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Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot: 12/31/2023 - 1/6/2024

In the twelfth weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot of this season, the Carolina Hurricanes shot up to second, the Philadelphia Flyers went to the Northwest, and the Columbus Blue Jackets won their week the hard way. All this and more along with this week’s upcoming schedule.

NHL: DEC 27 Capitals at Rangers
Yeah, I’m still in first, what of it.
Photo by Joshua Sarner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to the end of 2023. As the year counter goes up by one after tonight, the National Hockey League regular season will continue onward. The New York Rangers clearly had the best 2023. They are in first place with a solid 7 point lead. The rest of the division above the Columbus Blue Jackets remains as a dog fight. A perfect week for the Carolina Hurricanes moved them up all the way to second place for the moment. The Philadelphia Flyers and New York Islanders fell to third and fourth, respectively. The Washington Capitals had a bad week and fell to fifth, tied with the New Jersey Devils on points. Both are three behind the Flyers and Isles. And both have to be more worried about the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are now right behind both by two points. Outside of maybe first and last, nothing is decided. Every game, every night matters in the Metropolitan. So it goes into 2024. Here are the standings after last night’s games:

Metropolitan Division Standings as of the morning of December 31, 2023
Metropolitan Division Standings as of the morning of December 31, 2023

It is a lighter last day of the year for the division, although there is one big game within the division that will interest many. There are another five in this week coming up, which will be highlighted and in bold. Everyone outside of the Winter Classic is off on New Year’s Day and almost everyone is right back to work on Tuesday. Friday will be light but we get back to normal with a heavy Saturday.

Metropolitan Division Schedule for December 31 through January 6
Metropolitan Division Schedule for December 31 through January 6
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: Another week won for the Blueshirts. They sandwiched a loss with two wins to go 2-1-0. They now own a seven point lead over the remainder of the division with all kinds of tie breakers in their favor. It is good to be at the top and, well, they are at the top.

December 27, vs. Washington, 5-1 Win: It was close until it was not in the second period. After a goalless first period, Anthony Mantha put the visitors up 1-0. That would be the only shot to beat Igor Shesterkin all night. Just under three minutes after Mantha’s goal, K’Andre Miller tied it up. A tripping penalty by Ivan Miroshnichenko led to a PPG by Artemi Panarin. Within the next minute, Braden Schenider made it a 3-1 game. The Caps were seemingly drowning and the Rangers poured it on. Miller scored again in the third period to boost it to 4-1. Alexis Lafreniere capped off the Caps with a goal past the halfway mark of the third for the 5-1 final score. A very decisive and big win within the division.

December 29, at Florida, 4-3 Loss: The Panthers hit first, the Rangers hit back, and the Panthers hit last. In short order, that was the game. It took a bit of time, but Evan Rodrigues opened the scoring near the end of the first period. Sam Reinhart made it 2-0 for Florida in the second period. New York would come back. Artemi Panarin finished a feed from Lafreniere to make it 2-1. Will Cuylle made it 2-2 just over a minute later. However, a Schneider penalty would prove costly. It ended with a PPG for Reinhart to make it a brace for the Panther. The Rangers would tie it up in a situation Florida was hoping to extended the lead in the third period. During a Panthers power play, Mika Zibanejad scored on a shorthanded one-timer to make it 3-3. But, again, Florida hit last. A turnaround shot by Carter Verhaeghe in the slot made it 4-3. And the Rangers had no answer for that.

December 30, at Tampa Bay, 5-1 Win: The Rangers followed up their close loss with a win that was not close at all. Artemi Panarin opened the scoring early in the first period and Vincent Trocheck doubled the lead later on. While a late PPG from Nikita Kucherov put the Lightning within one, Chris Kreider answered less than a minute later to make it 3-1 game. Then the third period became all about Panarin. Panarin got his brace past the halfway make to make it 4-1. The Rangers’ successful 2023 part of the schedule was capped off with Panarin scoring on the power play for a hat trick and the 5-1 final score. Huh, some teams do handle back-to-back sets well. How about that.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Rangers will open the new year with a big game against Carolina. This is a good opportunity for the Rangers to hold the Canes back, which may be to the benefit of others in the division. The Rangers will then get to host Chicago on Thursday and then visit Montreal on Saturday. Two games against teams that are no threats to them in the standings. This first week has the makings of a good one to start the new year for the division leaders.

