Happy New Year! Welcome to the first Metropolitan Division Snapshot of 2023. It is the twelfth snapshot of this NHL season. At the turn of the calendar year, the Carolina Hurricanes are on a heater and rode a wagon to first place in the division. A franchise-record setting 10 wins in a row going into today, in fact. They are behind only Boston in the league standings. They have a six point lead on first in the division, where other teams that were hot have cooled off for some teams. Not so much for Washington or the New York Islanders, but definitely so for the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins. That has resulted in a really tight race from second through sixth place. Shoutout to the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets for being so far outside of the picture that it is a six-team race and not anything larger.
It may be a day off today and tomorrow for many, but not in the NHL. Four teams in the division play today. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be in a showcase game with Boston at Fenway Park on Monday afternoon. Everyone is back to normal as of Tuesday with everyone in the division playing on Thursday. There are five games within the division, which could cause some more swings in the short term. Those games are highlighted and in bold as usual:
Here is the week that was and week that will be for all eight teams in the division.
What Happened Last Week: Carolina has been on fire. What could be even better than continuing to win? Not much but the Carolina Hurricanes figured something out in home games against Chicago and Florida. Against the Blackhawks, the Canes went up early and never looked back. Martin Necas and Jesper Fast scored in the first period. Antti Raanta was perfect in 24 saves. Jordan Martinook added a third goal early in the third period. The Hurricanes shutout Chicago for their ninth win in a row, 3-0. Against Florida, one would have expected a tougher contest. Despite their record, the Panthers have been a very strong team in 5-on-5. Carolina has been stronger (and the best) in 5-on-5 and they flexed all over Florida on Friday night. Not one, not two, but three power play goals put the Canes up big by the 12 minute mark of the second period. Stefan Noesen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Teuvo Teravainen converted the man advantages. Jesperi Kotkaniemi made it 4-0 early in the third period. Raanta got the start again and stopped just 19 out of 19 shots in Carolina’s tenth straight win. A franchise record. And they did it by shutting out their opponents in both games. Carolina is on a heater. They are a wagon. They are a juggernaut. And they have first place in a difficult Metropolitan Division on lock for the time being.
What’s Coming Up This Week: Carolina is going to play more inter-division games this week. Swings are possible with the first two. The Hurricanes are in New Jersey this afternoon to play the Devils. On Tuesday, the Hurricanes will go to Manhattan to play a New York Rangers team that can narrow the gap further in the standings. Both will have repercussions in the top half of the Metropolitan Division. Washington, Pittsburgh, and Islander fans will be hoping for Carolina staying hot for those two. Losses, well, open the door for the Devils and/or Rangers to move up in the future. Carolina will get a break from road games within the division by hosting Nashville on Thursday. Their week will end on Saturday in Ohio when they play Columbus. Do not get trapped by that one, Canes, even if it is the fourth game in a week. Even if the heat stops, the Canes will be more than fine given their performances for the moment.
What Happened Last Week: The Devils had two games to play and neither were going to be easy. Hardly something a cold-shooting, tight-stick-grabbing team still searching for results amid a bad month. On Wednesday night, they were on TNT and hosted Boston. The Devils did quite well against the B’s but Linus Ullmark was on his game. A horrible turnover by Michael McLeod led to Hampus Lindholm setting up Trent Frederic for the game’s opening goal in the second period. The Devils would tie it up when Nico Hischier put home a close shot in the third period. The Devils were holding on until disaster. A shallow exit, a poor time for a line change, and suddenly Lindholm launches a long shot that Patrice Bergeron tipped in right in front of Vitek Vanecek for the go-ahead goal. A Pavel Zacha ENG sealed the Devils’ fate in another loss to Boston, 3-1. Then they went into Pittsburgh on Friday night, who has had their own issues this week. Officiating played a major role in this game as both teams have had many penalties to kill, the Devils had a 5-on-3, the Penguins had a four-minute power play, and both sides were given bench minors after goals were scored. There was a game played. After a shotless run for ten minutes, a Dougie Hamilton