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Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot: 12/24/2023 - 12/30/2023

In the eleventh weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot of this season, the Washington Capitals got hot, the Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils dropped points, and Columbus had itself a week of attention. All this and more along with this week’s upcoming schedule.

Edmonton Oilers v New York Rangers
Well, we’re still on top.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Merry Christmas Eve and welcome to the last full week of 2023. A much-needed three-day break in the league schedule will allow all 32 organizations to breathe a bit. Perhaps enjoy the holidays. Maybe even the first day of the 2023 World Junior Championships, the Boxing Day tradition. However, the weekly snapshot never stops. There are four teams legitimately in the bubble for two playoff spots (New York Islanders, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals, Carolina Hurricanes), two teams on the outside looking in (New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins), the New York Rangers on top of everyone, and the Columbus Blue Jackets looking up at everyone. Among those in that four team bubble, the Washington Capitals have the advantage with fewer games played and being rather hot recently. Check out the standings now that the holiday break has begun for the NHL:

Metropolitan Division Standings as of the morning of December 24, 2023
Metropolitan Division Standings as of the morning of December 24, 2023

No one is playing today, tomorrow, or Tuesday. Wednesday is a nearly-full day and the end of the week will be hectic as teams finish up their 2023 part of the schedules. There are also four games within the division which could be spicy given the standings. Those games are in bold and highlighted for your convenience.

Metropolitan Division Schedule for December 24 through December 30
Metropolitan Division Schedule for December 24 through December 30
Schedules via

Here is the week that was and the week that will be in the Metropolitan Division.

New York Rangers

What Happened Last Week: New York’s mission is simple: keep winning to keep ahead. So far, so good for them as they went 2-1-0 and hold a commanding lead on the division. Specifically six points with a game in hand on their closest competitors.

December 19, at Toronto, 5-2 Win: It took a period and it was close for a bit, but the Rangers pulled ahead for the victory in Toronto. A tasty revenge from the previous week. Mika Zibanejad opened the scoring with a deflection from Blake Wheeler. A bit over a minute later, Auston Matthews tied it up. Then William Lagesson took a penalty and that ended with a PPG for Alexis Lafreniere. Matthews would tie it up early in the third period. But the Rangers broke through about seven minutes after that equalizer with a goal by Braden Schneider. A David Kampf tripping penalty yielded an insurance power play goal by Artemi Panarin. Zibanejad sealed it with an empty net goal. A solid win on the road.

December 22, vs. Edmonton, 4-3 Loss: The Oilers, coming off a big win in New Jersey, edged the Rangers. The Rangers were up first with a goal from Blake Wheeler off a ridiculous feed from Mika Zibanejad. It seemed like the Rangers would be up 2-0 in the second, but Stuart Skinner losing his mask on a shot negated a goal. It would sting as the Oilers came back in the third period to drop four straight on Jonathan Quick. After two perfect periods, Zach Hyman beat the veteran goalie to tie it up. Then Evander Kane scored shortly after that. Then Warren Foegele scored after him. Then Ryan McLeod made it a 4-1 game by halfway through the third period. No Draisaitl and one secondary assist for McDavid and the Rangers coughed up a 4-1 deficit. They would try to make a game of it. A hook by Foegele was punished by Zibanejad with less than five minutes left. The Rangers would make it a one-goal game - way too late. Will Cuylle scored with a second left. A consolation goal to make a third period meltdown look less bad for New York. Fortunately, the Rangers can afford these kinds of games unlike some other teams who played Edmonton this week.

