The tight races in the standings remain compelling as the first full week of March has been completed. The Metropolitan Division is no different. In the twenty-third snapshot for the 2019-20 season, the Washington Capitals still have the two Pennsylvania teams to worry about for first in the division. They have it all to themselves for now, but only by the thread of the regulation/overtime wins tiebreaker. The liquid-hot Philadelphia is breathing down their necks in the standings. Nothing is guaranteed at the top. The wild card race has been a dogfight between four teams all in the division. Even a short slump or a short hot streak can make all of the difference. This is where we stand prior to Sunday’s games:
The top three teams did fairly well in this past week. It was a mixed bag below them. Perhaps the most surprising is that Columbus continues to get results despite so many of their players being out with injuries. You cannot count them out. They have a disadvantage in having played in more games than others, which also explains why Carolina’s odds are so high at Moneypuck. But so far, they are absolutely in the mix. The New Jersey Devils are playing spoilers (just ask New York) and they can do plenty of that this week. Here is this coming week’s schedule. 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.
The best defense to keep teams from taking your spot in the standings is to keep getting results. The Washington Capitals ultimately succeeded in that regard in this past week. They did take more than half of the available points. However, I understand the concerns from the Caps fanbase about their recent performances. After beating Minnesota 4-3 last Sunday, they lost 5-2 to Philadelphia which further their hopes of taking first place and lost 6-5 to the New York Rangers whilst giving up five goals to just one skater (Mika Zibanejad). However, the Capitals would end their week on a very high note. They hosted Pittsburgh, the other team that could challenge for first place, and put them down 5-2 in regulation. The win was enough to secure first place for another weekly division snapshot thanks to an advantage in ROW over Philadelphia. Of course, nothing is set in stone. The Caps need to keep getting results.
On paper, they should be able to do just that. They have three games coming up in this week and all three opponents are well outside of the playoff picture. Washington will visit a Buffalo team that has been spinning its wheels in the standings for months now. On Thursday, Washington will host a totally hapless Detroit team. Their week will end with a home game against Chicago, who is in a spot similar to Buffalo in the Western Conference. A pessimist would argue that these are three trap games. I think Washington will be able to take care of business. Should they need some inspiration, they should remember that Philly is not going to go away easily.
The hottest team in the NHL is the Philadelphia Flyers. They went into this week with five straight wins. They ended the week with nine straight wins. Their torrid run of victories have moved them just below the Capitals for first in the division. They are tied in points, the current difference is the second tiebreaker. That can change very quickly and quite possibly in favor of the Flyers. As for the four wins in this past week, the Flyers also managed to obtain them all in regulation. 5-3 over the Rangers, 5-2 over Washington, 4-1 over Carolina, and 3-1 over Buffalo. They hurt the causes of three teams in their division while helping themselves. Doing it all within sixty minutes boosted their RW count to 31. The thing about hot streaks is that they do end at some point. For now, it certainly does not feel that way to the Flyers or their fans.
The Flyers will have a tough week of three games coming up, with or without a hot streak. They will host the Eastern Conference leaders, Boston, on Tuesday. On Thursday, they will travel down to Tampa Bay, who are currently the second place team in the entire conference. The Flyers will return home for a Saturday afternoon game against a Minnesota team that still has their sights on a playoff spot in the West. Given how hot Philadelphia has been for three weeks, they absolutely have a chance. It will not be easy. By the way, expect Washington and Pittsburgh fans to be big Boston, Tampa Bay, and Minnesota fans this week.
The bad news for the Penguins was that they lost a big one against Washington yesterday. The good news is that they had a winning week of hockey last week. After slipping to third, they needed wins. They got wins. They crushed Ottawa 7-3 last Tuesday. They enacted revenge in Buffalo with a 4-2 win. They headed into Washington D.C. with a chance to make it three straight wins to sweep the week and get back right behind the Caps in the race for first place. That did not happen. The Pens went down as much as 4-0. While they mounted the hint of a comeback, it was too little too late as they lost 5-2. Still, they ended their losing streak and they are five points ahead of the wild card teams. Now they can refocus on catching Philadelphia and Washington instead of worrying about facing either team in the first round in about a month from now.
