A week before Christmas and it would be my suggestion that almost all of the fans of a Metropolitan Division team get used to scoreboard watching now. Because this is the time of the season where a campaign can be won or lost. Catching up in this league is hard to do. An example: Carolina had a great week. They went 2-0-1 and their fans would be right to conclude that their season is far from over. Yet, they did not get the help they needed and so their bounce back week led to just moving up two spots in the standings. And only ahead of New Jersey and Washington by as much as two points. Every night matters as your team winning alone will not be enough to move up in the standings. As such, these weekly snapshots are valuable to keep tabs on what is going on in the division. Finishing in the top three means a playoff spot and the wild card spots are absolutely not going to be free for the division this season. It matters and it matters even in late December.
I wrote almost because two teams can be excepted. The New York Rangers remain on top and they are in full control of their destiny. They can ignore the others for the moment. The other team is the Columbus Blue Jackets, who are mired in last place with more games played than everyone else. Even if they get hot, they have a mountain to climb just to get even remotely close of the playoff teams. With that said, here is how the division looks as of this morning:
Do you like games within the division? There are five of them coming up, mostly involving two teams. Those games are highlighted and in bold. There are also plenty of other games throughout the week, with a nearly complete slate on Saturday. Only Philadelphia will start their holiday a day early this year.
Here is the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division.
New York Rangers
What Happened Last Week: Rumors of the Rangers demise were short-lived. They went 3-1-0 in this past week to continue to rule this division with an iron first.
December 10, vs. Los Angeles, 4-1 Win: The Rangers rebounded from a 4-0 loss in D.C. with a 4-1 win at MSG against a similarly fatigued Kings team. It took a period before there was any scoring. When it did, it came from Mika Zibanejad converting a power play that punished a Drew Doughty slashing penalty. Late in the second, Jimmy Vesey doubled New York’s lead with a backhander. In the third period, it all kicked off. First, VincentTrocheck got a minor for interfering with Drew Doughty while Zibanejad got a misconduct penalty. Not even 20 seconds later, Kevin Fiala got a misconduct as Jonathan Quick and Quinton Byfield got matching minors. The Kings still had the power play and Phillip Danault converted it to make it a 2-1 game. The Rangers got a big insurance goal from Jonny Brodzinski converting a power play where Adrian Kempe got a two roughing minors to Alexis Lafreniere’s one. Will Cuylle made it 4-1 minutes later to end a feisty third period for the win.
December 12, vs. Toronto, 7-3 Loss: Toronto, who played the night before, routed the Rangers in their building and Igor Shesterkin suffered almost all seven goals against. So much for the schedule win. The first period was where the beating was founded. Auston Matthews scored just before the four-minute mark. Conor Timmins got his first of the season just after the five-minute mark. Blake Wheeler made it 2-1 less than a minute later. Then Toronto hit back on back-to-back shifts with goals after the 15th minute: Calle Jarnkrok and Mitch Marner. Shesterkin was kept in net with the Rangers down 4-1. They would make a game of it in the second period. A hooking call on Timmins yielded a PPG for Zibanejad to make it 4-2. Within the final two minutes, Wheeler made it a one-shot game. Unfortunately, Erik Gustafsson took an interference call early in the third. Marner punished that with a PPG to make it 5-3. Matthews scored with less than three minutes left to make it a 6-3 game. And, for some reason, New York pulled their goalie for the extra skater after. That led to David Kampf scoring an empty netter to seal the brutal loss. Seriously, Shesterkin gives up 4 goals on 11 shots and they did not go to Quick? Interesting choice, Laviolette.
