The Metropolitan Division remains as compelling as a race in the standings as ever. Outside of the New York Rangers. They are currently secure at the top. Even a losing week cannot dent their advantage. Beneath them is an absolute dog fight. Three points separate second and sixth right now. It makes for a points-battle where every night matters. A three-point night here, a surprising win or loss there, and the tension only grows. For teams like the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins, even successful weeks lead to gaining ground to just need to gain more ground. Assuming ground is made as the Penguins did not in this past week. For teams like the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders, one wonders if they are legitimate. And for teams like the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals, it may be seen as gravy to be where they are given their team’s perceptions. As such, take a note of this snapshot and know it can change about 12 hours later. (By the way, the wild card is owned by the Atlantic right now as Detroit has 32 points and Tampa Bay has 31 points.)
This week coming up is light on games within the division, which are highlighted and in bold as usual. It is heavier on road games, home games against Toronto, and games in general against Nashville and Boston. Here is this week’s upcoming schedule.
Here is the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division.
New York Rangers
What Happened Last Week: The New York Rangers beat San Jose! This is not a joke, this is somewhat of an accomplishment as the Sharks have decided to get hot after winning in New Jersey. The Rangers lost to Ottawa, so it came down to the Caps game to secure another winning week. They got crushed. A rare losing week for New York by going 1-2-0. They are still solidly in first so as long as this does not become a trend, they may be fine.
December 3, vs. San Jose, 6-5 Win: Just because the Rangers beat San Jose does not mean it was easy. Anthony Duclair seemingly punched the Rangers in the mouth with an early goal. While Artemi Panarin deflected in a Mika Zibanejad play for a PPG, Ryan Carpenter scored his first of the season to make it 2-1 later in the first period. New York responded right away to that with another Panarin score. And a Zibanejad goal made it 3-2 going into the first period. San Jose was not done. Jacob MacDonald punished a Will Cuylle goaltender interference penalty to make it 3-3 in the second period. Cuylle would provide a go-ahead goal later in the second. (It could have been Alexis Lafreniere on a penalty shot, but he was denied by Mackenzie Blackwood.) All seemed fine in the third period with a hat trick completed by Panarin early in the third and K’Andre Miller making it 6-3 with under seven minutes left. Then the Sharks scared everyone in Madison Square Garden. Fabian Zetterlund scored to make it 6-4 about a minute and a half after Miller’s score. Alexander Barabanov tipped in a Calen Addison shot to make it 6-5 over a minute after that. The Rangers had to hold on for dear life to that one-goal lead in the final four minutes. They did, but that had to wake up a few eyes.
December 5, at Ottawa, 6-2 Loss: A defeat surely opened up some more. The issue with first place teams with a lead is complacency. Ottawa took advantage. In the first period, Brady Tkachuk tipped in a Artem Zub shot to make it 1-0 and Claude Giroux added a wrap around goal for a late first period score for a 2-0 lead. After that, Drake Batherson held up Panarin in the final minute of the first period. That led to Panarin converting the power play within the first minute of the second period. Then it became the Vladimir Tarasenko show, first with a goal to put the Sens up 3-1. K’Andre Miller jumped up on a play to make it 3-2 shortly after that. Then Tarasenko set up Drake Batherson to make it 4-2. Tkachuk provided a second goal late in the second period to make it 5-2. Tarasenko completed a brace of his own with a third period empty netter. A decisive loss for the Rangers in Ottawa? Everyone has bad nights. Surely, it cannot become a trend, can it?
