have some extra “juice,” a Philly team seriously seeking the second season should put down the sure-to-be-last place team in the division. On Saturday, they will visit Washington. That will be tough. Especially if the Flyers end up needing points by week’s end to be in a favorable position in the standings. Trying to beat Washington in their building in regulation is not at all simple. Only six teams have done it this season, after all. But win those first two games and that may be good enough to be in a playoff spot by next week’s snapshot. Win the third and they may get some additional respect to go with their likely rise in the standings.
As with the Isles and the Blue Jackets, the Carolina Hurricanes only had one game in this past week. Unlike them, they lost 4-3 to Las Vegas in regulation. They earned nothing in the game. As a result, they fell out of the second wild card spot in the East. Yes, it was a one-game week and it is not the end of the world. But look at the standings. It is so tight that one game can make a difference between being in or being out. Like right now, they are out of it. It is much more preferable to in the picture than just outside of it.
Carolina will look to rebound and pick up the pace with a four games coming up this week. They will host a Vancouver team this afternoon that just played and won in Brooklyn yesterday. Carolina would be wise to take advantage of any fatigue. After Sunday’s game, the Canes will head out West on the road. They will visit St. Louis on Tuesday, Arizona on Thursday, and Las Vegas on Saturday. Those are all three teams in the West either bound for the playoffs or have serious designs on trying to make it like Carolina. It is not an easy week at all but the Canes will need to prevail by some means. Otherwise, they could fall further back in the wild card race real soon.
The New York Rangers also ended their break with a back-to-back set at the end of last week. However, it was a home-and-home set with the worst team in the NHL this season, the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit has been especially awful and have been a source of results for a lot of teams this season. One could expect the Rangers to take both games. They did. On Friday, the Rangers won 4-2 in Manhattan. Last night, the Rangers left Detroit with another win. A closer, 1-0 win; but a win all of the same. The Rangers are well outside of the wild card race and would need a miracle run to get into it at this point. However, they are not nearly bad enough to chase for lottery balls like Ottawa, New Jersey, and (especially) Detroit. How this team will approach the next few weeks will be telling in terms of how far along they think their rebuild is.
In the meantime, the Rangers have a four-game homestand and will play three of them in this week. On Monday, the Rangers will host Dallas. Isles fans will probably hope for the Rangers to at least make Dallas expend some energy that night. On Wednesday, the Rangers will host a Toronto team that has been fantastic since their coaching change. That night is more or less an opportunity to play spoiler. On Friday night, the Rangers will host Buffalo. That one may be more for jockeying for position in the conference standings than anything else as both teams are currently way outside of the wild card race. It will be a tougher week if only because neither of these three opponents are on Detroit’s level. Still, the Rangers have been better than I think some expected and they may surprise again in this week coming up.
As with Washington, New Jersey resumed a more normal schedule as they had their bye week before the All-Star Game. The Devils have at least grinded out results in their games. They went into Ottawa last Monday and managed to force extra time despite facing a hot goalie and giving up two shorthanded goals on one two-minute power play. But the shootout was easily won by the Devils, so they left Ottawa with a 4-3 win. On Thursday night, the Devils hosted Nashville, who had their ex-head coach John Hynes behind their bench. This game did not feature much in the way of defense or quality goaltending. The Devils saw a small lead get erased in the third but extra time was again needed. However, Nashville took the shootout easily so the Devils lost 5-6 against their former bench boss. Last night, the team celebrated the 20th anniversary of their 2000 Stanley Cup win as they hosted Dallas - the opponents of the 2000 Stanley Cup Final. The Devils responded to this by going beyond regulation again. This time, they did force overtime in the third period. Unlike the last two times, the game would end in overtime by conceding a goal. They lost on the night, 2-3 in OT; but with four points earned out of six, they won the week for the first time since the beginning of 2020. That is something, I guess.
The Devils do not have much to play for but will have games they will try to be competitive in. The Devils will host Montreal on Tuesday. The Devils have beaten them twice earlier this season and they now have a certain Russian winger that the fans are still peeved at. If nothing else, it adds a little more substance to the game. On Thursday, the Devils will visit Philly and try to spoil their rivals’ season a little bit for the first time this season. I want it to happen but, well, you know. On Saturday, the Devils end their week with a home game against Los Angeles - another team who also has nothing to play for in this season. It may be entertaining as a game despite the lack of stakes involved. So it goes for the 2019-20 Devils season.
That was the eighteenth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. The snapshot sees Columbus and Philadelphia holding onto the wild card spots while being in striking distance of the vulnerable-in-the-standings Islanders. Carolina is far from out of it but they cannot linger too long outside of it. Today’s game between the top two teams of the division should be huge for the sake of the top of the Metropolitan Division. Only the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils have nothing much to play for from this perspective. But they can at least spoil some teams all the way to the beginning of April.
As the season schedule resumes to normalcy for all eight teams in the division, what are your thoughts on the Metropolitan Division? Will Washington solidify first place by beating Pittsburgh today? Can the Isles avoid slipping? Who will hold the wild card spots by next Sunday? What, if anything, do you expect the Devils to do? 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.