turnover yielded an Evgeni Malkin breakaway goal in the first period. In the second period, Jack Hughes hammered the backbar on a power play to tie up the game. After an extensive penalty kill, the Devils were caught in a rush that ended with Jeff Carter putting a puck in off Jonas Siegenthaler (or a crashing Pierre-Olivier Joseph) to make it 2-1. The Devils would come back in the second period. A deflected shot was blocked but dropped to Dawson Mercer, who set up Dougie Hamilton to tie it up at two each. Late in the period and during one of nine penalty kills for the Devils, Nico Hischier beat the defense and Tristan Jarry with a shorty to go up 3-2. After a third period of power plays gone awry and hopes for no bad bounces, Erik Haula and Hughes made the zone exit and set up a game-icing ENG for Hughes. The Devils won 4-2. They split the week and secured second place for New Year’s Eve. The key is whether they can keep getting results, but getting one in Pittsburgh is huge as it meant the Penguins suffered with the Devils’ victory.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Devils begin the new year by playing a Carolina team that frustrated them a few days before Christmas. That game put the Canes up at first. The Devils claw their way back a bit with a regulation win today. The Devils will have a fairly interesting and tricky back-to-back set in the middle of the week. They will go to Detroit on Wednesday and then return home to host St. Louis on Thursday. Detroit is not a bad team at all; they are part of an Atlantic Division filled with teams of quality but not enough given the top three there. St. Louis has risen up from their miserable start, but they remain a team that concedes a lot of goals and that makes games against them very possible. The Devils will end their week with an afternoon home game against their hated rivals, the Rangers. Given where both are in the standings now, much less where they will be on Saturday morning, the game has importance beyond the rivalry. A good week and the Devils are back to feeling confident about this season being good. A not so good week, well, that will only grow more concern in New Jersey. Even with the win over Pittsburgh.
What Happened Last Week: Washington was on a winning streak heading into this week. They took a big step up in the division on Tuesday night in Manhattan. Washington went into MSG and came away with a big swing in their favor. Darcy Kuemper was perfect. A Marcus Johansson power play goal in the first period was all the Caps needed for the win. They did not know that and so they kept adding scored. A quick double within the final minutes of the second period from Erik Gustafsson and Lars Eller created a commanding lead. Conor Sheary put home a shorthanded empty netter to secure a 4-0 win and move up in the division. The winning streak was at five. It would end on Thursday night in D.C. when they hosted Ottawa. After a scoreless first period, the second period was filled with goals. An early one from Alex Ovechkin and a Dylan Strome strike a few minutes later provided an early 2-0 lead. Jake Sanderson got the Sens on the board to cut the lead to one. Evgeny Kuznetsov restored the two goal lead with just over four minutes left in the second. Within the final minute of the second period, Tim Stutzle made it a one-goal game once more. The third period only had one goal and it would come from Alex DeBrincat just over five minutes left in regulation. That tied up the game at 3 and overtime was necessary. DeBrincat did it again to be the hero of the night and end Washington’s winning streak. The Caps lost 4-3, but still got a point to hold over others in the Metropolitan. The Capitals spent New Year’s Eve at home against Montreal. There would be no close game here. Gustafsson scored just 32 seconds into the game and Washington never looked back. Garnet Hathaway scored four minutes later for a larger lead. While Cole Caufield converted a power play in the second period, there would be no comeback. Nic Dowd made it 3-1 at 8:31 and Ovechkin made it 4-1 on the next shift. Caufield made it a 4-2 game but it only delayed the beating Montreal would get. Strome converted a power play to end the second period at 5-2. Ovechkin scored his second of the game on a power play early in the third. Johansson scored about four minutes later. Later in the period, Anthony Mantha finished a shot himself. Then Ovechkin completed his hat trick. For those who know their Capitals players and counted along, you know it was a 9-2 win. Yes, 9-2. Nine. To Two. Washington showed no mercy. Their 2-0-1 week pushed them up to third place and even has a small three-point lead. The only issue is that since everyone in the division has at least two games in hand on them, their lead is very insecure. Washington is feeling it now and this is the time to create true separation before those games get caught up.
