Tomorrow is the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. Rumors, chatters, hopes, and dreams have run rampant throughout the National Hockey League. Amid all of this, there is a new leader in the Metropolitan Division for the first time in a long time. It may be temporary but with one fewer game, the Pittsburgh Penguins are in first place for this week’s Metropolitan Division snapshot. The competition within the division has grown and it is likely to be compelling for a majority of the teams in the Metropolitan all the way through to the final week of the season. It will be interesting to see who thinks they can go for it, who actually will, and who may not.
Washington’s winless streak opened the door for a Pittsburgh team who went 2-2-0 last week to take over. This means that their national televised game in about 90 minutes is absolutely massive. It is definitely worth your time to check it out as there are real stakes on the line in addition it being the final game for each team before the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. With five teams effectively in the playoff bubble due to the New York Rangers winning their last three, there will be a lot of scoreboard watching. Here is the schedule for all eight teams in the division, including the two teams in the Atlantic also involved in the wild card race. Those games within the division, which are highlighted and in bold, are going to be important.
Let us go over the week that was and the week that will be for each team in the Metropolitan Division.
The new leaders - for now - split their past week. Their first two games were successful. The Penguins laid a beatdown on Detroit in a 5-1 win last Sunday. They prevailed 5-2 over Toronto in the first half of a non-consecutive home-and-home set. Alas, Toronto repaid them with a 4-0 shutout loss on Thursday. In theory, a home game with lowly Buffalo would have been a good time to rebound for the Penguins. They did not. The Pens took a 5-2 loss from the Sabres. Thanks to Washington stumbling even more, the Penguins were able to move on up. However, it will be short-lived if they start a losing streak now.
The Penguins are on the road all week. Today, they are visiting Washington in a hugely important game at noon. The winner will have an inside edge on first place in the division. With both teams struggling in recent days, expect an intense match-up. After today’s game, the Penguins will go to the state of California and play those teams. They will visit Los Angeles on Wednesday, Anaheim on Friday, and San Jose on Saturday. The Penguins should be able to get results if only because those three teams are bad. However, three road games in four nights is never an easy time. They could stay in first, but the first job is to take care of business today.
Washington last won a game on February 13. They enter this snapshot in second place and winless in their previous four games. The Capitals ended their road trip last Monday in Las Vegas and lost 3-2. Washington returned home to host Montreal on Thursday. They had to get a late equalizer to force overtime - which did not last even a minute as the visitors scored. That was a 4-3 loss. Yesterday, the Capitals visited a New Jersey team that has been hammered in 5-on-5 play and giving up tons of shots. New Jersey played evenly with them in even strength and prevailed with a late power play goal. While Alex Ovechkin scored his 700th career goal, the Capitals lost 3-2 in regulation to New Jersey. Washington picked a bad time to have a poor run of results. Sure, they own the regulation win and ROW tie-breakers on Pittsburgh. But they are technically behind them now and that is going to get worse if the Caps keep going winless.
Today, they have a glorious opportunity to not only end their winless streak but take back first place. They will host Pittsburgh. This is a huge game and is fully deserving of national coverage on TV. Win, and any concerns about the Caps may fade fast. Lose, and those concerns will pick up. Of course, just getting a win today will not necessarily be enough. The Capitals need to get back to winning ways. They will have a tricky non-consecutive home-and-home set after Sunday to try and do that. Washington will host Winnipeg on Tuesday and then travel to Manitoba on Thursday night. Winnipeg is in the middle of a dogfight for a wild card spot in the West. It will be a challenging week for a team that is in the midst of a slump. Especially since third place is starting to get catch up to them.
The Philadelphia Flyers had the best week possible in the division. They had three games and won them all. They had a big pair of games against Columbus. Philly helped their cause while hurting Columbus’ own path for a wild card spot. Last Tuesday, the Flyers won 5-1 over the Jackets. Last Thursday, it needed overtime, but the Flyers prevailed 4-3. Yesterday, they hosted and put down Winnipeg in a 4-2 win. The six points, especially at the cost of Columbus, pushed the Flyers up into third place, put them three points ahead of the Islanders, and three points behind Washington. The Flyers have played more games than those teams, but at this moment, they put themselves in a very fine position.
