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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Is Everyone Allergic to the Wild Card?

All teams competing for a wild card position have stumbled when having the ability to cement themselves as a wild-card team.

Jamie Kellner

1. Washington Capitals: 67 Points (31-17-5)

The Capitals had a rough weekend, first losing to the Pittsburgh Penguins 7-4 on Friday and then falling to the Vegas Golden Knights 4-3 on Sunday. The Caps’ struggles on the weekend came largely as a result of not playing disciplined hockey, allowing four power play goals in the five times they were shorthanded. In the Penguins game, they erased a two-goal deficit in the second period before allowing two power play goals in the third. Then in the Vegas game which proved to be a one-goal game, they failed to kill their only penalty.

Despite that rough swing and only winning four out of their last 10, they are still in good shape. They have a four-point lead over the Penguins with two games in hand. They also bounced back on Tuesday with a win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. It's also important to remember that it’s February and the Caps always keep their composure until April.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 63 Points (30-22-3)

The Penguins have the most back-to-back sets of any team in the league this season with 19. To start the season this was a huge issue for the Pens as they went 0-4-2 in their first six games in the back half of a back to back. However, they have turned the corner and have gone 4-1-0 in their last five, a huge factor in their recent turnaround due to the frequency of these games. What looked like automatic losses through November have turned out to be competitive games with a 4-5-2 record. However, they’re not out of the woods yet: they have four more sets waiting for them in March.

What’s so surprising about the Pens rise to the second place in the division is that they’re doing it despite a league-worst .907 even strength save percentage. (Yes, worse than even the Hurricanes!) Looking at recent performance, their .920 even strength save percentage since the start of January is just 21st in the league. But they have been able to cover this up with a 32.6% power play percentage since the start of the new year. These stats aren’t exactly what you would call sustainable, so it will be interesting to see if they fall back to earth and back down the standings as well.

3. New Jersey Devils: 62 Points (27-17-8)

With all of the Devils’ goaltending injuries they called up Eddie Lack from AHL Binghamton. This is Lack’s first time in the NHL since mid-November when he was still with the Flames. Lack got into Tuesday night’s game after Keith Kincaid struggled against the Ottawa Senators. In his relief appearance, he stopped 11 out of 12 shots with a .917 sv%. Lack will likely see more playing time with starting goaltender Cory Schneider still missing time with a groin injury.

This wasn’t the only eventful moment in the 5-3 loss to the Senators. Senators forward Alex Burrows punched Taylor Hall, took him to the ground and started kneeing him in the back of the head. The weird thing is that neither player is really a fighter or has a dirty reputation, so I don’t know what caused him to snap. Regardless of motives, the NHL suspended Burrows for 10 games on Wednesday.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: 59 Points (25-19-9)

The Flyers snapped a four-game losing streak on Tuesday when they beat the Hurricanes in the last three seconds of overtime. The game was goaltender Brian Elliott’s first game back from injured reserve. Elliott stopped 27 of the 28 shots, letting up a lone goal while shorthanded in his return. The Flyers really hope that he can keep up his play to give themselves a more comfortable hold on a playoff position.

Nolan Patrick was moved up to the second line at the end of January in a game against the Capitals. In the four games that he has played on the second line, the rookie has scored at a point per game pace. His four points are one-third of his total season points, and includes scoring two of his five goals this season. This is a huge development for the Flyers who were really hoping to get solid production out of the second overall pick from last year’s draft.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 58 Points (27-22-4)

No team close to the wild card wants to win, apparently. The Columbus Blue Jackets are currently in the middle of their own four-game skid. In their last five games, the Blue Jackets have scored at a pace of just two goals per game. Since the new year, Columbus has a league-worst 24 goals for in 13 games. The Canes, even given all of their offensive struggles, have 14 more goals in the same time span. FOURTEEN! Columbus really needs to add offense and quick. Waiting until the end of the month may be too late for them.

