1. Columbus Blue Jackets: 22 Points (10-6-2)
Head coach John Tortorella has the Blue Jackets in first place in the Metro with a consistent start despite a struggling goaltender. However, he is currently using the most frustrating and confusing coaching method known to man, restricting good young players to motivate them and teach them a lesson. Both Anthony Duclair and Zach Werenski have seen their ice time decline over the last few games. While both players have been near the bottom of the team in plus-minus with -3 and -5 respectively, they have been able to produce on the scoresheet and don’t deserve to see ice time being cut significantly.
In October Werenski logged 24:04 and Duclair 15:19 TOI per game. Over that time Werenski logged two goals and six assists, and Duclair logged four goals and two assists. Since the start of November, both have seen their ice time fall significantly. Werenski is down to just 16:35 and Duclair is down to 8:47 TOI per game. Despite this Werenski has still registered a pair of assists while Duclair has registered a pair of goals while playing on the lowest pairing/line. What must make this even more frustrating for Duclair is that after struggling with the Arizona Coyotes and the New York Rangers, he is finally producing at a good level, but now sees the second least TOI on the team.
2. New York Islanders: 20 Points (9-6-2)
The Islanders continue to be the biggest surprise of the season tied for second in the division with 20 points. The Isles entered Tuesday’s game on a three game losing streak but were able to beat the Canucks 5-3. The game had one of the craziest goals of the season by highly skilled, highly electric….TOM KUHNHACKL?! He not only had a multi-goal game, he earned one of them on his back on the goal line wide of the net.
Kuhnhackl scores while on his back on the ice. pic.twitter.com/PUTC25WbJH— NHL GIFs (@NHLGIFs) November 14, 2018
This game was exactly what the Islanders were hoping for; though they lost their division lead, they stopped the bleeding while only trailing the Blue Jackets by one game. As we have seen, every team in the division can lose multiple games in a row, but it’s about stopping that skid as quickly as possible to stay on top. The teams that have been able to do that are on top of the division, those who could not (Canes, Pens, Flyers, Devils) are at the bottom. The crazy thing is that early in the season the Canes, Pens, and Devils all led the division at one point, but are all currently on the outside looking in due to lengthy losing streaks.
3. New York Rangers: 20 Points (9-7-2)
Pavel Buchnevich has stayed in the news. First, by finally getting it going on the scoresheet with two goals and two assists in his last three games. However, the young winger broke his thumb Saturday and is now expected to miss four to six weeks just as the he and the Rangers were starting to roll. With Buchnevich out the Rangers may shuffle rookie center Filip Chytil from the fourth line to the second line to play with Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayes.
This would also open up a center position for fellow rookie Lias Andersson to crack the lineup consistently for the first time in a bottom six role. The Rangers also shuffled goaltenders around sending Alexandar Georgiev to the AHL and recalling Marek Mazanec from Hartford. Georgiev has played well in his last three starts winning all three and stopping 98 of the 106 shots he faced. However, he has only started four games all season, three in the last three weeks. The Rangers may be making this move simply to keep the 22-year-old fresh.
4. Washington Capitals: 19 Points (8-7-3)
The independent arbitrator ruled against the NHL again on Tuesday, this time reducing Tom Wilson’s 20 game ban to 14 games, allowing the forward to play in Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild. This seemed to be an odd ruling since the league had thoroughly documented each and every offense and borderline offense that Wilson had committed over the past couple of years. He had more suspendable hits in a 365 day span than any other player, AND the NHL had the Raffi Torres suspension as precedence. But, it was still not enough.
In his first game back Wilson scored in the first period to bring the game to 2-0, but then was assessed a penalty for goaltender interference on the same play. I have no idea how the refs can call a goal and goaltender interference on the same play. The refs not enforcing the blue paint is reckless and allows for this play where Wilson knees Dubnyk in the head. This isn’t just a Wilson issue, since he generally does commit a number of his attempted murders in the slot, but it’s not a good look that this is only a minor and the goal stands. Just for good measure Wilson also got into a fight with Marcus Foligno, just to make sure the NHL knows he’s not a reformed man.