December 23, vs. Buffalo, 4-3 OT Win: The Sabres would not quit and so the Rangers had to dig deep to get something out of the game. Which they eventally did. They took a 2-0 lead in the first period thanks to a goal from Ryan Lindgren and Artemi Panarin punishing a penalty by Jordan Greenway. However, Rasmus Dahlin scored a minute after Panarin’s goal to give the Sabres a foothold in the game. One that led to an equalizer by Jack Quinn early in the second period. Mika Zibanejad would break the tie later on in the second period. Then things went bananas by Buffalo. A fight between Will Cuylle and Erik Johnson yieled fighting majors, an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Johnson, and both a misconduct and a game misconduct for Johnson. Jeff Skinner even got a misconduct penalty. The Rangers, surprisingly, did not take that opportunity to expand the score. They would regret it when Casey Mittelstadt banged home a careless bounce off the end boards shot to make it 3-3 in the third. The Rangers would get a late and abbreviated power play to close out regulation but, again, did not take that opportunity. They would get the goal at even strength in overtime, though. A broken play saw Zibanejad take the puck behind the net as Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen went way out of his net chasing him. (Insert “Noooooo” meme here.) The veteran pivot tossed the puck to Chris Kreider in front of the empty net for the OT winner. A harsh way to lose by Buffalo, and another victory for the first place squad.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Rangers will come back from the break with a big game within the division against Washington. The Capitals are very much in the playoff picture. The Rangers can harm their chances and help at least three other teams in the process. As long as it is not a three-point affair, of course. After that, the Rangers will head to Florida to close out their year. They will play Florida and Tampa Bay back to back on Friday and Saturday. That is a difficult pair of games; neither team is no pushover. Especially Tampa Bay with Andrei Vasilevskiy back in the fold.

New York Islanders

What Happened Last Week: Points, points, points, getting points. The Islanders finished up this past week with five out of a potential six by going 2-0-1. Haters will lament their 9 overtime/shootout losses. The standings say: they are in second place and the rest of the division outside of Manhattan are chasing them.

December 19, vs. Edmonton, 3-1 Win: Edmonton has the offensive talent, the best player in the world, and a lot of reason to win. Ilya Sorokin and the Islanders did not care about that. Sure, the Oilers out-shot the Isles by 10. Sure, the Oilers struck first with an early goal by Leon Draisaitl. The Isles then shut it down. Sorokin was perfect from that point on. The special teams turned up in the second period. A Sam Gagner slashing penalty led to a game-tying power play goal by Anders Lee early in the second period. Halfway through the second, Draisaitl hooked Lee. 89 seconds later, Bo Horvat made it a 2-1 game with a PPG of his own. The Isles got into penalty trouble with a Brock Nelson tripping penalty and Robert Bortuzzo holding penalty halfway through that one. The Isles not only killed off the 5-on-3 disadvantage, but they out-scored the Oilers. Simon Holmstrom scored during the Nelson minor to make it a 3-1 game. With Sorokin in form, the Isles locked up a win over Edmonton. They even preserved a lead in the third period.

December 20, at Washington, 3-2 OT Loss: Unfortunately, the Isles could only come away from Washington D.C. with a point. They did battle for it, though. Hendrik Lapierre scored about halfway through the first period to open the scoring. This was answered with a wraparound dandy by Hudson Fasching early in the second period. Joel Edmundson scored later in the second period to give the Caps a one-goal lead. This ended when Anders Lee won a puck, got knocked down, had the puck given away to him in space, and charged in to deke out Darcy Kuemper for the game-tying goal. Alas, overtime was all about the Caps. No shots for the Isles and Noah Dobson tripped up Martin Fehervary. Dylan Strome scored in the 4-on-3 situation to send the Isles away with a point. Still, three points out of four back-to-back is not bad.

December 23, at Carolina, 5-4 Win: Yes, this game ended in regulation to the relief of most of the division. The Islanders went up in this game and never looked back. Even in the third period, which has been a massive sore spot for them this season. Sebastian Aho opened the scoring for the Islanders. Yes, the defenseman, not the forward. Carolina would respond shortly after with a Teuvo Teravainen goal. Which was answered by Brock Nelson shortly after that. Bo Horvat made it 3-1 late in the first period. Carolina kept trying to claw back into the game. A Sebastian Aho PPG for Carolina early in the second period made it 3-2. But Mike Reilly made it a two-goal game later on in the second. In the third period, Carolina pulled within one within the first two minutes again. This time by Jaccob Slavin. But the Isles restored their lee thanks to Anders Lee getting his third point of the night with a goal. Nerves set in when a Lee hooking penalty led to a PPG by Stefan Noesen to make it a 5-4 game. The Canes were putting up shots all night long and while the Isles kept them honest in the third period (shots were 15-10), the Islander faithful was fearing yet another multi-goal lead in the third period to be choked away. But it did not. The final 11 minutes were all saves by Ilya Sorokin or attempts not hitting the target. The Isles held on at 5-4. They did not blow the lead! They did not choke the game! They got a regulation win within in the division (and tie Philly in that tiebreaker)! How’s that for a Christmas present for Long Island?

