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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: And So it Begins

After the first week of the season the Hurricanes lead the league standings. Here’s how the rest of the Metropolitan Division fares.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 8 Points (4-0-0)

The Hurricanes are 4-0-0 for the first time since they moved to Raleigh and on top of that every forward has registered at least one point. The big thing to look at out of the last game is that Ryan Dzingel scored his first two goals as a Hurricane and Sebastian Aho registered his first goal. Aho has led the team in shots on goal but struggled to break through, so his finally breaking through on an empty netter could be a catalyst for him showing up on the score sheet regularly, which the Canes certainly wouldn’t mind.

The Hurricanes have had arguably the best defense in the league over the past two seasons, and it’s hard to argue that they still aren’t atop that list when the game winners from the first three games came from defensemen. Dougie Hamilton scored the shootout winner against the Canadiens, Jake Gardiner scored the OT winner in Washington, and Jaccob Slavin scored the OT winner against Tampa Bay. This doesn’t include the other goals that the unit along the blue line has scored: six in total, with two each from Hamilton and Slavin. Joel Edmundson is the only defenseman to not yet see his name on a scoresheet.

My favorite newcomer of the team has to be James Reimer. He was all smiles after the game in Washington and then was hung out to dry in Florida after the Canes went up 4-0 in the first. He faced 50 shots and only let up three goals. A big question coming into the season was whether or not the Canes could keep up their goaltending, but it looks like they upgraded (or at least kept the same level of) backup over last season and still have a real 1a and 1b moving forward.

2. Washington Capitals: 6 Points (2-0-2)

The Capitals live and die by the power play and this has never been more apparent than in the first four games of the season. In their two wins they went 2-5 with the man advantage. In their two losses they went 0-11, including 0-5 with Evgeni Kuznetsov back and the power play being back to full-strength. Kuznetsov was suspended for the first three games, but it took him only five minutes to score in his first game back.

The Caps have been unable to win games without power play support mainly due to their goaltending. Braden Holtby came into the season with Vezina aspirations, but in his first three starts he has struggled with just a .882 sv%. It’s a continuing trend of slow starts for Holtby. In October of 2018 he had an .888 sv%, a .913 in 2017, and a .910 in 2016. Last season the Caps ended up going with backup Pheonix Copley for an extended period, but with rookie Ilya Samsanov now the Caps backup, the Caps may not be as quick to give him extended starts.

3. New York Rangers: 4 Points (2-0-0)

The Rangers are off to a hot start this season with consecutive wins but fall prey to the strangest schedule in the NHL to start the season. They played games last Thursday and Saturday before having an entire week off before facing the Oilers Saturday. They then have five days off before a back-to-back at the Devils and at the Caps. The odd breaks will make it very difficult for this young and relatively new team to find chemistry and rhythm early. It’s very hard to determine what the identity of this team will be for the entire season.

What we do know is that Mika Zibanejad is for real. In just two games he has four goals and four assists for eight points. The Rangers did trade Vladislav Namestnikov, who they got in the Ryan McDonagh trade, to the Ottawa Senators for an AHL defenseman and fourth-round pick in the 2021 draft. This opens up more opportunity for the extensive youth of this team to take a larger role moving forward. Now Pavel Buchnevich is playing on the top line and Kaapo Kakko is playing on the second line which makes the Rangers better moving forward.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: 4 Points (2-0-0)

The Flyers are in a strange spot because they started their season in Prague. As a result, they have played just two games this season and had an awkward period of long rest between their first two games. It is hard to get a read on the team, as they have had the least testing schedule of any team in the division, only playing the Chicago Blackhawks and the struggling New Jersey Devils who are dead last in the Metro.

One good trend for the Flyers is the early play of Carter Hart. Their hopes for a playoff spot, in large part, lie on his shoulders. He will likely start the lion’s share of the Flyers’ games, but it’s still an open question how he will respond to being used night in and night out. The full NHL season is a grind and if the Flyers try to play him for 72 games this season, you could see a real fall-off near the end of the season. This is why more and more teams are deploying goaltender tandems, a luxury the Flyers don’t really have.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 2 Points (1-2-0)

Coming into the season the Penguins were a thin team, and for years they have been searching for a viable third line center. And that was before they lost two centers, Evgeni Malkin and Nick Bjugstad, in their second game to long-term injuries. It was so bad that on Tuesday they couldn’t field four full lines in practice.

When you combine the injuries to Malkin and Bjugstad with the loss of Bryan Rust and the fact they lost Patrik Hornqvist in the first period of their last game, it’s no wonder they lost big to the struggling Winnipeg Jets. Yesterday, Alex Galchenyuk also missed practice and is listed as day-to-day along with Hornqvist, which resulted in two defensemen practicing on the fourth line on Wednesday. Now it’s reported that Jim Rutherford is not only shopping Jack Johnson, he is also reported to be shopping Erik Gudbranson.

6. New York Islanders: 2 Points (1-2-0)

The Islanders were due to regress this year. They outperformed the mean in shooting percentage and were outliers in save percentage. So, it’s no shock that they are coming back down to Earth. What they didn’t expect was giving up four goals to James Neal and Brock Nelson leading the team with 10 penalty minutes in three games.

Barry Trotz is getting fed up with the team and is looking to make a change. They are averaging 2.33 goals for per game, which is sixth worst in the league and need an injection of offense. They have a good scoring winger in the minors in Josh Ho-Sang, but it seems that his time is done with the organization. He could be used in the lineup for offense or traded to bring back some assets for the Isles, but mid-season trades normally don’t involve assets both ways. That said, despite the fact that it’s early, the Islanders are in a spot where they may need to make a move sooner rather than later.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets: 2 Points: (1-2-0)

It’s no surprise that a team that lost its top scorer and top goaltender is struggling. The problem for the Blue Jackets is that they left themselves with Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins as their goalies. While Korpisalo had some experience as a backup, Merzlikins had zero NHL experience and that showed in his first start against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He gave up seven goals in 40 shots for a .825 sv% in a game where the Penguins lost two skaters to injuries.

The Blue Jackets look a lot like the mid 2010’s Carolina Hurricanes. It took 44 shots on Monday to get past the Buffalo Sabres in overtime despite having sub .900 goaltending. They allowed three goals on just 18 shots and have yet to get .900 goaltending in any game this season. They have been off since their win, but now have a back to back that starts with a home game against the Ducks and ends with them going to PNC Arena on Saturday.

8. New Jersey Devils: 1 Point (0-2-1)

This is an important season for the Devils as they are on a season long campaign to re-sign Taylor Hall. As many know, you cannot win a season in the first month, but you can take yourself out of playoff contention in the first month of the season. One of the Devils’ issues has been scoring, averaging just two goals per game. But they have a ton of new pieces in their lineup and as they spend time together they will become more comfortable and score more. Just look at how scoring has increased every game for the Canes. This will also be something to look at as Hall becomes more confident in his recovery.

Coming into the season goaltending was the biggest issue facing the Devils, who made one of the biggest strides in the league this off season. Cory Schneider left their first game, which had many worrying. MacKenzie Blackwood came in and let up three goals in the third for an eventual 5-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets. The good news is that it was only cramps and nothing more serious for Schneider, but it is a microcosm of their goaltending as a whole.