1. Washington Capitals: 84 Points (39-11-6)
Much like the Canes, the Caps are currently on their bye week, which lasts until February 18. Unlike the Canes, the Caps came into their bye week on absolute fire with a six-game win streak. This streak includes back to back shutouts and five games scoring five or more goals. The big question for the Caps moving into the trade deadline is how much they want to auction off their future to win this year.
The Caps’ top six is set with lines of Ovechkin-Backstrom-Oshie and Johansson-Kuznetsov-Williams. However, their bottom six isn’t in as good shape. They could use a bottom six winger to add in with Lars Eller to improve scoring, and they could also use a top four defenseman to play with Matt Niskanen. The Penguins have four great lines and to beat them in a seven-game series a team is going to have to match all four lines.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 77 Points (35-13-7)
To continue with the season-long narrative of streaks in the Metro, the Pens have a seven-game point streak and haven’t dropped a game in regulation since January 26. In a 4-0 shutout of the Vancouver Canucks last night, Sidney Crosby earned his 999th career point with an assist on a Jake Guentzel goal. This game was also significant for Evgeni Malkin, who scored a goal in his first game back from an undisclosed injury that kept him out for seven games.
With Malkin’s return, the Penguins are close to full strength with Crosby, Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang all healthy. The crazy thing when they are healthy is that Malkin is playing on their third line. All four of their lines have the real scoring ability which makes them a matchup nightmare. The Pens don’t have to worry about defense when they have this type of scoring depth.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 75 Points (35-15-5)
Columbus has failed to find consistency in the month of February with a 2-3-1 record. Their record in large part is due to goaltending. All season the Jackets have relied on Sergei Bobrovsky to do their heavy lifting, but in his last six games, he has only had a save percentage over .900 just twice. Both of those games are their only wins in February.
While the strategy to ride Bobrovsky has paid off in the long run, he may be running into the same fatigue issue as Cam Ward. Looking at these six games in more detail, he only faced 30 shots or more twice. The defense is doing their job to limit the shots on net, but that hasn’t mattered. His 2.80 GAA over this period means he's not going to be able to steal any games, and the offense has to go out and shell the other team. That’s not what is happening and it's starting to show.
4. New York Rangers: 75 Points (37-18-1)
The Rangers are red hot, yet to lose a single point in the month of February with six straight wins. The Rangers are hoping that Henrik Lundqvist is back to his normal form as he has a .946 Sv% and a 1.98 GAA in the five games he has played. Lundqvist has been a huge part of the Rangers’ success in the past, and it's clear that they need him to continue that. Lundqvist earned his 400th career win over the Avalanche on Saturday.
All season the Rangers have been a streaky team, both winning and losing games in handfuls. A major part of this is due to the Rangers reliance on maintaining a high shooting percentage and low possession numbers. The Rangers have had a shooting percentage of well over 10% all season, with the offense specializing in counter attacks and odd-man rushes. With their goaltending improving this month, the Rangers have been able to finally put it all together.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: 61 Points (27-22-7)
There is a significant drop from the top four teams in the Metro to the fifth. The Rangers are the fourth-place team in the East and the fifth place team in the entire league. The Flyers are now on the outside of the playoff picture looking in for the first time since Thanksgiving when they were sixth in the Metropolitan Division.
The Flyers may begin to start looking at other options behind the bench to get their team going. Dave Hakstol has made some very questionable decisions this season including benching Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Konecny, and Matt Read at various times. Read may seem like an odd person to throw in with the other two, but he was benched after a good performance. Most recently Gostisbehere was scratched from January 31 to February 9, a heavy handed way to send a message to the team. Meanwhile, players like Andrew MacDonald who have been struggling have stayed in the lineup.
6. New York Islanders: 60 Points (25-20-10)
The Islanders entered this month on a...you guessed it...seven-game point streak. However, since entering February, the Isles are only 3-3-1, coming back down to Earth. The biggest thing for the Isles is that they went from the basement of the East to just five points out of a wild-card spot.
The Isles have been very successful since Doug Weight took over coaching duties when Jack Capuano was fired. Weight has been successful, but his role with the team was Assistant GM before taking over coaching duties. It’s not guaranteed that he will stick with his coaching role, which could be interesting for the Isles. Their next coaching hire will be one of the biggest in their franchise's history as it could go a long way in forming John Tavares’s decision to stay with the team or leave when his contract is up next summer.
7. New Jersey Devils: 58 Points (24-22-10)
The Devils did their part of trying to put together a signature streak to match their division peers. The Devils had a five-game point streak that started on January 31 but came to an end Sunday with a 3-0 loss to the Senators. This was just enough to keep the Devils above the Canes and within striking distance of the playoffs.
For a team that has been struggling to score all season, scoring in bunches on the man advantage is the way to get things going. The Devils have been able to win games with an incredible 40% power play success rate since January 31. This success has been able to mask their possession deficiencies over this period as well. The Devils have the third worst even strength possession numbers in the league but have been able to erase that with their power play numbers.
8. Carolina Hurricanes: 55 Points (24-22-7)
The Hurricanes are currently on their bye week which comes to an end on Friday with a game against the Avs at home. There are a couple of issues with the condensed/bye week schedule that the NHL used this season. The biggest issue for organizations is the trade deadline. With teams all playing vastly different amounts of games, it's tough for some teams to assess where they are realistically in the standings.
This is exactly what is happening to the Canes. Carolina is in an awkward position right now because they are six points out of a playoff position, but also in fifth to last in the league. A couple additional games heading into March could go a long way with GM Ron Francis being able to assess the team he has and the team he needs to have going forward.
The Canes and Francis have some tough decisions ahead of them going into March 1. This team is clearly missing help up front, but who are they comfortable getting rid of on the blue line to get a deal done? With so many big names on the trade block going into the deadline and with the expansion draft looming, the Canes have a lot of trade options available.