Carolina Hurricanes

What Happened Last Week: Wins! The Hurricanes came back from the Christmas break and just won their games. They swept the week by going 3-0-0, all in regulation for those crucial RWs in the standings. As a result, they shot up to second place in the division. Their number of games played makes them a candidate to fall down while idle. But they took care of their business in a big way and got rewarded for it.

December 27, at Nashville, 5-2 Win: The Canes were the only team in the division to not play a divisional opponent and have a game on this day. This meant they could win it by any way. They won it in regulation. The first period was quite professional in how the scoring went. Cody Glass took a penalty, and that ended with a Sebastian Aho goal. Cole Smith took a penalty later in the first, and that ended with a Brent Burns goal. The Preds made it a one-goal game early in the second thanks to Gustav Nyquist. But Andrei Svechnikov made it 3-1 shortly after that goal. A Jalen Chatfield tripping penalty yielded a Ryan O’Reilly PPG to make it a one-shot game, but that was opened up with a Jake Drury goal before the halfway mark through the second period. A double-minor by Luke Evangelista yielded a single PPG for Seth Jarvis for the 5-2 score. The Canes then cruised to the end with a solid win in their pocket.

December 28, at Montreal, 5-3 Win: Aanti Raanta got the start for this one, which was a surprise as he was demoted to Norfolk in the ECHL not that long ago. Remember, the Canes do not have an AHL affiliate so most of their guys go to Norfolk of the ECHL. Anyway, the Canes gave him some help early in the first period. Andrei Svechnikov scored early for a 1-0 lead and Jesper Fast made it 2-0 later on. However, the Canadiens were not going to make it simple for Carolina. Mitchell Stephens scored to get Montreal on the board. A late penalty on Svechnikov was punished with 4 seconds left in the first period by Michael Matheson for a 2-2 game. Carolina broke that tie early in the second thanks to Fast. But no more would go past Cayden Primeau in the second period. Josh Anderson scored early in the third period to make it 3-3. Then the Canes locked it down. That Anderson goal would be one of two shots on net in the third period for Montreal. Svechnikov scored later in the third to make it 4-3 and he put in the ENG for his hat trick, Sebastian Aho’s fourth assist of the night, and another two points for the Canes. It was not simple but it was a win all the same.

December 30, at Toronto, 3-2 Win: The Hurricanes ended their 2023 year with a big win in Toronto. The ex-Leaf Michael Bunting struck first with an early PPG to punish an earlier penalty on Matthew Knies. In the second period, it took time but the Canes made it 2-0. This was due to Seth Jarvis punishing a Max Domi penalty. The Leafs made it a one-goal game over four minutes into the third period thanks to Timothy Liljegren’s first of the season. However, Toronto was not going to beat Pytor Kotchekov until much, much later. And after Sebastian Aho capped off a three-point night with an empty net goal. Nick Robertson scored with 10 seconds left in what was a consolation goal. The Hurricanes swept the week and moved on up. How about that, back-to-back wins.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Hurricanes will open the new year with a big game in Madison Square Garden. If the Hurricanes have any desires on returning to the top of the division, then beating the Rangers in their building would be a good first step as any. What follows is a tough back-to-back to end the week. They will go to Washington for a big game within the division on Friday. The four-point swing could move them and others around in the standings. Whatever they have left will be needed at home against St. Louis on Saturday. The Blues are not going to let this season fade away yet, so the Canes have to be careful for that one.

Philadelphia Flyers

What Happened Last Week: The Flyers embarked on a trip up to the Northwest. The first half of it took place in this week. They took 3 out of 4 points in a back-to-back set. That is good. But in this division, going 1-0-1 meant falling to third place. They have the tiebreakers over the Islanders at least.