December 9, at Washington, 4-0 Loss: Another bad night ensued for the Rangers. Just 43 seconds into the game, Martin Fehervary found Sonny Milano backdoor for a goal. It would get worse in the second period for the Rangers. Anthony Mantha tipped home an Evgeny Kuznetsov feed just after the end of a power play to make it 2-0. Minutes later, Tom Wilson stole a puck from K’Andre Miller and went off on a 2-on-1. Wilson finished it himself to make it 3-0. A forecheck that denied a rim by the Rangers led to Aube-Kubel getting the puck all alone in the high slot. He buried that to make it 4-0. All against Igor Shesterkin. The Rangers brought the shots (15) in the second period, but the Caps had all the goals (3). Charlie Lindgren was perfect and the third period was only notable for Jimmy Vesey getting an unsportsmanlike penalty on top of a fighting major. A big ‘L’ within the division.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Rangers will host the hottest road team in the NHL, Los Angeles tonight. Yes, it’s a working weekend for the Blueshirts and they drew a tough opponent for Sunday. They will also have some fight back from Toronto on Tuesday, although they will have been in Long Island the night before. That favors the Rangers. The end of the week features a tricky back-to-back. They will host Anaheim, which could be seen as a trap game, on Friday. On Saturday, they will go to Boston. The Rangers have a win over Boston but the B’s are super good and may want revenge for that 7-4 win back in November. New York can afford a less-than-good week here and there. They just cannot afford anything sustained.
What Happened Last Week: Philadelphia fell to fifth place by last Sunday. Was it over? No, it’s so back as the Flyers moved up as high as second place during this past week. They swept their week (3-0-0) and their two road wins adds further credence to their revival.
December 4, vs. Pittsburgh, 2-1 Overtime (OT) Win: After prevailing over their hated rivals on the prior Saturday, the Flyers got another one over Pittsburgh on Monday night. In another game where both teams attacked and were surprisingly disciplined (just four penalties total), it was a tight affair. Sidney Crosby opened the scoring late in the first period by finishing a 2-on-1 with Jake Guentzel. It would be the only shot to beat Carter Hart on this night. Philly would get an equalizer nearly halfway through the second period. Despite a 3-on-3 rush, Tyson Foerster was left alone on the right side. Pass, shot, and score for 1-1. The game lasted until overtime. The decisive moment came with a faceoff in Philly’s end of the rink. Sean Couturier won the draw back to Travis Sanheim. Two Penguins went to Sanheim, who smartly reversed the puck around the boards and out to Travis Konecny. A 2-on-1 was there. He made the pass to Couturier and he finished it for the 2-1 win. A three-point night was not helpful for the rest of the division. The Flyers do not care; they beat their hated rivals twice in a row.
December 7, at Arizona, 4-1 Win: Arizona could very well be a playoff team. They went into this game with a rare feat of beating the last five Stanley Cup champions in a row. Problem for Arizona’s run: Philly has not won a championship since 1975. More seriously, the Flyers came to play and took down the Coyotes in decisive fashion. Travis Konecny scored just past halfway through the first period. Joel Farabee one-touched in a Cam Atkinson pass to make it 2-0. The Flyers never looked back. Lawson Crouse got the Coyotes on the board late in the period. But the Flyers took a commanding 3-1 lead in the second period with a shorty by Konecny. A Cam York goal early in the third period rounded out the game for the Flyers. A very solid win to snuff out a hot team. And the Flyers get to go into Colorado with three wins in a row themselves.
December 9, at Colorado, 5-2 Win: Mark it 4 as the Flyers decisively beat the Avalanche in their rink. It was an even first period with the goals coming late. Travis Konecny and Nathan MacKinnon each scored within the final three minutes of the first frame. It took Owen Tippett to break the deadlock nine minutes into the second period, a shot off a pass-in entry too. A forecheck led to Travis Sanheim waiting all alone in the left circle. He got the feed from Morgan Frost and he finished it to make it 3-1. Josh Mason scored to make it a one-shot game shortly thereafter. But the Avs could not pull it back further. In fact, Konecny got a breakaway in the third period. MacKinnon held him up to give him a penalty shot. Konecny finished that penalty shot to make it 4-2. A little later, Sanheim drove in with a step on Devon Toews. He forced a play to the front by Bobby Brink, who found Joel Farabee crashing in on the flank. That made it 5-2 and secured the victory for the Flyers.
What’s Coming Up This Week: Philadelphia will finish up their three-game trip with a game in Nashville on Tuesday. Then the Flyers will go home to host Washington. It is one of two inter-division games this week and this one will have an impact on the standings. The Flyers will wrap up their week with a Saturday game against Detroit. The Flyers have continued to defy the odds and remain ahead in the playoff race. Another strong week against these three can only help them. Especially as Washington and Detroit (wild card) are in said race too.
