A trip around the Metropolitan Division: Dec. 14

Rob Carr

The Penguins continue to set the pace for the division while the Islanders keep on fading at the bottom. In the middle, though, is a fight for position between teams all separated by two or fewer points.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins (22-10-1)

The Penguins are 4-1 so far in December, with their latest win coming in a 3-2 win over the Devils in Pittsburgh on Friday night.

Their only loss in December came in a 3-2 loss to the Bruins on the road.

The Pittsburgh offense is averaging 3.00 goals per game, good for first in the Eastern Conference.

The defense is allowing an average of 2.21 goals per game, which is fourth in the NHL.

The hot streak will have to continue without the services of some top defenseman for Pittsburgh. Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin and Rob Scuderi are all injured for Pittsburgh.

According to NHL.com, Scuderi is the closest to returning.

"Obviously we're missing great players," rookie defenseman Olli Maatta said in an interview with NHL.com. "But when it happens, there's nothing we can do about it right now. All we can do is just everybody has to step up a little bit and everybody's done it pretty well and we just have to keep doing what we've done so far."

James Neal will not play in PIttsburgh's next game, either. He is serving a suspension.

Tanner Glass, Beau Bennett and Andrew Ebbett are also injured.

Sidney Crosby will look to lead the Penguins forward. He has a league-leading 44 points. He has points in 13 of his last 16 games.

Chris Kunitz leads the team with 17 goals.

The Penguins next travel to Detroit for a Saturday night matchup. Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m.

2. Washington Capitals (17-12-3)

The Capitals dropped a shootout decision to the Panthers on Friday night to snap a three-game winning streak.

In their last five games on the road, Washington is 3-0-2.

The Capitals surrendered more than 40 shots against Florida which is the seventh time the team has done that so far this season.

When Washington last played a full 82-game schedule in 2011-2012, the club surrendered 40 or more shots in eight games.

Joel Ward scored his 10th goal of the season against the Panthers. It marks his first double digit goal campaign since he was a member of the Nashville Predators.

Only Ovechkin, who has 26 goals, has more goals than Ward.

The Capitals will be in action on Sunday for a 3:00 p.m. start against the Flyers in Washington.

3. Carolina Hurricanes (13-13-7)

The Hurricanes will wrap up a four-game Western Conference road trip on Saturday night against the Coyotes.

Through the first three games of the trip, Carolina is 0-1-2 after dropping an overtime game to Calgary on Thursday.

After wrapping things up in Phoenix, Carolina will have a long rest. They next play on Dec. 20 when they host the Capitals.

Alexander Semin returned for Carolina on Thursday.

Jeff Skinner has seven goals in his last six games.

Mike Komisarek, Anton Khudobin and Brett Bellemore are injured for Carolina.

Elias Lindholm left the game in Calgary with an injury and is questionable for the Hurricanes.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (14-15-3)

The Blue Jackets have started December with a 4-1 mark and have a chance to move up in the standings as three of their next four contests are at home.

With injuries to Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney, Mike McKenna has been forced into duty for the Blue Jackets.

McKenna, 30, grew up in St. Louis. His next action should come on Saturday night against the Blues.

"It's my hometown," McKenna said in an interview with the Columbus Dispatch. "As you get older and move around, I think you lose that emotional attachment. There will be a lot of people watching back home, but that was a big stage in New York (on Thursday), too. It's the NHL, it's all a big stage."

Goaltender Jeremy Smith has also been recalled from AHL Springfield.

Forward Matt Calvert has goals in three-straight for the Blue Jackets.

Ryan Johansen is riding a career-high seven game point streak. During that stretchm he has nine points.

Marian Gaborik, Nathan Horton, Cody Bass, Jared Boll and James Wisniewski are injured for Columbus.

The Blue Jackets and the Blues will drop the puck at 7:00 p.m. Saturday.

5. Philadelphia Flyers (14-15-3)

In December, the Flyers have won only twice, defeating the Red Wings and Canadiens.

On Sunday, Philadelphia will begin a crucial four game stretch against teams from the Metropolitan Division.

The Flyers will have a home-and-home with the Capitals, before they have the same scenario against the Blue Jackets.

The first game against the Capitals will be a 3:00 p.m. start in Washington.

6. New York Rangers (15-17-1)

The Rangers have lost some ground thanks to four-straight losses.

After a 3-1 win over the Sabres on the road, the Rangers kicked off a nine-game homestand with an 0-1-3 record.

The homestand will continue for New York when the Flames come to town. Puck drop is set for 7:00 p.m.

Brad Richards will look to lead the Rangers on the homestand. He notched his team-leading 25th point on Thursday.

Richards also played for more than 23 minutes and shot nine times- a season high for him.

7. New Jersey Devils (12-15-6)

The Devils went down 3-0 against the division-leading Penguins on Friday but a rally fell  short as they lost 3-2.

The loss put the Devils' December record to 1-4-1. The only win came in a 4-3 decision in New York against the Rangers.

In the last two periods of the game against Pittsburgh, the Devils outshot the Penguins 32-11.

Patrik Elias is riding a five-game point streak with six points during that stretch.

For the Devils, outshooting opponents is not enough, coach Peter DeBoer said in an interview with MSG Network.

"You get tired of moral victories," DeBoer said. "You have to get points (in the standings), that's the bottom line."

The Devils will play the latter half of a back-to-back when they host the Lightning on Saturday night at 7:00 p.m.

Bryce Salvador, Peter Harrold, Adam Larsson, Ryan Carter and Stephen Gionta are injured for New Jersey.

8. New York Islanders (9-19-5)

The Islanders have spiraled to the bottom of the division, winning only once in their last 12 games.

Only Buffalo (-40) has a worse goal differential than the Islanders' -34.

Ryan Strome, selected fifth overall in the 2011 NHL draft, has been called up and is expected to make his NHL debut on Saturday night against the Canadiens.

Strome was leading the AHL in scoring at the time of his call up.

Evgeni Nabokov, who has not played since Nov. 16, has returned and backed up Kevin Poulin on Thursday.

The Islanders allowed more than four goals for the 10th time this season in the 6-3 loss to the Coyotes on Thursday.

The Islanders will host Montreal at 7:00 p.m. Saturday.

Casey Cizikas was injured Thursday and is questionable. Radek Martinek and Lubomir Visnovsky are on injured reserve.

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