December 15, vs. Anaheim, 5-1 Win: It looked grim after the 13:30 mark when the Ducks went up 1-0 thanks to Brett Leason. But Chris Kreider tied it up minutes later. Then the second period happened and it was all about the Rangers. It helped that Anaheim would proceed to take eight penalties in a row for the remainder of the game, starting with Ryan Strome wiping out a Ducks power play two seconds in with a trip. Jimmy Vesey broke the deadlock past the halfway mark of the period. The Urho Vaakanahinen tripping penalty did yield a PPG from Kreider to put the Rangers up 3-1. A melee involving Alex Killorn and Radko Gudas each got them misconducts plus a slashing minor. Mika Zibanejad made it 4-1 as a result of that minor. With three seconds left, Adam Edstrom scored to cap off his NHL debut and make it 5-1. A resounding win over a team New York should beat.
December 16, at Boston, 2-1 Overtime (OT) Win: It was a close affair but the Rangers pulled through. After a scoreless first period, Trent Frederic opened the scoring for Boston. New York challenged it and they failed, but the B’s could not beat Igor Shesterkin again. The game really took a turn for the ugly later in the period. David Pastrnak got a major for boarding Ryan Lindgren as well as a game misconduct. The Rangers could not punish that. They did punish a Brandon Carlo interference penalty in the third period; Vincent Trocheck converted that power play. Trocheck would be the hero in overtime. After two minutes of shotless hockey, Trocheck’s shot beat Jeremy Swayman for the 2-1 win. A big result as the Rangers may seek first in the East along with the Metropolitan Division.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Rangers will get three games before the Christmas break. First, they will go to Toronto on Tuesday night. Revenge is surely on their mind. Toronto will probably not care and would relish another shot at Shesterkin. After then, the Rangers will have a back-to-back set at MSG. First, they will host the Oilers on Friday night. That same Edmonton team will play in New Jersey the night before, so the Rangers have a schedule advantage in that one. They will not in the second game, a home game with Buffalo. The Sabres are off on Friday so the Rangers may have to dig deep against a more rested opponent. The Blueshirts still control their destiny. As ever.
What Happened Last Week: It was close. It was dramatic at times. It was a 2-0-1 week that keeps the Flyers ahead of the rest. And it moved them up to second place.
December 12, at Nashville, 3-2 OT Loss: Philly went into Tennessee hot with four wins in a row. They got a bit of a shock there. Gustav Nyquist scored about halfway through the first period to open the scoring. Michael McCarron doubled the lead for Nashville early in the second. The Flyers needed to recover. They got a step towards that when Sean Couturier scored with 25 seconds left in the second period. They would get an equalizer from Travis Sanheim in the third period. But there would be no resolution until the fourth period. Which lasted all of 18 seconds as Filip Forsberg tucked in his own shot that snuck through Samuel Ersson. They got a point, yes, but that was a harsh way to lose the second one.
December 14, vs. Washington, 4-3 Shootout (SO) Win: This one went much better for the Flyers. Even if a three-point game annoyed all else in the division. After a scoreless first, Bobby Brink opened the scoring for the Flyers early in the second period. However, Connor McMichael scored less than a minute later to tie it up. Later in the first, Tom Wilson put in a PPG to make it a 2-1 deficit. Joel Farabee would put home a wraparound goal to tie it at 2-2 in the third. That did not last even four minutes as Dylan Strome broke the tie. It took quite a bit of time for a response. With just under three minutes, Owen Tippett fired a long shot that somehow got in. That tied it up and so overtime was needed. Nothing was solved, so a shootout was needed. The Flyers won that 2-1 with goals from Couturier and Brink to make it a 4-3 final. It does not help with tiebreakers but it did help keep the Flyers ahead of the Capitals.
December 16, vs. Detroit, 1-0 Win: Samuel Ersson was the star in Philadelphia. He stopped all 33 shots by Detroit. Three power plays, all three killed. Detroit increased their shooting as the game went on and Ersson got them all. Ville Husso was not bad for Detroit either with 32 out of 33 saves. The one that beat him came from Cam York in the first period. It stood up as the winning goal to give the Flyers a winning week.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Flyers will play three games in four nights in the week before Christmas. First, they will visit the Devils on Tuesday. This will be their only matchup indoors in New Jersey this season. The Flyers will have a back-to-back shortly after that. They will host Nashville on Thursday as Philly will presumably look for revenge. They will visit Detroit on Friday night, which will be an advantage for the home team since they are not playing Thursday night like the Flyers did. Philly has done well to be where they are, but again, they must keep up to maintain their spot.
