Today begins the final full month of the 2019-20 NHL regular season. Seven teams in the Metropolitan are fighting for a maximum of five playoff spots. The top of the division is still in contention as the Philadelphia Flyers have crashed the battle that the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins were waging just last week (and still kind of are). The two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference are up for grabs between the New York Islanders, Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, and now New York Rangers. (Also, the team not in third in the Atlantic between Toronto and Florida.) Only the New Jersey Devils have a secure position; they will not make the playoffs. But they can try to spoil the chances of the many teams they will face coming up ahead of them in the standings. In other words, plenty can change within the final weeks. This snapshot of the division standings may not last for very long.
It was not a good week for half of the division. Pittsburgh cratered and are mired in a six-game losing streak. Columbus and Carolina failed to help themselves out. Philadelphia took a big step forward, Washington has a little space, and there is a chance that there could be two New York teams in the playoffs this year.
Here is who everyone is set to face in this coming week. As ever, the games within the 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 and the Pittsburgh Penguins had a huge game last Sunday. Pittsburgh went into it as the division leaders. At the end of regulation, the Capitals took back first with a 5-3 win on national television. It was an important victory not just because of the stage it was on, but also because it was a regulation win. As the races for positions get tighter, those regulation win (RW) and regulation/overtime win (ROW) columns in the standings are worth keeping an eye on. It would be the last regulation win the Caps would get this week. On Tuesday, they hosted and beat Winnipeg through a shootout, 4-3. The win is still worth two crucial points but it did not help any of their tiebreakers. The week ended poorly for the Caps as they traveled to Winnipeg on Thursday and were shutout 3-0. It was a positive week as Washington went 2-1-0, but it was not totally ideal after beating Pittsburgh in regulation at the start of it. Still, it is all about results and the Caps did enough thanks to Pittsburgh falling apart. The Capitals are back in first.
The Capitals will look to rebound in what could be a contentious week of games. Today, they will visit Minnesota. That might be the least threatening game as the Caps will have three games within their division coming up. On Wednesday, Washington will host a Philadelphia team that has been making a lot of noise of late. On the very next night, they will travel to Manhattan to play a Rangers team that has surged their way into the playoff picture. Both teams would love to take Washington down a peg to help their own causes. On Saturday, the Capitals will have a rematch with the Pens in Pittsburgh. It remains to be seen if first place will be on the line but that may not matter. The Pens may just want revenge for last Sunday. Should the Capitals do well this week, they can cause some misery to teams beneath them which would be ideal. If they struggle, then the division will open up even more.
In last week’s snapshot, the Flyers only having two games was seen as a detriment. It was not. Part of it was because the teams around them did not make up the difference in games to move past them or stay past them. Mostly, it was because the Flyers took care of business. They dispatched San Jose with a 4-2 win. More impressively, they ended the Rangers’ winning streak at five and handed them their first road loss since January 11. They did not just beat the Rangers. Philadelphia crushed them in a 5-1 victory. The Flyers took four out of a possible four points and are in the mix for playing for first in the Metropolitan. Sometimes, you just take care of your own business and things work out in your favor.
The Philadelphia Flyers will be busy with opportunities at hand to help themselves and hurting their competition at the same time. Today, they will visit the Rangers and seek to keep holding them back in the standings. On Wednesday, the Flyers can continue to command respect in Washington. A win there would not only be a statement that they are a force to be reckoned with, but continue to make it a three-way dance for first place. On Thursday, the Flyers will host Carolina. As Carolina is in the middle of this playoff bubble, the Flyers can add to their small gap between the two teams with a result. Philly’s week will end with a home game against Buffalo. Hopefully after three division games, they can avoid being spoiled by a lesser Buffalo team on Saturday. The Flyers have remained in a good position after just having two games last week. They are in a position to take another big step if they are successful in this week coming up.
What in the world happened, Pittsburgh? In last week’s snapshot, the Pens took first place. By this snapshot, they are in third because they were swept. They had four games and lost all four of them in regulation. The first one, the game in Washington, was a 5-3 loss and not so tough to deal with. However, the Penguins handed out W’s to the lowly teams in California in the remainder of their week. 2-1 in Los Angeles. 3-2 in Anaheim. And, worst of all, getting blanked 5-0 by San Jose last night. The Penguins are now on a six-game losing streak whereupon they earned no points at all. Not even dragging an opponent beyond regulation. As a result, they are at risk of falling into the wild card race instead of challenging for the top.
