Now that the entire Metropolitan Division returned to a regular schedule of hockey last week, the division has continued to draw the attention of many in the East. The wild card race is effectively a hot potato between third through sixth in the Metropolitan with two Atlantic Division teams kind of on the outside looking in but not so far outside that you cannot avoid them. Meanwhile, the top of the division may not be so secure for the division-leading Washington Capitals. A door is starting to open for Pittsburgh.
For now a win with Pittsburgh’s game in hand would not have them usurp first place now. But that game in hand is not coming up this week. Pittsburgh will actually gain a second one. Should Washington continue to stumble a bit, the opportunity for the Penguins to rise up will increase. The iron clad grip on first is waning.
By the way, for the sake of completeness, I will include wild card challengers from the Atlantic Division. For now, this is Florida and Toronto. They will not be discussed in length in this post. They are here to see how they stack up in the wild card race in the East as well as to show off for the wild-card battling teams - all four of them in the Metropolitan - who they are facing for the sake of scoreboard watching. That being said, here is who everyone is facing in this coming week. 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 Washington Capitals did not win this past week. Last Sunday, they had a big game against Pittsburgh. A win there would have secured their spot further. They lost 4-3 in regulation. They rebounded last Tuesday when they hosted a bad Los Angeles team and beat the bad Los Angeles team 4-2. The Caps then had the luxury of three days without a game before a home game against Philadelphia. They had time to prepare and even heal up a bit. It is a rivalry game for them. So to see that Philly pantsed them in a 7-2 loss is especially deflating. This week consisted of three games out of a four-game home stand with three games within the Metropolitan. The Caps are 1-2-0 on this run. There is no need to panic but there is some reason to be a little concerned. It could be a bit of a slump. But with Pittsburgh continuing to thrive, even a couple of less-than-ideal weeks may mean dropping to second place.
The Capitals will end their home stand on Monday night when they host the Islanders, a team that is in the wild card bubble and therefore needs all the points they can get. After that, the Capitals will hit the road and go out West for their next three games. No, they are not going to California to beat up on three bad teams. They are going against the three better and playoff-bound/hopeful teams out West. On Thursday night, they will visit Colorado and their terrifying offense. On Saturday night, they will visit an Arizona team that has a ton to play for at this point in the season. It will not be an easy week. Yet, the Capitals will need to find their former form and at least out-gain the Penguins to make their first place spot a little safer.
Despite the big injuries, the Penguins have found ways to succeed. Now recharged by some of those previously injured players returning to the ice, the Penguins are giving Washingtion a serious challenge. Last Sunday was a big win. They won 4-3 in Washington D.C. and in regulation. The four point swing helped keep them close to the Capitals. They cannot mathematically overtake them any time soon but it is far more possible than it was, say, a month ago. The Penguins took a step back on Thursday night when they lost in Tampa Bay, 4-2. However, the Pens ultimately won the week and hurt (at least in the short-term) the playoff hopes of a Florida team with a 3-2 regulation win. The Pens out-gained the Capitals and so they are a step closer to being within striking distance. At the same time, they further secure their own spot in second place in the Metropolitan. It is a good time to be a Pens fan as they appear to be on the up and up.
This coming week will not be a good time for those that want to see Pittsburgh play as they only have two games. They will be at home though. They will have a chance for revenge for last week’s loss to Tampa Bay. On Tuesday night, they will host them. They will have an advantage in that Tampa Bay will play the night before. On Friday night, the Penguins fans can enjoy a romantic night at the Paint Can and see if their home team can give Montreal a set back in the standings. Even if they win both games, the Capitals are still in the driver’s seat to stay ahead of them. But they will gain two games in hand on them by next week’s snapshot and if Washington cannot out-gain the Pens in points this week, that becomes all the more valuable. Continue to take care of business, Pittsburgh.
Who would have ever guessed that the Columbus Blue Jackets would end up being in third place in February? Even if it is only for this week’s snapshot, it is still something that few expected way back in October. The Blue Jackets kept on winning games and taking points. In a busy week, they took down Montreal 4-3 in regulation last Saturday; beat Florida 1-0 in overtime last Tuesday; and shutout Detroit last Friday in a 2-0 win. Yesterday, Colorado became the first team to beat the Blue Jackets in regulation since January 9 - or ten games ago. It was a close one on the scoreboard, too; Columbus lost 2-1. Still, the Blue Jackets’ run was very productive and it has put them in a currently favorable position for a playoff spot in a very tight race in the East. The only way it could have been better outside of beating Colorado was if they beat Florida in regulation. But Florida is far enough back from the Jackets that the point may not be that big of a deal. A 3-1-0 week is a big deal as it has moved them up to third place for the time being.