New York Islanders
What Happened Last Week: It was another successful week for the Islanders. Even if 2-1-1 does not feel so good given how third periods continue to be an issue for this team. Even if they slipped to third place. They are still ahead of Carolina, New Jersey, Washington, and Pittsburgh. For now.
December 11, vs. Toronto, 4-3 OT Win: The game tilted back and forth and drama ensued as John Tavares would hit a milestone in the game. First, Auston Matthews opened the scoring with a PPG to punish a Robert Bortuzzo slashing penalty. The Isles had an answer and then some for that. Kyle Palmieri and Casey Cizikas scored to end the first up 2-1. Palmieri made it a 3-1 game early in the second period. However, Tavares got point #999 with a re-direction of a Connor Timmins pass/shot. 3-2 and the Isles tried to hold on. They really did. Could they hold onto a one-goal lead in the third? No. With seven seconds left and the net empty for Toronto, Tavares tipped a William Nylander shot on net and Morgan Rielly buried the rebound. That was point #1,000 for Tavares and it went over poorly in front of the Isles faithful. They are still not fans of John Tavares. Or another third period lead giving way to overtime. Their booing would turn into cheers shortly into OT. A counter-attack rush led to Mat Barzal setting up Bo Horvat on a 2-on-1 for the win just 46 seconds in. A big two points for the Isles; points that mean more than whatever personal milestone a player hit. This is the Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot; it is always about results.
December 13, vs. Anaheim, 4-3 Win: And the results continued for the Isles with a regulation win against the Ducks. It did not come easily. This time, the Islanders decided to blow their lead within the second period instead of waiting until the third. They built up a 2-0 lead in fewer than seven minutes: a goal from Palmieri in the first minute of the period and another from Cizikas. However, Sam Bolduc took a penalty shortly after the Cizikas goal and Troy Terry converted the power play to make it 2-1. Over five minutes after that, Adam Henrique tipped home an awkward shot by Urho Vaakanainen to tie it up. Oof. Sam Carrick made it a 3-2 game for Anaheim when he turned a neutral zone turnover into laser of a shot. Who would save the Islanders? Special teams. Shortly after Carrick’s goal, Cam Fowler tripped Bo Horvat. Mat Barzal responded with a PPG shortly after that to make it 3-3. The Isles were seemingly in trouble when Bortuzzo was given a tripping minor for taking down Max Jones. However, the Isles PK did not last long. Jean-Gabriel Pageau drew a call while getting the puck out. He passed it up to Simon Holmstrom, who drove in a bit and beat John Gibson shortside for the shorthanded goal. That won the game for the Isles - and in regulation, no less.
December 15, vs. Boston, 5-4 Shootout (SO) Loss: Stop me if you heard this one before: The Islanders blew a third period lead. This time, they busted two separate leads. The game was scoreless until the second period. Alexander Romanov scored early in the period and Simon Holmstrom doubled it later. But Julien Gauthier took a tripping call shortly after the Holmstrom goal. That ended with a Morgan Geekie PPG. Then the Isles took a too many men on the ice call. That ended with a David Pastrnak PPG to end it at 2-2 after the second period. Kevin Shattenkirk’s tripping penalty in the third period led to a 3-2 lead due to Bo Horvat’s PPG. However, an Anders Lee tripping penalty led to a James van Reimsdyk PPG to tie it up once more. Charlie Coyle took a hooking penalty and Brock Nelson converted that power play to make it 4-3. Of course, the Isles could not hold onto that. Not even with another power play to help them. A scramble around the net led to Mason Lohrei flinging the puck toward the net from the corner. It went in off Ilya Sorokin. A horrible break. Despite all the action in OT, a shootout would decide the game. Boston won that 2-1 to make it a 5-4 SO loss for the Isles. A point in the standings, but the Isles faithful are wishing some of these third period fails could stop. Not just so the Isles can get some regulation wins, just for their own stress levels.