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Islanders will return from the holidays with two more big games within the division. They will host a Pittsburgh Penguins team seemingly desperate to climb back up in the standings. Then on Friday, the Islanders will host the Washington team that just beat them in OT last Wednesday. The Islanders can help themselves (and others) with two regulation wins over either. They can also win it beyond regulation just to annoy the others in the division. Such is the advantage of being on the right side of the bubble - small as the margin currently is.

Philadelphia Flyers

What Happened Last Week: Say what you want about John Tortorella but he has this team cooking just by being where they are. That said, they took a step back as they went 1-1-1 in the week. It should have been 1-2-0 and could have been 0-2-1, but they split the potential points to stay in the mix. They fell to third for the moment and they can fall further quickly - but that has not happened yet for a reason.

December 19, at New Jersey, 3-2 Overtime (OT) Win: The Flyers went into New Jersey and gave them some issues. While they conceded first to Michael McLeod putting home a Nathan Bastian pass in the first period, they hit back. Well, they got some help from a turnover by Jack Hughes that led to Joel Farabee setting up Ryan Poehling for a score. The Devils hit back with a PPG shortly after as Jesper Bratt stashed in a goal. But Brendan Smith coughed up a puck and the Devils failed in the resulting two on one that gave a second goal for Poehling. The Flyers were out-shot in the third but their shots were mostly breakaways and rush plays, hoping to catch the Devils out of sorts. It almost worked. But what did work was overtime. A second miserable turnover by Jack Hughes set the table for Owen Tippett to take the puck, drive in, and finish the game for two big points within the division. The Flyers put in the work, put in a strategy that made the game difficult for the Devils, and got a ‘W’ for their efforts.

December 21, vs. Nashville, 4-2 Loss: Alas, they call can’t be games against the Devils. The Flyers certainly started off things well with a deflection by Morgan Frost to open the game’s scoring. Yet, the wheels came off in the second period. A Ryan McDonagh hookng penalty gave the Flyers a power play; but it was Craig Smith who scored to tie up the game shorthanded. Sean Couturier would get a PPG on a McDonagh penalty a bit later in the second period. But Philip Tomasino tied it up once more to make it 2-2 for most of the middle frame. A penalty-filled one featuring a game misconduct for Yakov Trenin. The score held even until late in the third. With just over four minutes left, Tomasino finished a rush started from a steal to make it 3-2. A Gustav Nyquist ENG boosted it to a 4-2 loss at the last second.

December 22, at Detroit, 7-6 SO Loss: Philadelphia was supposed to lose this game. The first period alone would bury most teams. Patrick Kane scored two for Detroit. Bobby Brink of the Flyers got on the board. Then the final five minutes of the first had a PPG from Daniel Sprong, J.T. Compher scoring on the shift after Sprong’s goal, and Shayne Gostisbehere scoring within the final minute of the period. The Flyers were down 5-1. This is a game the vast majority of teams would lose. Philadelphia dared to be different. They decided the only way to eat an elephant would be one bite at a time. It started simple enough A Sean Couturier goal followed up by a quick one from Morgan Frost. It was 5-3 and that held through to the third period. Then it all fell together. Garnet Hathaway made it a one-shot game early in the third. Then a quick double to take the lead: Scott Laughton to tie it up and Owen Tippett to make it 6-5 just over 100 seconds later. It was crazy. It was also not going to last as Dylan Larkin tied it up less than a minute after that goal. Overtime ensued and surprisingly nothing was decided. A shootout would. Lucas Raymond and Kane scored to secure the win for Detroit and save themselves from an embarrassing loss. Yes, the Flyers did pull back from 5-1 to lead 6-5 and lost it but I think making a four-goal comeback to take a point in a back-to-back set coming off a loss is something to not be too disappointed about. Normally, the team losing by four after a period gets nothing. The Flyers got something.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Flyers are the only team to not play on Wednesday after Boxing Day. This is because they are on the road. Philadelphia is ending 2023 with a road trip to the Northwest. In this shortened week, they will play the mighty offense of Vancouver on Thursday night and Seattle on Friday night. Those are not going to be easy games. (And the trip continues into 2024.) But if Philadelphia should be known for anything in this season so far, then it should be that they are not going to make it easy for their opponents either. Just ask Detroit, who knows that a four-goal lead is certainly not safe.

