1. Columbus Blue Jackets: 37 Points (18-10-1)
Despite losing a couple of games in a row this week, the Blue Jackets reign supreme in the Metropolitan Division. The Blue Jackets are 7-3-0 in their last 10 games and have a +12 goal differential. That’s with a 9.63% power play! The Blue Jackets are bound to trend towards the average and get up close to a 15-16% power play before the season ends. If the Blue Jackets had even a league-average power play unit, they would have 10 more goals already this season.
An interesting development within the Blue Jackets camp is that Sonny Milano is being sent back to the AHL. Milano has 10 total points including two assists in his last five games. I don’t think he's getting traded immediately or anything, but it will be an interesting story to monitor moving forward. If he has fallen out of favor, he could be a piece that the Blue Jackets could move at the deadline to get stronger for the playoff push. Being only 21, there may be many teams calling.
2. Washington Capitals: 37 Points (18-11-1)
Don’t look now, but the Caps have made their way back up in the standings, just one point out of first place, and Andre Burakovsky returned to the lineup on Friday against the New York Rangers. With Burakovsky back, the Caps have reassigned Travis Boyd to the AHL. The Caps have had struggles shuffling in and out young players; just last week they lost 23-year-old Australian center Nathan Walker on waivers to the Edmonton Oilers. The addition of Burakovsky is much needed as forward T.J. Oshie is day to day with an upper-body injury.
Alex Ovechkin continued his rebound season with a four-point performance Wednesday night against the Blackhawks. He now has 32 points in 29 games, which includes 21 goals. In other Ovechkin news, he hopes the now banned Russian hockey team will be able to compete in the Olympics despite all Russian athletes being banned from the 2018 games.
First off, if you haven’t seen the Netflix documentary Doc Icarus, you should watch it; it explains in depth why the Russians are banned. Second, with Russian athletes barred from competition, it could mean that KHL players from all countries will be banned, so things are about to get VERY interesting.
3. New Jersey Devils: 36 Points (16-8-4)
The Devils made quite the splash last week when they traded Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a 2018 third-round pick for Sami Vatanen and a conditional 2018 draft pick. The move is pretty smart for both teams. The Ducks desperately needed forward depth, and the Devils acquired a talented young defenseman, which is hard to come by in the league.
Part of the reason the Devils could make the trade is Jesper Bratt’s play this season. The rookie, who was drafted in the sixth round in 2016, has nine goals and 10 assists in 28 games this season. He is flying under the radar in Jersey, but he has been one of the league’s best rookies this season. The Devils are still waiting on Kyle Palmieri to come back from a broken foot. When he is healthy he can slot back into the lineup no problem, but until then things are a little more tricky. The Devils may be in a buy mode at the deadline which should make things interesting in the Metro.
4. New York Islanders: 35 Points (16-9-3)
The Islanders are the newest team to join the 35-point club, matching what seems like the rest of the entire division. The Isles’ overtime loss last night means that they have now lost two straight, but it shouldn’t have fans worried because the Islanders have been scoring in bunches this season. Both John Tavares and Josh Bailey already have over 30 points and the team has the league’s second-highest goals per game at 3.66.
Despite losing three of their last four games, the Islanders have had some good news. The deal for an arena in Belmont is nearing completion. As Canes fans can identify with, it's difficult when your team is constantly in a state of flux. If the Isles do in fact get the deal, their fans will be extremely grateful and happy to finally have long-term security.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 35 Points (16-11-3)
The Penguins lost Matt Murray on November 28, but despite that they have been able to win three of their last four games. Tristan Jarry has played well in Murray’s absence. In his first three games, Jarry has a .940 sv% and a 1.68 GAA. It’s impressive how no matter who is playing for the Penguins they tend to keep it together. Two years ago they go to Murray and he works out nicely. Last year Kris Letang is out for the playoffs, and Chad Ruhwedel steps in.
As long as the Penguins have a combination of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel they will continue to win. Those three players have scored 15 points over the last four games. Both Crosby and Malkin are scoring over a point per game without Murray. At this pace the Penguins have nothing to worry about.
6. New York Rangers: 32 Points (15-11-2)
The Rangers were able to edge out the Penguins on Tuesday, despite being without starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Backup Ondrej Pavelec stepped in and made 41 saves for the win. Lundqvist was able to return to the lineup on Friday against the red hot Capitals, but it made no difference as the Rangers fell 4-2.
Despite dropping their most recent game, New York is quickly moving up in the standings. The Rangers had one of the worst starts in the league, but since the start of November they have won 11 games, tied for third best in the league in that time frame. They have come back from last in the division to just three points out of the lead. If the Rangers played in the Atlantic Division they would be in third place, but that’s what happens when you play in the Metro.
7. Philadelphia Flyers: 29 Points (11-11-7)
The Flyers lost ten games in a row before snapping the streak and winning three straight. In those ten games, the Flyers still managed to get a loser point in five of those games, which have kept the Flyers from being mired in the basement of the division. The Flyers have a good chance to keep the momentum going coming up as they will have a five-game homestand.
The biggest worry about the Flyers is that their PDO is relatively high. Their 101.7 PDO, sixth in the league, means that they have an above average shooting percentage plus save percentage, so they are likely to see a decline in their level of play. Their shooting percentage is reasonable, just over 7%, so it is likely that their even strength save percentage of .930% will be the category that falls.
8. Carolina Hurricanes: 28 points (11-10-6)
The Hurricanes have now shifted their early game struggles to second-period struggles. In the past seven games, the Canes have been outscored 12-3 in the second period and have not outscored a single team. In that same time span, they have tied the second period only three times and have a 2-4-2 record. Just two nights ago we saw a sure win start to slip out of the Canes’ grasp in the middle stanza.
What is so frustrating about this season is that even a team who lost ten straight games is now ahead of the Canes in the standings. The Hurricanes now sit seven points out of a playoff spot, and with the loser point system, that is a pretty big hole to dig out of. Granted, the Canes have had one of the toughest schedules in the league so far, but to be the best (woooo!!) you have to beat the best, and that hasn’t happened this season.
In other news, Hurricanes owner Peter Karmanos has agreed to sell the team to Dallas billionaire Tom Dundon. Karmanos will retain a minority stake in the team, but Dundon has the option after three years to completely buy him out. The new owner will hopefully look to make a splash early in his ownership to spark interest in the team and to increase revenue. Also with expansion now being considered in Seattle, the Canes’ place in Raleigh looks even more secure.