What’s Coming Up This Week: All of those games in hand will not be made up in this week. Washington has three games in four nights to play this week. On paper, their first one is the most challenging. They will host Buffalo on Tuesday. You disrespect the Sabres at your peril. They can score a whole lot of goals as they are among league leaders in team goals this season. The Caps need to shut them down to prevail. On Thursday, the Capitals will visit Columbus. Given that the Blue Jackets have nothing to play for already, the Caps need to avoid being spoiled in Ohio. They also must leave something in the proverbial tank for a Friday night game against Nashville. It is at home, but it is a back-to-back set of games. The Predators are on the outside looking in, but they have hope whereas Columbus does not. The Capitals may want to be a little careful in that one. Again, continuing to win helps them but if or when the streaking ends, then the challenges will return for the Caps.
What Happened Last Week: The Penguins had a rough time of it with three games in four nights. They returned from the holidays with a game in Long Island. This went badly. Anders Lee scored just over a minute in. Fortunately for Pittsburgh, Pierre-Olivier Joseph would tie up the game later in the first period. Unfortunately, that would be it. The Isles owned the second period with a brace by Mat Barzal sandwiching a goal by Josh Bailey. Down 4-1, Lee scored in the third to just make it 5-1. A very poor showing upon return from the break. On Wednesday night, the Penguins took out their frustration on Detroit. They put up four goals in the first period on home ice. Drew O’Connor scored, Jeff Carter converted a power play, and Jason Zucker scored twice with a last-minute PPG in the period. Surely, the Penguins could cruise to a win. Except they did not. Oh, no, they did not. Detroit kept up the pressure and it would pay off against Casey DeSmith. Dylan Larkin scored a PPG and Joe Veleno scored in the second period to make it a two-goal game. In the third period, the Red Wings kept flying over the Penguins. It took 15 minutes but Jonatan Berggren increased hopes of the improbable comeback by making it a 4-3 game. Less than two minutes later, David Perron did it with a power play goal. 4-4. The game was 4-0 and overtime was needed. And in overtime Andrew Copp hit Jake Walman in stride as he cut to the net and re-directed the pass into the net. Detroit beat the Penguins. The Penguins blew a four-goal lead to lose 5-4 in overtime. Pittsburgh had a chance to get a win this week when they hosted New Jersey on Friday night. The referees had something to say as they called a ton of penalties on both sides. The Pittsburgh power play had been hot all month but the Devils shut them down. The Pens did strike first when a Dougie Hamilton turnover led to an Evgeni Malkin breakaway goal. Jack Hughes would provide the response in the second period with the only PPG of the whole game in the second period. Which is saying something as there were 15 different power play situations. Jeff Carter put in a puck off Jonas Siegenthaler after one of the nine power plays of the Penguins to put them up 2-1. That lead did not last to intermission. Dawson Mercer would get a loose puck by the slot and set up Dougie Hamilton for a game-tying goal. Late in the third and during another one of Pittsburgh’s nine power plays, Nico Hischier rounded the defense and beat Tristan Jarry to the far post to make it 3-2. The Penguins had opportunities but would not get one past Vitek Vanecek. The Devils not only held on but secured the win at the end with an empty netter by Hughes. The Penguins lost 4-2. They will enter 2023 and a big stage at Fenway Park with a five-game winless streak. Their 0-2-1 week put them down to fourth place and only ahead of the New York teams by way of having played one fewer game. Not good.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Penguins have a short week and perhaps the biggest game on the schedule given where it is. Pittsburgh will be the visitors against Boston at Fenway Park on TNT. Boston is the best team in hockey. Pittsburgh has been rising up in the Metropolitan Division. It will be a good game on paper. We shall see if it is in the ballpark on Monday, January 2. The Penguins will play just one more game after that showcase. They will be in Las Vegas on Thursday to play a good Golden Knights team. The Penguins have just the two games and they are far from easy contests. We shall see if the Pens suffer further in the standings by next week’s snapshot as a result. They are basically at a point of needing a win just to avoid another extended winless run. Once again: catching up in the NHL is a hard business to succeed in. The margin for error is a lot smaller than you think.