December 28, at Vancouver, 4-1 Win: The trip out to British Columbia did not faze the Flyer machine. While goalless, the Flyers established that they would not be denied with a 13-7 shot first period. While Philly got edged in shots in the second period, the Flyers scored three quick goals within the final five minutes of the second frame. A Tyler Myers interference penalty was punished by Egor Zamula. Sean Walker made it 2-0 just under 90 seconds after that goal. Less than a minute after Walker’s goal, Joel Farabee made it a 3-0 game. Vancouver would get on the board quickly in the third period thanks to Teddy Blueger scoring 25 seconds into the final frame. Any hopes of a comeback were snuffed when Garnet Hathaway scored shorthanded 10 seconds into a Cam Atkinson roughing penalty. The only downside was that Sam Ersson had to come out in that third period and Carter Hart had to finish the game. Still, a solid win to start the trip for Philly.

December 29, at Seattle, 2-1 Overtime (OT) Loss: The Flyers got off to a start in Seattle. During a Joel Farabee high-sticking penalty, Scott Laughton set up Travis Konency on a shorthanded 2-on-1 rush. It did not work. But Konecny recovered the pass, the puck, dashed it into the net behind Joey Daccord for the shorty. Unfortunately, that would be the only goal to go past Daccord. Carter Hart did his best to hold on. However, a Tyson Foerster hooking penalty yielded a quick punishment from Vince Dunn to tie up the game in the third period. In overtime, a cycle found Justin Schultz all alone down low behind the Flyers. Oliver Bjorkstrand sent him a pass and Schultz one-touched it into the net for the 2-1 loss. The Flyers did get a point from it, though. How about that; 3 out of 4 in a back-to-back set.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Flyers will continue on their trip through the Northwest before returning home for two more games. First, they will spend New Year’s Eve in Alberta as they visit Calgary today. On Tuesday, they will end their trip against a still-desperate and still-explosive Edmonton team. The Flyers will return home on Thursday to play Columbus and hope not to get ensnared in that trap game. Philly’s week will end with a rematch with Calgary, which will at least be at home. It will not be easy but at least they will be home by the halfway mark of the week.

New York Islanders

What Happened Last Week: It was a two-game week and it went in both extremes. One extremely awful loss. One extremely good win. It is 1-1-0 all the same in the standings. In this division, that means a fall to fourth place. Tiebreakers favor Philly. For now.

December 27, vs. Pittsburgh, 7-0 Loss: 7-0? 7-0. It almost all happened in the second period. Kris Letang had one of the best regular season games of his life with five assists on the six goals the Pens scored on Ilya Sorokin. And a sixth assist on the one goal they put past Semyon Varlamov in the third period. The Islanders were wasted and witnessed a goal by Rickard Rakell, a brace by Jake Guentzel, a brace by Evgeni Malkin, a goal by Radim Zohorna, and Valtteri Puustinen’s first NHL goal - which was the seventh one. There are losses and then there are losses. This was the latter.

December 29, vs. Washington, 5-1 Win: The Islanders bounced back in a huge away after that Penguins debacle. I am sure it was tense when no goals were scored in the first period, even though it also meant that the Islanders stopped the bleeding. The tension eased when Jean-Gabriel Pageau scored in the second period. Moreso when Noah Dobson scored just over a minute after that goal. A quick double around halfway through the third period really sealed things up. The double was provided by the same man: Julien Gauthier on back-to-back shifts. Pageau made it a brace later on. It was nearly a shutout for Ilya Sorokin - who had Ken Appleby (!) back him up. But Nicolas Aube-Kubel spoiled that with 18 seconds left. Oh well, the Islanders still got massive point swing in their favor to elevate them and keep the Caps down.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Islanders will have a huge game in Pittsburgh this evening. A big chance for revenge since the Penguins straight up pantsed the Isles on this past Wednesday. The Islanders will remain on the road for the week. They will go to Colorado on Tuesday for a difficult matchup against the Avs. Then they are off to Arizona State to play the Coyotes on Thursday. They are nobody’s doormat. The Islanders’ week will end in Las Vegas, a place where many visit but few come away with wins. This is a very difficult week for the Islanders.

Washington Capitals

What Happened Last Week: Six points were on the table, including two games within the division. They lost both of those games. They got one point by the end. The Caps limp into 2023 in fifth place after a 0-2-1 week. Their 34 games played is still a potential weapon. Of course, they have to win those games in hand when they come. And they will come.