Since the Flyers have played 62 games already, they will have a light week coming up. They will host San Jose on Tuesday and then host the New York Rangers on Friday. The former should go in the Flyers’ favor as San Jose is both injured and bad. The Rangers game will be tougher. Not only is it a rivalry game, but the Rangers have crashed the playoff bubble. Plenty of other teams would like to see the Flyers put them down a bit now that Philadelphia is in a better position for making the postseason, it is easier to handle their potential success at the cost of the Rangers than the other way around. The Flyers may fall out of third due to being idle for five days but it will work it self out in the future. Provided that Philly takes care of business in their two games, they can minimize any drop.
New York Islanders
In last week’s snapshot, the Islanders were halfway through a four-game road trip. They did not win in their first two games. They did not win the remaining two games on the trip. The Isles lost a close one in Arizona, 2-1, last Monday. On Wednesday, the Isles fell to Colorado 3-1. This meant the Isles went 0-4-0 on their trip. They also scored only two goals on the whole trip too. That is rough. The Islanders did end their week on a higher note. They hosted Detroit on Friday and trounced them in a 4-1 win. It was a needed pick-me-up after that trip. But their struggles saw them fall beneath Philadelphia and into the first wild card spot with tiebreakers over Columbus and Carolina for the time being.
The Islanders will have four games coming up in this week, which should take up some of those games in hand they have on everyone else. Unfortunately, it is going to be a tough one. Today, they will host San Jose. After that, it gets harder. They will host their hated rivals in the Rangers on Tuesday. The Isles need to be careful because the Rangers are not that far behind them. It is only four points as of this morning. After then, the Isles will travel to St. Louis for a game on Thursday night. Then they will host Boston on Leap Day. Both St. Louis and Boston are in the top tier of teams this season. Getting anything against them will be a challenge. Given where the Isles are, failure may not be an option. Even if the Isles do well, I suggest that their fans follow what happens to Philly, Carolina, Columbus, and even those hated Rangers. It matters to them.
Carolina won their week. It was not easy but it was enough to put them back into a wild card position for at least this snapshot. They fell at home last Sunday to Edmonton in overtime, 4-3. The Canes rebounded in Nashville with a solid 4-1 win. However, the Hurricanes helped the Rangers’ own surge up the standings by falling to them in a 5-2 loss. Last night, the Hurricanes were a part of something special. NHL teams are obligated to assign someone as an Emergency Back-up Goalie (EBUG) in case a team has two injuries at goaltender. This happened to Carolina. James Reimer was injured 6:10 into the game. Petr Mrazek had to come off a little over five minutes into the second period with his own injury. This meant the EBUG had to come in. Local 42-year old zamboni driver David Ayres stepped in the crease. Carolina proceeded to put up four straight goals. Ayres was scored on twice in three shots in the second period. He proceeded to shut down the other seven as Carolina scored two more goals and limited Toronto to just seven shots in the third. Yes, Toronto - who is in a serious playoff race of their own - could not beat a 42-year old non-professional goalie in their home building. A 42-year old non-professional goalie who has filled in as a spare goalie in some of Toronto’s practices too. They also could not keep Carolina quiet as they conceded six goals and 47 shots. The Canes won 6-3 with the EBUG and ultimately won their week.
(Aside: A horn for Toronto.)
Carolina’s injuries could make their trade deadline rather interesting to see how they will respond. No matter what they do, they have three games coming up. Carolina will host Dallas on Tuesday. Some revenge for their February 11 game would be ideal for the Canes. They will have a tricky back-to-back set at the end of the week. They will host Colorado on Friday and then visit Montreal on Leap Day. The Canes need to keep getting results because they are in a wild card spot based on a knife’s edge. Good luck.
Do not complain about your favorite team suffering from injuries to the Blue Jackets fans. Their injury list prior to last night’s game included Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Alexander Texier, Joonas Korpisalo, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Dubinsky, Dean Kukan, and Ryan Murray. Columbus fans can complain about this. Compared to them, you probably should not. That is an awful set of circumstances. It is tough for any team to be able to survive and advance with that many absences to key players on their roster. To that end, it is impressive that they were able to grind out three points. However, the standings do not care about that. The playoff picture does not care either. They care about results. In this past week, Columbus were beaten in a shootout by New Jersey, lost in regulation to Philly 5-1, lost in overtime to Philly 4-3, and lost in an extended shootout in Nashville 4-3. Going 0-1-3 knowing the circumstances is understandable. They are also outside of the wild card spots because of it.
