The 2023-24 National Hockey League regular season has begun last week. With that is this weekly feature on this site: The Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot. Why a weekly snapshot? Because it is crucial for fans of a team to know who is doing well and who is not within their division. The top three positions are guaranteed to make the playoffs, with second and third place facing off in the first round. The wild card is decided by the two best teams to not automatically qualify, so up to five teams within the division can qualify. Plus, there are rivalries and important local match-ups to follow. Most importantly, the points a team does not earn in October and November can haunt them in March and April. Just ask the Pittsburgh Penguins if you need a recent example. Hence, a weekly snapshot of how each team is doing is helpful and I am providing that to you, the People Who Matter.
I try to present the eight teams in order of position in the standings after Saturday’s games. First place gets the headline photo so you know who leads the division. That would be the Carolina Hurricanes for this week. I go over what each team did in the previous week, what is coming up next in this week, and, occasionally, highlight an important thing about the team. Up until the All Star Weekend, the focus will be on the standings and how many weeks they won - how many times they earned more than half of the potential points. Here are the standings as of this morning:
Tiebreakers make the difference here. After regulation wins (RW), regulation plus overtime wins (ROW), and point percentage (points over all possible points), the tiebreaker is goal differential. That is why the New York Islanders are ahead with one game played; and why the Rangers (+2 goal differential) are ahead of also Columbus (even goal differential) and Philadelphia (-1 goal differential). It is rare for the tiebreakers to go that deep, so I will just mention it where applicable. Such as here.
This table is an at-a-glance look at all eight teams’ schedule coming up. Games within the division can lead to swings in points. Those games - or game, singular, this week - are highlighted and in bold. I try to put this in order of the standings as well, but due to time restrictions on my end, I may avoid that in the future. We shall see.
Without further explanation, here is the week that was and week that will be for all eight teams.
What Happened Last Week: Carolina won the Metropolitan Division and went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite head coach Rod Brind’Amour’s assertions, they were swept by Florida. The goal for them is to repeat last season’s dominance and go further in the postseason. They got off to a good start. They hosted Ottawa on Wednesday and it ended well enough. Despite an early deficit, the Canes went up 3-1 thanks to a Michael Bunting PPG, a Teuvo Teravainen ESG, and a Jordan Staal ESG 20 seconds into the third period. The Sens provided a scare with a shorty and an equalizer before six minutes into the third period. But the Canes prevailed thanks to Brady Skjei and a Jaccob Slavin shorthanded score to make it a 5-3 victory. With that home win, the Canes took off. They embarked on their California (plus Seattle and Colorado) trip with a Saturday night in Los Angeles. The long trip out to the Pacific Time Zone seemingly did not impact their start to the game. Brent Burns got a goal within the first five minutes. Sebastian Aho scored a shorthanded goal - thanks Kevin Fiala - shortly thereafter to make it 2-0. Later in the first, Jesperi Kotkaniemi put one home to make it 3-0. A late slapper from Drew Doughty got the Kings on the board but they were in a hole. A hole made deeper early in the second period when Brendan Lemieux put home a shot with a helper from Anthony DeAngelo. The Kings clawed back within two thanks to an Anze Kopitar re-direction from Adrian Kempe to convert a power play. That lead became three when Teravainen put home a shorty to make it 5-2 just halfway through the game.
Then it all went pear-shaped for the Canes. Trevor Moore, who was fouled three times in this game, converted a power play quickly after Jesper Fast went in the box. 5-3. Past halfway through the third period, Vladislav Gavrikov made it a one goal game. With Pheonix Copley pulled (and he had just 3 shots to face in the third period), Kopitar provided a late equalizer. Carolina’s vaunted defense blew a 5-2 lead to go to OT at 5-5. Overtime solved nothing. The standard three-round shootout solved nothing; thanks to Aho scoring on Carolina’s third round. It took nine rounds for the shootout to be decided. Jordan Martinook converted after a miss by Alex Laferriere to give the Canes a 3-2 shootout result. This meant they won 6-5 in Los Angeles. They got their two points in Los Angeles but it was so much harder than expected after that first period. They are in first for now.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Canes will be among the busiest teams in the NHL with a whopping four games in seven nights. All on the road, too. There is no rest this weekend as the Hurricanes will visit Anaheim tonight. Not ideal given that they just went nine-rounds in a shootout to beat Los Angeles after blowing a three-goal lead to them. The California part of the trip will end in San Jose on Tuesday. Should MacKenzie Blackwood stand on his head once more, it will also not be an easy night. Then they are off to two even tougher sites on paper: Seattle on Thursday night and Colorado on Saturday night. Some may say that it is good to get this trip out of the way now. This way if it goes bad, there is time to make up points. The Hurricanes should have the quality to not need to do that, though. As ever, they still have to do it. At least they are out in front at the moment.