December 27, at NY Rangers, 5-1 Loss: The Capitals got wrecked in the second period and that was pretty much the story of the game. It was even and goalless for a period. Anthony Mantha put the Caps up first. Then the game went sideways, pear-shaped, and scripts were flipped. K’Andre Miller beat Charlie Lindgren from the slot to tie it up. Then Artemi Panarin punished an Ivan Miroshnichenko minor penalty. Within 40 seconds of that goal, Braden Schneider beat Lindgren from the center point for a 3-1 deficit. The Caps had no answer and the Rangers were not done in the third period. Miller scored again as did Alexis Lafreniere for a sound and crushing 5-1 loss.

December 29, at NY Islanders, 5-1 Loss: This one hurts. The Caps and Isles were close in the standings so this was a four-point swing. This one swung against the Caps hard. Charlie Lindgren had to leave the game early; Darcy Kuemper took over. Things were seemingly fine until the second period. That was when Jean-Gabriel Pageau opened the scoring. Noah Dobson scored shortly thereafter. In the third period, the score held until the halfway mark. That was when Julien Gauthier scored goals on back-to-back shifts to turn a 2-0 hole into a 4-0 grave. Pageau dug the Caps in deeper with a shot minutes later for a 5-0 score. The Caps got nothing past Ilya Sorokin until the final 18 seconds of the game. Nicolas Aube-Kubel got the consolation goal. A poor time to repeat a 5-1 scoreline and an even worse opponent to do it against. Would Washington get something before the end of 2023?

December 30, vs. Nashville, 3-2 Shootout (SO) Loss: The Capitals went down early in this game. Luke Evangelista opened the scoring early. Roman Josi converted a power play to make it 2-0 within seven minutes of the first period. Fortunately, the Caps would break through Yaroslav Askarov in the first period. Beck Malenstyn banged in a rebound on a play his forecheck started to make it 2-1. In the second period, The Putinist hammered in a shot from the right circle just after a power play ended. Still a goal. Still 2-2. Hunter Shepard and Askarov would proceed to deny everything else from then on. All the way to a shootout. There, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s methodical approach did not work. No Capital scored. Gustav Nyquist and Ryan O’Reilly did score. The 2-0 shootout yielded a 3-2 shootout loss. Still, the Caps came back to earn a point in the second half of a back-to-back after a crushing loss in the first half. How about that.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Capitals will open the new year with a nasty back-to-back set within the division. First, they get to visit Pittsburgh on Tuesday. Not only is this rivalry, but it can make an impact within the standings. The Pens are chasing the Caps and the Caps are chasing others. Both will need the win. Second, the Capitals will host the Devils on Wednesday. The Capitals have straight up wrecked the Devils twice already, but this time the Caps will be coming off a game played, the game will be on the road, and the Devils will have every reason to get revenge. The Capitals’ week will end on Friday with another big game within the Metropolitan: a home game with Carolina. The Canes can be a real pain to play against and the Caps are chasing them. This is a week that could help make the Caps rise above the mix fighting for playoff spots in the division. Or it could bury them. No pressure, guys.

New Jersey Devils

What Happened Last Week: The Devils were seemingly on their way to sweeping the week. Something that would have been huge. They even moved up to fifth place for a hot minute. Then the rest of the second period happened in Boston and, well, it got ugly. The Devils won the week at 2-1-0. But it is a small gain given how the Devils choked against the B’s to close out 2023. Devils remain in sixth (Caps ahead on fewer games played) and Pittsburgh is breathing down their necks.

