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Metro Roundup: Canes Stay on Top for Another Week

The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are closing the gap, while the bottom of the Metro sinks lower.

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 12 Points (6-2-0)

The Hurricanes have come out as one of the strongest teams in the league with a 6-2-0 record, but have lost two of their last three games. The biggest issue facing the Canes is their lack of discipline. They have taken a league high 37 penalties through their first eight games and have allowed 8 goals on the ensuing power play attempts. While the penalty kill percentage isn’t terrible, it was the sole reason they lost the game in San Jose, who were outplayed in the game but scored two power play goals off their first seven shots.

Averaging over four penalties a game, to state the obvious, is not a sustainable way to play. Power plays allow teams to get back into games they shouldn’t be in, and in the Metro’s case you face a firing squad of Alexander Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Artemi Panarin, and others.

In yesterday’s 31 Thoughts by Elliott Friedman, he mentioned that Carolina is still pursuing Justin Williams and are open to having him back as late as the New Year. His return would be huge for the Hurricanes who are lacking a single top six player. The Brock McGinn experiment in the top six is just flat out not working. He has two assists, but just doesn’t have the finishing ability to finish passes from Andrei Svechnikov and he doesn’t have skill that forces defenders to cheat his way to open up space for Svechnikov or Jordan Staal

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 10 Points (5-2-0)

The Penguins have been handling their injury situation well, posting back-to-back seven goal games over the weekend against the Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets. It shows how much having Sidney Crosby helps organizational depth. He is playing on a line with Jake Guentzel and Dominik Simon, a trip that combined for five goals and 10 total points over the weekend alone. The other top perfoemer was Sam Lafferty who had three goals and two assists who is centering a line of Dominik Kahun and Patric Hornqvist.

While the Wild and Jets have struggled mightily on defense, the Penguins defeated the Colorado Avalanche last night in overtime, the Avs’ first loss of the year. The Penguins defense held the second most potent offense to just two goals, down from their 4.40 average. Their four straight wins have turned around their rough start and have kept them on pace with the Capitals for second place in the division.

3. Washington Capitals: 10 Points (4-2-2)

The Capitals accomplished a rare feat on Monday. In their game against the Colorado Avalanche, Braden Holtby ended the game with a 0.00 sv%. He let up goals on the first three shots of the game and was pulled in favor of rookie Ilya Samsonov, who came in to stop 19 of the 21 shots he faced in a 6-3 loss (for which he, perhaps unfairly, was dinged with the loss).

The use of Samsonov is intriguing considering that last year’s backup goalie, Pheonix Copley, is still with the organization. Copley played in 27 games last season with a 16-7-0 record and a .905 sv%, which would seem more than good enough to earn him the backup role this season.

This could be the Caps getting a glance at their future goaltenders if they lose Holtby to free agency at the end of the season. Holtby makes $6.1 million this season and is set to make a raise in the offseason.

The Caps flip flopped some line combination after their third line has been held without a point. Carl Hagelin has yet to record a goal, but recorded his first point last night with the newly formed second line with Evgeny Kuznetzov and Tom Wilson. The third line also recorded its first goal last night, from freshly demoted Jakub Vrana. Vrana joins Lars Eller and Garnet Hathaway, who replaced Richard Panik who has also struggled this season. The Caps need this more balanced scoring to get more consistency from the team.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets: (3-3-0)

The Blue Jackets righted the ship and got back to .500 with two straight wins against the Hurricanes and Dallas Stars, two teams that have serious playoff aspirations this season. They’ve done this on the back of strong performances by Joonas Korpisalo. The starting goaltender has let up just four goals in their last three games with a .941 sv%. The most recent game also featured one of the best goals of the year when Sonny Milano broke through two players and scored with a between the legs goal.

The Blue Jackets have to be thrilled with Korpisalo’s performance, especially when compared to their former starter, Sergei Bobrovsky. The Blue Jackets have a 51.31% Corsi, less than the Panthers’ 55.68%. So, it shows that Korpisalo has just flat performed better. Bobrovsky currently ranks 51st with a .870 sv% and 50th with a 3.90 GAA. So far, the Jackets have saved $9 million and have the better performing goaltender.

5. New York Islanders: 6 Points (3-3-0)

The Islanders have won two games in a row, beating the Florida Panthers and St. Louis Blues in a shootout and overtime respectively. With injuries to both Jordan Eberle and Casey Cizikas injured, the Islanders called for reinforcements from Bridgeport, specifically the 11th overall pick in the 2018 Draft, Oliver Wahlstrom. Wahlstrom has nine AHL games under his belt, but impressed coaches in his first game at the NHL level.

Barry Trotz showed no hesitation in deploying the rookie late in the game down a goal on Monday. He also saw 1:07 in power play time, which also shows the team is ready to give him a larger role than most rookies would get. He and the Islanders hope that he can continue his good form as Eberle is out long term and Cizikas is on IR. Wahlstrom also adds a right hand shot on the team, which is desperately needed for the team that has just two other righty forwards.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Points (2-2-1)

The Flyers started off with two wins before heading out on a Western Canada road trip. That trip has not gone to plan as they lost every game north of the border. The road trip highlighted the issues with the team. They struggled against teams’ top lines, and this is magnified on the road when the opponents have the last change.

They let up five of the total 11 goals against on the road trip to opponents’ top lines, only one of which came on a power play.

The Flyers top line of Claude Giroux, Kevin Hayes, and James van Riemsdyk have struggled all-around. They have combined for just one goal and are a combined -5 rating. They also have terrible goals-for statistics, with Giroux leading the way with 50%, Hayes at 33.33%, and van Riemsdyk at 0% (!) at even strength.

7. New York Rangers: 4 Points (2-1-0)

The Rangers are still in the middle of the strangest scheduling I’ve seen. They have played just three games in the first two weeks of the season and haven’t played since last Saturday, a loss to the Edmonton Oilers. The Rangers now have three games in four nights including a Metro back-to-back against the Devils and Capitals. It’s a tough stretch for a team that doesn’t yet have an identity.

The bright spot in the Rangers loss on Saturday was that rookie Kaapo Kakko earned his first NHL goal in the contest. The team has had time to shuffle up lines and try new things out in practice with their extended breaks. On Tuesday the Rangers moved Brett Howden to the second line and Ryan Strome has been moved to center the third line. This comes after the bottom three lines has struggled to produce early in the season. David Quinn is hoping that Howden and Kakko can have better chemistry moving forward.

8. New Jersey Devils: 2 Points (0-4-2)

The Devils continue to struggle and have yet to win a game through their first six. This is a team that everyone expected to perform to a higher standard than last season after their offseason acquisitions. Their latest loss is their most embarrassing, giving up five straight goals to the Florida Panthers including three in the third period to lose in regulation.

The Devils’ underlying numbers support these kinds of performances. They are third to last in possession with a 44.96% Corsi, and a .872 sv% at even strength. This isn’t a case of not getting the bounces; they have been getting the results they deserve.

On top of their poor even strength play, they have a combined special teams rank of 61st in the league. They are one of four teams that have yet to score on the power play despite having 18 chances, more than any other scoreless power play team. They also have the second worst penalty kill in the league. They have only successfully killed 57.1% of their 21 penalties. That’s not good.