1. Columbus Blue Jackets: 39 Points (19-11-1)
The Blue Jackets were able to ascend to the top of the Metro on the back of reigning Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Columbus is fifth in the league in goals allowed, letting up only 2.54 goals per game. However, on Tuesday we got a glimpse of what its like when Bobs isn’t on top of his game, as the Jackets lost 7-2 to the Edmonton Oilers. Bobrovsky was pulled after letting up five goals on 26 shots with a .808 sv%. Though it was a rough game, it’s just a blip on the radar as opposed to what’s likely to come for the Jackets.
The Blue Jackets have had to rely on goaltending due to the ineptitude of their offense. Columbus is in the bottom third of the league in goals, and still have a power play that’s in such a deep basement that it would make the White House situation room jealous.
As of yesterday, Brandon Dubinsky is on the IR with a facial fracture and will miss at least the next two weeks. Dubinsky is currently tied for seventh on the team in scoring with 12 points and playing 17 minutes per game. It will be interesting to see how the team can cover up his loss and play essentially with three lines for the next couple of weeks.
2. Washington Capitals: 39 Points (19-12-1)
The Capitals have continued their meteoric rise to the top of the division and are now tied for the lead in the Metro. Over the last 10 games, they have an 8-2-0 record, led by Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom who are all scoring at least a point per game since November 22nd.
During that period, the Caps have scored 38 goals, the second most in the league. On top of that, their penalty kill is off the charts and has killed 96% of their penalties in their last 10 games, only allowing one goal in the last 24 times shorthanded. When you combine that with the Caps’ .929 even strength save percentage, it's really hard to score against them.
3. New Jersey Devils: 38 Points (17-9-4)
The Devils have struggled to gel since their blockbuster trade two weeks ago, going just 5-4-1 in their last ten games and dropping them from first to fourth in the division in under two weeks. Since the trade on November 30, the Devils have just six points, which is the same as the Hurricanes have in the same time span.
Part of the issue for the Devils is that over this time they have only converted on two of their 19 power play chances. With just a .887 even strength save percentage, which is last in the league, the Devils can't afford to miss out on their man advantage chances. With such a major trade, it takes time to gel, and it’s not uncommon to see a team struggle to find their footing. As we enter January, I would expect that the Devils will start getting back to their earlier season form.
4. New York Islanders: 37 Points (17-10-3)
The Islanders are a fun story in the NHL right now. Even without a potential home, they are giving their fans something to be excited about after a couple of rough seasons in a row. The big question is can they keep up their pace and make the playoffs. I’m not convinced they’re the real deal at this point into the season. They are a negative Corsi team with one of the worst penalty kills in the league.
Though the Isles have a +3 goal differential after last night, their goaltending reminds me of the Dallas Stars from two years ago. They have a 1a and a 1b, but neither really play at the first goalie level that you need to make a run. Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss have .905 and .890 sv% respectively. With also struggling down a man, they are relying on scoring in bunches, which to be fair they have done. Their 11.20 shooting percentage is the third highest in the league, but if that comes down even in the slightest they are going to struggle. The same thing happened with the Flyers last season; will it be the same for the Isles?
5. New York Rangers: 35 Points (16-11-3)
Despite dropping two straight, the Rangers are still the hottest team in the division with seven wins in their last 10 games and points in eight of those games. The fact that the Rangers have been able to stay on that type of pace without Mika Zibanejad, who has missed the last eight games with a concussion, is great news for the Rangers. The Rangers are one of the thinnest teams in the league at center, but they have been able to go 5-2-1 in Zibanejad’s absence. They are proving a lot of people wrong, including myself.
The good news on the Zibanejad front is that he has returned to practice. On Tuesday he was able to skate as an extra defenseman and is expected to get some time at his natural position of center today. Zibanejad is still third on the team in total scoring with 22 points and leads the team with 3.0 points per 60. Needless to say, the Rangers are definitely looking forward to getting him back in the lineup.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins: 35 Points (16-13-3)
The Penguins have now lost two games in a row and three of their last four, due in large part to starting goaltender Matt Murray having been on IR. Fortunately for the Penguins, Murray is being activated off of the IR and will be starting tonight against the Vegas Golden Knights to start their three-game road trip.
Murray is coming back at just the right time as the Penguins are currently sitting outside of a playoff spot. Murray returning can be the spark they need during their Western Conference road trip. This will help the Pens cover up the fact that they’re thin on the blue line. With Justin Schultz on IR, it is forcing the likes of Chad Ruhwedel and Matt Hunwick to play night in and night out.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 31 Points (12-11-7)
The Flyers have done their best to put their 10-game losing streak behind them. Philly has won their last four games, including sweeping a west coast road trip against the Flames, Oilers, and Canucks. A big reason for their success as of late is the play of Wayne Simmonds. From the beginning of the season through December 2, he only recorded 14 points in 25 games. But since then, he has scored three goals and two assists totaling five points in four games.
Simmonds has found his footing playing on a line with Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier. Giroux and Couturier have been playing the season at a point per game pace, and that didn’t change with the addition of Simmonds; instead, they pulled him up to their level.
One skater to really keep an eye on is rookie Nolan Patrick. The highly touted, second overall pick has just six points in 21 games with only two goals. He was injured earlier in the season, but he hasn’t adjusted to the NHL well. The 21-year old has a very weak 38.86 Corsi percentage, Yikes!
8. Carolina Hurricanes: 31 Points (12-11-7)
For the past couple of years, the Hurricanes’ inability to win games in regulation and losing games in overtime has significantly hurt them in the standings. Giving up a point here and there generally isn’t too bad, but when you tie for the most overtime losses in the league, you’re leaving a lot of points on the table. Just think: if the Canes had just three more points, they would be one point out of the final playoff spot in the East—with games in hand on almost every team in the Metro.
I talked last week about how the Canes have been getting dominated in the second period. Unfortunately, not much has changed. In their last three games, they have been outscored 5-1 in the middle frame, which brings the total to 17-4 in the last 10 games. It’s no wonder this team is struggling to win games: if you’re getting outscored that bad at any facet of the game, it’s not going to be a smooth ride.
The frustrating thing about this team is that they’re playing exciting games, and getting scoring chances. I feel like every night I’m seeing tweets from the NHL account with incredible saves against the Canes. Just look at what John Gibson was able to do against the Canes and that’s been night in and night out. The good news for Canes fans is that the late games are over, and starting tomorrow we get 7:00 pm games back again.