1. Washington Capitals: 76 Points (33-11-6)
The Caps closed out January with a record of 6-2-1 which was strong enough to move them from third place in the division standings to first over both the Penguins and the Blue Jackets. One reason for the big push in the standings has been the Caps’ ability to score. Their biggest weakness in the past has been secondary scoring, but with players like Lars Eller being able to score eight points in 11 games the Caps haven’t had to rely on Alex Ovechkin to do all of their scoring.
The Capitals came out of the break slowly, dropping a 3-2 game against the Islanders. They have no time to ease back into things as they have to play another game against the Boston Bruins tonight. The Caps haven’t lost back to back games in regulation since losing on November 26th and December 1st.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 70 Points (33-12-4)
Blue Jackets forward Cam Atkinson was a late add to the NHL All-Star Game after Evgeni Malkin pulled out with an “injury.” Atkinson joined his teammates Seth Jones and Sergei Bobrovsky on the Metropolitan Division roster. It’s nice to see a small market team get love on the all-star roster as in years past only New York teams, Pittsburgh, Chicago and the Caps would see multiple players on the roster.
Unlike the Caps, the Blue Jackets enjoyed their break and came out with a win against the division rival New York Rangers. Columbus won the game 6-4 (and was up 6-0 at one point) in a game that didn’t see a lot of defense. It was a big win for the Jackets, not only for the standings but for the fact they were able to beat a team that goes out and tries to simply outscore opponents night in and night out. The Blue Jackets have generally won games relying on goaltending.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 67 Points (31-13-5)
One of the most interesting things about All-Star weekend is that when you get that many GM’s in one location things start happening. Last Thursday the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that they aren’t thrilled with their two goalie system. There has been a lot of speculation and rumors around the Pens trading Marc-Andre Fleury, but with Matt Murray starting every game since January 15th a deal looks imminent.
This isn’t a huge shock with the expansion draft looming; however, it has looked like the Pens weren’t going to deal Fleury until the deadline or possibly the draft. With plenty of teams looking for goaltending, the Pens could trade Fleury sooner. The Blues, Stars, and Flames are all teams that could be interested in a deal that are also in the West, which minimizes the negative impacts on the Pens.
4. New York Rangers: 63 Points (31-18-1)
Despite getting Marc Staal, Jesper Fast, and Antti Raanta back from injury, the Rangers lost to the Blue Jackets 6-4 last night. The game summed up the season for the Rangers pretty well: there was no defense and the Rangers had to claw back from a six-goal deficit to make it respectable. Despite an inconsistent year for the Blueshirts, they have signed head coach Alain Vigneault to a deal that will give him a $2 million pay raise through the 2019-2020 season.
The most troubling issue for the Rangers is the large contracts on their ineffective blue line. Marc Staal is signed through the 2020-2021 season for a $5.7 million per year cap hit. Dan Girardi is also signed through the 2019-2020 season at $5.5 million per season. It is going to be very difficult for the Rangers to move either of these contracts, as both players are over 30 and have been underperforming this year.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: 56 Points (25-20-6)
The Flyers had a good all-star break as Wayne Simmonds was named as the MVP of the game in a 4-3 win for the Metro over the Pacific. However, the Flyers came out slow and dropped a 5-1 game to the Canes. Their lone goal was Brayden Schenn’s 100th career goal.
Normally the Flyers struggles come on the defensive side; however, last night the Flyers also couldn’t generate offense. With just eight minutes left in the third period, the Flyers had just eight shots on goal. (Eight! In 52 minutes of game time!) The Flyers have proved this year that the only way they can win games is to shoot in bunches and outscore any team.
The Flyers are a young team so it is likely that they just came out slow after a full week’s break. Because of their youth, like the Canes, they will most likely be pretty stagnant at the trade deadline.
6. New York Islanders: 53 Points (22-20-7)
Since firing head coach Jack Capuano, the Islanders have yet to drop a game in regulation, earning 11 out of 12 possible points since letting the coach go. The now seven-game point streak they are on has propelled them from last in the division to just three points out of a playoff position.
The most interesting news about the Islanders this week came off the ice. It is being reported that the Isles will be kicked out of the Barclays Center after the 2018-2019 season. This leaves the Isles in a bind because the Nassau Coliseum now only holds 13,000 seats and there is no other arena in the area. The Isles’ primary owners are looking to build an arena near Citi Field in Queens. Construction there can still take a couple of years, so in the meantime, they will have to figure out if NYC is a viable market or if they will be forced to move elsewhere.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: 51 Points (22-20-7)
The Canes got a much-needed win over the Flyers last night and dominated every facet. The Canes dominated the Flyers 5-1 outshooting them 28-16 in the process. The Canes also got their power play on track earning two goals in seven opportunities, and now have power play goals in three of their last four games.
The greatest storyline from the game is that Sebastian Aho registered a hat trick and four total points in the game. Aho now has 15 goals on the season, moving him into second place on the team behind Jeff Skinner who has 18.
This was exactly the type of game the Canes needed after the break. Cam Ward looked fresh and moved in the crease well, the offense produced, and the defense moved the puck well and shut down opportunities. The Canes now look forward to a back to back against the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders on Friday and Saturday nights. The Canes will need to get at least three points out of these two games to get back into the playoff race.
8. New Jersey Devils: 51 Points (21-21-9)
The Devils are in the last place in the division, but they are tied with the Hurricanes with 51 points, just five out of the playoff race. The Devils were able to take advantage of a slow Red Wings team last night and earned a 4-3 win to end a two-game skid. The Devils’ issue is their defense. Even last night against a Detroit team that was slow to get started, they let the Wings come back from a 4-1 deficit by allowing two goals in four minutes before winning 4-3. Though this one didn’t end in a loss, they often can cause a winning team to lose a game.
Last week I mentioned that the Devils had a lot of interesting pieces that they could move at the deadline. It is pretty clear that they don’t have a team that is going to compete this year. With an older offensive core, outside of Taylor Hall, the Devils’ window with their current roster has closed. With defense at such a high premium, they are going to need to focus on getting prospects and picks in return for their pieces to draft and develop more players for their blue line.