New York Islanders
What Happened Last Week: A six-game homestand began with a sin of a loss as per head coach Lane Lambert. Then it got better with a blowout victory within the division and a come-from-behind OT win. They went 2-0-1 and moved up to third amid the mix of playoff teams. A fine response to what really should have been a 3-0-0 week.
December 5, vs. San Jose, 5-4 OT Loss: Fresh off losing 6-5 to the Rangers, the Sharks seemed cooked. Not at first. It was a 1-1 first period with a Julian Gauthier goal for the Isles and Tomas Hertl goal answering it later for the Sharks. In the second period, the Isles broke the tie with a Brock Nelson power play goal. In the third period, Mike Reilly and Ryan Pulock scored a shorthanded and a power play goal about three minutes apart from each other. 11 minutes left in regulation and a 4-1 lead at home with Ilya Sorokin in net. Read the final score again. The Islanders managed to blow this lead. The 12th such lead, in this season so far. In regulation, Kevin Labanc tipped in a Nikita Okhotiuk shot to make it 4-2. Down and within nothing to lose, the Sharks pulled Kaapo Kahkonen early. Hertl scored within the final five minutes to put the Sharks within one in that 6-on-5. A little later, they did it again. And Hertl, yes, Hertl, scored another 6-on-5 goal. He got his hat trick, the game was 4-4 and overtime ensued. And despite some shots by the Isles. Within the final seconds of the fourth period, the Sharks got it. Mikael Granlund recovered a puck, went end to end, dropped a pass for William Eklund, and Eklund finished it. Seriously. The Islanders lost this game. The Isles fans were surely beside themselves for this one. Head coach Lane Lambert certainly was.
December 7, vs. Columbus, 7-3 Win: What do you do when you choke away a game to one of the worst teams in the NHL? Hammering another bad team at home is a good response as any. Not that it started off that way. Pierre Engvall opened the scoring in the first period and that was it for goals. In the second period, Columbus took it at first with Emil Bemstrom providing an equalizer and Adam Fantilli making it 2-1 halfway through the second. Then the Islanders made a run of goals happen. Cal Clutterbuck provided a goal to make it 2-2. Within the final two minutes of the period, Mat Barzal scored, Kirill Marchenko hooked Brock Nelson, and Kyle Palmieri scored on that power play to make it 4-2 going into the third period. A sense of dread emerged when Fantilli scored early in the period to make it 4-3. But Barzal & Co. said “Not again,” and it did not happen again. Barzal scored at 5:33 to make it 5-3. Bo Horvat iced it with goals on back-to-back shifts at 11:31 and 11:51 to make it 7-3. The Blue Jackets had no response and the Islanders got a big rebound win.
December 9, vs. Los Angeles, 3-2 OT Win: Against the best road team in the NHL, the Isles got a victory. What is more is that it was them who made the comeback in the third period from a multi-goal deficit. After a scoreless first period, the Kings drew first blood. A Scott Mayfield penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct tacked on from a fight was punished shortly after it began by Adrian Kempe. Despite Mike Reilly taking a penalty right after that, the Isles survived that. But Vladislav Gavrikov finished a pass from Kevin Fiala after an Isles turnover in their own end to make it 2-0 by the halfway mark of the game. Who would provide the comeback? Lee. The Islanders’ leader hammered in a rebound from a Reilly shot to end a long shutout streak for Los Angeles and make it 2-1. Within the final five minutes, Lee put in a rebound from a Scott Mayfield shot to make it 2-2. Overtime was needed and it was short. 13 seconds in, Jean-Gabriel Pageau beat Cam Talbot to give the Isles the win. A badly needed two points for an Isles team that opened up this homestand with a terrible choke job.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Islanders will play three more home games in this week coming up. Three out of four to be accurate. First, they will host Toronto on Monday. Not an easy matchup by any means. Second, they will host Anaheim on Wednesday. They are in the area for this time of December. The Isles will get them first. Third, the home stand ends with a nasty matchup against Boston on Friday night. The Isles cannot leave it all on the ice for that game. They will have to travel to Montreal on Saturday night, which could be a tougher game with the fatigue involved. The Isles’ mission remains: keep getting points. Ideally, stop blowing third period leads. But keep getting points. So far so good despite that loss to San Jose.