The Penguins will be very active within the Metropolitan Division in this week. Three of their next four games are against opponents in that wild card fight. They will host Carolina today in an afternoon game and then visit Carolina at the end of their week on Saturday night. The Canes just ended their own streak of futility, but the Penguins are in a position to add more misery to their fans. On Thursday night, the Penguins will visit Columbus. While plenty of their best players are hurt, Columbus will put up a fight of sorts. The only non-playoff opponent the Penguins have coming up is a trip to New Jersey on Tuesday. They have to be careful for that one. New Jersey has been getting plenty of results since the All-Star break and are coming off back-to-back wins. The Penguins will make some noise within the division standings. It is up to them to ensure it is in their favor. Otherwise, they could back into the wild card race if they are not careful.
The New York Islanders picked a bad time to have a winless streak. After going winless in their last three games in the previous snapshot, they went winless in this past week again. They got crushed by Montreal 6-2 at the Barclays Center. They went to Ottawa and lost in regulation 4-3 to a hapless Sens team. Yesterday afternoon, they had a huge wild-card related home game against Carolina. The Isles did tie it up late but the Canes got the winner in OT - which went under review for a high stick. The review was good, the goal stood, and now the Isles have not won a game in their last six. They are holding onto a wild card spot due in part to the teams below them also struggling. They cannot keep expecting this to continue.
Unfortunately, the Islanders will have to figure it out in Western Canada. That is right. They are traveling to British Columbia and Alberta for their three games this week. They will visit Vancouver first on Tuesday and then go back-to-back with Calgary and Edmonton on Thursday and Friday. This trip is always a challenge. It is three games in four nights. For this season, all three teams have something to play for this month. New York is going to have to dig deep and come away with something. Otherwise, they may return to the Eastern Time Zone outside of the wild card spots.
It is easy to feel sympathetic for the Columbus Blue Jackets. They are amid a fight for a wild card spot and they have six players on injured reserve as of this writing, including Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, Brandon Dubinsky, and Josh Anderson. Alas, the games still must be played. Fortunately for the Jackets faithful, Columbus has found ways to rise above the pain and get points in this past week. They hosted Vancouver last Sunday and won 5-3 in regulation. Columbus then embarked on a trip through Western Canada, which will end tonight. On Wednesday, Columbus went up 2-0 in Calgary. They saw the lead slip in the third period and they conceded an equalizer with eleven seconds left. Columbus lost in overtime, 3-2. Crushing as it was, a point in Calgary is still valuable - especially with the lack of them earned by the teams around them. Last night, Columbus visited Edmonton. This did not go well for them. They lost 1-4 after going into the third down just 1-0. Still, they went 1-1-1 and earning three points this week was enough to stay in a wild card spot. It was not pretty. They are still in a position of needing help that everyone else around them to lose their games in hand on Columbus. If they can get healthier soon, then that may put them over the top for a playoff spot and may not need as much help in the future.
In the meantime, they need to keep getting points to stay inside the playoff bubble. Their Western Canada trip will end tonight in Vancouver. I am sure Vancouver would like some vengeance for the loss they took in Ohio last week. Coming off a game in Edmonton, Columbus should expect a test. The Blue Jackets will return to Ohio for their two home games later in this week coming up. On Thursday, they will host Pittsburgh in a game that both teams will likely want for their own purposes. On Saturday, Columbus will host a Nashville team that is also fighting for their playoff lives. I do not think anyone can question Columbus’ resilency after absorbing all of these injuries and still remaining in a playoff spot. Their challenge to stay there will continue on; same as it has been for the past month or so.
The schedule for the Carolina Hurricanes both helped and hurt them. It helped that they had four days without any games to figure themselves out. With the time off, they have games in hand on all of the teams close to them in the standings. It hurt because the idle time meant they were at risk of falling further back. For a day or two, they were in seventh place in the Metropolitan. It absolutely did not help that after the time off, Carolina went to Philadelphia on Thursday and got shredded by the orange and black buzzsaw in a 4-1 loss. The fortunate news was that the Canes picked up a big overtime win in Brooklyn yesterday. They blew the third period and handed the Isles - one of their direct competitors - a point. But the Canes needed a win. They got their first one since February 22. They remain in sixth place in the division for this snapshot. They remain close in the wild card race, yet still on the outside.