What Happened Last Week: Pittsburgh hosted Chicago on the league’s opening night. An old Sidney Crosby versus the debuting Connor Bedard is a marquee match-up. In a game where defense was seemingly optional given the 40-36 shot differential, the Penguins blew it. Bryan Rust provided an early lead and Crosby made it 2-0 about 12 minutes into the second period. Chicago got on the board minutes later thanks to Ryan Donato - with an assist by Bedard - and the B’Hawks rallied in the third. Cole Guttman provided an equalizer; Jason Dickinson provided a go-ahead goal; and Nick Foligno sealed the loss with an empty netter. Tristan Jarry conceded two goals on eight shots in the third after one goal allowed out of 27 in the previous two periods. In a word: Womp. The Penguins could not relax. They went to D.C. on Friday night to play the Capitals. They got their season start right in Washington’s home opener. Pittsburgh owned this game. Shots? 35-19 in favor of the Pens. Stars? Evgeni Malkin opened the scoring in the second period and Sidney Crosby put up two goals after to make it 3-0 going into the third intermission. Erik Karlsson and Jake Guentzel found the scoresheet. Reilly Smith made it four with a late third period goal assisted by Malkin, who had a hand in every goal since the one he scored. Washington’s stars had as many goals as you and me. Result? 4-0 for the Penguins. Great to wash the taste of the Chicago loss out of their mouth and get two points to start this campaign.
Last night, the Penguins hosted Calgary. They had a chance to take the division lead, even if only for a few hours. The benefit of playing three games in the first week. The fatigue factor was real as Pittsburgh conceded 22 shots within the first two periods alone to their 14. Alex Nedeljkovic stopped a lot but could not stop Matt Coronato on a power play due to a Ryan Graves holding penalty. The Pens were down a score going into the third period. It would not be long before they cracked Jacob Markstrom. 18 seconds into the third: Bryan Rust scored. 41 seconds into the third, Smith scored. 5:50 into the third, Jake Guentzel got on the board. Then there was some time that the score held at 3-1. That lasted until 14:14 when Malkin scored to make it 4-1. Jonathan Huberdeau did beat Nedeljkovic late in the third but it was a consolation goal. Rust put home an ENG to seal the win and give the Pens a second win in their first week. A fine back-to-back set to get this crucial season off right.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Penguins will get a light schedule in that they will have just two games coming up. Both are on the road and both are far from gimmies. They will have three days to prepare for a trip to Detroit on Wednesday. It is another nationally broadcast game (TNT), so plenty of eyes will be on that one. Two days after that, the Penguins will visit St. Louis on Saturday. Not an easy one by any means. Given that the mission for the Penguins is to get this aging core to the postseason this time, it is important to have a good start to the season. Building off the shutout win in D.C. and the rally over Calgary needs to be the next step.
