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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: The Rangers Go Streaking

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Heading into Thursday almost every team in the division is coming off of a loss - except the Blueshirts.

NHL: Boston Bruins at New York Rangers Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 20 Points (9-6-2)

The Pittsburgh Penguins still sit at the top of the Metropolitan Division but have played more games than the rest of the division. Unlike last year, no one is running away with the division, mainly due to struggles in the Pens’ defense and between the pipes. Matt Murray has struggled to take the reigns as the full-time starter this season. Murray has a 9-3-1 record, but his .906 sv% ranks just 41st in the league.

The Penguins scapegoated Antti Niemi and placed him on waivers, where he was subsequently claimed by the Panthers. The Penguins have now employed Casey Desmith and Tristan Jarry to back up Matt Murray. Jarry came in and played well in relief, allowing only two goals in his first NHL start that ended in an overtime loss. On top of the goaltending struggles, Kris Letang has also been having a rough season. The defenseman has a plus/minus of -15, and a 24.24 GF%, meaning that 75% of the goals he has been on the ice for are going into the Pittsburgh net.

2. New Jersey Devils: 19 Points (9-4-1)

The Devils got off to a quick start this season, quickly rocketing up to the top of the Metropolitan Division standings. In fact, they went their first 11 games without losing consecutive games—until now. The Devils are in the midst of a three-game losing streak, so what has changed? For one thing, the Devils have conceded at least four goals in six of their last nine games.

It’s not all on the goaltending, but that certainly isn’t helping the situation. The Devils have been the fifth worst possession team since October 19 with just a 45.96 Corsi-for% (league average is 50%). Now, as Canes fans know, possession isn’t everything, but their 35.5 shots against per game have led to 3.5 goals against per game and a .913 sv% at even strength. Goaltenders Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider are ranked 45th and 30th respectively in the league in the past two weeks. Things won’t get any easier for New Jersey as Marcus Johansson is still day to day with a concussion and three other forwards are also on IR.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 19 Points (9-6-1)

Much like the Devils, Columbus is also on a three-game slide. After an extremely fast start, the Blue Jackets have a 4-5-1 record in their last 10 games, which has seen them slide from first to third in the division standings. The good news for the Blue Jackets is that Sunday they got defenseman Gabriel Carlsson back from injury and Tuesday Cam Atkinson also returned from IR, which should give them a boost moving forward.

Unlike the Devils, the Blue Jackets possession numbers have been strong, ranked seventh in the league with a 52.82 cf%. Goaltending, oddly, has been the sole issue. The Blue Jackets had incredible goaltending to start the season, as Sergei Bobrovsky picked up right where he left off in his Vezina-winning season. In their first six games, they let up only nine goals (1.5GA/G).

However, in their last 10 games, they have let up 31 goals (3.1 GA/G). In the first half of October Bobrovsky had a .952 Sv% good for third in the league. But since then he has had a dip in performance, with a .903sv% ranked 35th.

4. New York Islanders: 18 Points (8-5-2)

The Islanders are having a pleasant start to the season and a nice 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games showing that they are settling into a groove. The addition forward Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome has paid off handsomely early, with Eberle already tallying 12 points and five goals this season.

One of the most unexpectedly fun stories of the season has to be rookie Mathew Barzal, who had five assists Saturday in a 6-4 win over the Colorado Avalanche. Barzal is proving to be a true NHL caliber playmaker with 11 assists and 14 total points in his first 15 games, trailing only John Tavares and Josh Bailey in scoring. His ability to create both even strength and power play goals has been a huge factor for the Islanders maintaining their place in the standings.

5. New York Rangers: 18 Points (8-7-2)

Despite an incredibly weak start, the New York Rangers have won five straight games to move to fifth place in the Metropolitan Division. This type of run is a great example of what the Canes need to do if they want to make headway in the division. This five-game win streak has taken the Rangers from the basement with stories about firing the coach and GM, to a rising team in the division in a solid position.

The big reason for this? The offense is finally firing on all cylinders. The Rangers have 143 shots for in their last five games, which has led to 18 goals against. Of you compare this to the Hurricanes 145 shots and seven goals for, you can start to understand why the Rangers are winning. Michael Grabner, Kevin Shattenkirk, and Chris Kreider have been leading the way all scoring three or more goals in the last four games. Mika Zibanejad leads the team in points over this span with seven points (1g,6a).

6. Washington Capitals: 17 Points (8-7-1)

The Capitals have been dealing with no shortage of injuries this season, with Matt Niskanen on LTIR, Andre Burakovsky on IR with a fractured thumb, and Tyler Graovac also on IR. While Graovac might not seem like a large injury, the Caps are so thin that any loss hurts them. Despite these injuries, the Caps have still managed to tread water with a 5-5-0 record in their last 10 games.

So far the Caps are noticeably struggling in back-to-back games. In their four games at the end of back-to-backs, the Caps have lost all of them and have just scored five goals in those games. This has led to the Caps’ backup goaltender, Philipp Grubauer, who has played all four of those games and sits at 0-4-1 this season, to express his frustration to the media on Tuesday: “I’m sick of f*****g losing.”

Alex Ovechkin has been not only leading Team Putin, but he has been leading the Caps by example. With 13 goals in 16 games and goals in three straight. He has doubled up on the second-place scorer on the team, T.J. Oshie. However, outside of those two, the Caps don’t have a single player with over three goals. The Caps are still staying alive, but without more scoring from other sources, the Caps are vulnerable.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 16 Points (7-6-2)

The Flyers have had a very up and down season. Like the Canes they have looked poised to make the jump but have failed to do so. With a 4-4-2 record in their last 10 games, the Flyers have dipped to seventh place. Much like the rest of the teams in the division, the Flyers are dealing with injuries, but mainly to their blueline. With Andrew MacDonald on IR and Radko Gudas day-to-day, the Flyers are making do with Robert Hagg on their top pairing and recalling Mark Alt, a Hurricanes draft pick once upon a time, from the minors.

One of the problems with these injuries to the defense has been the penalty kill. Since October 19 the Flyers have allowed six power play goals amid their 27 total goals against, meaning that more than 22% of their goals against have come while down a man. To make matters, the Flyers have only scored 26 goals in the last 10 games, which means those goals given up on the PK are killer.

8. Carolina Hurricanes: 13 Points (5-5-3)

First things first: the Canes currently sit in last place in the division. However, the Canes have played fewer games than any other team in the division, so they have room to improve. The Canes have been relatively healthy, but have struggled in massive ways to score. Even two nights ago against the Panthers, they entered the second intermission tied 1-1 but outshot the Panthers 38-17. Another factor in the Canes struggles has been special teams, which is no surprise.

The Hurricanes 11.5% mark on the power play is fourth to last. This isn’t surprising, given that the Canes have struggled for years on the power play. But when you are struggling to put up even strength goals, a successful power play can spark the offense.

What is surprising is the fall in the shorthanded play. The Canes have had a top-five penalty kill over the last two seasons, but this season the Canes have only killed 76.9% of their penalties successfully. Much like the Flyers when you’re struggling to score, you cannot afford to give up easy goals when you’re down a man.

We all know that Sebastian Aho struggling to score is an issue, but the rest of the team has also been lagging. Only two players have scored more than three goals in the first 13 games, Jeff Skinner with seven and Jordan Staal with four. The Canes have to see more consistent production out of Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, Teuvo Teravainen, and Aho to be able to go on a run.