December 16, at Montreal, 5-3 Loss: This one had the Isles take a regulation loss. They were dug in deep for this one. After a scoreless first period, the Canadiens’ offense exploded for four goals. Joel Armia opened the scoring, Josh Anderson got his first just past the halfway mark, Anderson scored within the final minute of the period, and Cole Caufield scored on the next shift. The Isles were down 4-0 going into the third period. They were not buried. They got hope with two early goals; a shorthanded goal by Brock Nelson and an even strength goal by Nelson. It was 4-2 with 16 minutes left. Bo Horvat made it a one-shot game with just under six minutes left in the game. Montreal fans had to hope their team would not blow the third period lead. They were able to relax when Christian Dvorak put in an empty net goal with twenty seconds left. At least no one can call the 2023-24 Islanders boring.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Isles’ six game homestand ended with that shootout loss to Boston. But they will be back on Long Island on Tuesday night when they host Edmonton. That will not be an easy game given how explosive the Oilers can be. Additionally, the Isles will go back on the road for a Wednesday night game on national television against Washington. That game will have direct implications on the division standings and the Isles will go into it with some fatigue. Good luck. The Islanders’ week will end in Raleigh when they visit Carolina on Saturday night. That is another meaningful game within the division. The Isles have done well to be on the right side of the bubble. But they must keep it up to stay there.
What Happened Last Week: Carolina ended the week with a bummer of a loss, but it was a winning week. The team went 2-0-1 to stop their four-game slide and remain in the mix for the playoff positions. They moved up to fourth. A tight fourth place, but fourth all the same.
December 12, at Ottawa, 4-1 Win: After going winless out in the Northwest, the Hurricanes made things right with a decisive win in Ottawa. It seemed a bit grim early after Josh Norris opened the scoring the first period. But Martin Necas tied it up late in the first period with a PPG. Sebastian Aho broke the deadlock with a PPG in the second period. Just over a minute and change after that, Seth Jarvis made it 3-1. Less than four minutes after that, Aho scored again to make it 4-1. While there was some nonsense in the third period - like Pytor Kochetkov giving up a penalty shot by throwing something at a puck, Brady Tkachuk getting a misconduct after that penalty shot failed, and Travis Hamonic getting a roughing minor after the final horn sounded. Still, the win was solid and ended a four-game slide for Carolina.
December 14, at Detroit, 2-1 Win: This was a close score but more of a vintage Canes game. Loads of shots favoring Carolina? Yes, they out-shot Detroit 39-26. Plenty of control but not a lot of goals? Well, of course, look at the final score. Jack Drury one-touched in a Stefan Noesen feed to make it 1-0 in the first. Michael Rasmussen tied it up in the second not long after a turnover by Carolina in their own end. Carolina’s response came from a mistake by Ville Husso. The goalie misjudged a dump-in and whiffed on the puck. Jordan Staal charged in and poked in the puck into the gaping net. That was the game winner. Two wins to somewhat salvage what was a rough road trip.