New Jersey Devils
What Happened Last Week: The New Jersey Devils kicked off a new season with a back-to-back set in Newark. After setting a franchise record last season and eliminating the Rangers in the first round, expectations are much higher. Meeting them begins now. They hosted Detroit last Thursday. A year ago, it went real bad and the fans were irate at head coach Lindy Ruff. This year, the game against with Detroit went better. While the start was not ideal and Daniel Sprong struck first with his shins, Jack Hughes scored two brilliant goals to make it 2-1 in the second period. Hughes also took an uncharacteristically undisciplined penalty in the third period and that was punished by Alex DeBrincat. Fortunately, Dougie Hamilton slammed a long-shot from the center point to make it 3-2. Erik Haula sealed up the game with an empty netter. But did he? Robby Fabbri scored within the final minute to make it a bit nervy, but the Devils held on to win their home opener, 4-3. The Devils could not rest as they hosted Arizona on Friday. The game started, well, just like the first one only that Matt Dumba made it 1-0 for the visitors in the first period. In the second period, the run of play got a little better - but referees Brandon Blandina and Garrett Rank decided to get involved. Some calls were legit. Others were soft. Many were made as there were 7 called between 3 minutes into the second period and 11:45 into the second period. In this time period, Sean Durzi made it 2-0, a 4-on-4 situation led to Jack Hughes setting up Jesper Bratt for a 2-on-1 score to make it 2-1, and a 4-on-3 at the end of this run on penalties ended with Dougie Hamilton tying it up at 2-2. A pair of Coyotes penalties near the end of the second led to a second goal by Bratt in the 5-on-3 situation. Alas, the penalties would bite New Jersey in the third period. Brendan Smith was called for tripping, the PK unit could not get a clearance, and Logan Cooley slid a slick pass to Nick Schmaltz to tie the game. Overtime ensued and as exciting as it was, it solved nothing. In the shootout, Arizona made it easy: two shots, two goals, none for the Devils. So New Jersey lost 4-3 to Arizona, picking up a point. They won the week in spite of their performances. Not great for the fans who expected New Jersey to dominate, but the snapshot is only about results and the Devils have them.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Devils will have a light schedule in this week. Light in terms of the number of games. Certainly not in the opponent. They will host the Stanley Cup Runner Up Florida Panthers on Monday. This was a tough match-up last season, so it may not be any easier this season. On Friday, the Devils will hit the road for the first time this season when they visit the Islanders. The Isles may want a measure of revenge since they were booed off the ice in a 3-0 preseason loss to them two weeks earlier to a mostly B-team Devils. The games matter now and there are no B-teams, but the feelings are not going to go away easily. It is the only inter-division game this week and it could be useful in determining where everyone is by next Sunday.
New York Islanders
What Happened Last Week: After a whole lot of waiting, the Islanders started their 2023-24 campaign last night at home against Buffalo. They got off to a fine start with Brock Nelson scoring first in the game and Kyle Palmieri making it 2-0 late in the period. However, Buffalo would get a response. Jordan Greenway would make it a one-score game in the second period. That meant Casey Mittelstadt’s early third period goal tied it up at 2-2. The breakthrough required some identity. Specifically, a member of the Islanders’ infamous Identity Line. Casey Cizikas tipped in an Adam Pelech shot off the frame and into the net to make it 3-2. The UBS Arena went wild and the Isles held it down to secure the win. One game, one win, one mission complete. Especially if you see both teams as wild card contenders; wins like this absolutely will help the Isles. Due to one game played, the Isles remain in fourth. They had just this game to do this week. Suffice to say, there will be more to do soon enough for the Royal Blue and Orange.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Islanders will stay in the state all week. They will host Arizona on Tuesday. In addition to Arizona’s unknown quality, this comes the day after the Coyotes would have played in MSG. It is a very favorable match-up for the Isles. On Friday, the Islanders will host the Devils. The games now count and should the Isles have designs on the postseason, then taking points within the division can only help them. They cannot go all out on Friday, though. Then, they will have to go to Buffalo on Saturday night. Yes, the Isles get two of their three games against Buffalo this season in this month. Might as well get it out of the way since they beat them once already. Not that it will be easy since the Sabres probably want revenge and the Isles would be coming off a game against the Devils. After a one-game week, the Isles’ season begins in earnest with this one. Good luck.
