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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Carolina Hurricanes Dethroned, Penguins on top

After losing two straight, the Canes fall to third in the Metro, while the Penguins and Isles rise.

NHL: New York Islanders at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 14 Points (6-2-2)

There has been a lot of talk about Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews’ starts, but Evgeni Malkin has flown under the radar. Blame what you want — Canadian media, the fact he is overshadowed by Sidney Crosby on his own team, whatever — but he is off to the second best start in the league. Malkin has six goals and 13 assists for 19 total points in just ten games played, five more points than Crosby and one more than McDavid who has played one more game.

On the other end for the Penguins, Matt Murray’s hot and cold season continues. Through six games, the 24-year-old starter has a .893 save percentage, which ranks 38th in the league for goalies with three games or more played. What didn’t help his case was letting up four goals on nine shots against the New York Islanders on Tuesday before getting yanked in the second period. Though backup Casey DeSmith was solid during Murray’s presence, the Pens need Murray to be consistent, so they can fully rely on him in tough games and string wins together.

2. New York Islanders: 13 Points (6-4-1)

The Islanders came into this week in last place in the division but have now won three straight, culminatingin a 6-3 win against the Penguins on Tuesday. Despite all of the wins, the Isles also suffered a huge loss when starting goaltender Robin Lehner was injured on Tuesday. In seven starts Lehner won four games and earned points in five. With a .928 save percentage he has been in net for five of their seven games in which they earned points. (I’ll let you guess who played the other two and who they were against.)

He is listed as day-to-day and the Isles have called up Christopher Gibson from the AHL. In six stats Gibson has a .861 save percentage in a 4.21 goals against average. With no back-to-back sets the Isles will now have to rely on Thomas Greiss heavily in Lehner’s absence. This is a big blow to the Islanders who were just getting on a roll and were starting to win games on a night in and night out basis.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 13 Points (6-5-1)

The Canes have now dropped two straight since beating the San Jose Sharks in a shootout. One of the biggest issues that the Hurricanes are facing is nothing new, it is scoring. Rod Brind’Amour has faith that his lines are still generating chances and lines don’t need shuffling. Now I agree that the Sebastian Aho line is clicking, but it is clear the second line is not working. If Andrei Svechnikov could combine with Jordan Staal and Warren Foegele, the speed on the wings and Staal’s defensive play would make this line tough to score against with dynamic speed to create odd man breaks.

The big news this week is the return of Scott Darling in Tuesday’s game against the Boston Bruins. His play was up and down but improved upon from last year’s efforts. He overall looked better in anticipating puck movement and putting rebounds in the right areas. He kept the Canes in the game longer than they probably should have. The only goal that really seemed to be his fault was unfortunately the game winner.

While Justin Williams was outskated, he took the path to the slot away from Brad Marchand. Marchand, while getting pestered made his way to the outside of the cage. Darling took an aggressive line and was just outside the right post with space between him and the net. To engage Marchand he slid further right, but then left the entire net open for a wrap-around. This was the only even-strength goal that he allowed in the game. This was Darling’s first game of the season, and it makes sense that he would struggle with a play dealing with speed; he hasn’t had time to adjust and settle in to the season.

4. Washington Capitals: 12 Points (5-3-2)

The Caps have only played two games in the past week and have been off since Sunday, when they played the Calgary Flames. In that game the Capitals’ backup goalie, Pheonix Copley, won his first NHL game, a shootout win against a Bill Peters coached team…shocking.

The Caps will have been off for five days when they play the Montreal Canadiens tonight. Last season we found that teams struggled off long breaks going 8-14-4 in their returns. The good news about the break for the Caps is that they have been able to get relatively healthy. The only player that is projected to miss the game in Montreal is Brooks Orpik, who plays third pairing minutes. Madison Bowey will fill in.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 12 Points (6-5-0)

The most interesting story around the Blue Jackets, as usual, is Sergei Bobrovsky. The Russian goaltender won the Vezina Trophy in 2017 and was tied for 13th in the league in save percentage with a .921 last season for all goalies who played 10 or more games. This season he has played terribly, he is 46th with a .882 save percentage. Backup Joonas Korpisalo started his third straight game on Tuesday, which is the most he has ever played consecutively.

What is peculiar is this is a contract year for Bobrovsky. Normally in contract years we see improved performance out of players, not the opposite. It very much seems that Bob’s head is not in the right place early in this season. This will complicate the contract talks moving forward. Will the Blue Jackets try to short change him for his current play? Is Bob not playing well due to not having a contract and not caring about the team’s performance?

6. New Jersey Devils: 11 Points (5-3-1)

After starting 4-0 the Devils have quickly fallen to 5-3-1, dropping all the way to sixth in the division, albeit having played the fewest games. The Devils are in the middle of a seven-game road trip that started off with an 8-3 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday. With New Jersey losing four of their last five games, they are looking for a way to change their fortunes.

The Devils, unlike the Canes, plan to shake up their lines in practice after getting demolished by the Tampa Bay Lightning 8-3 on Tuesday. The top line will stay the same, but John Hynes is swapping centers Travis Zajac and Pavel Zacha. Zajac will now play on the second line, Zacha on the third. This move is minor, but it gives Zajac the chance to form chemistry with new linemates Marcus Johansson and Miles Wood. Drew Stafford also practiced with the team. Stafford, who was placed on IR on 10/23, is now eligible to return.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 10 Points (5-7-0)

The Flyers snapped their three-game losing streak with a win against the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday. Philadelphia looked poised to have a big season with many having them as the third-place team in the division, however things have not gone to plan. With high expectations and Philly fans having newfound hope with the Eagles winning a Super Bowl, they are starting to turn on the struggling team and coach. Saturday, during their 6-1 loss, the crowd started chanting “Fire Hakstol.”

The main issue the Flyers are facing is the offense. They have been relying solely on shots from the point, an issue that they have has since Dave Hakstol took over the helm as head coach in 2015. The issue seems to be with the system and not the players. The Flyers have one of the best young blue-lines in the league, but they need to rely on those players to find open players more than just shooting from the point. There is nothing wrong with occasional shot from the point when there is an open lane and off of puck movement but relying solely on low danger chances to score goals is not going to do it, as Canes fans all know.

8. New York Rangers: 9 Points (4-7-1)

The Rangers almost snatched defeat from the jaws of victory on Tuesday when they let up a goal with less than a second remaining to the San Jose Sharks to tie the game. They were able to go on to win the game in a shootout to avoid losing three straight. With the Isles’ new winning streak, it really seems that the only teams in the league that aren’t competitive in the playoff race are the Detroit Red Wings, Ottawa Senators, and the Rangers.

The Rangers are looking to be huge sellers at the deadline but one of the biggest issues is the seemingly sinking value of Pavel Buchnevich who was benched for the second time this season on Tuesday. Both times the winger has been scratched, the Rangers have won. Before the season started, he looked to be a guy that they could be part of the post rebuild team. Now it looks like they will look to trade him for pieces so both sides can have a fresh start.