What Happened Last Week: Washington finished up their trip with two winless games. Then they returned home to host the division leaders and pantsed them for a win. They went 1-1-1. This bumped them up to fourth place due to the tiebreaker of games played (a.k.a. points percentage).
December 4, at Arizona, 6-0 Loss: Washington showed up in a physical sense in Arizona. The Coyotes proceeded to make it rain rubber on Darcy Kuemper with three goals on five shots in the first period. Logan Cooley did it first with a PPG that punished a Nicolas Aube-Kubel tripping penalty. Michael Carcone did it second with an even strength goal shortly thereafter. Kuemper was chased after Nick Schmaltz scored a PPG from a Tom Wilson interference penalty. In came Charlie Lindgren - and two more goals allowed. Another goal from Schmaltz and a late one from Jason Zucker. Needless to say, the Capitals were done and dusted in the game at this point. Nick Bjugstad added a sixth goal with a shorthanded goal and Connor Ingram stopped all 26 shots. A great night for Arizona. A terrible night for Washington.
December 7, vs. Dallas, 5-4 Shootout (SO) Loss: The Capitals returned home in the hopes of getting a groove back against the Stars. It started off with a Aleksei Protas goal to open the scoring. It was answered later by Tyler Seguin, but still 1-1 is not bad. The Caps went up 3-2 in the second period. Dylan Strome and Evgeny Kuznetsov - who has been struggling as of late -got on the board to give the Caps a 3-1 lead by the halfway mark of the game. Mason Marchment pulled back one goal to make it 3-2 going into the third. In that period, Wilson opened up the third with a goaltender interference penalty. Roope Hintz made him and Washington pay for that and made it 3-3. A Radek Faksa holding penalty led to Strome finishing that advantage to give the Caps a 4-3 lead. That could not be held; Hintz powered in a goal later in the third to tie it up. And the Stars pushed to make it 5-4 late in regulation. Charlie Lindgren did not allow it. Overtime was even and a shootout was necessary. Only one man scored, Jason Robertson, and Scott Wedgewood stopped all three shots for the win. The Caps got a point but another in the loss column. Harsh.
December 9, vs. NY Rangers, 4-0 Win: Sometimes a return home is all that a team needs. When Martin Fehervary found Sonny Milano all alone on Igor Shersterkin’s flank, I would like to think the Caps figured it could be a good night. Milano scored and more would come in the second period. An early second period power play did not convert, but Anthony Mantha re-directed an Evgeny Kuznetsov pass just after it ended for a score. A little later, Tom Wilson took a puck from K’Andre Miller and went on a jaunt to score himself in a 2-on-1 to make it 3-0. A forecheck by the Caps yielded a free shot for Nicolas Aube-Kubel in the high slot. He finished it past Shesterkin, 4-0. Washington showed no fear. It helped that Charlie Lindgren was in excellent form and stopped everything. The Caps cruised to a big win at home, two big points within the division, and made the division leaders look more human.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Capitals cannot rest. They are following up their home game against the Rangers with a road game against Chicago. While Chicago is not great, that it is the second of a back-to-back set and it is on the road will make it harder. That game is also the first of a four-game road trip that ends next Sunday. The Capitals will get a little time off before two more road games this week. They will go to Philadelphia for what could be a big game within the division standings on Thursday. Then the Capitals will head to Nashville on Saturday. The Caps need to get out of their road struggles fast because this trip could hurt them if they are not careful.
New Jersey Devils
What Happened Last Week: The Devils went up to the Northwest. Unlike Carolina, they flew on ‘W’ airlines. The Devils swept the week with three different wins against three Pacific Division teams. They are now in a tie with the Capitals and Hurricanes in points - and within the mix of the playoff teams. Currently in fifth due to games played; Caps have 24, Canes have 27, and the Devils are in the middle with 25.