The Blue Jackets will need to keep the good times rolling to stay in third place or at least stay on the right side of the playoff bubble. They will have a tough challenge on Monday night when they host a very, very good Tampa Bay team. After that one, the Blue Jackets will have two opponents that they should prevail over on paper. On Thursday night, they will visit Buffalo. On Friday night, they will host the New York Rangers. Columbus is in a position where they really need to beat the teams far beneath them in the standings for their own sake. Dropping points to them nowadays can be damaging for their playoff race. And Buffalo did beat them in overtime back on February 1. They are not easy points. That stated, if Columbus can return to their pace of winning weeks in this one coming up, then they should stay around the position they are in.
New York Islanders
The bad news is that the New York Islanders are now outside of third place. The good news is that they are only out of it by one point and they have games in hand over everyone around them in the division. Truth be told, they did not have a bad week at all. They went 2-1-0. They put down Dallas in overtime, 4-3. They made a big comeback from losing 1-3 to beat Los Angeles 5-3 on Thursday. Their only downfall was losing in Tampa Bay, 3-1. But losing to a Tampa Bay team that realized how good they can be is hardly worth a concern. If there is something to worry about, then it is the fact that the Islanders are in a position where they need to keep up a level of success from week to week. Case in point, they went 2-1-0 and still dropped a position in the standings. They can very much take third place back. But they will need to succeed to do it, especially with one of those games in hand being used up relative to Columbus and Carolina.
The problem for the Islanders is that they have a very tough week of games coming up. They will visit Washington on Monday night, which is a difficult place to play in. I would imagine that after losing 7-2 on their home rink last night, Washington is going to take it out on their next opponent. That would be the Isles. After that, the Isles will host Philadelphia in a game that will have significant impact on the wild card race for the time being. Losing that one would really hurt the cause. Thursday night starts a four-game road trip through a difficult part of the West. They will visit a playoff-hopeful Nashville team that really needs points. On Saturday night, their trip continues to Las Vegas, who are also motivated to take points themselves. The Isles have done a great job so far this season showing to a lot of people that they are not at all a bad team or that last season was a massive fluke. They can ill afford to fall apart now.
Carolina had a wild and difficult week, but they came out better for it. They were on the road for most of it and it was ultimately a positive. Their previous home game was last Sunday, where they prevailed over Vancouver in a shootout. A post-regulation win against a Western Conference opponent? That is fine. On Tuesday night, the Canes traveled to St. Louis. The defending Stanley Cup champions handed them a 6-3 loss. Carolina would rebound two nights later when they dispatched Arizona in a 5-3 win. But last night was a trip. They entered the third period down 1-3. They made a rousing comeback to make it 5-4, only to concede a late equalizer to force overtime. Carolina salvaged the situation and won in a shootout to make it a 6-5 win. The Canes’ big comeback made it a 3-1-0 week where they faced two Western Conference opponents and one great one. That is impressive. And it means they are back in a wild card spot as the first tie breaker is regulation wins.
Carolina will get to be idle for five out of the next seven days. The Hurricanes will end their four-game road trip on Tuesday night in Dallas. It would behoove the Canes to finish their trip with a win just because they will be off before and after it. On Valentine’s Day, the Carolina fans will be treated to a romantic night of the Canes playing the Devils. The Devils have been recently successful, so that is not a gimmie. However, Carolina will have the advantage of not having a game the night before. Albeit New Jersey will play Detroit, it is still a back-to-back st for them but not Carolina. The Canes should aim to win both and hope they do not fall back too much as other teams ahead of them play. However, if they falter and the teams ahead of them do not, it could be a more significant set back.
If an Oreo is a cookie with a delicious center, then the Philadelphia Flyers was a cookie with a bunch of mud in the middle. Their three-game week had two big wins at the start and at the end. They went to Detroit on Monday and left with a huge 3-0 win. They visited Washington and embarassed them in a 7-2 beatdown. The only downfall was on Thursday night when they hosted a rival in the New Jersey Devils. Given where the Devils are in the standings, the last two Devils-Flyers games, and Philly’s situation in the standings, this was an expected win. The Devils scored five on a low number of shots while the Flyers scored none. Yes, Philly lost 5-0 to New Jersey. They went 2-1-0 but one has to wonder what could have been if Thursday night did not go the way it did. Nevertheless, beating Washington - nevermind by five - is an impressive response to that loss. Alas, Carolina had that ridiculous shootout win in Vegas so they are on the outside for now. At least it is only by a tiebreaker.