New York Islanders
What Happened Last Week: The Islanders had just two games to play to close out the 2022 portion of their season. Both were in the division. The first one was the tougher of the two: a home game with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Isles got to the Penguins early when Anders Lee scored just over a minute into the game. Pierre-Olivier Joseph provided an equalizer later in the first period. But the Isles would take the game in the second period. A quick score by Mat Barzal to start the period, a Josh Bailey lamp-lighter past the midway point, and a late period goal from Barzal put the Isles up 4-1 and in full control of the game. Lee added further insurance with a fifth goal in the third period. Other than Oliver Wahlstrom getting hurt in the game, the Islanders had a fantastic night at UBS Arena with a 5-1 win over a Penguins team they are chasing in the standings. On Thursday, the Isles hosted the hapless Blue Jackets. The goal was to not get tripped up. They accomplished it. It took a period; then Jean-Gabriel Pageau and a Barzal PPG put the Isles up two going into the third period. The Isles limited Columbus to just seven shots per period. One of their last ones was by Emil Bemstrom, which spoiled an Ilya Sorokin shutout within the final minute of the game. It was just a consolation goal, though. The Isles won 2-1 to sweep their short week and enter 2023 with a three-game winning streak. Thanks to the Rangers faltering their two games, the Isles move up to fifth on tie-breakers and are back in the mix behind Washington and Pittsburgh. Reports of the Isles demise have been far too early.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Islanders begins 2023 with a four-game road trip out to the Northwest. Tonight, they are in Seattle to play a Kraken team that has real playoff aspirations. It will not be a simple game. On Tuesday, they will go to Vancouver. This may be the Islanders’ best chance at a win given that the Canucks have a losing record at home and are in some kind of disarray. The Isles’ trip will end with a brutal back-to-back in Alberta; first against Edmonton and second against Calgary. Both opponents are in similar spots with the Islanders in that they are competing for playoff spots and without a lot of confidence they can get them. Both teams will need the points in those games. It can make for good hockey, but the Isles need to continue to get results to avoid falling further behind the pack in the Metropolitan. Going into this week with some heat helps. However, these trips can go awry real fast. Be careful, Isles.
New York Rangers
What Happened Last Week: The Rangers had two tough games in a short week on paper. The first was a home game with Washington. A game with real stakes in the standings. It was a game where the Rangers had no answers for Darcy Kuemper. None at all. He stopped all 32 shots he would face. Meanwhile, the Capitals had plenty for Igor Shesterkin. Specifically: Marcus Johansson on a power play in the first period, a late second period goal by Erik Gustafsson, and an even later second period goal by Lars Eller. A late shorthanded empty net goal goal in the third period sealed up a 4-0 loss for the Blueshirts. A loss that would send them down in the standings. On Thursday, the Rangers went to Tampa Bay. This one would not be a shutout. Mika Zibanejad would score in the first period. The Rangers tried mightily to beat Andrei Vasilevskiy again. They would not. Brayden Point would tie it up in the third period. But Igor Shesterkin remained tall until the end. Forget overtime, a shootout was needed. Point and Artemi Panarin scored in the standard three rounds. In the extra rounds, Alex Killorn provided the lone goal to make it a 2-1 loss for the Rangers. Sure, they got a point out of the deal but one out of four at this juncture did not help them. Thanks to that and a hot week for the Capitals - who beat the Rangers - and the Islanders, the Rangers fell from fourth to sixth place. The trouble of having to catch up in a tight division is that one poor week sends you back very quickly.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The New York Rangers are busy in their start to 2023. They are in Sunrise today for an early evening game against the Panthers. Never an easy game given Florida’s inconsistency. The Rangers will host Carolina on Tuesday, which could be a statement game for the Rangers. A win over the current leaders of the division will not only pull them closer to the top but further confirm that they can contend for more than just a wild card spot in the East. On Thursday, the Rangers will go up to Montreal. Montreal are not total doormats and the Rangers can ill afford to treat them as such. The Rangers’ week ends with a trip to Newark to play their hated rivals in the Devils. The Devils already have one win over the Rangers and an OT loss against them. A win by New Jersey will not just take the season series more seriously in their favor, but also expand the gap between the two in the standings. There are short-term stakes beyond a rivalry here. Will the Rangers have enough by then? With their recent fall, they cannot afford more losses. And they cannot rely on other teams to fare worse.