Columbus is going to have to figure out how they are going to get some results while they pray for better health for the next month. They will not have a lot of time to think about it. Columbus has a game on Monday, which is the only one in the NHL on the night of the NHL Trade Deadline. They will host Ottawa. On Tuesday, whoever is left on Columbus will need to go to Minnesota and figure something out there. The two days off for preparation and perhaps health will feel great. On Friday, the Blue Jackets will host Minnesota. Just keep grinding, Columbus. It is all you can really do at this point. That and lean on Elvis some more.
New York Rangers
Welcome to the playoff bubble. In what was thought to be a rebuilding season, the Rangers are just four points back of Carolina for the second wild card spot in the East. They can claim to “go for it” and it would not be totally unreasonable. New York can claim this because they had another great week of results. Their only blemish was losing to Boston last week, 3-1. Losing to Boston is no great shame this season. The Rangers proceeded to win their other three games this week. They scored a bunch in Chicago in a 6-3 win. Their offense had another productive night in Carolina in a 5-2 win. Last night, it was closer but they did edge San Jose 3-2 in regulation. The Rangers went 3-1-0 last week and need to be taken seriously.
For the Rangers to extend their winning streak, they will need to do it outside of Manhattan. First, they will go to Nassau to play their hated rivals in the Islanders on Tuesday. That will be a big game not only for the rivalry but also for the implications in the standings. The Rangers will have a back-to-back set after then. They will visit Montreal on Thursday and then visit Philadelphia for another rivalry game. Should they keep on winning and get hotter, they could be right there with the Islanders, Hurricanes, and Blue Jackets in handling the wild card slots like hot potatoes.
It was mostly ugly. It was not well played for the most part. But the New Jersey Devils got results in this past week. Again, the standings do not care how it is done - just whether it was or not. Last Sunday, the Devils ended a nine-game winless streak to Columbus by prevailing in a seven-round shootout for a 4-3 win. Mackenzie Blackwood was utterly fantastic as the Devils conceded 55 shots to Columbus. That was not a typo. On Tuesday, the Devils were cruelly reminded of their position in the league when St. Louis dominated them in a 3-0 shutout loss. The Devils would bounce back. On Thursday, the Devils hosted San Jose and edged them in a 2-1 due to a power play goal. Yesterday, the Devils hosted Washington and put in one of their best performances of the month. They went up on the Caps, saw the lead go away, but they converted a late power play in the third. It held up in a 3-2 regulation win for the Devils. That was a fine bit of spoiling, which contributed to Pittsburgh taking over first place for this snapshot. The Devils are in no position to even think about moving up in the division. The wins did, however, pull them out of the bottom five of the league standings for at least this snapshot.
The Devils begin a five-game road trip this week. Their first four games on this trip are against four of the five teams currently beneath them in the standings. On Tuesday, the Devils start the trip at 31st place Detroit. On Thursday, the Devils will face off with San Jose again - who may be in 27th by the time that game happens. On Leap Day, the Devils will have an afternoon game against 30th place Los Angeles, whom they shutout earlier this season. The Devils are not a good team so no game can really be taken for granted. However, it is entirely possible and perhaps even reasonable that the Devils could form a winning streak in this coming week. They won two, three is a minimum for a streak. Who knows. At this point in the season, it is all about silver linings anyhow.
That was the twenty-first Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. We have a new division leader with a huge game today that could change that. The Philadelphia Flyers surged and could make further noise higher up in the division. Carolina climbed back into a wild card spot and there is a three-way tie in points. The recently successful Rangers now need to be seen as a part of the playoff picture. An already muddled picture has yet to be clear and tomorrow is the final day for these teams to make any moves to help their cause (and still be playoff eligible). We shall see who is bold, who is unsure, and who is in-between in a division where a lot can still change between spots #1 through #7. And that eighth-place Devils team has demonstrated that they can be spoilers.
As we enter the final week of February and the unofficial start of the stretch run on February 25, what do you think will happen in this coming week? Who will be in first place by next week’s snapshot? Will Philadelphia and the Rangers keep on rising up? Can Columbus figure out a way to win despite their injuries? How many games do you think the Devils will win to start this trip? 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.