Welcome back to our weekly division roundup, where we keep you posted on what’s happening elsewhere in the Metro. We start today with a rather surprising entry atop the division standings:
New Jersey Devils: 6 Points (3-0-0)
The Devils are the last remaining regulation-unbeaten team in the Metropolitan Division. The Devils have been riding on the back of great goaltending, with a .960 sv% at even strength. New Jersey has just five goals against in three games, which is the third best in the league. When you have great goaltending, you don’t need to light up the scoreboard.
The Devils have been a much more exciting team this season than last. The Devils’ shooting percentage is around 10%, and in their most recent win against the Maple Leafs, Brian Gibbons was able to score a rare 3 on 5 shorthanded goal.
Washington Capitals: 5 Points (2-1-1)
Many predicted that the Caps would take a step back this season, including myself, but they are determined to prove everyone wrong. Their only regulation loss came Wednesday against the defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins. Alex Ovechkin looks to be back to his old self scoring seven goals in the first two games of the season, and one more on Wednesday. Evgeny Kuznetsov has been earning every dollar of his new $62.4 million contract with eight assists in the first four games of the season.
The Caps’ issues are mainly with depth; their bottom pairing and bottom six are weak this season. These issues won’t manifest themselves until later in the season, when teams have long road trips and get bogged down. At the moment they aren’t feeling any of these issues and have a strong start.
Pittsburgh Penguins: 5 Points (2-2-1)
The Penguins looked to suffer from a Stanley Cup hangover in their first two games of the season by a combined 15-5, includng a 10-1 clocking at the hands of the Blackhawks. The Penguins were able to turn it around with wins against the Nashville Predators and Washington Capitals. The Pens have welcomed the return of Kris Letang who was -5 until breaking through with his first goal of the season on Wednesday against the Caps.
The Pens have the most back to back sets in the league with 19. This has already affected them as their first two games were back to back, and they faced back to back games against the Caps and Lightning on Wednesday and Thursday. Much like the Caps, they have depth issues. Now without Marc-Andre Fleury they no longer have two starting-caliber goalies and will be more prone to drop the second game in these series.
Columbus Blue Jackets: 4 Points (2-1-0)
Welp, good luck scoring on the Blue Jackets this year. In Sergei Bobrovsky’s two starts he has allowed just one goal, which was Jeff Skinner’s late game equalizer on Tuesday. Before that goal, Bob had five straight shutout periods, and was just a minute away from making it six. Columbus’s lone loss came when Joonas Korpisalo took over in net and let in five goals. Its not shocking to see teams struggling to score on Columbus, given the MO from John Tortorella teams in the past.
What has been big for the Blue Jackets has been the addition of Artemi Panarin. Panarin is yet to score, but has three assists in three games. He is forcing defenses to stick to him allowing for other players to get open. The most unexpected success on the team is Sonny Milano, who already has four goals in his first three games.
Philadelphia Flyers: 4 Points (2-2-0)
The Nolan Patrick Era has begun in Philly as he scored his first career goal Tuesday against the Nashville Predators. The Flyers were able to snag the Canadian winger when they moved up from 13th to second in the draft. Patrick was widely considered to be the top prospect through most of the season. He will be a sure top six winger and will be a sure 20 goal scorer this season.
Unfortunately for Flyers fans, aside from Patrick, it looks like it’s going to be more of the same. The Flyers have been able to score 15 goals in four games, but they have also let in 15 goals in those games. The Flyers have struggled to limit opponents’ chances and have struggled on the penalty kill. At even strength they have struggled for possession with a 47.6% Corsi. On the PK the have only killed 70.6% of penalties and have already allowed five power play goals.
Carolina Hurricanes: 3 Points (1-0-1)
The Carolina Hurricanes have had a completely opposite start from what they are used to. Last year the team lost two close games in overtime to start the season, and this year they gutted out two overtime wins. The Canes have a lot more speed and skill than in years past, which has been made clear with Sebastian Aho’s assists in the first game, and Skinner’s snipe in the second game.
Defense looked a little dicey in the game one, but putting Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce back together helped. Defensive pairings take a little while to gel, so it’s not shocking to see some early struggles. These struggles in the first game made it seem like new goaltender Scott Darling was more of the same, however he showed his true potential in game two.
The Canes’ biggest struggle and most obvious weakness remains the power play unit. It’s too early to fully condemn the unit, but they were all but handed a win against the Blue Jackets when they got a full two minute 4-3 power play in overtime, but were unable to convert. The team is dangerous on entries, but once they set up there is no movement. This was the same case in the two man advantage during the Minnesota Wild. Teams who are successful tend to cycle and move to pull defenders out of position, while the Canes just pass.
New York Islanders: 3 Points (1-2-1)
Despite the Islanders’ middling start, they have two huge questions. Where do they play in the long run? They have a deal through next season for the Barclays Center, but after that all their eggs are in the Belmont basket. The next biggest question is, can they re-sign John Tavares? The center and the Islanders haven’t been close in their contract talks.
This team is in a huge transition phase. I hope the Islanders stay in NY, but there is a very big chance they go elsewhere, especially if the new arena plan falls through. Is some of this talk because I want the Canes out of it? Yes, you’re right, but the Isles are still in hot water.
New York Rangers: 2 Points (1-3-0)
The Rangers are off to a very slow start in the competitive Metro. Despite playing four games, they have only been able to muster one win for two points. Coming into the season the Rangers needed to hope that Henrik Lundqvist would return to form to cover up their weakness up the middle and shaky third pairing. Four games in, he hasn’t. With a .898 sv% he ranks 28th in the league.
Even with the struggles of Lundqvist, Alain Vigneault is the Vegas favorite to be the first coach axed this season (maybe Nov. 22 in Carolina, I hear the taxi service is great). Vigneault has historically made questionable line up decisions which he has caught heat for, see Tanner Glass. This season the Rangers already have a -5 goal differential through five games and a 68% PK success rate. If they don’t turn the act around soon they will fall far behind in the Metro.