December 15, vs. Nashville, 6-5 OT Loss: Carolina had this game but squandered it in the second half. In the first half of the game, Jusso Parssinen opened the scoring for Nashville. A pair of power play goals would put Carolina up later on: a tip by Stefan Noesen and a shot from Anthony DeAngelo. In the second period, Roman Josi opened it with a wrap around. That was answered by two more Canes goals in quick succession by Jalen Chatfield and Sebastian Aho. Ryan O’Reilly converted a power play caused by a goaltender interference call by Seth Jarvis to make it 4-3. Martin Necas made it 5-3 on the next shift. All of this happened before 10 minutes into the second period. Nashville, however, would get all the goals from then on out. Ty Barrie made it a one-shot game 18 seconds after the halfway mark to give Nashville loads of time to tie it up. Which they did in the third period thanks to Jeremy Lauzon. Overtime lasted all of 33 seconds as Filip Forsberg beat another Metropolitan Division team in the fourth period. Sure, a point was earned but that was a harsh way to go about it, Carolina.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Hurricanes will be quite busy in this week coming up. Most of it will be within the division too. They will play a slightly early evening game (6 PM ET) against Washington tonight. On Tuesday, the Hurricanes will play their one non-Metropolitan opponent of the week: Las Vegas. That will be tough as the defending champions are formidable this season. On Thursday, the Hurricanes will leave home and go to Pittsburgh to play the Penguins. On Saturday, the Hurricanes will come back home to play the Islanders. That one could be huge for Carolina’s presumed goal of moving back up into the top three of the division.
New Jersey Devils
What Happened Last Week: The New Jersey Devils ended their trip with a loss, but rebounded with a big win over Boston and a measure of revenge over Columbus. They went 2-1-0 to stay in fifth place (with help) and to go into a very busy upcoming week.
December 10, at Edmonton, 4-1 Loss: The New Jersey Devils followed up a win in Calgary with a loss in Edmonton. The Devils had the pace but not the handles and so their offense struggled to do much. The Oilers kept it simple, kept their heads after a disallowed goal, and got up 1-0 late in the first with a one-timer by Derek Ryan that beat Akira Schmid. In the second period, a long shot by Evan Bouchard through traffic found its way in to quickly punish a tripping penalty by Curtis Lazar. A mistake behind the net by Akira Schmid led Evander Kane to set up Connor McDavid for an empty net score to make it 3-0 early in the third. Jesper Bratt scored right after to get on the board but there would be no come back effort. The offense struggled to get much of anything on Calvin Pickard. Evander Kane ended it with an ENG for the 4-1 loss. The trip was a success but ended poorly.
December 13, vs. Boston, 2-1 OT Win: The Devils came home after two days off and played a sloppy first period against the B’s. Fortunately for the Devils, Vitek Vanecek was on his game. At least if you ignore Vanecek failing to catch James van Reimsdyk’s shot and Morgan Geekie turning that rebound into a goal late in the first. Not Colin Miller’s best moment. However, Vanecek rebounded himself as did the Devils’ own performance. They got more pressure on Jeremy Swayman as the game went on. They got an equalizer when Dawson Mercer batted in a mid-air puck from an Erik Haula attempt in front early in the third. Both teams tried but there would be no solution. Not until overtime, where Jack Hughes took over. The Devils had 6 shots in OT to the Bruins’ zero, thanks in part to two takeaways by The Big Deal - who had four of those shots. The last one was the winner, finishing a feed from Jesper Bratt, who schooled Hampus Lindholm on the rush to create the passing lane. The Devils won big at home against a top tier opponent in the conference.