Washington Capitals

What Happened Last Week: The Capitals remained hot by going 3-0-1 in the week. They sit in a wild card spot in addition to moving up to fourth place. With just one point behind Philly, two behind the Islanders, and holding games in hand on everyone in the division, the Capitals are in an excellent place in this holiday break. Even if they shipped out some points in the process, a move up to second or third place could happen as early as next Sunday.

December 17, at Carolina, 2-1 Shootout (SO) Win: This battle of old Southeast Division rivals went to the limit. It was also somewhat light on shots with the Caps being out-shot 21-29. The scoring in regulation all happened in the second period. Sebastian Aho first, Martin Fehervary in response, and that was it. Darcy Kuemper and Pytor Kochetkov stopped all else. The shootout was brief. Evgeny Kuznetsov methodically scored on his attempt and no one else did. The 1-0 win there yielded a 2-1 result - and a big second point over a team the Caps are trying to get past.

December 20, vs. Islanders, 3-2 OT Win: In another big game within the division, the Caps wanted to get the two points over a team they are chasing. While they handed them one, they would get it in time. The Caps went up early when Hendrix Lapierre opened the scoring about halfway through the first period. While Hudson Fasching wrapped around an equalizer early in the second period, Joel Edmundson restored the lead later on in the second. Unfortunately, Anders Lee would score off a Caps turnover (and a sick move) to tie it up in the third period. The Caps had no response then. Fortunately for them, Dobson was caught tripping Martin Fehervary in overtime. On the resulting 4-on-3, Dylan Strome launched a shot above the high slot and it got in for the 3-2 win.

December 21, at Columbus, 3-2 OT Win: Regulation for this game was rather straight forward. Anthony Mantha was the main man as he scored a PPG in the first period to put the Caps up 1-0 late in the first frame. After Cole Sillinger tied it up in the second, Mantha would move Washington ahead another goal late in the second. Unfortunately, Yegor Chinakhov beat Charlie Lindgren in the third period on a wrister to tie it up. The game held at 2-2. Then halfway through overtime, chaos ensued. It started with a Jackets defenseman pushing Tom Wilson into goaltender Elvis Merzlikins. Merzlikins was supremely angry and decided to wail on the big winger. This went poorly for the goalie, even though he absolutely wanted a piece of him. Merzlikins was given a roughing minor so the Caps had another 4-on-3 overtime situation. This time, the Putinist scored his first goal in a while for the win. Washington stared Merzlikins off the ice, knowing he went way beyond for an overreaction to a Columbus-caused collision. Extracting a pound of flesh is no way to win a game. Scoring goals is and the Caps did it for another step forward in the standings.

December 23, vs. Tampa Bay, 2-1 SO Loss: The Capitals did their best to get goals but Andrei Vasilevskiy was not having much of it. The game itself did not have many goals. Luke Glendening tipped in a long shot from the right point to open the scoring in the first period. Anthony Mantha tipped in a long shot from the left point in the second period to tie it up. The Caps had many more shots as they out-shot the Lightning, 34-20. But, again, Vasilevskiy was not having it. The game was surprisingly light on whistles too as only three penalties were called, all in the third period. Eventually, there would be a winner and it would take a shootout to get there. Kuznetsov scored on his methodical attempt to open it and Brayden Point beat Charlie Lindgren to force an additional shootout round. Connor McMichael was stopped. Victor Hedman scored to hand the Caps a shootout loss. Still another big point in the drive to move up the standings.

What’s Coming Up This Week: While the Capitals got three days off, their season grind will continue after the holiday with three games in four nights. First, they have a big game in Madison Square Garden to play the Rangers on Wednesday. With the Rangers so far ahead in the standings, any result is a positive. A win would be a statement. On Friday, the Capitals will go to Long Island to play the Islanders. The Caps did just beat them last Wednesday. Beating them, especially in regulation, could help make a difference between finishing 2023 in a playoff spot or being just outside of one. They cannot leave it all on the ice on Friday night, though. They have to go back home to host Nashville on Saturday. A Nashville team that, like Washington, is playing for something well into the season in spite of expectations.

Carolina Hurricanes

What Happened Last Week: Carolina did not win the week as they went 1-1-2. Good to end up in fifth place. Bad in that they are still chasing teams and have more games played than them. The one regulation loss especially hurt.

