1. Columbus Blue Jackets: 33 Points (16-8-1)
The Blue Jackets currently sit atop of the Metropolitan Division, and with a 7-3-0 record, they show no signs of slowing down anytime soon. The Jackets have had great play from goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky who leads the league with a .935 sv%. On top of that, youngsters Josh Anderson and Zach Werenski are both scoring in bunches. Anderson, a right winger, is leading the team with nine goals and is second on the team with 14 points, even more remarkable considering he missed training camp in a contract dispute. Werenski, a D-man, is second on the team with seven goals and third on the team with 14 points.
The odd thing about Columbus’s success is that they have done it with little to no power play success to speak of. In a complete reversal from last year, the Blue Jackets are dead last in the league with an 8.8% success rate. By comparison, at this time last year the Jackets were over 30% on the power play. Their power-play efficiency decrease actually shows how dangerous this season’s version of the team is, that they are winning without having to rely on the man advantage.
2. New York Islanders: 32 Points (15-7-2)
The Islanders are quite the interesting case over the past two seasons. Since firing Jack Capuano midway through last season, the Islanders are arguably the best team in the league. Under Capuano last season, they had a record of 17-17-8 and were dead last in the Metro through 42 games. Since promoting Doug Weight to the head job, the Isles have earned a 39-19-6 record.
Weight has coached the team to at least one point in 45 games of the 64 total that he has coached. To save you the math, this means in 70% of the games that the Isles have played under his leadership, they have gotten at least one point. What’s so crazy is the the only major roster change from when Weight took over the team came this offseason when they added Jordan Eberle, in what looks like an even better deal with every passing game. Outside of that, he has done it with virtually the same roster.
3. New Jersey Devils: 32 Points: (14-6-4)
Just as many Canes fans are, I keep waiting for the Devils to have a significant drop off in performance this season, and we might be seeing it start to happen. Just two weeks ago New Jersey was at the top of the Metro with 25 points, but have a 2-2-2 record since then, which has caused them to fall to third place. So then, what has been the cause of this dip in the standings, and is it a blip on the radar or a trend of things to come?
I won’t keep you in too much suspense: it’s the Devils playing closer to their actual potential. From the beginning of the season until the middle of November, the Devils were shooting lights out at 11.7%, and since then have only shot at an 8.4% clip. Their save percentage also saw a dip from .933 to 926. The shooting percentage is likely to come back up, but the save percentage dip is more likely to continue to fall to more earthly numbers. The Devils are making a strong case for a playoff run, and bolstered their blue line by acquiring Sami Vatanen from Anaheim this morning, but if both numbers continue to dip they may find themselves on the outside looking in.
4. Washington Capitals: 29 Points (14-10-1)
The Capitals and Alex Ovechkin were in the middle of the best story from the NHL so far this season. On Hockey Fights Cancer night last Saturday in Toronto, Ovechkin promised 13-year old cancer survivor Alex Luey that he would score a goal for him—and boy, did he deliver. Ovechkin not only scored once, he registered a hat-trick, which also moved him up to be the league lead with 18 goals.
Last month I wrote about backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer’s frustrations. At the time he had played six games and had yet to record a win. Well, that came to an end Friday when he earned his first win against, of all teams, the Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning. The backup goalie has been playing better than his .918 sv% would show this season, but this win may be what it takes to turn his confidence around. The Caps can’t make an end of the season run and postseason push with Braden Holtby playing over 70 games.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 29 Points: (13-10-3)
This is the lowest the Penguins have been in the standings at this point in the season in what seems like forever. With a 5-4-1 record in their last 10 games, things aren’t exactly looking too great, but they have rattled off a couple of wins in a row. That’s the good news. Now for the bad news: starting goaltender Matt Murray is listed as week-to-week with a lower-body injury. Taking over in his place will be...uh, Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Pittsburgh is going to have to hope for a lot of scoring to be able to cover up Jarry’s 2.83 GAA and DeSmith’s 4.30 GAA.
Over the past few weeks, Ian Cole’s name has come up as being on the trade block. With Murray out, GM Jim Rutherford may now look to move even quicker on dealing him to try to get a more capable backup goalie. I’m not too sure how much value Cole has on the market, but he could very well likely fetch a player like Andrew Hammond or Eddie Lack who are currently in the AHL. I could see the Avs making a push for Cole to add to their blueline, since they have been desperately trying to acquire defensemen.
6. New York Rangers: 28 Points: (13-10-2)
Going into Tuesday night the Rangers had an eight-game home winning streak. That was snapped with a 5-4 loss to the Florida Panthers, but it shouldn’t worry Rangers fans too much as they still have a 7-3-0 record in their last ten and had a great November, which has seen them rise from last to a point out of a playoff position. They do have quite the test upcoming: four straight games against Metropolitan Division teams. The stretch against the Canes, Pens, Caps, and Devils has huge standings implications for not just now but in the long run.
Despite the outcome of those four games, there is one main winner of this season for the Rangers: captain Ryan McDonagh. Last season when McDonagh was lugging Dan Girardi around the ice, his performance was down, and many were saying that he wasn’t captain material. This season, McDonagh’s Corsi has improved from 46.23% to 51.42%, and he’s increased his points per 60 from 1.34 last season to 1.47 this year. Look for McDonagh to increase his role and success this season as he gets more comfortable not having to play both defensive positions at the same time.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: 25 Points: (10-8-5)
The Carolina Hurricanes have continued their trend of playing 90% or more of each game well, but having a catastrophic 10% that costs them the game. Over the past couple of weeks, these critical mistakes have come in the opening moments of a game. In three of their last four games, the Canes have conceded a goal within the first five minutes of play. Not so coincidentally, they’ve lost all three of those games
One of the reasons for the Canes’ recent struggles has been inconsistent goaltender play. Scott Darling is better than how he's played as of late; if you need a reference, look no further than the game against the Blue Jackets. Columbus had three odd-man rushes that I can remember and he stopped all of them. The goals he let up were an early goal, and Werenski in space....a lot of space.
With the Oilers dangling Ryan Nugent-Hopkins on the market, it might be time for GM Ron Francis to pull the trigger on a move. I wouldn’t suggest trading Justin Faulk or either Brett Pesce or Jaccob Slavin, but someone like Noah Hanifin or Haydn Fleury could get the job done. We have seen what Peter Chiarelli has traded away in the past, and it’s time for the Canes to take advantage of one of these opportunities.
8. Philadelphia Flyers: 23 Points: (8-10-7)
Speaking of Oilers trades, the Flyers may have the best pieces to make a deal with the Oilers. With a super young team, they are able to trade a piece for Nugent-Hopkins and not hurt their rebuild. If they were to trade a player like Ivan Provorov, they would still have Andrew MacDonald, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Radko Gudas on the blue line. Adding a player like Nugent-Hopkins also opens up the option to trade another forward in a bid to get younger.
Though the Flyers are in last place in the division, and there are calls for the head of coach Dave Hakstol, they are not in a terrible place. Even with 23 points, they would be fourth in the Atlantic Division. The Metro is strong again, but all it takes is a little run and they could find themselves in a wild card position because it looks like the Metro will take five playoff spots this season.