December 5, at Vancouver, 6-5 Win: The Devils and Canucks played a game where both sides would be unhappy with their defense and goaltenders, Vitek Vanecek and Thatcher Demko, respectively. The Devils struck first when Jesper Bratt finished a 2-on-1 himself. A power play goal from J.T. Miller tied up the game and punished a Colin Miller tripping penalty. The Devils got an answer to that when Tyler Myers coughed up a puck to Jack Hughes, who found Erik Haula all alone in front for a score. The Devils went up 3-1 when Jack Hughes won an offensive zone faceoff, passed it back Kevin Bahl, Bahl passed it up to Hughes, and Hughes beat Demko for the score. A little later, a Curtis Lazar shot hit off Nathan Bastian and Michael McLeod stretched to put in the loose puck. A 4-1 lead - made 4-2 with a put-back goal by Dakota Joshua within the final minute. The second period was steady and the Devils went up further. Luke Hughes scored a PPG late to make it 5-2. The final score was 6-5, so what happened? The 5-2 lead did not last. Brock Boeser put home a shot in front to make it 5-3. Sam Lafferty tipped in a Quinn Hughes shot to make it 5-4. Nils Hoglander lost his mark and put home a rebound to make it 5-5. Surely, the Devils were going to choke this game into OT. Then the Canucks did it for them. Bahl took a long shot, Nico Hischier tipped it on net, and Jesper Bratt was wide open to slam in the rebound. All with 34 seconds left. The Devils won with their offense.
December 7, at Seattle, 2-1 Win: The Devils were sloppier in Seattle but grinded out a win all the same. Akira Schmid was in the net and he was composed. He was making saves with fewer rebounds than Vanecek in Vancouver. The Devils went up first on a great bounce and bad-break for Seattle. Hischier found John Marino cross ice for a shooting opportunity. The shot hit off Ondrej Palat (not Jesper Bratt) and into the net for the score. In the second period, a bad turnover led to Tye Kartye beating Schmid for an equalizer. Fortunately for the Devils, Schmid would only be beaten that one time. A little later, rookie Simon Nemec jumped up on an offensive play - activating like Lindy Ruff wants his defensemen to do. Bratt found him and Nemec finished the feed for his first ever NHL goal. And it held up as the winner as the Devils leaned hard on Schmid to hold it down. For possibly the first time this season, the Devils goalied their opponents for a win. The Devils won with their goaltender (and Nemec and a bounce off Palat).
December 9, at Calgary, 4-2 Win: This afternoon game got off to a poor start where Vitek Vanecek needed to be leaned on for the Devils to stay in the game. Even that was not perfect. A clearance behind the Devils toward the end of a power play led to a late first period shorthanded goal by Yegor Sharangovich. The Devils would make a comeback though. A blocked pass by Luke Hughes led to Jesper Bratt setting up Nico Hischier for the goal. The Devils took a 2-1 lead off a bad break for Calgary. Hischier charged the net. Dustin Wolf made the save and Blake Coleman cleared the puck - right into Jesper Bratt, which went off Mackenzie Weegar, and then through Wolf. Calgary challenged that goal and lost, but survived the penalty kill. In the third period, Wolf missed Noah Hanifin on a dump-in. Alexander Holtz took the puck, flung it to the middle, and the puck hit off Dillon Dube and in. 3-1. A rush up Rasmus Andersson led to a drop pass for Nazem Kadri, who finished it to make it a 3-2 game with about five minutes left. But the Devils held on. They not only handled Calgary’s extra skater, but Hischier sailed in a long empty netter to secure the win. Their third in a row, too.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Devils will end their road trip this afternoon in Edmonton. Edmonton is hot, they can score a lot, they are at home, they need points, and they did not play on Saturday like the Devils did. In a word: Eep. The Devils will return home on Wednesday for an arguably tougher match-up, the Atlantic Division leading Boston Bruins. The Devils will get two days to prepare for another weekend back-to-back. The first half is on Saturday in Columbus. The Devils lost to Columbus once already. They really should not do that again, but who knows. The Devils have been in better shape results-wise. But they need more given their earlier struggles. It is tough to catch up in this league.
What Happened Last Week: Carolina hit the road last week to begin a six-game trip. They, apparently took an ‘L’ train for the trip. They lost all four games. All in regulation too. As such, they sank to sixth place in the division. Sure, they are tied in points but with 27 games played, that is a disadvantage. Especially if the losing continues.
