1. Columbus Blue Jackets: 60 Points (28-8-4)
After winning 16 straight games, the Blue Jackets have struggled, going 1-3-0 with their one win coming in overtime. The Blue Jackets scapegoated their backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney and attempted to send him down after a 5-4 loss to the Rangers. Unfortunately for the Jackets, McElhinney was claimed by the Leafs.
McElhinney had a 2-1-2 record with a .929 sv% and a 2.39 GAA but Columbus decided to call up a relatively untested goaltender in Anton Forsberg. Unfortunately for Columbus starter Sergei Bobrovsky fell ill, forcing the Jackets to start Forsberg in net against the Canes (and call up Joonas Korpisalo to back him up, leaving AHL Cleveland goalie-less for the time being).
Forsberg entered the game with a career NHL 1-7-0 record and a GAA of 4.10 in eight games. Forsberg’s play largely cost the Blue Jackets the game against the Canes letting up four goals on 27 shots. The decision to send McElhinney down may cost the Blue Jackets in the long run.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 57 Points (26-8-5)
The Pens spent most of the last week at home enjoying their bye week. Since the beginning of 2017, Pittsburgh has played only a single game, which was a 6-2 win over the Lightning. The win is more important that what many would think. Normally coming off of a break a team would be slow and are prone to losing a game, but that wasn’t the case Sunday.
The Pens have now won five straight and are only one game behind the Caps for longest active win streak in the NHL. One of the streaks will come to an end as the two teams face off tonight at 8:00 pm. With Matt Murray still listed as day-to-day, the Penguins will have to rely on Marc-Andre Fleury to carry the load and keep the win streak going.
3. Washington Capitals: 57 Points (26-9-5)
The Washington Capitals have reclaimed the third position in the Metropolitan Division and no longer occupy a wild card position. The Caps have been able to climb the standings with a six-game win streak, the longest active streak in the NHL. These kinds of streaks are now de rigueur in the Metro, but it seems that's what it takes for a team if they want to improve in the division standings.
In Monday’s game against the Canadiens, Alex Ovechkin tied Maurice “Rocket” Richard for fifth all-time in goal scoring. Ovechkin now has 544 goals and 999 career points. Over the six-game win streak, Ovi has 7 points (3g, 4a). The team's performance has been similar as the Caps have the highest shooting percentage (14.9%) and highest PDO (110.5!!!) in the league since December 31st.
4. New York Rangers: 57 Points (28-13-1)
The Rangers are this week’s victim of the Metropolitan Division carousel. They would still be the top team in any other division in the league but are instead in a wild card position in the East. The Rangers have gone 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and have won five of their last six games. (And they lost ground!)
The Rangers have been winning despite weak possession and goaltending. The Rangers .895 team save percentage is 25th in the league and have only a 48.8 CF%. The power play unit has singlehandedly winning games for the Rangers. Their power play is clicking at an unbelievable (and unsustainable) 40% recently, with eight goals in their last 40 opportunities.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: 48 Points (21-16-6)
The Flyers are currently on one of their worst skids of the year. In their last 10 games, the Flyers’ 2-5-3 record is the worst in the Metro. Philly currently has a -9 goal differential which is the worst of any team currently in a playoff position. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the struggles have come from their goaltending.
Goaltending is an easy scapegoat because it’s the most visible position. However, the Flyers have a 52.46 CF% which is seventh best in the league. Over their last ten games, the Flyers 5.7% shooting percentage leaves a lot to be desired, but they are still outshooting teams 214-185 over this time span. The breakdown is coming between the pipes: with a .890 even strength save percentage, the Flyers are the fourth worst team in goaltending since mid-December.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 45 Points (19-15-7)
After a 5-3 win against the Blue Jackets, the Canes moved up to 9th place in the East and are just three points behind the Flyers for the final wild card position in the East with two games in hand. The Canes penalty kill unit really stepped it up against Columbus killing all four penalties successfully against the league’s top power play.
As impressive as the win against Columbus looks, it was also against a goaltender playing his first NHL game of the season. It would have been much more troubling if the Canes lost the game and were unable to beat an AHL caliber goalie. Another issue for the Canes is that Cam Ward has started 17 straight games, and looked fatigued in the game against Columbus, where he had a .889 sv% and let up multiple weak goals.
The Canes need to find a goaltender that can give Ward a night off without costing the Canes a game. It was a little frustrating seeing the Canes pass up on both Jaroslav Halak and McElhinney, but the Canes feel confident in Eddie Lack when he's healthy. The good news for the Canes is that they are halfway through a four-game homestand and are so far two for two and are 13-4-2 at home for the season.
7. New Jersey Devils: 40 Points (16-18-8)
The Devils struggles continue this season. In their most recent homestand, the Devils went winless with a 0-2-1 record. Over this span, the Devils have an abysmal 3.3 shooting percentage and have been outscored 9-3. Their most recent loss came against the Florida Panthers and gave Roberto Luongo his 448th career win moving him up to 5th place on the all-time wins list.
The Devils’ breakdowns have not come at even strength. Their goaltending has a .966 even strength save percentage, but the team has only killed 63% of their penalties successfully. The Devils have given up four power play goals, and a short handed goal over this same span. Unfortunately, they now go on a four-game road trip to face the Oilers, Flames, Canucks, and Wild. Three of those teams are currently in playoff position and the Canucks sit just one point out.
8. New York Islanders: 38 Points (15-15-8)
The Islanders have been noticeably less successful than the Penguins coming off of their bye week. The Isles were off from 12/31-12/6 and since returning to action have gone 0-0-2 with 2-1 losses to both the Avalanche and the Panthers in extra time. After coming out of the break the Isles came out slow and have only had possession 48.2% of the time. Goaltending has performed admirably, posting a .957 Sv% in both games since returning.
Where the Islanders have really hurt is scoring. They have only converted on 2.2% of their even strength shots in 2017. To add insult to injury for Isles fans, former Islanders Kyle Okposo and Frans Nielsen were both named to the 2017 Atlantic Division All-Star Team - two players who the Isles decided to let walk this offseason.