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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Penguins Retake Division Lead; Blue Jackets Continue Improbable Climb

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Last week saw huge movement from almost every team. Who were the big winners and who were the big losers?

NHL: Ottawa Senators at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been a while since we’ve had a team not named the Rangers atop the Metro Division, and while they’re still tied for the lead, a hot streak for the Penguins has propelled them to the mountaintop for the time being. And, uh, check out who’s just one point out of the division lead.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 35 Points (16-7-3)

The Penguins are back on top of the division for the first time since early November. The Pens have won three straight off the back of an offensive explosion which saw them score 20 goals, highlighted by an 8-5 home victory on Monday against the Senators which saw a hat trick from noted goal scorer Bryan Rust. Monday’s game shows exactly why the Penguins are so tough to stop.

The only area of concern for the Pens is goaltending. In Monday’s game, Marc-Andre Fleury let up four goals on 16 shots in just 27 minutes of game time. Since November 22nd, Fleury ranks 47th in the league in save percentage. To put it into context, Fleury’s .873 SV% is a full twenty points less than Michael Leighton’s .893. Luckily for the Pens, they also have Matt Murray who has a significantly better save percentage of .904.

2. New York Rangers: 35 Points (17-9-1)

The Rangers have continued their streak of alternating wins and losses , which now stretches to eight games. Though New York has been able to maintain status quo, Henrik Lundqvist’s performance has looked shockingly average. Over the full season, he has a .912 SV% which is ranked 31st best in the league out of goalies who have played five or more games this season. This percentage matches his career low which came in the 2007-2008 season.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The Rangers have been able to cover up for Lundqvist with an insanely high shooting percentage of over 10%. However since November 20th when the team started alternating wins and losses this percentage has dropped to 9.2%, showing how big of an impact a high shooting percentage can have on a team, especially one with shaky goaltending.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 34 Points (15-5-4)

Columbus has continued its run as the hottest team in the league. The Blue Jackets are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games and have an active 6 game point streak. The Jackets currently have three players that are just below a point per game in average in Cam Atkinson (.96), Nick Foligno (.92), and Alexander Wennberg (.92).

If that’s not enough the Blue Jackets have one of the leading contenders for the Calder this year in Zach Werenski who has already scored 17 points (6 goals, 11 assists). As a comparison, Werenski would be third on the Hurricanes for points, behind Jeff Skinner’s 20 and Victor Rask’s 18. His six goals would also rank him fourth on the Hurricanes, and this is all at the age of 19 years old.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: 33 Points (15-10-3)

The only team that has a better win streak than the Blue Jackets are the Flyers, who have currently won six games in a row and have gone from sixth to fourth place in one week’s time. Throughout their win streak, the Flyers have won many different ways including two overtime wins, a shootout win, two comeback wins, and a wire to wire win.

The biggest factor in this win streak has been the play of their goaltenders. The Flyers’ goaltending has statistically the worst in the league this season. However, since November 27th Steve Mason has been the best goalie in the league with a .947 SV% and a 1.74 GAA. If Steve Mason can continue this level of play the Flyers will continue to be unstoppable, but one would think that Mason will come back to earth at some point. Like the Blue Jackets, though, they may build up enough of a cushion on this hot streak to compensate.

5. Washington Capitals: 31 Points (14-7-3)

As far as the Flyers have risen, the Caps have fallen. The Caps were third in the Metro this time last week but now find themselves barely hanging onto the final wild card spot. As usual, as Alex Ovechkin goes so do the Caps. Since scoring a hat trick against the Blues on 11/23 Ovechkin has been held without a goal and the Caps are treading water with a record of 2-2-1.

Over this time the Caps have had the second worst shooting percentage in the league of just 4.2%. Compounding on this issue, Braden Holtby has a save percentage of only .924 which is just 23rd best in the league. It is no surprise that the Caps are struggling to gain points in the standings when both their scoring and goaltending are slumping at the same time. All the Caps need is for one of those to return to normal numbers and they will start seeing more wins again, but they have some real catching up to do.

6. New Jersey Devils: 30 Points (12-7-6)

The Devils fell one spot last week due to the red-hot Flyers leapfrogging half the division. Over the past week, the Devils posted a record of 2-1-1 earning five points and widening their lead over the Hurricanes by two points. The Devils have continued a run of average hockey and conceded as many goals as they scored, 13 apiece. And they are still the only team without a regulation loss on home ice this season, now 8-0-2 at Prudential Center.

The Devils have not struggled due to a lack of scoring like they did in November. In fact, New Jersey had the third highest shooting percentage in the league with a 12.3% last week. The big problem is goaltending which has not been the normal case for this team. Since the start of November Cory Schneider has only been able to muster up a .893 sv%, which is only ahead of Fleury, Michal Neuvirth, and Eddie Lack in the Metro.

7. Carolina Hurricanes: 25 Points (10-10-5)

The good news is that the Hurricanes are in the middle of their longest home winning streak since 2010 with six wins. The bad news is that the Canes begin a three-game west coast road trip tonight in Anaheim. The Canes entered December just four points out of a playoff spot needing around 1.3 points per game to climb into a playoff position, but have only been on a point per game pace.

The Canes have been struggling to score goals since Jordan Staal has been sidelined with a concussion. Since Staal’s departure, the Canes rank 24th in goals, scoring only six in four games. Staal tried participating in practice but it didn’t go well and was left home for the road trip. One player who is on track to recover is Elias Lindholm, who returned to practice yesterday in a non-contact jersey. Lindholm has joined the team for the trip west and will look to return to the ice this week.

8. New York Islanders: 25 Points (10-10-5)

Don’t look now, but the woebegone Islanders have hit their stride and are a tiebreaker away from dropping the Canes into last in the division. Just last week they were four points from the Canes in seventh and now they are tied in points. The Isles have earned a 4-0-1 since the start of last week and have defeated three division rivals—the Penguins, Rangers and Capitals—over the past week.

Both John Tavares and Josh Bailey have averaged a point per game this past week, and the team had a shooting percentage of 10.5%. The team also improved in the penalty kill department. Before the win streak, the Isles had one of the worst penalty kill units and only had a success rate of 79.5%, but since last Monday the team has killed off 17 straight penalties.