The Metropolitan Division is quickly establishing itself as the best division in the NHL. More than half of the teams are on significant winning streaks. This has propelled five Metro teams into the NHL’s top seven, and makes it near impossible for anyone to break away from the pack — in either direction.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 41 Points (19-7-3)
The Penguins are the second hottest team in the league behind the Flyers and have a six-game win streak. In the month of December, the Penguins have a league-high 15.7% shooting percentage and lead the league by a mile with 35 goals. The closest team to them is the Flyers who have scored 24 goals in December. Thieir dominance was on full display on Monday when the Pens won 7-0 against the Coyotes.
In December it hasn’t just been Sidney Crosby; the entire big three are tied for second in the league in total scoring in December. Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel have 10 points. Crosby is also second in the league with six goals and averaging a goal per game. The Penguins’ dominance is cautioned, though, by their league-leading PDO of 106.1, which clearly means this won't be sustainable for the long term.
2. New York Rangers: 41 Points (20-10-1)
Before dropping a home game 2-1 against the Blackhawks last night, the Rangers had a three-game win streak. Despite being tied for the division lead, there has been a lot of talk surrounding Henrik Lundqvist’s play. Antti Raanta has been outplaying Lundqvist all season. Raanta’s .943 season save percentage is third in the league, and his .984 mark in December is the league’s best. He has played so well that Lundqvist has been a backup for four straight games, the first time that's happened in his 11-year career.
The Rangers have been able to string wins together with superior special teams play. Through December, New York’s power play unit has been successful 27.3% of the time, good for fifth place. Their penalty kill unit also ranks sixth with an 88.2% success rate. The Rangers have been able to take advantage of opponents’ mistakes while covering up their own throughout their streak.
3. Washington Capitals: 39 Points (18-7-3)
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: the Caps are on fire. The Caps are also on a five-game win streak, which for almost every other division would be the cream of the crop. However, in the Metro, that's only good enough for the 4th best streak in the division. The Caps’ biggest weakness historically is secondary scoring but that hasn't been the case this month.
When Alex Ovechkin isn’t scoring, often the Caps lose. However, this month Ovi is eighth on the team in scoring and the Caps have won five straight. In the meantime, both Marcus Johansson and Evgeny Kuznetsov have both averaged a point per game, and lead the team with seven points in seven games. The biggest reason for this uptick in offensive play has been the Caps possession numbers: the Caps have a 53.4% Corsi for percentage, which is more than a full point higher than their season average of 52.3%.
4. Philadelphia Flyers: 39 Points (18-10-3)
The Flyers are the hottest team in the NHL and have won nine straight games. Before the win streak, Philly was in sixth place with only 23 points. Now the team sits eight games over .500, has yet to lose in December, and are in third place in the division.
Powering the Flyers to their nine-game win streak has been the play of Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. Both Voracek and Giroux are top five in points for the league over their nine-game span, with 15 and 11 points respectively. Goaltending has also remained steady over this time after struggling early. Over the first month and a half of the season, the Flyers had a sub .800 save percentage and were dead last in the league. Since November 29, both Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth have averaged over a .920 Sv%.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 38 Points (17-5-4)
The Blue Jackets are tied with the Penguins for the second hottest team in the league with six straight wins. The biggest benefit for the Jackets is that they have at least two games in hand on every team in the Metro and will have more time to catch the top two teams.
Over the six-game win streak, the Blue Jackets haven’t shown a weakness. Their shooting percentage is 9.7% with a .941 Sv% for an overall PDO of 103.9. They have not conceded more than two goals over this six-game span while also scoring at a torrid 4.17 goals per game. As long as Sergei Bobrovsky is healthy, the Blue Jackets are going to be nearly impossible to beat.
6. New Jersey Devils: 30 Points (12-10-6)
The Devils are one of two teams who have lost multiple games in a row in the division. The Devils’ drop in the standings can easily be explained by their PDO. When the Devis were playing well at the beginning of the season their PDO was 99.8. However, in the last six weeks, the Devils’ PDO has dropped to a 97.2.
This drop in save percentage is mainly due to their goaltending play. Cory Schneider started off as one of the hottest goaltenders in the league. Now Schneider has a .879 save percentage, which ranks 48th in the league. The Devils’ successful start was mainly due to their ability to win low scoring games. However, during their last three games they have let up 14 goals, hardly a recipe for success.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: 30 Points (12-11-6)
The Carolina Hurricanes have moved up to a tie for sixth place after an 8-6 home win against the Vancouver Canucks last night. Here is the crazy thing: the Canes would be tied for fourth in the Atlantic Division with the Lightning, Panthers, and Red Wings. The Canes had a tough stretch where 9 out of 11 games came on the road, but now have a lengthy home stand to string multiple games together and are riding a seven-game home winning streak.
The Canes have been frustrating to watch at times by grasping defeat from the jaws of victory. What is good to see out of the team is that they won a game they would typically lose against the Canucks. Winning a game 8-6 is not the normal way that the Canes like to play, but winning a high scoring game with a healthy team shows that the Canes can compete in any type of game.
A huge bright spot for the Canes this season has been the penalty kill unit which leads the league with a 92.3% success rate. The Canes have still yet to give up a power play goal in December and have scored two short-handed goals in the same period. What is uncharacteristic for the Canes, and slightly under the radar, has been their success on the power play. The Canes have the seventh best power play in the league in December, converting on 25% of their opportunities.
8. New York Islanders: 27 Points (11-12-5)
The New York Islanders are the only other team that have lost consecutive games in the Metro. Despite this their last 10 game record of 5-4-1 is actually better than both the Hurricanes and the Devils — even the last place team in the division is performing well. The Islanders are looking to make a trade to shake up their roster to help produce more scoring and lift the team from the bottom of the conference.
However, one player that is no longer on the block is Cal Clutterbuck. The pending free agent signed a five-year, $17.5 million contract on Friday worth an average of $3.5 mil per year. The move is a bit risky as Clutterbuck’s 10 points (2g, 8a) are just eighth on the team which has been struggling to score. On top of this Clutterbuck’s corsi-for percentage is just 46.56% on a team that is second to last in the league in possession. So...why, exactly?