What Happened Last Week: The Flyers ended 2022 on the road in California. After dropping their two road games to start this last trip, they hoped to make things right after a five-day break. On Thursday night, they engaged in a dramatic game with San Jose. The first period featured an opening goal by Tomas Hertl and an equalizer less than a minute later from Travis Konecny. Hertl put the Sharks up a goal with a PPG in the second period. He would get the primary assist on a Kevin Labanc goal within the first minute of the third period to go up 3-1. Would the Flyers fight back? Yes. Owen Tippett put the Flyers within one about five minutes after Labanc’s goal. Konecny provided a game-tying goal with just over two minutes left in regulation. Overtime was needed and Anthony DeAngelo, the provider of goals to Konecny that night, finished the game over a minute into it. The Flyers won 4-3 in OT for their first win on this trip. On Saturday night, they visited a Los Angeles team looking to repeat a trip to the postseason. A far better team than San Jose, in other words. Philly did not care. They survived a first period where Adrian Kempe scored a PPG and Phillip Danault scored at even strength, sandwiching a PPG from Scott Laughton, to take a 2-1 lead going into the second period. The Flyers tied it up about nine minutes in thanks to Tippett scoring. With just under seven minutes remaining in the third period, Noah Cates broke the tie with a shorthanded goal for Philadelphia. A big event to be sure. The Flyers held on and secured the win when Konecny put in an ENG for the 4-2 win. Philadelphia went 2-0-0 in this week of the trip. They could end up with a successful trip overall on Monday. The Flyers are not among the worst as expected, and that is something to be thankful for if you are a Flyers fan.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Flyers will end their road trip on Monday against Anaheim. It is a battle of two really bad teams. The Flyers have prevailed over Columbus, so I like their chances in Anaheim. Then again, it is a road game and at the end of a trip, so who knows how the Flyers will fare. Philadelphia returns home on Thursday night to host Arizona. Another team that has nothing to play for. These two games may not be good for any Flyers fans hoping the team will tank 2022-23. They may be good for instilling some good feelings of what winning is like before the remainder of their January schedule. Assuming they win those two games, of course.
Columbus Blue Jackets
What Happened Last Week: Columbus sought to end 2022 on any kind of a high note because the 2022 part of this season has been dreadful. They had three games scheduled. However, due to blizzard conditions, the home game with Buffalo on Tuesday was postponed. Therefore, the Blue Jackets had five days to prepare for their game in Long Island on Thursday. Would this be the one to end a six-game losing streak? Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Mat Barzal, and Ilya Sorokin said no. The first two scored in the second period, Sorokin stopped everything but an Emil Bemstrom shot with 22 seconds left in the game, and Columbus was kept to just seven shots in each period. They lost 2-1 in a game that seemed wider than the score suggested. Would Columbus at least end their losing streak in 2022 in a home game with Chicago on New Year’s Eve? Yes. They would. It did not seem that way at first when Andreas Athanasiou scored in the first period. But Bemstrom provided a PPG late in the first period to tie things up. Goaltender Joonas Korpisalo would not allow anything else. The Blue Jackets took a 2-1 lead when Gustav Nyquist scored a shorthanded goal early in the second period. Kirill Marchenko scored with three seconds left in the second period to go up 3-1 and send Chicago to the locker room presumably annoyed. While out-shot in the third, Korpisalo held it down. Nyquist put an empty netter while killing another penalty, which means he scored two shortys in this game. Columbus won 4-1. The Columbus Blue Jackets finally won a game for the first time since December 11. Their season is essentially lost at this point but the losing streak is not entering a new year.
What’s Coming Up This Week: Columbus enters 2023 with an increasingly difficult schedule this week. On Tuesday, they begin their new calendar year in Ottawa. Ottawa is capable of prevailing and the Blue Jackets may be in for a tough time in Kanata. On Thursday, the Blue Jackets will host Washington. The Capitals have figured out winning on the road and have pushed themselves up to playoff contention in the East. It will be a challenging one. On Saturday, the Blue Jackets will host the best team in the division and arguably the best non-Boston team in the East in Carolina. Hood luck, Jackets. They can play spoiler but that is about all they can really do given how far back they are from everyone in the standings. By the way, Blue Jackets fans, the WJC medal tournament will begin tomorrow, so you may want to check those games out.
That was the twelfth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2022-23 season. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will Carolina keep on winning games? How will the Devils and Capitals fare in holding onto their playoff spots? Who breaks out between Pittsburgh and the two New York teams? Will Philly keep being halfway decent at times? Can Columbus not get any worse in 2023? 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.