December 17, vs. Washington, 2-1 SO Loss: Pytor Kochetkov at least did quite well. The Canes defense was solid to keep the Caps to just 21 shots on net. Alas, they could not solve Darcy Kuemper except when Sebastian Aho did so in the second period. Not with the 5 power plays, including a double-minor in the first period. Not in OT where they got just one shot on net. And not at all in the shootout. Fehervary was the only one to beat Kochetkov in regulation, which was also in the second period, and only Evgeny Kuznetsov beat him in the shootout. The 1-0 shootout defeat yielded a shootout loss. A lost point to a team they are directly competing with stings.

December 19, vs. Las Vegas, 6-3 Win: Carolina got it right when they went up against the defending champions. The first period ended up even with a PPG by Andrei Svechnikov and a response a bit later by William Carrier. Then the Canes went on a tear. They put up three goals in the second period. Jordan Staal tipped in a puck to make it 2-1, Jesperi Kotkaniemi finished a shot to make it 3-1, and Michael Bunting punished a Brayden McNabb hooking call to make it 4-1. Carolina was not done burying the G-Knights. Nic Roy took a high-sticking penalty four seconds into the third period and Bunting converted that power play six seconds after that. Brady Skjei added in a wrister for the touchdown. It was all consolation for Las Vegas at that point. Jack Eichel and Carrier scored within the final two minutes to bring a 6-1 game into a 6-3 final score. Still a victory for Carolina.

December 21, at Pittsburgh, 2-1 SO Loss: This was similar to their Sunday game against Washington. A big inter-division game where the shots were somewhat few (24-25 in favor of Pittsburgh), the goalies Kochetkov and Alex Nedeljkovic were in charge, and scoring was hard to come by. The first period saw Sidney Crosby score on a tip. Teuvo Teravainen tied it up in the second period as the Canes denied three Penguins power plays. The third period was scoreless even with a somewhat late PP for the Canes. In overtime, the Hurricanes nearly blew it when Svechnikov was called for interference on Crosby. But the Canes survived to go to the shootout. There, like on Sunday, they lost once again. Only one goal was scored, it was by Crosby, and so the Canes had to settle for one point in a game against someone chasing them in the division. It was what it was.

December 23, vs. Islanders, 5-4 Loss: After a week of getting points, this regulation loss stung. Especially as it was against a team Carolina is chasing in the standings, a team the Isles would out-shoot 40-28 in the game, a team with a penchant for playing beyond sixty minutes, and a team known for choking away leads. The scoring began with the Islanders’ Sebastian Aho in the first period. While Teuvo Teravainen answered quickly to that goal, Brock Nelson answered that one to put the Canes down a goal. Then down two after Bo Horvat beat Pytor Kochetkov within the final two mintues of the first period. Carolina would get back into it quickly in the second period. A Mike Reilly interference penalty begat a PPG for Carolina’s Sebastian Aho just nine seconds after the call. But the Canes could not tie it up and, worse, Reilly scored later in the second period to put Carolina down two goals again. Once again, an early third period goal, which was by Jaccob Slavin, made it a one goal game. And, again, the Isles responded with an Anders Lee goal to make it 5-3. The Canes had a real chance, though. Lee’s hooking penalty would be punished by Stefan Noesen to make it a 5-4 game with ten minutes and change left in regulation. Plenty of time to comeback. Except Ilya Sorokin, lady luck, and the Isles keeping a team honest in the third would deny it. The Islanders managed to actually hold onto a lead in the third period - which was bad news for the Hurricanes team still needing points. They fell short and ended their week with nothing - and still behind the rest of the pack in the division.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Hurricanes will resume their schedule with a back-to-back set. They will get to go to Nashville on Wednesday and then return to Raleigh to host Montreal on Thursday. At least the games are not within the division, so it does not matter too much if either game (or both) go beyond regulation. Then the Canes will get a lot more attention in the hockey media as they will go to Toronto on Saturday. While they are in a better place than the two teams beneath them in the standings, they need to hope for help as they try to make a move up. That I am still writing that they can do it but they have to actually do it in late December should be a bit concerning for last season’s division winners. It could be worse though.

New Jersey Devils

What Happened Last Week: A lot of teams would appreciate a home stand right before the holiday, even if it means many games. The Devils are not one of those teams. They effectively filled their pants at home by going 1-2-1 with those two regulation losses being rather ugly. The Devils are not out of anything but they fell to sixth and are now in danger of falling to seventh.