You would have to think a potential landing spot for Rick Nash would be his former home, Columbus. I feel this could be similar to Mike Green returning to the Caps. The Blue Jackets could use more skill up the wing and specifically could stand to move Oliver Bjorkstrand to the bottom six for the rest of the year. Acquiring Nash wouldn’t take a permanent roster spot away from the youngster, but it would just help them load up for a deeper playoff run. That is the type of move that can push a team to a round one series victory and potentially get some momentum rolling.

6. New York Islanders: 58 Points (26-22-6)

The Islanders lost their third defenseman to injury when Scott Mayfield went out with a lower-body injury on Tuesday. This adds to a growing list of players on injured reserve that also includes Shane Prince, Nikolay Kulemin, Johnny Boychuk, and Calvin de Haan. Mayfield’s injury has forced the other Sebastian Aho to play on a top pairing with Nick Leddy. The Isles are out of options on defense, as they have no other defensemen scratched and will have to roll with Adam Pelech-Ryan Pulock and Thomas Hickey-Dennis Seidenberg as their second and third pairings respectively.

This makes the deadline even more interesting for the Islanders who may need to acquire a defenseman ASAP to be able to compete for a playoff position. Since December 28th, when Boychuk went on IR, the Isles have just 14 points in 17 games with a 6-9-2 record. Now with an even thinner defense, they aren’t exactly expected to rise up the ranks in a quick fashion. The Isles could look within the division to the Hurricanes or the selling Rangers to pick up a defenseman or trade for Mike Green from Detroit. They have the cap space and would provide a big boost to the defense not just now, but when they are making a playoff run next month in March and into April.

7. Carolina Hurricanes: 58 Points (24-21-9)

The Canes have had three of their most lackluster performances in the Bill Peters era and you have to start asking if he has lost the locker room. Even after a scathing interview where Peters was quoted as saying the “lineup was not acceptable” and bag skates on Monday, the team fell flat on Tuesday. The Canes managed a single goal against the Flyers in Brian Elliott’s return and that was on the power play.

The big lineup shakeup was taking out shutdown center Marcus Kruger, and replacing him with Phil Di Giuseppe, who has one point in 21 games played this season. The other was replacing Haydn Fleury with Klas Dahlbeck. Dahlbeck has the lowest Game Score Value Added on the Carolina Hurricanes with a -1.0. Game Score Value Added measures a players win’s above replacement by looking at scoring efficiency and ice time, where a score of zero means a player is replacement level and adds no value to the team. A score of -1.0 means that Dahlbeck’s play is worse than replacement level and causes the team to lose one more game than if a replacement level player was on the ice. So yeah, pretty underwhelming roster moves.

With Peters, player utilization has always been suspect. Jeff Skinner is by all metrics one of the top three players on the team but can’t get out of the bottom six. The line combinations that were rolled out on Tuesday had the Canes with a top line and three third lines. They really need to have multiple scoring lines and I don’t see how that’s possible when you’re putting Brock McGinn on a line with Rask and Williams instead of Skinner.

8. New York Rangers: 55 Points (25-24-5)

It looks like the sell is on for the Rangers. They have officially asked for Rick Nash’s no-trade list which consists of 18 teams. According to Bob McKenzie, the Rangers are looking for a first-round pick, a top prospect, and an additional player-pick-or prospect. That asking price seems absurd for a player who is on a steep decline in production. The 33-year-old winger has just 25 points and 15 goals. Though 15 goals are tied for second for scoring on the Hurricanes, 25 points would rank just tied for eighth with Noah Hanifin.

The Rangers are also asking for a first-round pick for Michael Grabner which is also insane. Grabner does have over 20 goals on the year, but he is also 30 and will only be able to contribute this season. If you want to compare it to the Hurricanes, they traded Eric Staal to the Rangers for two second-round picks and a prospect, Aleksi Saarela who was battling injuries. I guess Jeff Gorton thinks first-round picks grow on trees. I just can't expect teams to give up a first-round pick for either player who are both only signed through the rest of the year. I honestly hope that no team takes either player for this asking price and the Rangers have to sit on wasted assets.