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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Shakeups Continue for Struggling Teams

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The Flyers have almost cleaned house and the slumping Isles open their second home arena for 2018-2019.

NHL: Preseason-Philadelphia Flyers at New York Islanders Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

1. Washington Capitals: 31 Points (14-7-3)

The Capitals have continued to struggle with the injury bug. Last week they lost T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Brooks Orpik. Yesterday Michal Kempny and Devante Smith-Pelly were held out of practice. Even with the injuries piling up, it has not slowed the Caps who have now won six straight dating back to November 16. The Caps’ biggest weakness on paper is the lack of depth, but they are proving everyone wrong in this run.

On a lighter note, the Capitals went to Brooklyn to play the Islanders and their former head coach Barry Trotz. Before the game Trotz and his assistants Lane Lambert and Mitch Korn received their Stanley Cup rings and gave speeches to the team, before the game. Korn and Lambert left the Caps this offseason and followed Trotz to the Islanders. It was an awesome moment that showed that there are few hard feelings between the coach and players for the situation that happened leading to Trotz’s departure after winning the Cup.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 30 Points (14-8-2)

The Blue Jackets have been off to a great first 25 games of the season despite not being a great shto share team or having great special teams. Columbus ranks 27th in Corsi percentage, 10th in shots for and 17th in shots against, and they have a combined special teams rank of 43 out of 62. They have had shaky goaltending giving up the 10th most goals against with 3.21. What they have had is a great even strength shooting percentage at 9.4%. This is the same percentage that the Lightning had last season and they led the league.

This reminds me of the Islanders last season. The team came out with below average goaltending but a red-hot shooting percentage, but ultimately they missed the playoffs. The Blue Jackets are more talented than that team, but when the shooting percentage regresses, it is going to be rough going. It should be expected that the Blue Jackets will come down to Earth this season.

3. New York Rangers: 28 Points (13-10-2)

One of the main trade targets on the Rangers heading into the season was Kevin Hayes. Hayes is only 26 years old and has been playing center for the second line of the Rangers between Chris Kreider and Filip Chytil. He is averaging 19:14 time on ice per game, second most among Rangers forwards. He’s also third on the team in points per game with .68, with five goals and 12 assists for 17 total points.

With his added success even with Pavel Buchnevich out, it is more likely that the Rangers will shop upcoming RFA Vladislav Namestnikov or Jesper Fast. Both wingers will still fetch a good return at the deadline but are easier to replace than a workhorse center. With Mika Zibanejad signed through 2022, the Rangers are going to be set up the middle. They can now develop Lias Andersson and Brett Howden for the third line center while they reload the defense and wings.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: 27 Points (12-9-3)

With Brett Pesce and Haydn Fleury out with injuries, the Canes called up Jake Bean from Charlotte to fill in on the third pairing. Bean was drafted 13th overall in 2016 and is playing his first year professionally. Bean is a highly skilled left-shot defensive prospect but is undersized. He has been playing effectively in the AHL with ten points in 14 games played.

Bean played a game low 13 shifts for 8:07 in one of the Canes worst defensive games of the year being outshot 49-22. No one looked impressive on the stat sheet, but Bean had just a 13.64% corsi for which led to his benching in the third period. This isn’t out of the ordinary for young players, Rod Brind’Amour shelters young players and for a defenseman this can be very important so they can properly warm up to the speed and skill in the NHL.

Despite seeing 49 shots Tuesday night, Curtis McElhinney earned the win, his fourth-straight. He has a 7-2-0 record with a .930 sv%. He is really making his case to be the starter in the immediate future. This comes a game after Scott Darling struggled letting in four goals against the New York Islanders on Saturday. The Canes are going to have to make a decision on which two goaltenders to keep, but it is starting to look like McElhinney can fill in until further notice.

5. New York Islanders: 26 Points (12-9-2)

We are moving to the fun period of the season where we will need to keep webcams on both Barclays and Nassau Coliseum to see which players show up to the wrong arenas. The Islanders will play their first game on Long Island on Saturday against the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Isles will primarily alternate between the arenas for each home game until February 26, after which all home games will be played in the Nassau Coliseum.

The move will be welcomed for the players since their practice facility is in Nassau. While playing in Brooklyn the Isles have the second longest distance between their practice facility and game arena at 28.9 miles. Moving half of their home games and all their games starting in February will be welcome for the players, who tend to live closer to their every day rink, the practice facility. They have a 6-3-2 at home currently, and it will be worth keeping an eye on it to see how the multiple rinks affects their home winning percentage.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins: 25 Points (10-9-5)

Matt Murray finds himself on IR again, this time with a lower-body injury. The initial report is that it could be a “longer term” injury. This is the second time just this season that the 24 year old finds himself on IR, the first time came in October when he was diagnosed with a concussion. This time it came after dealing with an injury for weeks, but was still an unexpected result after meeting with team doctors on 11/22.

The Penguins have called up AHL goalie Tristen Jarry to fill in as backup for Casey DeSmith while Murray is out. Jarry played his second game of the season last night against the Colorado Avalanche and gave up five goals on 25 shots for a .800 save percentage. The Penguins managed to lose that game 6-3 despite a Sidney Crosby natural hat-trick. The Pens will now have to look to take advantage of an easy schedule which sees them play eight teams in the bottom 18 of the standings in their next ten games.

7. New Jersey Devils: 22 Points (9-10-4)

The New Jersey Devils sure do seem like the anti-Flyers. They have a starting goalie in Cory Schneider coming off of offseason hip surgery and are coming off of a year in which they over performed. However, they have not done anything to overreact to their current situation. They are holding steady with their core of players and their staff.

One thing that I expect them to do is make trades involving the aging portion of their roster. While their hands were tied with an over performing roster last year, the Devils have five players over the age of 33 and plenty of cap space. There is nothing wrong with continuing their rebuild and getting assets for players like Travis Zajac, Drew Stafford, Andy Greene, and Ben Lovejoy. These players can fetch fair to good return as rentals and also set the Devils up for a good future when players like Nico Hischier and Jesper Bratt continue to grow. Taylor Hall is still only 27 and will be effective for years to come and can ride out allow period of a season or two while the Devils reload.

8. Philadelphia Flyers: 22 Points (10-12-2)

The decision to fire Ron Hextall at the start of the week seemed to be a curious one for the Flyers. The composition of the team doesn’t seem to be the big issue, outside of goaltending. They have one of the best young blue lines with Shayne Gohstisbehere and Ivan Provorov. They made smart moves in getting James van Riemsdyk back and have a solid top six group. The main issues have been the performance on the ice, and coach Dave Hakstol.

The Flyers have the eighth worst .910 even strength save percentage and the third worst 3.58 goals against per game. When you combine this with the fact that by most measures the Flyers over-performed for a young team last season, it seems like a hasty decision to fire their GM after a 6-0 loss to the Maple Leafs on Saturday. The Flyers finished the 2016-2017 season with just 88 points and were 6th in the Metro. They moved up in the draft lottery to get Nolan Patrick and surprised almost everyone with a third-place finish in the division with 98 points last season. They improved the roster this offseason, but a rough start got the GM fired and the coach keeps his job.