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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: No One Can Stop this Division

The Metro continues to be the class of the NHL with four of the league’s top six teams.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

1. Washington Capitals: 80 Points (37-11-6)

The Caps have had quite the week, winning four games in a row including back to back shutouts. The Caps ended Peter Budaj’s 147:21 shutout streak in dominating fashion with a 5-0 win at home. They followed this up with a 5-0 shutout against the Canes last night, without even coming close to giving up a goal.

Braden Holtby now has a 12-0-0 record in his last 12 games with four shutouts and a .931 Sv%. If this isn’t good enough, the Caps have also scored five goals four times in their last six games. So it's tough to score against them and they are just absolutely lighting teams up.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 73 Points (34-13-5)

The Blue Jackets have been struggling to keep shots away from Sergei Bobrovsky. Since the All-Star break, the Blue Jackets have allowed fewer than 30 shots just one time, and allowed 37 in a 6-4 win against the New York Rangers. The Blue Jackets have also struggled on special teams over these four games. Their power play has gone 0-4 and their penalty kill is just 3-6. These struggles are a large part why they are 2-1-1 in their last four games.

Their possession numbers are only slightly below average at 49.3%, which shows that though they give up a lot of shots they also pile it on offensively. The problem with this strategy is that you have to rely on your goaltender to bail you out. Since the break, their even strength save percentage as a team is just .880, which won’t get the job done night in and night out.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 72 Points (33-13-6)

The Penguins must have enjoyed their break, because since January 31 they are 3-0-1 with their only loss occurring in a shootout. The Penguins offense has been humming much like the Caps, as they scored four goals in three straight games. Though their win streak came to an end last night in a shootout loss to the Flames, the Pens have been able to make up some space on the Blue Jackets and sit one point behind them.

The funny thing for both the Pens and the Jackets is that the second and third place in the standings doesn't mean all that much. Neither look likely to catch the Caps at this point in the regular season which means they are guaranteed to play each other in the first round. The only benefit to second place will be home ice advantage.

4. New York Rangers: 69 Points (34-18-1)

To keep on the same theme, the Rangers, despite being in a wild card spot, sit in the most advantageous position of any Metro team. The Rangers right now hold the crossover wild-card position, which means their path to the Stanley Cup would go through the Atlantic Division. The Atlantic division is notably worse than the Metro: the Canadiens, who lead the Atlantic with 68 points, would currently be in fifth place in the Metro.

Though the Rangers aren’t having one of their best years, and sit in fourth place in the division, they’ve been a lot more fun for the casual fan to watch. First of all, you never know which Rangers are going to show up, the team that wins in a shutout or the team that loses a 6-4 game. The Rangers have the second most shutouts among Metro teams, and they have the third highest shooting percentage in the league at 9.5%. If they can put these two together by April they could be a real threat in the playoffs.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 59 Points (26-21-7)

The Flyers have continued to do just enough to stay in a playoff position since their win streak came to an end on December 17th. Since then the Flyers have gone just 6-10-3. The Flyers offense has been among the worst in the league since the break ended, with the league’s worst shooting percentage at just 2.5% at even strength in that time.

They are among the worst possession teams in the league ahead of only the Devils and Ducks with a 43.1% Corsi-for percentage. One of the main reasons for this is the young defense of the Flyers. Much like the Canes, the Flyers, are in a transitional/rebuild phase which means they aren’t likely to make significant moves at the deadline. The Flyers are just feeling the growing pains of having Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov anchor the blue line.

6. New York Islanders: 56 Points (23-18-10)

The Islanders played in their second overtime game in a row on Monday. In their first they lost to the Canes 5-4, in their second they won a 6-5 decision against the Maple Leafs. Believe it or not, the Islanders have been the strongest team in the Metro as of late. Their 7-1-2 record in their last ten games is the second best in the league, behind only the 8-1-1 San Jose Sharks.

Since signing Thomas Greiss to a three-year, $10 million contract extension during the All-Star break, he has struggled. Since January 31, Greiss’s .860 Sv% ranks just 39th in the league. The contract was still a great deal as Greiss has had a successful season with a .920 Sv% on a bad team. On top of this, the $3.33 million per season deal is beneficial for the team, which was going nowhere with their three-headed goalie rotation.

7. New Jersey Devils: 56 Points (23-21-10)

The Devils are currently on a four-game point streak, and with a win, on Monday they have now won two straight. More impressively the Devils have a six-game road win streak. The increase in their play is mainly due to Cory Schneider getting back into a groove. He has a .927 Sv% since January 31, which is better than Carey Price.

The Devils have also been very successful on the power play. They have converted on 27% of their chances which is top five since the break. For a team that’s been struggling to score, it helps when you can score ten goals with the man advantage. Combined with a 10.5% even strength shooting percentage, the Devils have finally been able to get over the hump and beat a team like the Blue Jackets.

8. Carolina Hurricanes: 55 Points (24-21-7)

Entering last night’s game the Carolina Hurricanes were on a three-game win streak. That streak came to a screeching halt against the Caps with a 5-0 loss in which the Canes never threatened. The game was Eddie Lack’s first start since November 6th and it showed. Eddie needed help in the first period so he could settle into NHL action, but got none of it. The decision to start Lack against the Caps is a strange one, to say the least.

The Canes have one more game until a bye week, so why does Ward need the rest in this scenario? Why throw Lack to the wolves against the top team in the league rather than easing him in against the Stars or the Avs to give him a chance to earn a win? On top of this, Peters also switched up defensive pairings which mean the guys in front of Lack weren’t even used to playing with each other which led to more mistakes. To me, the decision seems like a way to shield Ward from criticism if the team underperformed against the Caps.

On the bright side, Sebastian Aho was named the First Star of the Week by the NHL. Aho earned the honors by scoring four goals and an assist in two games including a hat trick against the Flyers. Aho is now ranked third in goal scoring for all rookies behind only Auston Matthews and Patrick Laine.