While the Flyers had a winning week, so did the teams directly ahead of them. So the challenge is for them to keep it up. Like the Islanders, they will have a busy week ahead. Their challenge is a bit different. The Flyers’ next three games are against teams they are fighting directly with in the standings. They will host Florida on Monday and visit the Isles on Tuesday. Both games can have a huge impact on the wild card portion of the standings. The Flyers will visit Florida on Thursday night. They can potentially deal a big blow to the Panthers’ playoff hopes or play them closer into the picture. At the end of the week is a very difficult opponent on paper: a road game in Tampa Bay. I think the Isles have it harder, but this is not a simple one for the Orange and Black. Good luck.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers join Washington as the only teams in the division to have a losing record in this past week. Unlike Washington, the Rangers really do not have much to play for. They are way away from the wild card race in the East. They are not so bad now that they will start competing with New Jersey and Ottawa for a race to the bottom. All the same, the games still needed to be played. The Rangers had three games of a four-game home stand in this past week. It did not go so well. Last Monday, they lost 5-3 to Dallas in regulation. Last Wednesday, they beat Toronto 5-3 in regulation. I am sure Florida, Carolina, Philadelphia, Columbus, and Islanders fans appreciated that. Last Friday, the Rangers lost 3-2 to Buffalo in regulation. Will they turn it around? Does it matter?
The Rangers’ home stand ends tonight with an early evening game against Los Angeles. Los Angeles played and lost last night so the Rangers have an advantage in that sense. After that, the Rangers will embark on a three-game road trip with all three games taking place in four nights. On Tuesday, they will be in Winnipeg. On Thursday, they will visit Minnesota. On Friday, they will visit Columbus. Winnipeg and Minnesota have something to play for; they are mired in a huge battle for the wild card in the West. Columbus has playoff asiprations of their own. The Rangers can be spoilers on this trip. We shall see whether they succeed at being one in this coming week.
New Jersey Devils
Believe it or not, but the New Jersey Devils have not lost a game in regulation since the All-Star Weekend. They have not won all of their games. But they have taken at least a point in each of their last six. They won the previous week in last week’s snapshot. They did it again with a more success in this past week. On Tuesday night, the Devils hosted Montreal. As fans booed a certain Russian player, they were treated to the Devils going up 3-0, giving up four straight, and then forcing overtime with a last-minute goal. They lost to the aforementioned Russian player in the shootout in a 5-4 loss. That did not feel good. The perfect pick-me-up came in the form of stunning their rivals in Philadelphia. The Devils only needed 19 shots to score five goals as all 46 by the Flyers were stopped. Yes, the Devils were fortunate and enjoyably so in a 5-0 win. The Devils hosted Los Angeles last night and contninued the shutout streak. While they conceded a lot of volume, they did not concede a lot of quality. So a three-goal second period was enough to make it a 3-0 win. The Devils went 2-0-1 last week, they are now three points ahead of Ottawa in the East, and are in a position to pull themselves out of the bottom five spots in the league standings. Whether or not you want that is up to you. But it is refreshing after losing week after losing week for the Devils to win two weeks in a row.
The Devils will try to keep up the increase in competitive results with three games in four nights in this week. On Tuesday night, they will host Florida. Florida has a game the night before, so the Devils could take advantage of that. They really have not this season but they could. That stated, Florida needs points and I cannot imagine they will take the Devils lightly given their situation in the standings. After that, the Devils will have a back-to-back set with a home game on Thursday against Detroit and a road game on Valentine’s Day in Carolina. Detroit has been so bad that the Devils should really beat them. Again. Carolina will be a much tougher game in that Carolina is actually good and they should have plenty of motivation to win. The Devils really are not chasing anyone in the standings, so they can spoil, earn some pride, and perhaps impress some scouts as the NHL Trade Deadline gets closer.
That was the nineteenth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. Washington is increasingly vulnerable and Pittsburgh may be a team to challenge them for the first time since the beginning of the season. The real action remains in the middle of the division with four teams fighting for three playoff spots, with two of those playoff spots being in the eyes of two Atlantic Division teams. Columbus has impressively taken third place, but it is not at all a safe place. The Islanders can re-take it in short order. And do not discount Philadelphia or Carolina. Philly has a far better chance of moving up given that they will play more games this week, but both teams are still within striking distance of each other. The New Jersey Devils are enjoying a nice run of success - yes, 3-0-3 in their last six is success to a formerly 30th place team - and it will be interesting to see how long that goes.
As the season schedule puts everyone closer to the NHL Trade Deadline, what do you think will happen in this coming week? Will Washington solidify their first place spot? Do you think Columbus will stay in third place by next week’s snapshot? Who has the tougher week, the Islanders or Philadelphia? Will the Devils keep getting results in games and do you really want that? 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.