The streak has to end for Pittsburgh and fast. The schedule, on paper, makes that possible for at least their first two games. They will be off for the first two days before hosting Ottawa, who has nothing to play for. The Penguins will get a chance for revenge in Buffalo on Thursday. They may have been dropped in their previous meeting but Buffalo remains as not a very good hockey team. Pittsburgh’s desire for revenge may help give themselves the motivation necessary to play well against a not a very good opponent. On Saturday, the more important revenge is at hand. They will host Washington. By then, the Penguins may be looking at a first place spot or opening up the door again for it. If the Pittsburgh can take care of business going into this one, then it is sure to be a crucial one.
New York Islanders
The Isles remain in the first wild card spot and had a chance to help their own cause. However, they fell short of that. Their only win in this past week was a 4-1 home win against San Jose last Sunday. They picked up points in their first two games after the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline. However, those were overtime losses: 4-3 to their hated rivals in the Rangers and 3-2 in St. Louis. As impressive as the latter and disappointing the former was, it is still two games short of a win in a division where an extra point or two would be huge. The Islanders flat out earned nothing yesterday as they were entirely flat in a 4-0 shutout loss to Boston. The Isles remain as a playoff team, but a quick look at the standings makes one wonder. A better week could have them up to challenge for a guaranteed playoff spot than a wild card spot. What they ended up doing should still have their fans do some scoreboard watching. At least the two teams behind them have also faltered in this past week. And Pittsburgh remains in sight. Perhaps it was more serendipitous than it first appears.
Similar to Pittsburgh, the New York Islanders have two games against teams well below them in the Eastern Conference standings before a huge game on Saturday. On Tuesday, the Isles will host a Montreal team that is out of the picture even if they have not realized it yet. On Thursday, the Isles will go to Ottawa and they should be able to come out of there with some points against a lowly Senators squad. The big game on Saturday does not have as much heat as Capitals-Penguins, but it is still big. The Isles will host Carolina for an afternoon game that will have implications on the wild card race in the East. The Isles have been on the favorable side, holding onto the first wild card and increasing their gap between themselves and the highest non-wild card team. That highest non-wild card team is Carolina right now. An Islanders win will help shore up their position and push a competitor back as the season is running out. The Isles are clearly “going for it” this season. Now they need to keep going with the results.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Oh, Columbus. The past several weeks have not been good on the injury front and it appears to have caught up to your squad’s results. The standings do not care about the how; just what you have accomplished. A 5-4 overtime win over Ottawa, a 5-4 loss in Minnesota, and a 5-0 shutout loss in Columbus against the same Minnesota team is not what you needed. Not at all Two points out of six is not only not a winning week but it exposes you to being jumped by a healthier team. It is not easy to keep absorbing significant losses to the roster. Yet, the Blue Jackets need to be better if they want to keep up in this wild card race.
The Blue Jackets’ week will not get easier. They will host a Vancouver team with playoff designs of their own this evening. It is not at all an easy game to rebound after that shutout loss to Minnesota. After then, the Blue Jackets will embark on a trip to Western Canada. They will visit Calgary on Wednesday and Edmonton on Saturday. Those teams also have their own playoff races. On top of the nature of the trip, these two will be difficult games for a Columbus team that is missing several notable players. I would suggest that they can get away with just dragging the games beyond regulation as much as they can. However, a look at their RW and ROW counts suggest otherwise. Good luck. I think you’ll need it.
This was a week where Carolina could have jumped up and taken the second wild card spot from Columbus and perhaps more pressure on the Islanders. Instead, Carolina continued to falter. On Tuesday, they hosted Dallas. They lost 4-1. On Friday, they hosted Colorado. The Canes made a stirring comeback down two goals in the third. They lost 3-2 thanks to allowing a goal with less than three minutes left. Last night, the Canes traveled to Montreal. Surely, they could beat Montreal with a chance to move up and past Columbus on the line. Nope. The Canes did make a third period comeback to tie it up and did not blow it late like they did on Friday. They did, however, lose within a minute in overtime to Montreal for a 4-3 loss. That was their only point earned this week. They had a chance to take a spot and botched it.
Unfortunately (or not?) for Carolina, they will be off for most of this week. They have no games to play today and in their next three games. The Canes will go to Philadelphia on Thursday and Long Island on Saturday. Given their situation and their four days to prepare, they better come out like they are on fire and get something out of those games. After a losing week last week, they need the points to stay in the wild card race. Getting dunked by two division teams - especially the Islanders - would really hurt their cause at a playoff spot. The Canes get a lot of love from outsiders. The standings do not care about that. They need results and soon. Also, watch your backs for the 7th place team in the division, Canes fans. Their results also matter to you now.