December 17, vs. Anaheim, 5-1 Loss: The Devils were coming off a big win in Columbus to take on one of the worst teams in hockey. They were goalied in the scoreless first period. Then the Devils forgot about Adam Henrique in front of the net - twice. He scored early in the second and midway through the second as the Devils clearly struggled with Anaheim’s simple collapse on defense. The Devils did get on the board late in the period when Michael McLeod finished a give-and-go with Curtis Lazar to make it 2-1. In the third period, John Gibson, who was ill, was replaced by Lukas Dostal. Did the Devils make the most of it? Absolutely not. They filled their pants, barely challenged Dostal, and conceded three unanswered goals. A wide open goal to Alex Killorn on the weakside made it 3-1. Troy Terry finished a one-on-one with Luke Hughes by torching Akira Schmid. With a power play, Lindy Ruff pulled Schmid for an extra skater which did nothing but give Henrique a shorthanded goal for his hat trick. The game ended with a chorus of disapproval. As one does when a team that needs to win loses by 4 to 31st place in the NHL.

December 19, vs. Philadelphia, 3-2 OT Loss: The Devils struggled to get much on Samuel Ersson in this game early on. But Nathan Bastian coming out of the corner to feed Michael McLeod was enough to give them the first period lead. Alas, Jack Hughes - the team’s best player - made an awful turnover in his own end to Joel Farabee. Farabee sent the puck across to Ryan Poehling for an equalizer early in the second period. The Devils did go up again when Jesper Bratt banged in a greasy PPG a little later. But a Brendan Smith turnover led to a 2-on-1 rush that Poehling finished with aplomb. The score held at 2-2. The Devils brought the volume to Ersson but no finish in the third. Philly played for breakaways and odd-man rushes on counters with some success, even if the shots were few and far between. Overtime was needed. There, Jack Hughes made another fumble. A terrible decision to lay a puck was taken by Owen Tippett. He rushed in to beat Vitek Vanecek off a steal for the loss. Yes, the Devils got a point. Given that they are chasing Philly, they really did not need to give this one away. Especially after what happened on Sunday. And what would happen on Thursday.

December 21, vs. Edmonton, 6-3 Loss: One of the issues with the Devils this season has been starting games. They do not do well and often concede first. Against Edmonton, they conceded a wide open weakside goal to Ryan McLeod 24 seconds into the game. The Devils responded with a whole lot of not much and then Ryan Nugent-Hopkins swooped in untouched to put home a short rebound by Akria Schmid. Lindy Ruff, in his experienced wisdom, switched goalies hoping for a spark. One did not happen but eventually a McLeod drop pass led to a Dawson Mercer goal to make it a one-shot game. The second period went New Jersey’s way. Vitek Vanecek was not confident at all in the crease but he was making stops. A long shot by Jonas Siegenthaler found its way through traffic to make it 2-2. Despite a not-so-great set of passes, Mercer hooked up Timo Meier for a 3-2 lead late in the second period. Up 3-2 and going into the third is normally a good thing. The Devils proceeded to poop themselves in the third period. The Oilers scored three goals within 1:09: a rebound goal by Connor McDavid where the ace waited out Vanecek and Siegenthaler to put it in easily, a Leon Draisaitl goal that should have an assist given to Kevin Bahl for his giveaway, and Adam Erne torching Vanecek off the rush. The Devils got flipped from 3-2 to 3-5 and their response was a whole lot of nothing in front of an irate and eventually despondent crowd. McLeod scored again later to make it 6-3. Many left early and those remained were understandably unhappy.

December 23, vs. Detroit, 3-2 Win: The Devils got to face a Red Wings team that blew a 5-1 lead and won in a shootout the night before. The Devils proceeded to hold Detroit no shots on net until 4:22 into the game. That was when Patrick Kane scored. Things would get a bit better later in the first. A loose puck after an attempt right in front by Michael McLeod was cleaned up by Timo Meier to make it 1-1 in the period. The score held until about midway through the second period when Shayne Gostisbehere activated and blasted a shot in. The Devils had chances but could not get more goals - until early in the third. Meier took a turnover from Detroit, fired a sharp-ish angle shot, and the puck trickled through Michael Hutchinson and in to make it 2-2 before the three-minute mark. Things were tense. Would the Devils blow it as they have earlier this week and many times at home this season? No. Jesper Bratt skated back to the left point after a Jack Hughes entry and decided to throw a wrister as he saw teammates in front. Tyler Toffoli re-directed the puck in past Hutchinson from the slot for a 3-2 lead. The Devils held on for their first win of the week to salvage something from this miserable homestand (so far as it ends next Wednesday).