New York Rangers
What Happened Last Week: Away from Manhattan, the Rangers started 2023-24 in Buffalo. The Blueshirts got off to a good start and never looked back. Alexis Lafreniere, who had a miserable preseason, scored early off an Artemi Panarin feed to get NY up 1-0. Chris Kreider scored a PPG and Panarin scored on the following shift to bury Buffalo in a 3-0 hole. J.J. Peterka did get the Sabres on the board late in the second, but there would be no comeback due to Igor Shesterkin. Kreider added a shorty later in the third period and Jacob Trouba added an ENG to make it a 5-1 victory for the Rangers. The Rangers headed off to Ohio for Saturday night to play Columbus. This was a more frustrating night. Erik Gustafsson got the benefit of a break to open the scoring just 50 seconds into the game. Then the Rangers scored a second go - Nope. An offside challenge was issued, it was right, and it was taken off the board. Boone Jenner put home a shot to make it 1-1 near midway through the first. Then the Rangers scored to break the...nope. Another offside challenge was issued, it was right and it was taken off the board. Then the Jackets scored as a puck dribbled over the line past Jacob Trouba’s attempt to deny the puck. Except Toronto called for a review and determined it was no goal. So 1-1, right? Jenner had other ideas. He scored a legitimate goal to convert a power play to make it 2-1 in the first period. Then in the second period, Jenner completed his natural hat trick to make it a 3-1 game. David Jiricek, called up to replace Zach Werenski, made it 4-1. Keep in mind, the Rangers put up 17 shots on Elvis Merzlikins in the second period alone and none went in. Talk about a teeth-gnashing period. The Rangers tried to make it interesting late when Will Cuylle scored his first NHL goal midway through the third period. But a Justin Danforth goal about five minutes later dashed those hopes. Chris Kreider got a late PPG to make the score a little closer, but a 5-3 loss is still a loss regardless of the deficit. Then again, the goal differential is why the Rangers are ahead of three other teams right now. So good job on getting that consolation goal, Kreider, I suppose.
What’s Coming Up This Week: Madison Square Garden will welcome their local team on Monday when the Rangers host Arizona. That is their home opener and the goal will be to avoid dropping points to Arizona. A team that New Jersey can confirm are no doormats to anyone. They will get another favorable home game against Nashville on Thursday. A good time to jump on them before they figure things out. After then, the Rangers will go out to the Northwest. Their Western Canadian games are this month and it is part of a long road trip that starts Saturday night in Seattle. A game that may be far tougher on paper and on ice than the Arizona and Nashville games, which are not easy ones in of itself. The Rangers have quality; but they will need to display it from the get-go. And not have a bunch of goals taken off for offside challenges.
Columbus Blue Jackets
What Happened Last Week: Columbus opened their season at home against Philadelphia after an unnecessarily tumultuous offseason. No, Jarmo, you did not need to hire Mike Babcock to begin with and, well, now you know why. Regardless, a new head coach was hired: Pascal Vincent. His first regular season game with the Jackets was a home opener with Philadelphia on Thursday night. It did not go well. Joel Farabee struck first; and while Jake Bean piled in a loose puck - giving Adam Fantilli his first NHL point - Travis Konecny made it a 2-1 deficit for Columbus. During a scoreless second period, Zach Werenski was knocked out of the game with a knee-on-knee hit. Fortunately, his injury does not appear to be long term. Unfortunately, the Jackets could not solve Carter Hart until the final minute. By then, Cam Atkinson put in an ENG and, after Patrik Laine scored in the final minute, Konecny added a second to make it a 4-2 loss. Not a good result if you see Philly as a re-building team since Columbus’ whole mission this season is to not be bad. On Saturday night, they had a second chance to right things against the Rangers. It seemed bad when Erik Gustafson got a fortunate one past Elvis Merzlikins. It seemed fortunate that the Rangers had not one, but two goals taken off the board due to successful offside challenges by head coach Pascal Vincent. It seemed good when Jenner scored in between those challenges and then converted the one and only power play the Rangers conceded all night long late in the first period. It was exhilirating to see Jenner complete a natural hat trick in the second period to put Columbus up 3-1. More so when David Jiricek, called up to replace Werenski, put home a to make it 4-1. While the Rangers upped the offense and limited Columbus to a mere two shots on net in the third period, it was not so bad given the lead and that Justin Danforth scored on one of those two shots. Will Cuylle got a goal and Chris Kreider punished a Damon Severson penalty. Still, it was great for Columbus fans to see the Blue Jackets A) win, B) win 5-3 over a division opponent, C) see Jenner, Jiricek, Johnny Gaudreau, Ivan Provorov, Cole Silligner, and Kent Johnson all make the scoresheet, and D) witness Elvis Merzlikins stop 32 out of 34 in the second and third periods after being beaten early and helped by two offside challenges. A fine response to the first game.
What’s Coming Up This Week: Columbus’ effort to show that last season will not happen again will continue in this coming week. They will host Detroit on Monday, which is another measuring stick kind of game to see how the Jackets match-up with their cross-division opponents. Should Columbus get into the wild card picture, games like this will matter to a point. Columbus will get three days off after that game before a tricky back-to-back set. They will host Calgary on Friday and then go Minnesota on Saturday. That set could also tell us more about how Columbus could be as a team in 2023-24. They are at least going into this week with a win.