5. Philadelphia Flyers: 19 Points (9-8-1)
Despite only giving up 29.9 shots per game, the sixth least in the league, the Flyers still average the fourth most goals against in the league (3.44). However, since entering November, the Flyers lead the league with a .962 even strength save percentage and a 12.7 even strength shooting percentage, which explains their recent resurgence. No one is able to beat them while at even strength.
However, they have one of the worst special teams’ rankings in the league in November. They have killed only 76.2% of their 21 penalties successfully and only converted on 6.7% of their 15 power play opportunities. This all adds up to a total ranking of 56 out of 62 or the 28th worst team in overall special teams. This is the only way that teams have been able to keep up with the Flyers since the calendar flipped.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 19 Points (8-7-3)
The Canes are in familiar territory with a 4-4-2 record in their last 10 games. This is the exact spot that the Canes find themselves in year in and year out both in their performance in in the standings. Their inability to win the games they need to win and string wins together still continues to be their main problem.
While one point doesn’t seem like a lot, it is crazy that the Canes can find a way to lose a game in overtime to a bad Red Wings where they led 3-1 entering the final frame. Against the Blackhawks on Monday, they looked sluggish and struggled to get the offense going. However, they were able to score two power play goals in just under two minutes to get them back in the game. The biggest issue is that this has been the first major time that the Canes looked to just give up and not fight. This will be one of the first big tests for Rod Brind’Amour to see how he can change things up and motivate the group with a long break before this weekend.
One notable move has been Phil Di Giuseppe re-entering the lineup, which has pushed Valentin Zykov out of the lineup. It was reported last week that the Canes have been shopping the forward who is now in Charlotte for a conditioning stint to get more playing time. Zykov is a player that will thrive more on the power play and in offensive situations, but he hasn’t looked to have the speed or skill to play in the top six this season.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins: 17 Points (7-6-3)
The Penguins’ slide in the standings continues with six losses in their last seven games. Since letting up four goals on 27 shots, Matt Murray has been benched in favor of Casey DeSmith. DeSmith has now started the last three games, earning a 1-2-0 record with a shutout against the Coyotes. This brings his season record up to 3-1-2. Despite these starts, Mike Sullivan has made it clear that he has not given up on Murray, he is just riding the hot hand. Despite having an average record, DeSmith still has a.942 save percentage for the season.
So, then what’s the major problem with the Pens? The lack of depth is finally catching up to them. It has now been nine games since a goal was generated by the bottom six. In this time, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel have combined for 14 goals, the rest of the team has just 13. To shake up the roster, GM Jim Rutherford traded Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson. Pearson, who is 26, has just a lone assist this season. This trade acts as a change of scenery for both players who have been struggling. The good news for the Penguins is they get younger and will have Pearson under contract for two more years at $3.75 million through 2021.
8. New Jersey Devils: 15 Points (7-8-1)
The Devils started off as the hottest team in the division but now just have a 3-6-1 record in their last 10 games and find themselves at the bottom of the division. Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Penguins, the Devils had lost three straight, but that didn’t stop Tayor Hall. The defending Hart Trophy winner scored two goals and assisted on two more, factoring in all four of the team’s goals in a 4-2 win against the also struggling Pens.
The Devils are struggling to get contributions from all four of their lines, the top line od Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier and Hall has combined for 18 goals. The third line of Blake Coleman, Travis Zajac, and Stefan Noesen has combined for 13. The second line however has been nonexistent. Marcus Johansson, Brett Seney, and Jesper Bratt have just three goals, granted Bratt has been injured most of the year. However, even after being able to activate Bratt, Noesen, Ben Lovejoy, and Drew Stafford from IR at the start of November, the Devils still have gone just 2-5-0.