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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Just Two Weeks Left

With just two weeks left in the season, the playoff teams have separated themselves from the pack. Now it’s all about positioning.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Montreal Canadiens Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

1. Washington Capitals: 91 Points (42-24-7)

Since February 14th, Philipp Grubauer and Braden Holtby have split the workload, with Grubauer playing 12 games and Holtby playing eight. Grubauer has a much better record down the stretch with a 7-2-0 record as opposed to Holtby’s 3-5-0 mark. Caps coach Barry Trotz has already said that he wants to continue splitting the games going down the stretch.

This is going to add a new wrinkle to the never-ending Capitals playoff saga. Now Trotz and the fans will be second guessing every move down the stretch and in the playoffs. Do they ride the hot hand in goal, or do they go back to their workhorse starter? This is going to be fun to watch.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 89 Points (42-27-5)

Last night Evgeni Malkin scored a goal, reaching 90 points on the season for the fourth time in his career. He is one of four players to have 90 or more points this season, joining Nikita Kucherov (94), Nathan McKinnon (91), and Connor McDavid (90). Malkin now has 41 goals which also ranks third in the league, behind only Alex Ovechkin (44) and Patrik Laine (43).

Matt Murray also returned to play in their game against the New York Islanders on Tuesday. Murray played well with 36 saves, but the Pens fell in a 4-1 loss. His play was more important than the missed points in the standings. The Penguins will be in the playoffs and they will stay on the Metro side of the bracket. They have had a fantastic record against the Caps if they fall to the four seed, and at this point, the Blue Jackets and the Flyers shouldn’t scare the Penguins. What would concern them more is inconsistent or sub-par goalie play out of Murray.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 87 Points (41-28-5)

The Blue Jackets have now won nine straight games and have the longest active winning streak in the league. (Sound familiar?) This has gotten the Blue Jackets to the all-important third Metro spot, which allows them to avoid the first place Capitals. The Blue Jackets have now been able to win two games without their top defender, Seth Jones, who is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury.

Artemi Panarin recorded his second career hat-trick in a four-point performance in Tuesday’s game against the New York Rangers. Panarin now leads the team in goals and points with 25 goals and 68 total points. During the nine-game win streak, he has seven goals and 15 points which accounts for 18.4% of their total scoring over this period.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: 86 Points (27-25-12)

The Flyers have made a rare post-trade deadline trade yesterday when they sent prospect Cooper Marody to Edmonton for a 2019 third-round pick. The trade is interesting as Marody has been having a good season with Michigan this season, but they were able to turn someone they picked in the sixth round into a third-round pick so it is a good return for the Flyers.

Philly has a balanced schedule heading into their final eight games. The Flyers have an even road/home split and an even split between playoff and non-playoff teams. With a four-point lead over the Devils and a five-point lead over the Panthers, the Flyers are in a comfortable position heading into the last two weeks of the season.

5. New Jersey Devils: 82 Points (37-28-8)

The Devils are almost through their killer stretch of eight straight games against playoff teams. The Devils currently have a 3-3-0 record in this stretch with two games remaining, at the Penguins and at home against the Lightning. During this stretch, the Devils playoff chances have now dropped under 50%.

They have lost their last two and have started a trend of letting up goals, conceding 10 in total. Cory Schneider was pulled after letting up the fourth goal against the Sharks with just a .714 sv%. Since returning from injury, Schneider has struggled. He returned to the team at the start of March and has started in only four games. In that span, he has a 3.82 GAA and a .862 sv%. Keith Kincaid has been playing well, but I’m sure the Devils would be much more comfortable about their playoff chances if they could rely on Schneider instead.

6. Carolina Hurricanes: 73 Points (31-31-11)

The Carolina Hurricanes have announced that Victor Rask and Brett Pesce are out for the remainder of the season with shoulder injuries. Roland McKeown has been recalled to fill out the defense while Haydn Fleury is out with a concussion. Valentin Zykov and Joakim Nordstrom will round out the forwards.

Zykov struggled in his first game back with the NHL squad playing on the fourth line, but now with Rask out, it will be interesting to see if his role changes. He did have one power play shift, but they lost the faceoff and didn’t have sustained possession in the offensive zone. It would be very interesting to see if Zykov can excel in more of a skill role with the team. If he struggles in too many more games, it will damage his chances to make the team in a significant role next season.

7. New York Rangers: 72 Points (32-33-8)

I know that Henrik Lundqvist has a full no-move-clause but I am interested to see if the Rangers try to trade him at the draft. He has been happy to be in New York so far in his career, but with the Rangers’ memo to the fans, I was expecting him to get dealt at the deadline. He is a valuable player who would be able to fetch a large return, including a first-round pick.

The only thing would be, where would he sign off to get traded to? Philly and the Islanders have struggled mightily in the goaltending department. However, I wouldn’t think he would want to go to a bottom feeder in the Isles and I don’t think the Rangers would trade him to a rival. I would think that they would want to trade him to the West, which could leave San Jose, Calgary, and Edmonton as possible trade partners.

8. New York Islanders: 72 Points (31-32-10)

The New York Islanders are currently in last place in the division, which at this point should be an accomplishment. The New York Rangers sent a letter to their fans saying that they were tanking this season and are starting a rebuild, but the Islanders have managed to somehow be worse than them. That honestly hurts the mind to think about.

The Isles were able to beat the Penguins to keep the Pens stuck in second place in the division. The issue for the Isles heading into the last three weeks of the season is that they don’t have enough time to tank to improve their draft position. They have 72 points and may have the ability to drop down to the eighth or seventh pick, but not too much higher of a position than that.