1. New Jersey Devils: 25 Points (11-4-3)
With an overtime loss to the Maple Leafs last night, the Devils kept themselves level with the Pittsburgh Penguins atop the Metro, but with three games in hand. Cory Schneider finally looked like himself again, pitching a three-period shutout before letting up the game-winner in overtime to William Nylander. The game also featured a save of the year candidate when Schneider dove across the crease to save a rebound shot by Tyler Bozak.
The even better news for the Devils is that they are starting to get players back from injury. Travis Zajac returned to play last night against the Leafs. Marcus Johansson has resumed skating and is also nearing a return. The already hot Devils are looking to be able to widen their lead on the division with a full roster.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 25 Points (11-7-3)
The Penguins are largely being propped up by Phil Kessel, who leads the team with eight goals and 24 points. At the other end, though the Penguins are struggling mightily this season defensively, where they boast a -15 goal differential. Granted, ten of those goals came from an early season loss against the Blackhawks, but when you dig into the numbers they don’t look great.
Matt Murray is still hovering around a .900 sv%, and many of their key players have been struggling. Both Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby have a team worst -12 +/- rating, which is also tied for sixth to last in the league. If you want to look at the advanced numbers, they don’t improve. Crosby’s 25% GF% is second worst on the team, and Letang’s 27.78% is third worst. This shows that the Penguins are actually likely to fall in the standings unless these numbers change.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 23 Points (11-7-1)
On paper, the Blue Jackets are in second place with a two-game win streak and things seem to be looking up. However, their last two wins both came in extra time against the Red Wings and the struggling Canadiens. The Blue Jackets’ success last season was mainly due to the success of Sergei Bobrovsky, which the Canes have seen in the two games that they have played against Columbus.
In more good news for the Blue Jackets, they secured one of their best players for the next seven years. Last night Columbus and right winger Cam Atkinson agreed to a seven-year, $40.25 million contract, an AAV of $5.75 million per season. In his last four seasons, he scored 40 or more points and 20 or more goals. The 28-year-old is set to be a major piece of the Blue Jackets organization moving forward.
4. New York Islanders: 22 Points (10-6-2)
The Islanders are tied for the longest streak in the division with a monumental...uh, two wins in a row. The promising news for the Islanders is that they finally have Mathew Barzal, Josh Ho-Sang, and Ryan Pulock all on the team at the same time. The broadcast last night brought up that the Islanders have 12 first round picks on their team, the most in the NHL, and it’s vital that these young guys can step up.
The three rookies are responsible for 25 points, with Barzal leading the way in both goals and assists with four goals and 13 assists. The Devils and Flyers both moved up in the lottery last year and also had good picks in the last couple of drafts, but the Islanders are cementing themselves not only in the standings but as a top young team in the division.
5. Washington Capitals: 21 Points (10-9-1)
The Washington Capitals have now dropped two games in a row to the Nashville Predators and the Colorado Avalanche. The Caps were able to largely overcome their injuries until lately, when they really started taking a toll. I mentioned before that the Caps’ depth would be an issue and we are starting to see it. In their last five games, the Caps are 2-3-0. When you rely on only three players to score, if they don’t you are in trouble.
In last night’s game coach Barry Trotz scratched rookie Jakub Vrana. I think this looks a lot like last year when Dave Hakstol would bench Shayne Gostisbehere for his team’s play, despite the young player’s ability and performance. I just don’t see how benching the third-leading goal scorer on your team is the best motivational move. What are the Caps trying to accomplish here?
6. New York Rangers: 20 Points (9-8-2)
The Rangers were the hottest team in the NHL for the last two weeks winning six straight games, but their streak came to an end on Wednesday with a 6-3 loss to the Blackhawks. Before beginning their streak on Halloween, the Rangers were the second-bottom team in the league, ahead of only the Coyotes. After rattling off six wins and 12 points in the first 15 days of November, they are in the thick of the Metro, just four points out of first place.
Powering the Blueshirts has been their top line of Mika Zibanejad, Pavel Buchnevich, and Chris Kreider. The three have combined for nine goals and 20 total points in the last seven games. One of the most fun stats of the year comes from the Rangers as well: Michael Grabner has eight total goals, and four of them are empty net goals. His 1.93 G/60 is 17th in the league for players who have played at least five games, just .02 behind Jeff Skinner.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 19 Points (8-8-3)
The Flyers gained a point last night in a shootout loss, which moved them up in the standings. The bad news for the Flyers is that they lost top pairing defenseman Radko Gudas to a potentially lengthy suspension. After getting high sticked by Mathieu Perreault, Gudas decided to two-hand slash Perreault in the head, and it looked terrible. In my opinion, for what its worth, Gudas should get 10 games. The slash was dirty and gut-wrenching, but I never played in the NHL so I’m not qualified to be in the Department of Player Safety.
In a complete turn around from last season, the Flyers are sixth in the league when it comes to goals against, and that is what has allowed them to stay in games. Last season, they were dead last in goaltending which is why they were in the basement. This year, their +1 goal differential is good for fourth in the division
8. Carolina Hurricanes: 18 Points (7-6-4)
Before last night’s loss, the Carolina Hurricanes had a five-game point streak. That kind of streak is what the Canes need to try to improve in the standings; however, they left a lot of points on the board. The Avalanche, the worst team last year, and the Coyotes, by far the worst team this year, both beat the Canes. The Canes entered the third period with a two-goal lead against the Blackhawks and lost in overtime. Last night the Canes took a one-goal lead into the third period and managed to lose by two goals.
These kinds of losses are what sinks a team and really hurts their chances for the playoffs. I don’t think it’s time for doom and gloom: the Canes are still only five points behind the leaders of the division and have played two fewer games than anyone else in the division. There is plenty of time to make a move, but it is just frustrating to see a team give up valuable points.
I have seen a lot of negative comments about Scott Darling’s play from last night and it's frustrating. When Cam Ward was visibly giving games away last season, those people weren’t saying anything. Darling is still the answer in net. Sure, the third goal was rough and went off his glove, but the first two came from a two on one misplay in the offensive zone. The second goal was a shorthanded breakaway that was also from a misplay in the offensive zone. There were struggles across the ice from the entire team, not just Darling. It's only that his mistakes are more visible.