December 27, vs. Columbus, 4-3 OT Win: The Devils did prevail over Columbus in dramatic fashion. After a fine first few minutes, the Devils got caught with no one on the weakside and Vitek Vanecek kicking a rebound to that weakside. Jake Bean took that rebound and slammed it in for a 1-0 lead. After an Ondrej Palat penalty ended, he finished a lovely move with Erik Haula and Dawson Mercer to tie it up. In the second period, Elvis Merzlikins seemed locked in and Columbus went up 2-1 thanks to Justin Danforth ending a long attack in the Devils’ end of the rink. In fact, the Blue Jackets had plenty of attack time against a Devils team that was not exactly up for the comeback. Then the final five minutes began. Simon Nemec kept a puck in the zone and found Dawson Mercer in the slot for a rising shot to tie it up. Which was great. Minutes later, Jonas Siegenthaler coughed up a puck to Yegor Chinakhov, who proceeded to slide a puck through Vanecek’s legs as if it was a warm-up drill. It was over, right? Then with the goalie pulled, Luke Hughes took a puck from the bottom of the left circle for a breakout. He got his Scott Niedermayer on by torching 2 Blue Jackets in the neutral zone and ripping a shot past Merzlikins and a defender to make it 3-3. There would indeed be overtime. There was some back and forth, but the difference came when Kent Johnson fumbled a puck in the slot. Timo Meier took it and hustled off for a breakaway. Meier finished it for the 4-3 win. You would expect games against Columbus to go easier, but the Devils are not too good for any kind of win. Two points is two points.

December 29, at Ottawa, 6-2 Win: Surprising to many, Nico Daws was called up and Akira Schmid was demoted. Daws was not playing regularly in Utica yet as he was coming off recovery from hip surgery. A risky move - but it paid off big. Daws made plenty of big stops on multiple Senators and controlled rebounds better than the other two goalies in New Jersey. He could not be faulted when a Brendan Smith turnover led to a Drake Batherson goal in front of him in the first period. But his teammates responded. Jack Hughes punished a Batherson foul on him with a PPG to tie it up. With 20 seconds left in the first period, Claude Giroux got caught setting a pick on Erik Haula. With 8 seconds left in the first, Jesper Bratt wired a one-timer past Joonas Korpisalo to make it 2-1. The Devils hung in there thanks to Daws in the second and went up further with a sick-nasty move by Dawson Mercer. Then up 4-1 thanks to Tyler Toffoli finishing a one-timer from the slot. A Brendan Smith tripping penalty early in the third caused concern as it would give Ottawa a power play. Not only did the Devils kill it but Nico Hischier played a puck out to Smith after he came out of the box. Smith went in on a breakaway, lifted his leg, and rounded Korpisalo for his first goal as a Devil for a 5-1 lead. An unlucky bounce off Smith from a Jacob Bernard-Docker shot made it 5-2. But there would be no way back into the game for the Sens. Alexander Holtz set up a blast by Luke Hughes that made it 6-2 late to cap off a decisive and clear victory for New Jersey. A winning week was secured. Boston awaited.

December 30, at Boston, 5-2 Loss: It was 2-0. The Devils started off well enough. They got a power play thanks to Kevin Shattenkirk and a quick punishment by Nico Hischier gave the Devils a lead. Yes, for the 10th time this season, the Devils scored first. This was their 35th game. The Bruins pushed back and really pushed back, but the Devils held steady. They got a break when a seemingly routine shot attempt by Luke Hughes was replaced by a laser that shot past Charlie McAvoy and Linus Ullmark to go up 2-0. Then things went south. The Bruins continued to own the puck and pin the Devils back in the second period. Boston got on the board when Jake DeBrusk was open on the right side (then the weak side) to round Vitek Vanecek. Then another nightmare shift in the Devils end was about to end on John Marino’s stick - as he re-directed the puck on his own net. David Pastrnak swooped in for the tap-in to avoid the OG fate. Later, Kevin Bahl took a holding penalty. This was punished when Pastrnak rushed in on an entry, torched everyone including Vanecek to make it 3-2. Then shortly after that, another weakside let down led to Shattenkirk scoring to make it 4-2. Somewhere in all of that, Timo Meier got hurt. The Devils tried to spark a comeback in the third period but Ullmark was not having it. Bahl took a late period penalty, the Devils PK gave up when Pastrnark found Marchand open on a pass. Marchand sent it across to, who else, Shattenkirk for a tap-in and a 5-2 final score. The Devils looked to take a big step forward in Boston and proceeded to actually take a step back. The Devils going 1-6-1 in the second halves of back-to-backs? How about that for a hindrance.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Devils will get to start 2024 a day later than the rest of the division. They will go to Washington on Wednesday. On the one hand, the Caps have wrecked them in first periods of both games and ran up six goals in each loss. On the other, this game is in Washington D.C. and it will be the Caps coming off a game played the night before. The Devils could and should look for revenge against a team they are directly competing with in the standings. The Devils will return to Newark for a back-to-back set against two teams they have beaten before: Chicago and Vancouver. Neither will be simple; Conor Bedard is legit for Chicago and Vancouver is a legit contender this season. A good week is still possible and quite possibly necessary for the Devils to get going in 2024.