December 16, at Columbus, 6-3 Win: The Devils started off well. A turnover to Tyler Toffoli led to Jack Hughes scoring 47 seconds into the game. The Devils kept pushing and they would get a second goal. Alexander Holtz fired a shot on Daniil Tarasov, Dawson Mercer got it by the post, and he dropped a no-look dime of a pass to Erik Haula for the 2-0 lead. Columbus made it interesting at points in the second period. A too many men call late in the first was punished by Kirill Marchenko early in the second period. But Tyler Toffoli rifled in a shot to answer that PPG. A long shot from Yegor Chinakhov was deflected multiple times and bounced past Akira Schmid to make it 3-2. It would be close for just 6 minutes. A 4-on-4 situation (a penalty on Columbus negated by Schmid touching the puck past the red line) led to a 4-on-3 due to Zach Werenski holding Michael McLeod. The 4-on-3 was short: Nico Hischier won the draw, Jesper Bratt got the pass, and Jack Hughes one-timed it in for a 4-2 lead. Early in the third, the Devils killed off a penalty and Bratt kept a puck right on the Columbus blueline. He darted it, dished it to Hischier, and Hischier finished it for a 5-2 score. Columbus got a consolation goal late with Alexandre Texier firing a high shot to make it 5-3. Even that did not last as Jack Hughes hunted down a puck, won it from Kent Johnson, and sent it into an empty net for a hat trick. The Devils prevailed 6-3 over a team who beat them back on Black Friday.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Devils will be busy with a four-game week. At least they are all at home. First, they will host Anaheim tonight. The Ducks are down in the standings, but they will be rested. Plus, the San Jose game from earlier this month should mean no Devils fan can take any game for granted. Second, the Devils will host Philadelphia on Tuesday. This game will have direct implications on the division. It is also another chapter of their rivalry; the only indoor game in New Jersey between the two this season. Third, the Devils will host Edmonton on Thursday night. The Devils will get a chance for revenge, but it will not come easily given how good Connor McDavid is and how the Oilers have played recently. Fourth, the Devils’ week will end on Saturday with their final regular season game against Detroit this season. Yes, all three games with the Red Wings are done as of Christmas Eve. The standings and lack of help from other teams compel the Devils to have a strong week. They are at home. They know what they must do.
What Happened Last Week: The Capitals went 1-1-1 to split the week. While not the worst, that is enough to fall to sixth place. At least the Caps have a game (or games) on everyone else in the division.
December 10, at Chicago, 4-2 Win: The Caps capped off a victory in Chicago with a reverse sandwich. Chicago scored first and last in this game. Philip Kurashev tipped in a Seth Jones shot in the second period for the first goal. Within the final two minutes, Connor Murphy put home a shot for the last goal. In between, the second period saw goals from Anthony Mantha, Dylan Strome, and Nic Dowd. Dowd added an insurance goal late in the third period, minutes before Murphy did. Darcy Kuemper made over 30 saves, Tom Wilson lost his cool late in the game, and even T.J. Oshie got a misconduct. Still, a 4-2 win is solid.
December 14, at Philadelphia, 4-3 SO Loss: Losing in a shootout, not so solid. After a scoreless first, Bobby Brink opened the scoring early. But Washington answered back with a Connor McMichael goal. Late in the period, Wilson punished a Scott Laughton penalty with a PPG for the lead. They even survived a late period 5-on-3 situation. But Philly would score in the third period to tie it up; Joel Farabee was the one. But Washington had an answer from Dylan Strome. Would the Caps hold on at 3-2 with a little less than 11 minutes left? No. Owen Tippett fired a long shot that somehow go through Charlie Lindgren to tie it up with just under three minutes left. The score held and held all the way through the shootout. Alas, the Caps only got a goal from Oshie in the shootout. Couturier and Brink did and so the Caps lost in the shootout. But the point earned helped the Caps from falling down from the loss.
December 16, at Nashville, 3-1 Loss: Washington went down and never fully recovered. The first period featured a delay of game call on Trevor van Riemsdyk. That yielded a Colton Sissons tip-in on a Roman Josi shot to open the scoring. The Caps made it a tie game early in the second period with a 5-on-3 power play converted by T.J. Oshie. However, Philip Tomasino broke the tie with a breakaway backhander later in the second period. In the third period, a wacky set of deflections saw an Alexander Carrier shot hit Yakov Trenin’s skates. The puck rebounded to hit off Nick Jensen’s skate and then Dylan Strome’s stick blade to beat Charlie Lindgren. The insurance goal was enough as Juuse Saros stopped all five, yes only five, shots in the third period to secure the win. Only 5 shots, Caps? Did you just want the night to end or something?
