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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Some Rise and Many Fall

The Penguins climb to the top of the division despite multiple injuries, with the Devils close behind.

NHL: New York Rangers at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 15 Points (7-3-1)

The Penguins sit atop the Metropolitan Division with 15 total points in 11 games played, which they’ve accomplished despite having a -7 GD. The goal differential is mainly due to former backup Antti Niemi who let up 16 goals in just three games. The Penguins placed Niemi on waivers, and he was claimed by the Panthers after the injury to Roberto Luongo. Casey DeSmith, with a .980 save percentage in three AHL games this year, took his place as NHL backup.

The Penguins are also dealing with injuries to center Carter Rowney and defenseman Matt Hunwick. On top of this Justin Schultz left Tuesday’s game with a concussion and is also likely to miss time. In the meantime, the Pens will rely on Chad Ruhwedel and Zach Trotman to step up in their absence. The Pens did finally acquire the third line center they have been looking for, by acquiring Riley Sheahan from the Detroit Red Wings in exchange for Scott Wilson and a 2018 third-round pick.

2. New Jersey Devils: 12 Points (6-2-0)

The Devils at the moment sit in a better place than the Penguins in the standings: one less point than the Pens, but with two more games in hand. Much like the Hurricanes, the Devils have had an odd October schedule including a full week’s break. The Devils haven’t played a game since a 3-0 loss to the Sharks last Friday, and don’t play again until tonight at home against the Senators. Last season, teams coming off of their bye weeks did not fare well when they returned, and while this wasn’t an official bye week they still face a tall challenge.

On top of their scheduling oddities, starting goaltender Cory Schneider was placed on IR last Wednesday and has yet to return to practice. In his relief, Keith Kinkaid let up three goals in the loss to the Sharks, only the second of the season for the Devils. Despite that performance, the backup still has a .935 sv% this season, so the Devils are seemingly in good hands until Schneider returns.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 12 Points (6-3-0)

After we complemented the Blue Jackets defense and goaltending in this space last Friday, they promptly took a nosedive over the last week. Sergei Bobrovsky let up seven goals on 52 shots, which works out to a .867 sv%, 44th in the league over that time. They were able to get back on track against the three-win Buffalo Sabres Wednesday night with a convincing 5-1 win. (Wednesday Night Rivalry!!!!)

The next seven days are going to be tough on the Jackets. This stretch includes three games in four days with games tonight, Saturday, and Monday as well as a game Thursday before the schedule returns to normal. Each game also alternates between home and away, likely leading to at least a bit of fatigue. It also means that backup Joonas Korpisalo is likely to see much more action than normal.

4. New York Islanders: 11 Points (5-4-1)

After beating the Rangers in a tight game last week, the Isles strung together two 5-3 victories against the San Jose Sharks and the Arizona Coyotes, giving them a three-game win streak that ended with a loss to the Minnesota Wild last night. The win over the woebegone Coyotes featured a hat trick from John Tavares, who now has 10 points in as many games.

The Islanders struggled to get secondary scoring last season, but this season they are getting contributions from the likes of Andrew Ladd, Calvin de Haan, and Casey Cizikas who have five points each and five goals between them. The addition of Jordan Eberle this offseason has also provided more playmaking ability to the roster as he has already recorded six assists. These additions have powered the Islanders to five early wins and 11 points in the team’s first ten games.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 10 Points (5-5-0)

In the past week, the Flyers won a defensive battle against the Edmonton Oilers and got blown out by the Anaheim Ducks. Both games saw Brian Elliott get the start in net over Michal Neuvirth. Despite the 6-2 loss, the Flyers still have the best team percentage at .949. Neuvirth is also the league leader with a .957 sv% in three games played. What’s crazy is despite that stat line by Neuvirth he only boasts a 1-2-0 record.

The Flyers aren’t struggling to produce, with their 8.6 shooting percentage better than half of the league. However, they are struggling to score consistently. The Flyers scored 19 goals in a three-game span, and put up four in a loss to the Senators last night, but have struggled to score more than two goals on any given night outside of those games.

6. Carolina Hurricanes: 9 Points (4-3-1)

The Hurricanes got off to a good 3-1-1 start, but looked subpar in the following two games before bouncing back in Toronto last night. The Canes have had a tough schedule to start the season: on top the lengthy road trip, seven of their first 10 games come against against playoff teams from last year. Oddly, so far the Canes’ three losses have come against the non-playoff teams, albeit the Lightning are the hottest team in the league.

Now the Canes face quick-fire games against the Blues and Ducks to close out the month. Because of recent losses to the Stars and Lightning, the Canes need to turn around their play before they enter a slump. The one thing about the Canes schedule that is tricky, is that they still have played the fewest number of games in the NHL, so their point total is artificially low.

Shifting gears, the Canes sent Martin Necas back to the Czech Republic, which is smart. With the Checkers crowded and limited spots in the NHL, it was smart not to burn a slide year. The Canes do need to give Janne Kuokkanen more playing time. The rookie has been in the press box while Josh Jooris has been getting more playing time. This is very confusing to me as a team that needs more skill on the ice. Kuokkanen could be playing on the second or third line with Brock McGinn moving to the fourth.

7. Washington Capitals: 9 Points (4-5-1)

The Caps now face even more injury trouble as Andre Burakovsky has now landed on IR with hand surgery. This now stretches the Caps even thinner at forward, moving Alex Chiasson to the second line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov. In other injury news, it doesn’t seem too serious, but Alex Ovechkin left practice on Monday limping. Though he shouldn’t miss time, it could affect his speed and explosiveness, and is the last thing the Caps need.

Ovechkin’s health is an issue because he has been able to really wallpaper over the Caps’ weaknesses with his 10 goals, accounting for 37% of the Caps total goal production. Washington now faces their own Western Canada road trip as they try to find a good lineup and get the scoring going again which, given the depleted lineup, may be a daunting task, and began with a blowout loss to the Canucks last night.

8. New York Rangers: 8 Points (3-6-2)

The Rangers have played the most games out of any team in the Metro, but only have eight points and three regulation wins to show for it. The Rangers have never been a good possession team, as they play a counter-attacking style. However, with losing skill this past offseason and getting older, they have lacked the speed and shooters necessary to convert chances, and it’s led to a real struggle to generate offense, bolstered by putting five past the Coyotes last night but still mired in 23rd at 2.73 goals per game

While in the past the Rangers could get away with scoring only two goals per game, Henrik Lundqvist really seems to be slowing down. His .900 sv% is tied for 40th by goalies this season, and his 3.12 GAA is just 37th.