What’s Coming Up This Week: New Jersey are looking up at the wrong end of the standings right now. They need to battle back and fast. Of course, they needed to not blow a week at home either. They will play their final home game of 2023 on Wednesday against Columbus. A team the Devils beat earlier in this month, but a team that also beat the Devils in November after a holiday back in November. Then the Devils will hit the road by going to Ottawa on Friday and Boston on Saturday. Given how bad the Devils have been in the second part of back-to-back sets this season, that Saturday game looks ominous on paper. Then again, the Devils did beat Boston earlier this month. In any case, it is put up or shut up time. Just like it is for the team just below them in the standings.

Pittsburgh Penguins

What Happened Last Week: The Pens rebounded from a demoralizing 7-0 loss with a winning week. They went 2-0-1 to signal that they are not quite dead yet. It was a very good week on its own. That said, they have a lot of work to do to make up a point-gap that sounds small when you say it out loud but ends up being much larger when you understand the teams ahead of Pittsburgh keep getting points.

December 18, vs. Minnesota, 4-3 Win: The Penguins were so back in the first half. Reilly Smith opened the scoring in the first period. Jake Guentzel converted a carried-over power play early in the second period and Evgeni Malkin scored just over three-and-a-half minutes into the middle frame. Up 3-0 and it was good. Then the second half happened. Minnesota put up two goals within the final five minutes, one each from Ryan Hartman and Jacob Middleton. It was a one-shot game in the third period and Vinny Lettieri tipped in a Jon Merrill long-shot into the net. It was 3-3. It was so over for the Penguins. Then Kirill Kaprizov took a high-sticking penalty on Kris Letang. Sidney Crosby converted that power play to take a 4-3 lead. And the Pens held on. Through a penalty kill, through a power play, and through the final minutes to get the regulation win. A valuable one at that.

December 21, vs. Carolina, 2-1 SO Win: The Penguins pulled out a victory within the division in a very tight game. Alex Nedeljkovic and Pytor Kochetkov would only be beaten once each in regulation in a low-shooting game. Crosby one-touched in a Rickard Rakell feed for the game’s opening goal. Teuvo Teravainen would tie it up in a second period filled with three Penguin power plays. The Penguins survived a late power play in the third, could not convert late in overtime, and had to go to the shootout. There, Crosby was the main man once more. He was the only one to score to give the Pens that important second point.

December 23, at Ottawa, 5-4 OT Loss: Ottawa was on a skid heading into this game, so the final result was something they needed. It came at the expense of a Penguins team that really needs wins more than just a single point. The goals came and came in bunches within the first 40 minutes. The first period saw Jacob Chychrun open the scoring, Lars Eller score a PPG to tie it up (the lone PPG in a penalty filled first period), and Josh Norris to make it 2-1 just 30 seconds after Eller’s PPG. In the second period, Brady Tkachuk made it 3-1 on a re-direction, Rickard Rakell scored his first of the season (yes on December 23) minutes later, and it was not long before Erik Brannstrom made it 4-2 Ottawa. The third period required a Penguins comeback and one happened. First, Dan O’Connor made it a one-shot game early by tipping in a Marcus Pettersson long shot. Second, with less than 2:30 left, the Penguins kept a puck in the offensive zone. Pettersson went D-to-D with Kris Letang, who had plenty of space off the right point. He fired a wrister that beat Anton Forsberg for the equalizer. Pittsburgh was furious in the third as they out-shot the Sens 23-4 to make the comeback. Would they do it in OT? No. A battle for pucks ended up with Tim Stützle all alone in front of Alex Nedeljkovic. He slid it in through the five-hole to hand the Pens a 5-4 OT loss.

What’s Coming Up This Week: Pittsburgh has the lightest week coming up with two games spaced apart. They will return on Wednesday in Long Island. This is a potentially huge game within the division as a result over the Isles can pull the Pens up further. Of course, the Isles could bury the Pens even deeper. Such is the nature of such games. On Saturday, the Penguins will go to St. Louis, who is looking to salvage their season after firing their Cup-winning coach. Something to keep in mind given the state of the Pens and Mike Sullivan. By the way, it is far from light right after that game, but this snapshot goes week-to-week. Keep it in mind for next Sunday.

