Another week, another long winning streak. Such is life in the Metro, home to five of the top eight teams in the league standings, and where the only losses apparently come when two division teams play each other and both teams can’t win.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 47 Points (21-7-5)
The Pens have now spent two straight weeks at the top of the Metro standings and they deserve it after dismantling the second place New York Rangers last night 7-2. The Penguins play has been stellar in the month of December as they have yet to drop a game in regulation this month.
The Pens have still been led by the play of Sidney Crosby who is having the best goal scoring season of his career. Currently, he is scoring .81 goals per game which means he is on pace to score 61 goals, which is ten better than his current career high of 51 in the 2009-2010 season. Over the next week or two the Pens will need to rely upon Matt Murray after his platoon partner, Marc-Andre Fleury, took a skate to the throat on Monday against the Maple Leafs. Fleury was OK and received stitches but will need time to heal before he comes back, giving the crease almost exclusively to Murray for the foreseeable future.
2. New York Rangers: 47 Points (23-11-1)
As mentioned, the Rangers lost their head-to-head matchup with the division-leading Penguins last night by a 7-2 score. Now it's not shocking to lose to the Penguins; to be fair, most of the league has been doing that this year. However, 7-2 is the least Rangers-esque score we’ve seen in the past few seasons. This is a team that is notorious for low scoring games and good goaltending, how have we gotten to this. Over the past few weeks, we have been quick to point to Henrik Lundqvist’s below average play, but this time it was the previously-red hot Antti Raanta who struggled.
Raanta has led the team in save percentage but last night posted a measly .851%. What isn’t his fault is that the team let up 47 shots against (!!!). That is an insane number of shots against, but considering the Rangers 47.3% Corsi this isn’t too far out of the ordinary for them. They are the fourth-worst team in the league and second-worst in the Eastern Conference in possession numbers. As a result, when their goaltending isn’t spectacular, they lose games in rather spectacular fashion.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 46 Points (21-5-4)
The Columbus Blue Jackets currently have a ten-game win streak, which is de rigeur for the Metro. It’s the second week in a row that a division team has hit a double-digit win streak, after the Flyers had their own snapped last week. Though the Blue Jackets are listed as third in the standings, they have played significantly fewer games than both the Penguins and the Rangers who are ahead of them. A single win in one of the games in hand will move them to the top of the division.
Read that again: the Columbus Blue Jackets are a game in hand away from leading the division.
The most impressive thing about this team is that they are dominating across all areas of the game. The Blue Jackets have the league's best goaltender, the best power play, and the second-best shooting percentage. Sergei Bobrovsky has a .932 Sv%, the team has converted on 27.1% of their power play chances, and 10.8% of all of their shots on goal have found the net - and those numbers have all gone up through December. Seriously, the best strategy against this team right now is to just simply get out of the way.
4. Philadelphia Flyers: 42 Points (19-11-4)
After winning ten straight of their own, the Flyers have now lost two straight. Fortunately for Philly, they still have a one point lead over the Caps for the first wild card spot and a nine point lead over the Hurricanes for the second. The downturn in the Flyers performance is mainly due to their shooting percentage. During the streak, they converted on 10.3% of their shots; last week it was down to 6.3%.
It seems obvious: fewer goals equal fewer wins. However, the Flyers had been able to cover up questionable goaltending and defensive play with that high shooting percentage. The good news is that the Flyers team goaltending has improved in the last week or so. The bad news is they still only hold a team save percentage of .889, good for fourth-worst in the league. This is why a 4% drop in shooting percentage can drastically affect this team. The Flyers are likely to be a team with high highs and low lows all season.
5. Washington Capitals: 41 Points (19-8-3)
It's pretty remarkable when a team can go on a six-game winning streak and still be only fifth in the division, but welcome to life in the Metro. Unfortunately for the Caps that streak came to an end on Saturday in a hard-fought loss to the Montreal Canadiens.
Since December 5th, when their streak began, the key to the Caps’ success has been their power play, clicking at a 38.1% success rate in the last two weeks. Needless to say, it's hard to lose when that’s happening. It's no surprise that leading the resurgent power play unit is Alex Ovechkin who has two goals in this time frame, but six other players have also decided to join the fun. Most teams have two power play units, so this means that 70% of the Caps’ power play personnel has scored a goal during this hot streak.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 33 Points (13-11-7)
The Hurricanes have had quite the week. The Canes quickly came out and grabbed a three-game point streak putting them at ninth in the East (yet still only sixth in the division). Then on Monday the Canes game against the Red Wings was postponed due to an unsafe playing surface, which might have been the only thing standing between them and a nine-game point streak on home ice.
What's frustrating is that the media will jump on every opportunity to say the organization is a joke, but won’t talk about the Canes’ successes, of which there have been plenty to speak of this year. The Canes are nine points out of a playoff spot but are ahead of all of the Atlantic Division teams in the wild card race. Going into the season, the Canes had some noticeable holes in their roster, but young players have stepped up to fill these roles to set up the Canes to be better in the next few seasons.
The Canes had a weak start to the season, but in December the Canes have a +3 goal differential. Cam Ward has a .915 save percentage and the team shooting percentage, long a sore spot, is up above 10%. This is a recipe for success for the Canes and should give fans plenty to cheer about.
7. New Jersey Devils: 31 Points (12-13-7)
The Devils now only have one point in their last seven games and don’t look now, but they are only one point out of last place in the Metro. The Devils’ last loss was a 5-1 shellacking that came against the Nashville Predators on Tuesday, the fifth time in December that the Devils have given up five goals in a game.
The Devils’ 34 goals against in December is fourth-worst in the league and worst of any team in the East. On top of that, their -15 goal differential for the month is tied for dead last. Without possessing the puck it is tough to score, and this is true for the Devils. Their goal differential numbers directly correlate with their drop in possession numbers. Throughout December the Devils have only possessed the puck 45.6% of the time in games which is also third worst in the league. The Devils will have to improve their Corsi numbers if they hope to climb back up the Metro.
8. New York Islanders: 30 Points (12-14-6)
The Islanders broke a five-game losing streak with a win last night over the Boston Bruins who are currently in the thick of the Atlantic Division playoff race. The Islanders’ special teams play in December has been noticeably underwhelming. Their PK unit has only been able to kill 70% of their penalties. The Isles have given up eight power-play goals in only nine games played. By comparison, in the same amount of games, the Canes have only given up one.
The penalty kill unit is not the only one to blame; the power play unit has been less than stellar as well. The Islanders have only been able to successfully convert on 15% of their man advantage chances. This may not seem like a big deal, but a power play can bail out a struggling team - ask the Capitals. But when a team can’t score goals, as the Isles have had trouble doing all year, the power-play troubles become even more glaring.