Merry Christmas, Boisterous Boxing Day, Future Happy New Year’s, and Hopefully There Are Some Games This Week. The global pandemic has hit the sports world hard in North America. Due to the rising number of cases in the NHL, the league went from shutting down some teams last week to banning cross-border travel to shutting the league down two days ahead of its holiday break to announcing on Christmas Eve that the league will not return to action until December 28. By the time you read this post, there can be more schedule changes. Could we see the pause extend to January 1, 2022? Maybe. Could we see it end on December 28 as last announced? Maybe. Could there be something else? Maybe. That is the reality of the NHL and sports right now. A whole lot of maybes and people trying to figure out what is the next right thing to do for all involved.
Due to all of the postponements, a whopping four games by the Metropolitan Division teams were played last week (and one amongst two of them). The division leading Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Philadelphia Flyers ended up being idle all of last week due to league-forced schedule changes. All of the games that were played took place last Sunday. Rather than give you the team-by-team breakdown of what happened and what is coming up, this will be a special truncated version. Here is a quick summary of those games that actually happened:
- The Washington Capitals hosted the Los Angeles Kings. A result for the Capitals would see them take first place. They did not get one. While Washington scored the first two goals, they could not beat Garrett Sparks - making his first start since 2019 - a third time. The Kings got on the board late in the second period with a shorthanded goal from Blake Lizotte. Early in the third, Christian Wolanin scored his first of the season to tie it up. Just before the period’s halfway mark, Adrian Kempe finished off his 12th of the season. The Capitals lost 3-2 to the Kings. They remain in second place due to a tiebreakers as a result. The Canes and Rangers should have (and maybe they did) sent a “Thank You” card to Los Angeles.
- The New Jersey Devils hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Pens have been hot. The Devils have been not. In a low-event hockey game, mistakes and bounces stood out more. A bad giveaway by Jack Hughes created a breakaway for Teddy Blueger that he scored on for a shorthanded goal. Danton Heinen was all open from a pass by Marcus Pettersson since no one on the Devils picked up Heinan on the backcheck. But the Devils got a rare deflection goal by Janne Kuokkanen from a Ty Smith shot to make it 2-1. Alas, Kuokkanen made a back-breaking giveaway that ended up with a play that ended with an open Mike Matheson firing a shot past an open screen set by 6’1”, 195 pound Sam Lafferty to make it 3-1. Nathan Bastian tipped home a Dougie Hamilton shot to make it 3-2 for a rare power play goal. But that would be it. The Devils continued losing and the Pens kept on winning with the 3-2 result. Devils continue to flounder in the standings and the Penguins are now three points back of the Rangers.
- The New York Islanders welcomed Robin Lehner back to Long Island. The Las Vegas Golden Knights were not as welcoming guests as they struck first through a Jonathan Marchessault goal. Brock Nelson did tie it up later in the first period with a PPG. After a scoreless second, Shea Theodore scored a PPG of his own to put the Knights up 2-1. The Isles did get a response with Kieffer Bellows tying it up just after the 14 minute mark in the third period. Jean-Gabriel Pageau put the Isles up 3-2 with less than three minutes to go. With Lehner pulled, the Knights needed a 6-on-5 equalizer - and got it from Theodore with 48 seconds left. Overtime was needed and it solved nothing. In the shootout, Theodore scored and Nicolas Roy sealed the victory for a 4-3 shootout loss for the Isles. The Isles get a needed point, but one would think they should have sealed that game up at home.
Those were the four games played that involved the division last week. Thanks to the Capitals losing to the Kings, the order of the standings is the same as last week’s snapshot as well. Again, the Penguins are closer to the Rangers now and the Devils are in danger of getting jumped by the Isles at this rate.
The schedule is fluid at this moment. This is what it is as of this morning, assuming an actual return to the season on December 28 as last announced on Christmas Eve. If the NHL makes any further changes to the schedule, then that supersedes the following. If not, then it is what it is, with just one game within the division (highlighted and in bold as always).
Some quick schedule analysis for each team, again in lieu of the breakdown for all eight teams:
- Carolina has an easier schedule than Washington what with playing a hapless Montreal team and a Columbus team that may be competitive but has fallen deep in the standings. Nashville is not too bad and Detroit is a good team at home this season. With Washington dropping that game against L.A., they have something to prove. And they do not have the tiebreakers, so they need to outperform the Canes to jump to first. If the Canes take care of business, then it will not matter.
- The New York Rangers may have the toughest return. Even with the break impacting everyone, a trip to Florida is nasty this season. Both the Panthers (14-3-0) and Lightning (10-3-2) have excellent home records so far this season. The Rangers also need to get results out of Sunrise and Tampa Bay because any shortfalls could see a hot Penguins team get even closer to them.
- The Penguins will have a tricky return of their own. Toronto is an excellent team in their own right and they have been very good at home too with a 12-4-1 record. The game in Ottawa, well, that is one the Penguins should be able to get something out of. While the Sens can and have stunned some teams, their 35.7% point percentage belies their quality. At 10 points clear of fifth-place Columbus, they can focus on chipping away at the top three.
- Columbus is the only team that actually return to play on Tuesday if all goes well. A trip to Chicago, a home game with Nashville (with the advantage of Nashville playing in D.C. the night before), and a home game with Carolina is a mixed bag on paper. They should be able to get some points and get out of their rut. Even if it is a long shot, their goal is to avoid being doormats. Some results this week will help them in that cause.
- Philadelphia will return with a road trip out West. They will visit Seattle and San Jose back-to-back, which is a long trip in of itself. Then the Flyers will visit Los Angeles, who has been playing well recently and just beat Washington in Washington. The Flyers’ slump may be over but these West Coast trips can go awry. Be careful, Philly.
- The New Jersey Devils are where the Flyers and Islanders were weeks ago. They just need a win at this point. End the slide. At Buffalo is their second to last chance to win a second game in December. I wish I was making that up. It may be their best as they will host Edmonton on New Year’s Eve. While Edmonton has hit some struggles and they are not as successful on the road as they are at home, they have the best player in the world and score tons of goals. The Devils’ defensive effort is porous for the last six weeks and could very well play their sixth goalie of the season (Jon Gilles, made his start against Pittsburgh last Sunday) again. There is little joy in the Garden State with respect to the Devils.
- The New York Islanders will be home all week at the UBS Arena. They will host Detroit - who is not that good of a road team as they are at home - and get a Buffalo team that will have hosted New Jersey the night prior. They will host Edmonton on New Year’s Day right after the Devils hosted them. The Isles will have some potential fatigue advantages. Will it help them get some wins to at least make a stride to get out of last place? We shall see.
That was the eleventh and truncated Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2021-22 season. What do you expect to happen in this calendar-ending week? Will all of these games even happen? Can Carolina stay ahead of Washington and the Rangers? Can Pittsburgh crash the top three? Will the Devils and Blue Jackets get out of their own slumps? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the eight teams in the week that was and the week ahead in the comments. Thank you for reading.