New York Rangers
Entering this week with a three-game winning streak, the New York Rangers turned up the heat by extending that streak to five. In just road games alone, they have had a seven game winning streak. That was also extended to nine games. Last Tuesday, the Rangers prevailed over their hated cross-city rivals in the Islanders in a 4-3 overtime game. Giving the Isles the extra point was not ideal, but getting the ROW was still big. The Rangers put down Montreal in their house by a decisive 5-2 score on Thursday night. Alas, the hot times would end on the next night. The Rangers traveled to their other hated rivals, Philadelphia, and hoped to keep up winning ways. They were smacked down in a 5-1 loss. The streaks are over. However, the Rangers remain in close position to the wild card race. They also have a huge advantage in tiebreakers. They have more regulation wins than everyone else in the Metropolitan, which is the first tiebreaker for teams with the same number of games. They may remain behind Carolina due to games played, but any team near the Rangers in points better stay ahead of them. A tie in the standings will go in New York’s favor right now.
The Rangers may have been cooled off big time by Philadelphia. Nevertheless, they are in a way better position than where they were a month ago. They can keep challenging the playoff bubble teams. With four games coming up in seven days, it will not be easy. Fortunately for them, they will be at Madison Square Garden for all of them. They will host Philly today and try to get some revenge for what transpired last Friday. Following that, they will host a very good St. Louis team on Tuesday, a very good (and perhaps more desperate) Washington team on Thursday, and a hated rival in New Jersey on Saturday. While their road record has been incredible in recent weeks, their home record is nothing to sneeze at. If they can protect their house, then do not be shocked if they move past someone by next week’s snapshot (looking at you, Carolina).
New Jersey Devils
Technically, the New Jersey Devils won their past week of games. They played the first three games on their five-game road trip, which continues tonight. All three opponents were among the few beneath the Devils in the league standings. How did they do? It could have been better. On Tuesday, the Devils visited Detroit and played their most complete game against Detroit this season. They won 4-1 in a decisive fashion. That was their third straight win, the second time they managed that streak this season. But they could not make it four in a row on Thursday in San Jose. After a good first period, the Devils saw a 2-0 lead slip away and lost quickly in overtime when they failed to cover two men in a 3-on-3 situation. The 2-3 overtime loss ended the streak. Yesterday afternoon, the Devils visited Los Angeles with the hopes of bouncing back. The goaltending was great, the Devils were not as great, and they lost fairly quickly in overtime whilst not even having the puck on their sticks. Their week ended with a 1-2 OT loss. The Devils have little to play for and added points for the sake of it. At least they had a better week than a couple of the teams in the division.
The Devils’ road trip will wrap up in the first half of this coming week. They will visit Anaheim tonight to end their season of games against California-based teams. On Tuesday, they will face Las Vegas, easily their most difficult opponent on this five-game road trip. After a two day break, the Devils have a nasty back-to-back at the end of the week. They will host a St. Louis team who is, again, very good and also kicked the snot out of the Devils in their previous meeting. On the next night, they will face their hated rivals in the Rangers - on the road and with the Rangers being off the previous night. Yes, it is a schedule disadvantage for the Devils in their final game against the Rangers this season. It will take a lot for the Devils to pull off multiple wins coming up. At this point in the season, it may not matter much. Just get through these final five weeks, hope Vancouver makes the postseason, and pray Arizona either makes the playoffs (which is becoming less and less likely) or does not win any of the three draft lotteries in April.
That was the twenty-second Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. Pittsburgh’s struggles had a big impact at the top. Washington re-took first place and has a little breathing room. The Philadelphia Flyers now have second place and are in a great position to at least secure their spot provided they take care of business. Speaking of taking care of business, Carolina failed to do so in a week where both Columbus and the Islanders were having issues. They need to turn it around and fast; two games in hand on Columbus do not mean much if they do not win them. The recently hot Rangers are on the edge of the playoff picture. It is one thing to get hot, it is another to stay hot enough to make further progress. Will they get the help they need? Who knows.
As we enter the first week of March, the final stretch run of the season is on. There will be just four more snapshots for this season. What do you think will happen in this coming week? Will Pittsburgh win a game? Will Philadelphia continue to win and threaten Washington for first? Who among the Islanders, Columbus, Carolina, and the Rangers will prevail by next week? How many games do you think the Devils will win in this 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.