What’s Coming Up This Week: Similar to Carolina, the Washington Capitals will play four games in this week coming up and three are within the division. In fact, the Capitals will play in Carolina tonight at 6 PM ET. Then the Capitals will get a tricky back-to-back set. They will host the Islanders on national television where the Caps will have a fatigue advantage as they will be fresher than the Isles. However, the Caps will get to be the tired ones when they go to Ohio to play Columbus on Thursday night. That is a potential trap game, injured as the Blue Jackets are. Washington’s week will end at home on Saturday night against a high-scoring (and high-goal allowed) Tampa Bay team.
What Happened Last Week: The first two games of the past week were successful. Then Pittsburgh gave up more goals in their third game than in the other two combined. The week ended at 2-1-0 but that ‘1’ was rather demoralizing. As is the fact that they are falling behind the pack in seventh place.
December 12, vs. Arizona, 4-2 Win: The Penguins out-shot the Arizona Coyotes by just over a 2:1 ratio at 43-21. And, no, the Pens did not get goalied. They got a very important win where the special teams were the main players. Early in the first period, Jake Guentzel converted a power play. Arizona responded with a PPG from Lawson Crouse and later another one from Matias Maccelli. But the Pens tied it up with a shorthanded goal (!!) by Jeff Carter. After as scoreless second period, Carter scored a PPG with a tip-in off a Kris Letang shot to make it 3-2. Guentzel sealed up the win with the only even strength goal of the game: an empty netter. Pittsburgh needed a win in the worst way. Getting one with PPGs can only help their confidence since that was a real struggle.
December 13, at Montreal, 4-3 SO Win: The first period was a rough one for the Penguins. Montreal led 3-1 after one with goals from David Savard, Jayden Struble, and a PPG from Sean Monahan. Crosby scored in between the Struble and Monahan goals. Still, the Pens needed a comeback. They got one even as the Canadiens were shooting the lights out with 42 total shots. The power play came through for Pittsburgh again. Guentzel converted one to make it 3-2 in the second period and just past halfway through the period, Crosby got a PPG. Then it was all about Alex Nedeljkovic and Sam Montrembeault making stops. Even if the Pens put up just three shots on net in the third period and Montreal stormed the Pens in OT with a 9-1 shot difference. The shootout that took place took 12 rounds to finish. It all ended thanks to Jansen Harkins, allowing the Pens to take the second point for a big 4-pointer in the back-to-back set.
December 16, at Toronto, 7-0 Loss: Pittsburgh truly suffered in this loss to Toronto. Matt Knies opened the scoring early. Mitch Marner made it 2-0 just past halfway through the first. Bobby McMann scored his first NHL goal late in the period to make it 3-0. Max Domi scored early in the second and Tristan Jarry’s night was over. He was replaced by Alex Nedeljkovic. Then Kris Letang went mad and took a misconduct penalty, presumably after holding Knies. John Tavares scored quickly on that power play. Welcome to the game, Alex! Later, Pittsburgh took more calls and Noah Gregor punished a high-sticking penalty by Evgeni Malkin for the touchdown. Pittsburgh has been shooting throughout the first two periods but Martin Jones has stopped all 31 shots. Not that it matters because there was no way Toronto was blowing a 6-0 lead in the third period. And they didn’t. Eight more shots for Pittsburgh and eight more saves for Jones. William Nylander one-touched in a Tyler Bertuzzi pass for the extra point. Losing is one thing. Losing by 7 in a shutout is surely crushing.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Penguins will go home for two games before hitting the road right before Christmas. On Monday, the Pens will host a Minnesota team that really needs to get results sooner rather than later. On Thursday, the Penguins will host Carolina in a game within the division that could be important for a Penguins team wanting to move up in the standings. The road game on Saturday night will be in Ottawa. A game that is not easy even if the Sens are at the bottom of the Atlantic. Pittsburgh has a lot of work to do and need help sooner rather than later.
Columbus Blue Jackets
What Happened Last Week: Columbus had a wild win sandwiched by two decisive losses in a 1-2-0 week. They still lead the division in games played and they are behind everyone. So it goes for Columbus this season.
