1. Washington Capitals: 57 Points (27-13-3)
Despite the NHL including a player from every team in the All-Star Game, the Caps managed to have two players on the Metro roster with Alex Ovechkin and Braden Holtby. Ovechkin is a no-brainer, leading the league in goals with 27 and is 12th in the league in total points with 46. Holtby is a little more confusing of a choice. He currently has a .917 Sv% which is 29th in the league, seventh in the Metro, for goalies that have started more than five games.
This is not to say that Holtby is a bad goaltender, but by his standards, he is having a down year. In the Canes’ first game against the Caps this season, as soon as the Caps had four goals, I figured there was no way the Canes would come back. In previous seasons, Holtby simply didn’t give up more than three goals. Instead, the Canes were able to come back to take the lead before losing in overtime.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 53 Points (25-16-3)
Since announcing the death of their “aggressive” play, the Blue Jackets are 3-1-0 and might be on to something. Despite their newfound success, the Jackets sent backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo down to the AHL and recalled Matiss Kivlenieks. This reminds me of how they handled the Curtis McElhinney last season, who you’ll recall didn’t clear waivers and ended up on the Leafs, and left the Jackets scrambling. Korpisalo hasn’t been stellar as a backup but he's been serviceable. I don’t see the advantage of calling up a rookie who’s got a sub .900 sv% in the AHL.
This move also comes as Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky are out of the lineup with injuries. Though neither player has been dominant this season, the changes in the depth chart cascade down, meaning they don’t have their optimal lineup. Prior to both players going out, the Blue Jackets had a 52.68% Corsi. Since their injuries, Columbus is down to a 47.15% Corsi. Their loss is hitting the team not in the scoresheet directly, but secondarily with their lack of possession.
3. New Jersey Devils: 52 Points (22-11-8)
The Devils are in the highest place in the standings for all of the Metro bye week teams. The bye week comes at a great time for the Devils as they entered on a five-game losing streak, tied for the longest active streak in the league. The week off should give the Devils some time to regroup.
The Devils during their losing streak are a case study in what happens if you don’t ride the hot hand in net. Despite Keith Kinkaid thoroughly outplaying Cory Schneider, Schneider has started four of the last five games. Kinkaid has a .931 Sv% whereas Schneider only sports a .880. Kinkaid only let up two goals in his one start, but Schneider has let up a combined 16 goals in four starts.
4. New York Rangers: 49 Points (22-15-5)
The Rangers went on a two-game road trip before their bye week, which was a back to back at the Arizona Coyotes and Vegas Golden Knights. The Rangers eked out a shootout win in Arizona but lost to the Knights, earning two precious points but still limping into the bye week. With four teams within three points of them, they could very well find themselves outside of the playoffs when the puck drops next week.
Since the midpoint of December, the Rangers are 5-3-2 but had six of their 10 games go into extra time, with four of them resulting in wins. The Rangers have been hanging onto a wild card position by the skin of their teeth. What’s more telling about the Rangers play is that in that time span they only have three games with positive Corsi. They have the same amount of games in which they had an under 40% Corsi.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 47 Points (22-19-3)
The Penguins are in quite the predicament right now. They are really thin and they have been facing multiple injuries for a significant portion of the season already. They have less than $500k in cap space and already tried to trade for a 3rd line center by acquiring Riley Sheahan. With such little space, the Pens are in a very tough spot to add a rent-a-star for another playoff run.
The way their roster is constructed they aren’t able to enter a full rebuild mode. To free up cap space the best player to trade would be Kris Letang. The defenseman is set to make $7.25 mil through 2022, but his injury history combined with his down year will make him very difficult to trade not only in season but even after the season. Defense is in short supply around the league, but the Pens may have no other options than to retain some salary - and even that might not be enough.
6. Philadelphia Flyers: 46 Points (19-15-8)
The Flyers’ bye week, unlike the Devils, comes at one of the most inopportune points that it could, with the team entering the break riding a three-game win streak. At one point in March of last season, teams coming off of their bye were just 8-14-4. Byes last season started at the new year and were scattered throughout the second half of the season. This year the NHL tried to combat this by putting all of the byes within a two-week span, so those teams who are not on a bye week this week will be off next week.
So why even mess with bye weeks? They were collectively bargained by the players in exchange for the 3-on-3 overtime. The good news for the teams already on a bye is their first opponent coming off the bye will also be coming off of their bye. This will allow the two teams who are both out of rhythm to feel things out and get back on pace easier. When the Canes come back from a bye they will be playing the Detroit Red Wings who will be in their fourth game after the bye, not allowing them the same luxury as the first week teams.
7. Carolina Hurricanes: 46 Points (19-15-8)
The Carolina Hurricanes just faced the top team in the East, and now have to face the Washington Capitals twice in two nights. This is a huge three-game span for the Canes, who desperately need a couple of points out of this back to back. After the bye week, things get much more tolerable, as six of their first eight games after the break are against teams who are not currently in a playoff position.
In other Canes news, it looks as if the sale to Tom Dundon could go through as early as next week. His ownership style is going to be very similar to someone like Mark Cuban that takes a more hands-on approach but also cares a lot about the general experience for fans, including the on-ice product. I don’t expect any major changes will come quickly, but I think he will give the go-ahead to make a big splash at the trade deadline if the Canes are still around the wild card line.
The Canes need more offense and have plenty of defensive depth. I think the ownership change will be the push for Ron Francis to go out and acquire a larger profile player. This move will not only improve the Canes chances to make the playoffs for the first time in a decade, it will also bring more excitement to this team and fan base. This should be a very interesting time for Canes fans.
8. New York Islanders: 46 Points (21-18-4)
The Islanders have two of the top eight scorers in the league, but are currently sitting in last in the Metro. The Isles struggles are clear: it's between the pipes. I don’t want to repeat last week and list the stats, but it looks like the Isles could be looking to acquire Robin Lehner from the Buffalo Sabres. Lehner has started 31 games for Buffalo and has recorded a .910 sv% and a 2.94 GAA.
Both of those numbers would lead the Islanders currently, not counting the fact that Lehner would be playing with more talent in Brooklyn. Since the Sabres are going to look to sell at the deadline, and Lehner is set to become a restricted free agent at the end of this year. And given that he makes $4 million this season for a failing team, Sabres management will be looking to save some money.