December 4, at Winnipeg, 2-1 Loss: The night was an exercise in frustration for the Hurricanes. Or at least their fans. The Canes out-shot the Jets 15-3 in the first period. It ended with a 1-0 deficit as Kyle Connor beat Antti Raanta late in the period. The second period was more even. Just past halfway through the second, Nikolaj Ehlers made it a 2-0 game for Winnipeg. Carolina would get on the board within the final minute of the second period thanks to Martin Necas. Carolina would indeed tilt the ice in the third with a 14-6 shot difference. They would not get any goals. Connor Hel-wait, no. Laurent Brossoit, Winnipeg’s backup, stopped 42 out of 43 to hand Carolina the regulation loss. Harsh.
December 6, at Edmonton, 6-1 Loss: The frustration with goaltenders continued. This time with the Carolina goaltenders just getting ripped apart. Edmonton has been hot - 5 straight wins after this night - and needed to be. They absolutely lit up Pytor Kochetkov with three goals on six shots in just 5:46. The first minute of the game featured goals from Ryan McLeod and Mattias Ekholm. Zach Hyman’s first of the night sent Kochetkov packing for Raanta. Raanta also gave up three goals, but spread them apart between periods. Such as another goal to Hyman in the first period, an early second period goal to Warren Foegele, and a hat trick goal to Hyman in the third. Carolina got just one out of 39 shots past Stuart Skinner - who would have thought that about a month ago - and it was a consolation score from Jordan Staal. From getting goalied by Winnipeg’s #2 to getting lit up by Edmonton, it was a bad start to the trip.
December 7, at Calgary, 3-2 Loss: The trip would get worse with a different kind of loss: a blown lead. Carolina went into Calgary and looked prime to rebound. An early goal from Stefan Noesen and a first period goal from Michael Bunting gave them a lead to work with. They held it down in the second period as Kochetkov was perfect. Then the third period happened. The Canes turned into the Islanders and blew this multiple goal lead. It began when Rasmus Andersson cleaned up a loose puck in front. A little later, a total breakdown in coverage happened. Somehow, the Canes were caught in a makeshift 2-on-1 against and Adam Ruzicka broke through in all alone. Kochetkov stopped the shot - but not entirely. Connor Zary crashed the net and poked the prone puck into the net to tie it up at 2-2. Halfway through the third, Noah Hanifin was given a tripping penalty. Did Carolina score on the power play? No. Instead, a New Jersey-flavored shorthanded goal happened. Yegor Sharangovich forced a turnover in the neutral zone and laid a pass to Blake Coleman. The Pickle Juice Enthusiast rushed in 1-on-1 and roofed a shot past Kochetkov, expecting a low shot, for the 3-2 lead. And that is how it ended. Carolina fans punching the air already for this road trip. Surely, they cannot find a different way to lose in Vancouver, right?
December 9, at Vancouver, 4-3 Loss: They found a different way to lose in Vancouver. The first period was not a great start and Sam Lafferty put back a rebound from an Elias Pettersson shot to make it 1-0. While the Canes settled things down in the second, Ilya Mikheyev dunked a Pettersson pass on Pytor Kochetkov’s flank. Great “not defense” by Martin Necas too. But the Canes got a response from Jordan Martinook. Vancouver responded with a J.T. Miller one timer down the middle to make it 3-1. However, Vancouver gifted a late power play in the second period with a too many men on the ice penalty. This led to a Brady Skjei PPG to make it a one-shot game. Early in the third period it seemed the Canes would put this right when Stefan Noesen scored just over two minutes in. Plenty of time to take the game. Except Elias Pettersson had other ideas. He got ahead of Sebastian Aho behind the net and wrapped around the net to put the puck home past Kochetkov to make it 4-3. It was just one of three Canuck shots in the third period, but the other 9 by Carolina were all stopped by Thatcher Demko. The Canes are officially slumping with four straight losses on this trip. Rod Brind’Amour was not happy. Neither were the players. Like Pittsburgh, they had the dreaded closed door meeting after the game. A player’s only closed door meeting at that.
