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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Five Points Separate First and Last

The Islanders lead the division with 18 points but the eighth place Devils are just five points behind with a game in hand.

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Islanders Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

1. New York Islanders: 18 Points (8-4-2)

After a rocky 3-4-0 start, the Isles now have points in seven straight games. The Isles have been successful on the backs of their goaltenders. Despite a 42.53% Corsi for and being outshot 242-172 in these games they have won these games by a combined 24-13 score. Obviously, this means the Isles are relying on their goaltending. Since the start of their points streak on October 24th, the Islanders have had a .954 save percentage at even strength. As a comparison, the next best team in the Metro, the Rangers, has a .939.

This is not a sustainable level for the goaltending, but it also shows what a little bit of puck luck does for a team. Getting 12 points in two weeks has done enough to move them from the bottom to the top of the standings. Each year a team goes on a crazy run and it does enough to get them in the playoffs. We saw that with the Blue Jackets and Flyers in 2016, and the Devils winning 9 out of 11 to start the season in 2017. The Isles are getting out ahead of the division early, hoping that will be enough to get them through any of their downswings later in the season.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets: 17 Points (8-6-1)

Zach Werenski now has three goals and seven assists in 15 games played this season which ranks him third in the division for defensemen scoring. The 21-year-old is an offensive defenseman who has some defensive struggles. He has a -2 on the year and a 47.72 Corsi for percentage. However, the Blue Jackets deploy him correctly; he has a 55.68% zone start percentage, meaning that he is starting in the offensive zone more than the defensive zone.

The Blue Jackets have one of the worst power play percentages in the league, only scoring seven goals on 59 attempts. Werenski has factored in on all but two of those power play goals. He has proven to be the difference maker for the Jackets. When he earns a point, the Blue Jackets are 5-3, but when he doesn’t earn a point they are 2-4-1.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 15 Points (6-4-3)

With the Penguins losing four straight, the entire division has tightened up. All eight teams are now within five points of each other in the standings. The Penguins losing streak started on October 30 with a 6-3 loss to the Islanders. Since that night they have averaged 4.5 goals against per game. Matt Murray has started all four games with a .839 save percentage and a 4.65 goals against average. Both stats rank last for any goaltender in the league over this period.

The offensive struggles have mainly come from a struggling power play. From the start of the season until the losing streak, the Pens scored on 29.2% of their power play chances, which put them in the top five in the league. Since then they have gone 2 from 15 for a 13.3% success rate, which is the sixth worst. The penalty kill has also struggled seeing a decrease from 88.5% to 69.2%, a similar decrease from top five to bottom five in the league.

4. Washington Capitals: 15 Points (6-4-3)

The Caps have been stagnant in the standings with a 4-4-2 record in their last 10 games. Going into their last game against the Oilers, the Caps did something they don’t do too often: they switched up their lines. Todd Reirden moved Jakub Vrana down to the fourth line with Travis Boyd and Devante Smith-Pelly. The plus side for Vrana is that he is now playing with Boyd, who he played on the same line with in Hershey. What was the result of this change? Only that the fourth line scored two goals and the Caps won the game.

This is exactly what the Caps needed. They won the Cup last season not because they had the deepest roster, but because their young players were contributing, and they could roll all four lines. Getting players on the same line who have come up through the AHL together and know how to play with each other make the difference. The Caps aren’t scared to move players and lines around until they get the right combination figured out.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 15 Points (7-7-1)

The Flyers are playing just bad enough to keep the fans angry but just good enough to not cause any major shakeups. The Flyers have 15 points in the standings which is locked dead in the middle even with a -8 goal differential. The Flyers were in a rough spot going into their West Coast road trip with a 4-7-0 record and a three-game losing streak. Going into California, the Flyers took 5 out of six points and won their final game in Arizona before heading back home for a five game homestand.

During the road trip the Flyers second line of Nolan Patrick, Jakub Voracek, and Oskar Lindblom have been the top performing unit. The unit combined for five goals and 15 points in just four games. The Flyers have to be happy with Patrick’s performance. After being slow out of the gates with two points before this trip but is now up to eight points in 12 games played. The Flyers have to get more consistent play out of Patrick if the hope to continue to climb the Metro standings.

6. New York Rangers: 15 Points (7-7-1)

On Tuesday the Rangers called up their 7th overall pick from the 2017 draft, Lias Andersson. Andersson has 12 points in 14 games in the AHL including four goals. The plan is to play Andersson at center and play him in all game situations (even strength, penalty kill, and power play). He didn’t factor into any points into last night’s game but was able to generate three shots.

On the flip side, Kevin Hayes has been struggling as the second line center with just five points this season. With Andersson’s skillset being in the top six, Hayes is now the odd man out. However, Filip Chytil, the other first round pick of 2017, and Ryan Spooner are playing in the bottom six, and both have more time left on their deals. Hayes on the other hand signed a one year, $5,175,000 contract this off season and has already been a likely target to move at the deadline. Now with six centers on the roster, it looks like he could be moving much earlier.

7. Carolina Hurricanes: 14 Points (6-7-2)

The honeymoon phase with head coach Rod Brind’Amour is over with Canes fans. The absolute unwillingness to change the lines is impossible to justify. Even in a game where the Canes were shut out against struggling Vegas, RBA didn’t change lines for the game against the Blues. What also shouldn’t be lost is the fact that the Canes have played an incredible amount of games against backup goaltenders and are still struggling to score, and they still aren’t changing their strategy. The team is stagnant, and it shows because they have now lost five games in a row.

The most inexcusable part of all this is the refusal to give Andrei Svechnikov a larger role with the team. The Svechnikov-Jordan Martinook-Brock McGinn line still generated multiple chances in the game but its clear that Svechnikov is being held back by his linemates. He had a give-and-go with Martinook that eventually led to a shot off the post, but you would think with Jordan Staal that would have been a goal. What more do you want out of him? He has a 63% Corsi for percentage, he’s physical, and he generates chances both from his shot and his passing.

They continue to play Lucas Wallmark on the second line and give him more power play time, but he is also a rookie and has substantially less potential than Svechnikov. The other interesting player to look at for the Canes is Valentin Zykov. He has been struggling to perform offensively and is getting about 10 minutes per game. As someone who is more of a top six style player, this just isn’t doing it. Since RBA seems unwilling to breakup the top line of Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, and Micheal Ferland, there isn’t room for Zykov’s full offensive potential to be reached.

8. New Jersey Devils: 13 Points (6-6-1)

The best story of the NHL this year has been the return of Brian Boyle after beating leukemia, which he was diagnosed with early into last season. The NHL has had the Hockey Fights Cancer program for many years, where each team hosts a game in November to promote the program. On Monday the Pittsburgh Penguins hosted the Devils on their Hockey Fights Cancer night. Already it was a great story that Boyle was able to play in the game at all. Boyle, wasn’t happy with just starting, though; he went on to score a hat-trick in the game, doubling his season total for goals in one night.

The Devils overall have been struggling in November with a 1-3-0 record so far in the month. They have been outscored 15-11 in four games. The Devils have averaged 3.70 goals against per game, and anytime you are around four, it’s not good. Goaltender Cory Schneider has been struggling to come back from his injury. He has a sub .900 save percentage and was pulled after letting up four goals on 22 shots against the Ottawa Senators last night.