December 10, vs. Florida, 5-2 Loss: This was a classic close-until-it-wasn’t loss for the Blue Jackets. The first period saw Sam Reinhart get his first of four assists on a Gustav Forsling goal early in the game. Yegor Chinakhov tied it up later on, but Carter Verhaeghe deflected in a Reinhart shot to make it 2-1 on the next shift. The 2-1 score held all the way until the third period - when all of the penalties in the game took place. The first 24 seconds saw Florida go shorthanded from two penalties to one Columbus penalty. Then at 6:49, Erik Gudbranson got a misconduct from a fight - as did Columbus’ head coach. The long power play would yield a goal from Aleksander Barkov (with a Reinhart assist) to make it 3-1. Dmitri Voronkov made it a one-shot game late in the game. But Matt Tkachuk put home an empty netter to seal up the win. Then Justin Danforth and Oliver Ekman-Larsson each got misconducts and Eetu Luostarinen put in an ENG six seconds after those calls for the 5-2 result. A decisive loss to be sure.
December 14, at Toronto, 6-5 OT Win: It was 5-0. This game was wild and nearly a disaster for Columbus. Patrik Laine (who is now out for six weeks due to a fractured clavicle) opened the scoring in the first period and Kent Johnson made it 2-0. In the second period, Danforth scored, Chinakhov made it 4-0, and Johnny Gaudreau punished a William Lagesson holding penalty for a 5-0 score. Then the third period saw Toronto rip the lead all apart. 38 seconds in, William Nylander scored. 3:49 in, Mitch Marner scored. An Ivan Provorov penalty at 12:34 gave way to a PPG to Jake McCabe at 14:21 into the third period. Then in the final two minutes, Auston Matthews gets a brace to tie it up with 45 seconds left! How! Did! You! Blow! A! Five! Goal! Lead! Fortunately, Columbus would salvage the game in overtime. After gaining the zone 3-on-3, Zach Werenski dropped a pass to Kent Johnson in space. He fired a laser from the left circle for the win. The Blue Jackets did not lose the game they were up 5-0 in! Great?
December 16, vs. New Jersey, 6-3 Loss: Columbus was loose with the puck early and they suffered for it when Tyler Toffoli turned a turnover into a goal for Jack Hughes 47 seconds into the game. Columbus struggled to attack in the first period and Erik Haula banged in a lovely pass from Dawson Mercer to make it 2-0. The Blue Jackets got on the board to punish a too many men on the ice call that carried over into the second period when Kirill Marchenko slammed in a shot from the slot. But Tyler Toffoli immediately answered back to bring it to 3-1. Columbus got a break when a Yegor Chinakhov shot bounced off multiple Devils (and maybe Marchenko) to go past Akira Schmid. It was a one-shot game - for about six minutes. Zach Werenski took down Michael McLeod in a 4-on-4 situation to give New Jersey a 4-on-3 power play. That was answered by Jack Hughes quickly. The third period saw them sink in further with a Nico Hischier goal early in the period. It took a 6-on-5 situation late for Alexandre Texier to get Columbus back on the board at 5-3. It was all for naught. Especially after Jack Hughes won a puck from Kent Johnson for an empty net goal and a hat trick to end it.
What’s Coming Up This Week: The Blue Jackets will go into playing three games in five nights in this week coming up. On Tuesday night, Columbus will visit Buffalo in a game between non-playoff squads. On Thursday night, the Blue Jackets will get a chance to spoil the Capitals a bit with a home game against Washington. On Saturday night, the Blue Jackets will host Toronto. Will Toronto be itching for revenge? Will the Blue Jackets build up a big lead only to choke it away? Who knows! For Columbus, they may be four points behind the Penguins but they are really on the outside looking in at this point. Until they get closer, they cannot be seen as a playoff candidate. Especially with the size of their injured reserve list.
That was the tenth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2023-24 season. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? How far can Philadelphia and the Islanders keep their runs going? Will Carolina move on up? Can the Devils make up more ground to move up? What do you even do if you are Pittsburgh? 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.