What’s Coming Up This Week: Carolina will have a chance to end this trip on a better note in this week. A win is pretty much necessary as soon as possible. They will visit Ottawa on Tuesday and then go to Detroit on Thursday. Neither will be all that simple. The Sens just showed they can protect their house against the Rangers last week. Detroit is nobody’s doormat; they are a playoff team right now. The Hurricanes will return home but on Friday night against Nashville. That is a tough schedule just for the timing of it. I suggest Carolina dig in deep to rebound. Part of the reason why this division is so tight is that they went from pulling ahead in second to falling back hard. Canes, sort it out. And help your goalies. If you can.
What Happened Last Week: The Penguins entered this week with a loss. They exited this week with three more. The Pens went 0-2-1 and lost ground while remaining in seventh place. It is not a good time in the Steel City right now.
December 4, at Philadelphia, 2-1 OT Loss: Losing to your hated rivals stings. It hurts in any circumstance. It hurts more if you need the win against them. The Penguins surely tried. Sidney Crosby scored first. Alex Nedeljkovic played well. Problem was that Carter Hart also played well and the Flyers were giving as much back as the Penguins were giving. Tyson Foerster tied up the game about halfway through the second period. The score held through a tense, low shooting (5-7, Philly) third period. In overtime, a breakdown happened. A won defensive zone faceoff saw two Penguins chase Travis Sanheim. He rimmed the puck around and up to an open Travis Konecny to lead a two-on-one. Konecny to Couturier and it was over. Yes, they got a point but they needed two - and none for Philly. A tough loss.
December 6, at Tampa Bay, 3-1 Loss: At least the Penguins got two points in their last two losses. They got nothing out of their trip to Florida. Against Tampa Bay, the penalty kill got beaten twice. Anthony Cirelli punished a Ryan Shea tripping penalty in the first. In the second period, Nikita Kucherov punished a Reilly Smith interference penalty. Did the Penguins have power plays? Yes. They got nothing as their power plays have become ice cold. Late in the second period, Tanner Jeannot made it a 3-0 game. Jake Guentzel scored in the final minute of regulation to avoid a shutout for Andrei Vasilevskiy. This was a solid win for the Lightning. A decisive loss for Pittsburgh. One that led to the dreaded closed-door post-game meeting.
December 8, at Florida, 3-1 Loss: Like a lot of meetings in life, it was not productive. The Penguins went to Sunshine and left with nothing once more. This one was closer. A scoreless first period as Sergei Bobrovsky and Tristan Jarry stopped everything. The Penguins even scored first; a second period goal from Reilly Smith. However, Oliver Ekman-Larsson provided an equalizer late in the period to make it 1-1 going into the third period. The Panthers proceeded to own the third. They out-shot Pittsburgh 13-5. Worse, they got a goal from Eetu Luostarinen just over six minutes in. This meant the Pens were suffocated from providing an answer. An empty netter from Aleksander Barkov meant another 3-1 loss for the Penguins.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Penguins need a win in the worst way. They should get at least one with their upcoming back-to-back to start this week. Not that it will be easy. But they will at least be at home when they play Arizona, whom Philadelphia recently cooled off. On Wednesday, Pittsburgh will go back on the road and go up to Quebec to play Montreal. Even with the challenge of travel and a back-to-back set, it really should be a win. Saturday night in Toronto is not going to be easy - even with the two days between those games. Pittsburgh is slipping hard and if they are not careful, they could be out of it by Christmas. Which is coming up soon (do your shopping).
Columbus Blue Jackets
What Happened Last Week: With so many games played, the Blue Jackets are more entrenched in the basement than it seems. That said, they earned three out of eight by going 1-2-1. They moved closer to seventh place Pittsburgh. Their bigger issue may be the injury list, which added Elvis Merzlikins, Boone Jenner, Cole Sillinger, and Adam Boqvist to IR within this past week.