Pittsburgh Penguins

What Happened Last Week: The Penguins need to win and climb their way back up. Having only two games did not help. They also did not get a lot of help in the standings. But they won both games. As they stay in seventh, they are right on the tails of the Devils and the Capitals.

December 27, at NY Islanders, 7-0 Win: The Penguins had to have prevailed in this game to help their cause in moving up. They more than prevailed. They crushed the Islanders. After a goal less first period, Rickard Rakell scored 6:44 into the second period. Then Jake Guentzel tipped home a puck to make it 2-0 at 10:15. And Guentzel scored again at 10:27. Then Evgeni Malkin scored at 12:48. And again at 16:06. Radmi Zohorna followed that with a gaol at 17:13. Kris Letang assisted on all of the non-Rakell goals. Out went Ilya Sorokin, in came Semyon Varlamov for the final frame. Was the scoring done? No. Just before the halfway mark of the third, Letang set up his sixth goal of the game on Valtteri Puustinen’s first NHL goal. That would be that. An easy 22-save shutout for Tristan Jarry. One of the best games of Letang’s long and future-HHoF career. An absolute beating of a team the Penguins needed to beat. An absolute masterclass of a victory for Pittsburgh!

December 30, vs. St. Louis, 4-2 Win: It was not a simple game, but the Pens held off the Blues all night long. In the first period, Dan O’Connor buried a make-shift 2-on-1 feed from Evgeni Malkin to make it 1-0. In the second period, the continuation of a power play from the end of the first was ended when Robert Thomas tied up the game. St. Louis proceeded to take the next three penalties in the second period. Only the first was punished; specifically a re-direction of a pass by Malkin to make it 2-1. In the third period, the Pens got some insurance when Jeff Carter re-directed a pass from Jansen Harkins, who denied a rimaround by Joel Hofer. The Blues made it 3-2 when Kasperi Kapanen tipped in a long shot after a power play ended just past halfway through the third. It was tough but the Pens could relax after Sidney Crosby put home the ENG to close out a perfect short week.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Penguins will end 2023 with another chance to ruin the Islanders a bit more. They just did so this past Wednesday and Sunday’s game against them will be in Pittsburgh. It would be what the home crowd would want after a difficult 2023. The games will not let up, of course. On Tuesday, the Penguins will have another big game within the division against Washington. This is another team the Pens are chasing on top of the rivalry factor. Winning this one at home would be huge. On Thursday, the Penguins will get to go to Boston and hope to get something against the B’s in their building. Good luck. Their week will end with a home game against Buffalo, which is something the Penguins really should strive for winning if they are serious about a playoff appearance in 2024.

Columbus Blue Jackets

What Happened Last Week: Do you like games that go beyond regulation? Columbus did it all week long. The benefit: four points out of six for a winning week. A third such week this season for Columbus. The reality: 1-0-2. But, hey, no one will ever accuse them of getting run over this week. They were not. Which may be their main goal in 2024. Again.

