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Metro Weekly Roundup: We’re Halfway Home

Halfway through the season, the Canes are in a wild card position and on the rise.

Carolina Hurricanes v Pittsburgh Penguins

1. Washington Capitals: 53 Points (25-13-3)

The Caps are in an interesting position at the moment. Though they are in first place in the Metro, their metrics this year are down as compared to past couple of seasons. Now it seems they don’t matter when you’re winning, but it could suggest that the Caps are likely to see some losses coming up. Their Corsi and scoring chances are at 49% and 47% respectively, the lowest since Barry Trotz took over.

You could see this on Tuesday when they were in Raleigh. The Caps very rarely lost the shot total battle to the Canes over the past few seasons, but they were thoroughly outshot by the Canes, which included four shots that rang off the post and four more that went in the net.

Some of these struggles come from the blue line. Brooks Orpik has not played well, but is paired with John Carlson who has been able to cover up his mistakes. Speaking of Carlson, he is in a contract year and playing out of his mind. The Caps are completely strapped for cap space, so this could get interesting.

2. New Jersey Devils: 51 Points (22-11-7)

The Devils are riding a four-game losing streak with two extra time losses included. This is a less than ideal time for a struggling team to play five straight conference games. Granted, four of those games are against the Flyers and Islanders who are last and sixth respectively, but in the Metro, nothing comes easy.

So why have the Devils fallen off a cliff? The Devils have been a negative Corsi team all season (47.36%). On top of this, they have had a 101.2 PDO, which suggests they were outperforming the average in shooting and save percentage. This means that we would expect to see a drop in their performance, so this losing streak is returning them back to the team that they should have been all along.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 49 Points (23-16-3)

Good news everyone: the Blue Jackets are about to get a lot more exciting to watch!

Just kidding actually, it's going to be the exact opposite of that.

Their 2.71 goals per game rank 24th and their 2.41 goals against per game ranks 22nd in the league, which isn’t exactly breathtaking. After losing three straight games John Tortorella has pulled the plug on their “aggressive” style of play.

The best part about this is that the Blue Jackets have been dreadfully boring to watch this season despite the sign that hangs in their locker room that says “Safe is Death.” The shift in strategy apparently worked, because after letting up five goals in three straight games, the Blue Jackets were able to beat the Dallas Stars 2-1. But then they were shut out 2-0 on the road against the Colorado Avalanche to bring their record to 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. They have dropped down to third place in the division, just three points above the Canes with two extra games played. This means that Columbus is on the worst active slide in the division and has opened up third place to both the Rangers and the Hurricanes.

4. New York Rangers: 47 Points (21-14-5)

The Rangers won their fourth outdoor game this week when they beat the Buffalo Sabres 3-2 in overtime, a game where they were actually the away team despite only playing miles away from their home stadium. Due to a tax exemption deal for Madison Square Garden, the Rangers can only play their home games in MSG, requiring the Sabres to be the home team for the Winter Classic.

The Rangers are going to be in a very interesting spot for the trade deadline. They are currently above the line and are playing well enough to make the playoffs, but likely don’t have the skill to win the Stanley Cup. The main issue that they are running into is that their farm system has been depleted after years of rent-a-star trades. The most likely player for the Rangers to trade is Rick Nash, who is tied for fifth on the team in goals with nine and is on the last year of his contract. New York is a tough market and in an easier scenario, they would be likely to sell off any aging assets to try to reload or rebuild on the fly.

5. Carolina Hurricanes: 46 Points (19-13-8)

The Carolina Hurricanes are in a playoff position, this is not a drill! We are coming off one of the most dominant performances they have had in years with a 4-0 victory against the Penguins. This is the Canes’ second win in the past week against the Penguins, and gives them points in six of their last seven games. The only game they failed to record a point in this span was against the Blues in St. Louis in the second half of a back-to-back.

The Canes have achieved this success by sustaining their extremely high Corsi, which has been at 53% since December. They are also starting to see consistent contributions from players who have been quiet most of the season. Sebastian Aho has eight goals since the start of December, and Victor Rask now has six in the same time frame. No one has been at a point per game pace, but in the last 17 games Aho, Jeff Skinner, Derek Ryan, Elias Lindholm, and Teuvo Teravainen have all registered at least 10 points.

With all of this offensive success, the penalty kill success has been overlooked. The Canes have successfully killed their last 16 penalties, which dates back to December 20th. This has come against successful teams including the Predators, Blues, Capitals, and the Penguins twice. Both the Predators and Penguins are in the top three of the league in power play with a 24.3% and 25.7% success rate respectively.

6. New York Islanders: 44 Points (20-17-4)

Both John Tavares and Josh Bailey have over 50 points and are in the top four in the league when it comes to scoring, yet the Islanders are not in a playoff position at the moment. The Isles’ 139 goals this season is the second most in the league, behind only the red-hot Tampa Bay Lightning. And the offense doesn’t just end with those two; Anders Lee has 24 goals at the midway point of the season, and Calder candidate Mathew Barzal has 37 points in just 41 games.

As good as their scoring has been, their goaltending has been bad. The Isles have given up a league-worst 149 goals against, which is four worse than the Arizona Coyotes, with the same amount of games played. Both Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss average over 3.00 GAA and their combined save percentage is below .900. This team is a better version of the Flyers from last year, but I would expect their slide to continue. With goaltending numbers like that they are likely to fall to 7th or 8th in the division before the year is up.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins: 43 Points (20-19-3)

I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t happy about the Penguins being in seventh in the division. However, this team has been hit by the injury bug unlike any other team in the division and on top of that, they were already one of the thinnest teams in the league. In the Pens’ two games against the Canes in the past week combined they have missed, at varying points, Matt Murray, Kris Letang, Chad Ruhwedel, Brian Dumoulin, Bryan Rust, and Carter Rowney. They sit at 4-6-0 in their last 10 games and 5-9-0 in their last 14.

It’s important to remember that the Pens aren’t going to be hurt like this all the time and are very capable of rattling off multiple wins in a row. The only thing about this rough stretch is that it might force the Penguins to make a trade. There has been some speculation as to the Pens shopping Kris Letang, but this would be a classic sell-low moment. The defenseman is signed through 2022 at $7.5 mil per year. With all of the health issues he has had in the past, it will be very tough for Pittsburgh to clear that cap room.

8. Philadelphia Flyers: 42 Points (17-15-8)

You know the old saying about the chain is only as strong as the weakest link? Philadelphia proves how tough the Metro really is, dead last in the division but in 11th in the conference. They are 5-4-1 in their last 10 games, which is the fifth-best record in that span. The Flyers have done this on the back of their defense. Over this span, they have given up the least amount of shots in the league.

The Flyers 51.33% Corsi since December 12th is 10th in the league. The main issue that they are running into is goaltending. Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth rank 40th and 41st in the league respectively in save percentage, with Elliott’s .909 sv% leading the team. On top of this their 5.5% shooting percentage is fourth to last in the league. This combination is deadly (and not in a good way) and explains why the Flyers are in the basement.