Carolina’s schedule until the end of the season is going to be very busy. They will have four games in each of their last four weeks. This week coming up is the first of this marathon of games. The Canes will visit Pittsburgh today for an afternoon game and hopefully get something out of it. They will travel to Detroit on Tuesday so provided that the Canes take them seriously, that should be a result. They could find it tricky in Newark on Thursday given the recent performances by the Devils. Carolina’s week ends with a home game against the same Pittsburgh team they will face today. The Canes will use up one of their games in hand by week’s end compared to the Isles, Blue Jackets, and Rangers. It is crucial that they come out of this week with positive results. Being close but still on the outside still means missing the playoffs. Hopefully for their sake, their win in Brooklyn will get them going. If not, well, it is going to be a very tense March in Raleigh.
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers surged to the wild card picture a couple weeks ago. With four straight home games in this past week, the Rangers had a real opportunity to jump past Carolina, Columbus, and even the Islanders. They faltered. Granted, the competition was fierce. They hosted Philadelphia last Sunday and like everyone else who has faced the Flyers recently, they lost 5-3. Last Tuesday, the Rangers were put down by St. Louis 3-1. The Rangers got the hockey world talking when Mika Zibanejad dropped a five-spot on Washington, including the overtime winner in a 6-5 win. It would be the only win the Rangers would get in this home stand. The New Jersey Devils arrived at MSG and beat them in a 6-4 game that was not as close as the score would suggest. The 1-3-0 week means that the Rangers remain in seventh in the division and just behind Carolina. They are not out of the picture, but they lost an opportunity to actually be in it in this past week.
For the Rangers to rebound and get back in it, they will have to do it away from home. More accurately, far away from home as they are heading out towards the West. The Rangers will take on Dallas and Colorado on Tuesday and Wednesday. Both of those teams are playoff-likely teams in the Central Division and they have something to play for. Dallas wants to secure at least third in the division to stay ahead of a fierce wild card fight. Colorado wants to challenge St. Louis for first in the division. The Rangers’ three-game trip will end against a struggling Arizona team. They could be desperate by then and that may make it even harder for the Rangers. Then again, they have a better road record (18-12-2) than at home (18-16-2) so this week may be a benefit for New York. But time is running out to make a push. If not this week, then it will be even tougher.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have effectively been out of the playoffs for months. However, they have surged in the standings with plenty of positive results since the All-Star Break. After weeks of getting by on stupendous goaltending and special teams amid getting beaten down in the run of play, the Devils actually put in three respectable team performances in each of their three wins in this past week. The Devils blanked Anaheim 3-0 to end their California portion of their road trip. Their road trip proper ended in Las Vegas last Tuesday. It was brutal as the Devils got dominated in a 0-3 loss. With a very difficult schedule on paper, it seemed like that game would set the tone for the remainder of the month. However, the Devils rebounded in a big way. They played a legitimately good game to beat St. Louis 4-2 last Friday. Last night, they went to Manhattan and spoiled their hated rivals’ playoff hopes in a 6-4 win. The 3-1-0 week will not push the Devils towards any kind of playoff contention. It did push them to 25th place, jumping past Buffalo. If nothing else, the Devils are at least showing they are truly better than the 30th place position they were in back in late January.
The Devils will continue to play spoiler in this coming week. First, they will host Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Washington and Philadelphia fans will probably appreciate the Devils prevailing. They will host Carolina on Thursday. Plenty in Long Island, Manhattan, Columbus, and even Sunrise, Florida may pull for the Devils on that night too. The Devils end their week with the first half of a weekend back-to-back in the Sunshine State. They will go visit a Florida team that is still in the playoff picture. As Toronto struggles, if Florida can get results going, then they could really stun them and send Toronto down to the wild card picture - which would add further chaos to an already chaotic situation in the standings. This is the fun a team can have in being a spoiler.
That was the twenty-third Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2019-20 season. The Philadelphia Flyers have looked fantastic and so Washington is holding onto first place by the slight margin of the second tiebreaker. Pittsburgh ended their struggles and are at least in a great position for taking at least third place. The struggles amid the Islanders, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Rangers keep the wild card spots close and up for grabs. It really could come down to whoever gets hot near the end of the season. The Devils have shown the Rangers that they can be spoilers. In coming weeks, they may do the same to others in the division.
As we enter the second week of March, the final stretch run of the season continues on. There will be just three more snapshots for this season. What do you think will happen in this coming week? Who will stop Philadelphia? Will it happen this week? Can Pittsburgh claw their way up closer to the race for first place? Who will have the wild card spots by next week’s snapshot? Who among the Isles, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Rangers should be the most worried? Do you think the Devils will spoil any of their three opponents coming up 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.