Columbus Blue Jackets

What Happened Last Week: Columbus had a rather notable week. A massive win, a massive way to lose in OT, and a regular old regulation loss. They split the points by going 1-1-1. Yet, it is abundantly clear that they are all but out of the playoff picture prior to the 2024 portion of the season. Eleven points back and more games played than everyone is a terrible combination to come from.

December 19, at Buffalo, 9-4 Win: Yes, 9. As in 9 goals. As in 9 goals scored by Columbus. It did not start off well when Rasmus Dahlin scored 30 seconds into the game. The response would begin about 10 minutes later. Johnny Gaudreau tied up the game. Then Adam Fantilli took the lead. Then it was all about Kirill Marchenko. First, he punished a Peyton Krebs penalty in the final minute of the first period to get a PPG before intermission. Then at 7:37 into the second period, he scored his second. Marchenko took the net shift and scored 18 seconds later. A 5-1 lead from an all natural hat trick. Take a bow. The Jackets were not done. Erik Gudbranson added a sixth goal just a minute after that. Then Sean Kuraly tipped home a goal. Buffalo’s Kyle Okposo stopped the run with a late second period goal. Buffalo would get the next two in the third period but it was all for consolation. The PPG by Tyce Thompson and the EVG from Dylan Cozens did not matter. Especially since Cole Sillinger and Kent Johnson each scored shortly after Cozen’s goal. Columbus absolutely smashed Buffalo and that had to be rewarding for the fans to watch after some of the “efforts” by Columbus this season so far.

December 21, vs. Washington, 3-2 OT Loss: Alas, the goal scoring was a bit harder to come by against the Capitals. in the first period, Anthony Mantha made it 1-0 for the visitors late with a power play goal. Cole Sillinger would tie it up later in the second period with a tip off of Emil Bemstrom. Unfortunately, Mantha would strike again within the final three minutes to put the Jackets down. Fortunately, Yegor Chinakhov would beat Charlie Lindgren in the third period to make it 2-2. And Columbus held on to take the game to overtime. Then things went crazy about halfway through. There were few penalties in the game. But Tom Wilson was shoved into Elvis Merzlikins in OT. The goalie absolutely lost it and started to pin Wilson into the net and give him some Carey Price-like punches. Wilson got out of the net, wailed on the goalie, and then they were split up as the goalie absolutely wanted some more of Wilson. Merzlikins losing his cool earned him a roughing minor (nothing for Wilson!) and that set up the Putinist for his first goal in a while - a PPG to send the Jackets off with another loss while staring daggers at Elvis leaving the rink. A lesson: A pound of flesh is hardly worth anything on the scoreboard.

December 23, vs. Toronto, 4-1 Loss: This game was a decisive loss in the way you probably expected. But it was against Toronto so it got more attention than usual as the hockey media complex focuses that much on Toronto. (Aside: Why isn’t hockey bigger? This is a tangential reason. Toronto is not the big team in the sporting world as it is presented in hockey.) Auston Matthews scored first. While Justin Danforth tied it up just 22 seconds into the second period, Toronto broke the lead over two and a half minutes later with a goal by John Tavares. The Maple Leafs never looked back. Especially after Matthews punished the Jackets with a PPG, specifically Adam Fantilli, who held Matthews for the call. Columbus’ power play could not get going later in the second period. Or in the third period, where William Nylander effectively sealed up the game with a shorthanded goal. At least the goalie did not flip out on a Leaf or the scoring got out of hand. A simple, perhaps expected, loss to Toronto.

What’s Coming Up This Week: Columbus returns from the holiday by going to Newark. Just as they did after Thanksgiving. They will hope to spoil the Devils’ season further once more. Then the Blue Jackets will get some rematches in a back-to-back set. They will host Toronto once more on Friday night. Then they will go back to Buffalo on Saturday evening. I have to think the Sabres may be a bit raw about the 9-4 game last Tuesday. We shall see if anything comes of it. Tip for the Sabres: Just do not take a run at Elvis, he clearly knows how to respond.

That was the eleventh Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2023-24 season. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Will the Islanders or Flyers close a gap on the Rangers, who seemingly cannot slow down? Will the Capitals continue to charge up the standings and move up to the top three by next Sunday? How will Carolina respond? Can the Devils get it together at home? Will the Penguins continue to get it together? Will it be a more boring week for Columbus? 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.