December 3, at Boston, 3-1 Loss: Believe it or not, but the Blue Jackets kept Boston in check for two periods. Even with a 16-shot second period, Spencer Martin was perfect through the first 40 minutes. They even went into the second intermission up a goal thanks to Boone Jenner. Then Boston crushed the third period. Brad Marchand scored within the first two minutes. After back-to-back penalties, Marchand scored to convert on Dmitri Voronkov’s penalty to make it 2-1. Marchand scored a second PPG to punish a Johnny Gaudreau penalty for his natural hat trick. The Blue Jackets could not provide a response past Jeremy Swayman and so the Blue Jackets lost 3-1.
December 5, vs. Los Angeles, 4-3 OT Loss: This one hurt. It was 3-0 for Columbus! Against the top road team in the NHL! Quintin Byfield took a roughing call in the first period and Kirill Marchenko converted it for a 1-0 lead in the first period. Johnny Gaudreau scored in the second period and Mathieu Oliver made it 3-0 in the second period! All was good! Until it was not. Los Angeles roared back in the third. Phillip Danault scored within 23 seconds to get the Kings on the board. Danault scored again about four and a half minutes later to make it a one shot game. That one shot came from Arthur Kaliyev at 6:38. Yes, the Blue Jackets blew a 3-0 lead in the third period in less than seven minutes. Given that Los Angeles out-shot the Blue Jackets 15-7 in that period, the Kings were hungry for the regulation win. Elvis Merzlikins at least dragged it to OT. That did not last long though. A simple rotational play led to Anze Kopitar setting up Drew Doughty for the one-timer. That was game. The Blue Jackets got a point, but a bitter one in how they blew this game.
December 7, at NY Islanders, 7-3 Loss: It did not get any better for C-Bus as they got busted up on Long Island. This was after Merzlikins and Boqvist were added to IR and it showed. It started small enough. Just one goal allowed to Pierre Engvall. Columbus even had a response in the second period. They even took a lead by halfway through the second thanks to Emil Bemstrom and Adam Fantilli. Then the Isles hit with a triple. Cal Clutterbuck tied up the game, Mat Barzal scored, Marchenko took a hooking minor, and Kyle Palmieri scored a PPG on that. Ouch, but 4-2 is not the worst spot to be in. Not against an Isles team known for blowing leads. Fantilli even made it a one-shot game just 88 seconds into the third. Then the bottom fell out. Barzal scored about four minutes later. Bo Horvat secured victory with goals on back to back shifts to make it 7-3. Crushing as the game got away from Columbus.
December 8, vs. St. Louis, 5-2 Win: Spencer Martin took all seven of those goals, so call up Jet Greaves got the start at home against St. Louis. He was hot and the Blue Jackets rallied. Marchenko got on the board first once more. While Robert Thomas tied it up later, Fantilli provided another response to send the Blue Jackets to the locker room up 2-1. The Blue Jackets tempted fate with two penalties in the second period, but they held on. The Blues brought the fire in the third period. 24 shots in the third period alone. Fortunately, Columbus got up before those shots got past Greaves. Yegor Chinakhov made it a 3-1 game in the third period. After a Nick Leddy hooking penalty, the Blues knocked a puck into no man’s land. Chinakhov wound up and slammed it past Joel Hofer to make it 4-1. Thomas made it a 4-2 game but it was too little, too late. Alexandre Texier put in an empty netter and Jet Greaves got his first NHL win with a 41-save effort. A victory by any means is sweet. Made sweeter after the losses on and off the ice in this past week alone.
What’s Coming Up This Week: Columbus, injured as they are, will have a tough week coming up. Today, they will host Florida. The Panthers are not riding the wild card bubble, they are a strong team in the Atlantic. They just beat Pittsburgh; Columbus will need to be careful in the matchup. On Thursday, the Blue Jackets will head up to Toronto. That is never an easy matchup. Then on Saturday, they will host the Devils. On the one hand, they beat the Devils 2-1 back in November. This one is at home, too. On the other, there is no Elvis Merzlikins and the Devils could be in much better form going into Saturday’s game. I am not sure what Columbus is playing for at this point but try not get hurt more at least?
That was the ninth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2023-24 season. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will Philadelphia keep it up? Or the Islanders? Who will prevail between Washington, Carolina, and the Devils in this week coming up? Will Pittsburgh make up some points or will they fall to Columbus? Can the Rangers lose another week? 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.