clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: It’s Crowded at the Top

Just one point separates the top three teams in the Metro.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Edmonton Oilers Perry Nelson-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 11 Points (5-3-1)

The Hurricanes had a busy first two weeks of the season, quickly playing seven games. Only two other teams played as many games in that time frame, the Vegas Golden Knights and the Toronto Maple Leafs. Since October 16, the Canes have played just two games, which has given them time to rest and retool the lineup and special teams. The Canes’ special team struggles early make sense. They are implementing a new system, with new players, and had little time to practice between games and have enough time to rest up.

Now with two four-day breaks in their calendar, they have been able to work on their play more in depth. We saw better movement out of the top power play unit which eventually led to two goals in Detroit. The Canes were also perfect when down a man, going 4/4 on the PK with an empty-net short-handed-goal to seal the game late in the third period. I hope in the lead up to Friday’s game against the San Jose Sharks, Rod Brind’Amour continues to look at the power play.

The team uses an umbrella formation that uses three players up high, in a wide triangle, and two players at the net. When there is quick puck movement, and the defense tries to catch up, a passing lane can open across the middle of the ice for the two wingers. The Canes have failed to exploit this lane and has settled for lower danger shots from either the point or from a wider angle. If they can exploit these passing lanes, they become high danger chances that force the goalie to slide from post to post and locate the shot at the same time. Both Justin Williams and Sebastian Aho both hesitated to make these passes and instead settled on a pass back to Justin Faulk for the shot.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 10 Points (4-1-2)

The Penguins won a 6-5 game in overtime against the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday, the type of game that the Penguins are built to win on a regular basis. Even Connor McDavid was able to overcome the Pittsburgh defense. The game featured two goals from Sidney Crosby including the game winner in overtime. In the extra session, Crosby took over, and outskated everyone on the ice and dangled his way to an incredible goal, as if he was making a statement that he is still on top of the league.

This week it has come out that the GM Jim Rutherford is not looking to replace injured defenseman Justin Schultz by making a trade. They can use Olli Maatta and have both Chad Ruhwedel and Jeff Taylor in the press box ready to go. The biggest addition to this team has been Juuso Riikola who was signed from Finland in the off season. He has been able to step up and play crucial minutes for a previously thin blue line. Before Schultz’s injury this meant that Maatta was an odd man out some nights, but now they both can just play both defensemen on a nightly basis.

3. Washington Capitals: 10 Points (4-2-2)

The Caps kicked off their Western Canada road trip with a 5-2 win against the Vancouver Canucks. The Caps will face the Edmonton Oilers tonight, Calgary Flames on Saturday, and wrap up the trip next Thursday in Montreal. So far, Washington has only played away from home three times and they are 1-1-1 being outscored 15-11 in those three games. In two of the games the Caps gave up six or more goals. With three more away games left on this trip, the Caps will hope they don’t fall into familiar habits.

The Caps will be looking to build on their success from Monday night. The game against the Canucks featured Nicklas Backstrom’s 600th career assist. A whopping 39% of those assists have come from Alex Ovechkin goals. Backstrom is the first player from the 2006 draft to reach the mark. The 600th assist set up Ovechkin’s 233rd power play goal, which moved him to ninth most in NHL history. The Caps power play continues to lead the league with 12 goals in 31 chances.

4. New Jersey Devils: 8 Points (4-2-0)

The Devils started their season red hot with four straight wins. They have since gone 0-2, dropping games against the Avalanche and the Flyers by a combined 10-5 score. The Devils have been bit by the injury bug and currently have four players on IR and two players who are day to day. Five of these injuries came in their last three games. Defenseman Will Butcher is day to day while fellow blue-liners Steven Santini and Ben Lovejoy hit IR this week. Alternate captain Travis Zajac is day-to-day with a lower-body-injury, and right-wingers Drew Stafford and Jesper Bratt are also on IR. Goaltender Cory Schneider has been activated from IR but is in Binghamton for a conditioning stint.

To make up for the losses the Devils have called up John Quenneville, Kevin Rooney, Eric Gryba, and Egor Yakovlev from Binghamton, their American Hockey League affiliate. Despite all of the injuries, head coach John Hynes, has no plans to break up his top line of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, and Kyle Palmieri to help with depth across the board. The Devils entered the season with a fairly thin team, which will now be exacerbated with these injuries. Taylor Hall was able to carry the team last season, but this may be asking too much out of the defending MVP.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 8 Points (4-4-0)

The Blue Jackets have lost two games in a row but now face a struggling St. Louis Blues team with a great chance to right the ship. The Jackets are still a good team who are likely to make a run to the top of the division. Columbus has the fourth lowest PDO in the league and lowest in the division with a 96.8, meaning they have been quite unlucky. A change in fortune combined with the return of Seth Jones means the Blue Jackets are likely to turn it around soon and start climbing the standings.

With Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky both stalled in their respective contract talks, the Blue Jackets will be the most interesting team to watch through the end of the season. If this team continues to struggle, it won’t help the team retain either player. The Jackets would like to avoid the same fate as the Islanders and not lose one or both players for nothing. Both could return large packages of picks and prospects at the deadline and help make sure that Columbus doesn’t get set too far back.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 8 Points (4-5-0)

The Flyers had high expectations heading into the season but have fallen below .500 after a loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday. The Flyers have been scoring at an above average rate with 3.33 goals for per game through their first nine games, good for 13th place in the league. The problem behind this number is that they are shooting at 10.5% to get to this point. When you compare this to the Hurricanes at 3.22 goals per game while shooting at a 7.7% rate, the Flyers are likely to lose ground offensively at some point.

What doesn’t help is that their goaltending has been struggling. They have dipped further in the ranks and are second to last in the league with 4.11 goal against per game. Last week I touched on their discipline issues and letting up too many PK goals, but the struggles also come at even strength. Their .892 even strength save percentage is second worst in the league.

7. New York Islanders: 7 Points (3-4-1)

The Islanders have announced that they are moving their game against the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 28th from Brooklyn to Nassau Coliseum. This now brings the split of home games to 21 each between Brooklyn and Long Island. Their first home game back at their old home will come on December 1 when they host the Blue Jackets, and their final home game in Brooklyn will come on February 16th against the Oilers.

The Islanders are also starting a new era after the passing of their former owner Charles Wang. Wang served as the majority owner from 2001-2016, stabilizing the team after a period of turmoil under a fraudulent owner. Wang also made a huge push to keep the Islanders on Long Island before they settled to move to Brooklyn. He also oversaw the transition from the Mike Milbury days to the John Tavares era. Though he was a minority owner from 2016 on, he still had a major influence on the team.

8. New York Rangers: 7 Points (3-5-1)

Starting goaltender Henrik Lundqvist sat out the game against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday due to a minor upper-body-injury. This season many were expecting to see Lundqvist to start, but possibly in a lesser role, giving Alexandar Georgiev the chance to get more NHL action to see if he can develop into a legitimate starter, but that has not been the case. Lundqvist, now 36 years old, has started all but two games this season, posting a .921 save percentage.

In other roster news, the Rangers have sent Matt Beleskey down to the AHL. Beleskey was one of the pieces that came over to the Rangers in the Rick Nash deal at the deadline last season. The Rangers hope that the forward can contribute to the NHL roster this year. If not, his cap hit in the AHL will be $875k, not counting the $1.9 million still on the Bruins’ books as retained salary