December 27, at New Jersey, 4-3 OT Loss: The Blue Jackets spoiled the Devils in Newark on Black Friday. They were not too far off from doing it again. They struck first when Vitek Vanecek sent a juicy rebound out into space. Jake Bean jumped into that space and slammed the puck back into the net for the 1-0 lead. After an unsuccessful power play on an Ondrej Palat penalty, the aforementioned Palat finished a move to tie up the game in the first period. The Blue Jackets kept pushing and kept pinning back the Devils. In the second period, one such attack yielded a goal for Justin Danforth, a tip off a David Jiricek shot. It was shortly after this goal that Zach Werenski left the game due to injury. Down a defenseman, but the Blue Jackets kept pressing. It would not be until the final five minutes of the third period where things took a turn for the worse. Specifically, Simon Nemec kept a puck in the zone and fed Dawson Mercer for a one-timer to make it 2-2. Columbus would get a gift shortly thereafter. Jonas Siegenthaler coughed up a puck to Yegor Chinakhov. Vanecek let his five-hole open to let the puck just slide in from the Jacket to give Columbus a surprising 3-2 lead. With the net empty, though, the Devils would get an even more surprising event. Luke Hughes taking a puck from the right circle and torching all of Columbus end to end for an equalizer. It was a gut punch of an equalizer for Columbus, who held on for overtime. They tried to beat Vanecek in OT and came close. They nearly got beat on a rush. The dagger came when Kent Johnson fumbled a puck in the slot. Timo Meier took it, skated off on a breakaway, and beat Elvis Merzlikins clean and low for the OT loss. They put a scare in New Jersey, but they did not spoil them. It was what it was.

December 29, vs. Toronto, 6-5 OT Win: 6-5 OT Win? Yes. This game was a dog fight throughout the game. Columbus had an answer for each Toronto goal. Mitch Marner scored first, which was answered later in the first period by Cole Sillinger. Auston Matthews scored shortly after that goal. After a goalie change at intermission (Elvis Merzlikins was sick, in came Spencer Martin), the scoring picked up. Toronto’s Nick Robertson made it a two-goal game early in the second. That two-goal lead would be the largest it would get for the Maple Leafs. Brendan Gaunce made it a one-goal game a little bit after Robertson’s re-direction. A William Nylander PPG restored the two goal lead - only for Dmitri Voronkov to get his own power play goal less than two minutes later to make it 4-3. And it became 4-4 thanks to Kent Johnson 98 seconds after that goal. John Tavares closed out the second period with a last-minute PPG to make it a 5-4 game. And this held for some time. Until 13:46 of the third period, which was when Adam Fantilli tied it up. Overtime happened and Toronto was held shotless. Columbus got two and the second one was the finisher. Johnny Gaudreau dashed in a backhander around Ilya Samsonov after a Damon Severson feed in front off a faceoff win. A dramatic comeback win for Columbus and a surprising dropped point by Toronto. Do the Blue Jackets have any shot at avoiding a 60+ minute game in Buffalo, though?

December 30, at Buffalo, 3-2 OT Loss: No. And they did not win this one. They did go up first when Damon Severson scored with 13 seconds left in the first period. He got a bunch of attempts and he banged the last one in. This did not last long into the second period. Jack Quinn tied it up 40 seconds into the middle frame. But the Blue Jackets withstood the pressure and hit back with Adam Fantilli finishing a rush with Danforth (with a spin move!) to make it 2-1. The Sabres brought it onto Daniil Tarasov as he faced 13, 15, and 12 shots in each period respectively. Tarasov did well - but the Sabres tied it up in the third period. Casey Mittelstadt just ripped one from above the left dot to make it 2-2. Overtime would be needed. And it was all Buffalo for a 1:20. Tarasov denied Tyce Thompson’s power move to the net. He could not stop a one-timer slap shot from Jeff Skinner right after. Get some rest, Columbus. It was a long week.

What’s Coming Up This Week: The Blue Jackets will resume their season in 2024 by hosting Boston. That is a tough draw for any team, much less Columbus. Maybe they will have a wackier time than most would expect. On Thursday, the Blue Jackets will visit Philadelphia. This is a chance for them to spoil the Flyers a bit. They would have others in the division hoping they do just that. Columbus’ week will end back at home on Saturday when they host Minnesota, who has had a resurgence after a coaching change. Maybe take some games in regulation in this week coming up?

That was the twelfth Weekly Metropolitan Division Snapshot of the 2023-24 season. What do you expect to happen in this week coming up? Can Carolina stay in second? Or will the Islanders or Flyers jump them? Can those two teams ward off the Devils, Capitals, and Penguins gaining ground behind them? Do the Rangers do a diabolical laugh in the standings with each win, or is that just implied? Will Columbus have some less wacky weeks in 2024? 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.