What Happened Last Week: Philadelphia began their season in Ohio on Thursday night. The expectations are that they are going to playing for lottery balls by season’s end. That does not mean that had to start now. They went to Columbus and came away with two points. Joel Farabee beat Elvis Merzlikins early to give the Flyers an early lead. They responded well after Jake Bean’s equalizer in the first period thanks to Travis Konecny making it 2-1. Then it became more about the defensive work and Carter Hart. The Flyers kept Columbus to 18 shots between the second and third periods after a 15-shot first period. The Flyers even out-shot the Jackets with the lead in the second period. Hart stopped everything except for a Patrik Laine shot within the final minute of the third period. That goal was sandwiched by empty netters from Cam Atkinson and Konecny. The Flyers won their first game 4-2. Up next was an afternoon in Ottawa on Saturday. Philadelphia did not show up so well there. It did not take long for Jakob Chychrun to score. Or for his second during a first period power play. There was a lifeline of a PPG by Konecny to make it 2-1 going into the second period. The score remained close. A Jake Sandeson PPG was immediately answered by Cam York to keep it close at 3-2. Fortunate as the Flyers had just 9 shots on net in the first two periods. The breakthrough came with six seconds left of the second period by Brady Tkachuk. He made it 4-2 going into intermission. Worse, just ten seconds into the third period, Travis Sanheim got two for interference. Chychrun and Nicolas Deslauriers were already in the box for a post-period beef so it was a 4-on-3 situation. Tkachuk converted that to make it a 5-2 game. Philly tried to come back but it was not happening. So they lost their second game 5-2. They avoided going winless to start, which is a positive for where this team is at.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Flyers will have their home opener on Tuesday against Vancouver. Especially since they will host Edmonton on Thursday. Even if all you know about Edmonton is Connor McDavid, that may be enough because McDavid is the best hockey player in the world. Philly will go on a two game road trip starting this Saturday with a trip to Dallas. That is another tough one in a season full of tough ones. The Flyers are here to rebuild and whatever they can learn from these games is helpful. But the first game of the season has shown that the Flyers may not be willing doormats for the league. The second game, well, try getting more than 9 shots on net in 40 minutes in future games.
What Happened Last Week: Like the Islanders, the Washington Capitals just had one game last week. Unlike the Islanders, it was on Friday night and it was a rivalry game. The Capitals hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins. A team that wants back into the postseason and immediately fell on their face in a loss to Chicago. Washington proceeded to fall on their faces in front of the home fans. They were out-shot in every period, including a 12-4 snoozer of a third period when they were already down three. Evgeni Malkin’s goal was all that the Penguins needed to win. But two PPGs from Sidney Crosby - due to calls on Trevor van Reimsdyk and Rasmus Sandin - provided the insurance and a deeper hole. A Reilly Smith third period goal just capped it off at 4-0. The only fight the Capitals really showed could arguably come from Tom Wilson throwing down with Marcus Pettersson with 25 seconds left in the game. With just 19 shots on Tristan Jarry, who had a not so good first night, a word comes to mind with Washington’s first game: Oof. One game, one loss, and so they are at the bottom for the first snapshot of the season.
What’s Coming Up This Week: Washington will have more to do in this coming week. First, they will host Calgary on Monday. Calgary, like the Penguins, want to do better in 2023-24. Washington can hurt the cause in the short term, at least. After then, the Capitals are heading to Canada’s capital on Wednesday night: Ottawa. The Sens can surprise - just ask Carolina - so it could be a good measuring stick to see where the Caps stack up with Atlantic Division squads. Washington will remain in the Great White North as they head to Montreal for a Saturday night game. Weeks like this will help show whether the Caps are what they once were or if this season may not go so pleasantly. Sure, they had just one game, but things always start with just one game.
That was the first Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2023-24 season. It is good to be back. And it is good to ask you, the People Who Matter, questions. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will the Devils push their way up despite a short week? Can Carolina keep rolling through the West Coast after a good start in L.A.? Who will look better in this week between the one-game-so-far teams: the Islanders or the Capitals? 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.