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Metro Roundup: Busy Capitals Keep Winning, Idle Canes Stay in Second

Despite the Hurricanes being off for almost a week, they stay in second place after the Penguins struggle.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Florida Panthers Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

1. Washington Capitals: 16 Points (7-2-2)

Since getting blown out by the Colorado Avalanche last Monday, the Caps have won four straight games. They are currently in the middle of a five game Canadian road trip, playing the Edmonton Oilers tonight before heading to Vancouver tomorrow and finishing up in Toronto on Tuesday. In their most recent game against the Flames, defenseman John Carlson scored two goals, extending his point streak to eight games and making him only the fourth defenseman to record 20 points in the month of October.

The Caps have been able to win five games with their strong shooting percentage of 9.8% at even strength. They have struggled with their total shot share with just a 49.42% Corsi, but they are really trying to change their offense. They are ok letting up more shots, but they are hoping to transform their offense to be more similar to the Hurricanes with defensemen joining the rush more.

The change in philosophy has helped contribute to Carlson’s increased scoring. The Caps defensemen have combined for 76 shots and 34 total points, both of which are up from last season’s totals to this point of 66 shots and 25 points by defensemen.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: 12 Points (6-3-0)

The Hurricanes ended their west-coast road trip with two straight losses to the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks before returning to Raleigh on Saturday where they have sat idle ever since. The break is good for the Canes, who need rest to allow players like Erik Haula to recover from injuries. This also allows them their first significant time this season to make larger adjustments to their play. The power play has slowed down from the quick start and the traditional first unit with Sebastian Aho has yet to record a goal with the man advantage.

The Canes made an unusual decision when they sent down Brian Gibbons but did not recall a forward before Friday’s game. This had them playing with 11 forwards and seven defensemen. When Rod Brind’Amour was asked about it after yesterday’s practice, he said that continues to be the plan unless there is another callup, which could still happen before the game. It allows the Canes to get Trevor van Riemsdyk up to speed, but it remains a strategy that didn’t pay off in California.

A couple of random notes, Cam Ward was on the ice for yesterday’s practice but not in goalie pads. Brind’Amour mentioned that Ward just felt like coming to practice so why not have him. He won’t be replacing Jorge Alves as the practice goalie; after all Alves does have NHL game experience too. Canes fans also won the title of Best Fans in the League after a knockout style tournament hosted by NBC Sports voted on by the fans on Instagram.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 12 Points (6-5-0)

After finding their stride last week, the Penguins have struggled this week and have lost three straight games. The Penguins have still been battling injuries and struggling with depth scoring. Where Sidney Crosby goes the team generally goes. When he scores a goal, the Penguins are 3-1-0, but when he doesn’t, they are 3-4-0. Four of the five losses have come when Crosby couldn’t find the back of the net. This isn’t to say Crosby is at fault for their losses, but they are just lacking secondary players to score when he doesn’t.

To make matters worse, defenseman Jusso Riikola had to play on the wing with Adam Johnson out from an upper-body Injury. Though he is just a fourth-line player, he scored his first goal against the Wild during the Pens winning streak. The good news is that the Pens don’t play until Saturday in Dallas, so they will have ample time to make another call-up if Johnson will be out long term.

4. New York Islanders: 10 Points (5-3-0)

The Islanders are on their own four-game winning streak that has come on the back of very strong goaltending. Semyon Varlamov has a .949 sv% at even strength which is the best in the league. He has been on fire, letting up only three goals on his last 70 shots against in all situations. Varlamov has been splitting starts evenly with Thomas Greiss who also has been on top of his game with a .931 sv% at even strength.

However, the Islanders’ even strength save percentage is also a large reason that their PDO is so high at 101.3. This also shows that the play is not going to be sustainable even though they sit with the 7th lowest shooting percentage in the league at 6.2%. The Islanders are also second to last in possession with a 43.7% Corsi, showing that their goaltending is really covering up for the rest of their poor play. They aren’t going to be able to keep winning at this pace.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 10 Points (4-3-2)

The Blue Jackets have now played three straight overtime games, including their most recent 4-3 overtime win against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday. The game Monday featured a rare overtime penalty shot, which Gustav Nyquist was able to convert for the game-winning goal. This has helped them increase their point streak to five games, which has gone a long way to take them from second to last in the division to tied for fourth in a week’s span.

The Blue Jackets are struggling on the power play. They have just four power play goals, good for a 14% success rate. Both of those metrics are bottom seven in the league. They have also let up two shorthanded goals, which is tied for the third most in the league behind the Winnipeg Jets and San Jose Sharks who both have allowed three. While they might not have a great success rate, they will likely have a bunch of chances to get it right against the Canes tonight.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 7 Points (3-3-1)

The Philadelphia Flyers ended their four-game losing streak by beating the Vegas Golden Knights by a score of 6-2. They are still by far the most confusing team to figure out in the league. They have inconsistent goaltending, but have one of the top five power play units in the league. They don’t inspire a ton of confidence in their play, yet have an even goal differential throughout their seven games played.

Alain Vigneault called out the top line of James van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, and Jakub Voracek after their win against the Knights. The top line was the only unit that didn’t produce a goal for the team. Vigneault commented that he wants to keep the current four lines together, but that the top line “Has to figure it out.” Voracek is the only player to score a goal from that line and has two. In total they have eight points, but van Riemsdyk has yet to register a point. The top line struggles don’t instill confidence in the team being able to play night in and night out.

7. New Jersey Devils: 6 Points (2-4-2)

The New Jersey Devils started with five straight losses before heading into a six game homestand. They started this crucial series with a loss but have bounced back with two straight wins over the New York Rangers and the Vancouver Canucks. The two wins may be enough to save head coach John Hynes’ job, who many though was on the hot seat coming into this stretch. Though the seat is still warm, wins go a long way in silencing the calls for his head.

It’s also important to remember how tough it is for new pieces to come together on a new team. With a top pairing defenseman in P.K. Subban coming in, a top six winger in Wayne Simmonds, and a rookie in Jack Hughes, there are a lot of new pieces coming into the team that need to learn a new system and adjust to new teammates.

Hughes finally got onto the scoresheet with the only goal in a 1-0 win against his brother Quinn Hughes and the Vancouver Canucks. He is the youngest player to score a game-winning goal in a 1-0 game.

8. New York Rangers: 5 Points (2-4-1)

The New York Rangers have now lost five games in a row and have not won since their weeklong break that came after their first two games. (Please don’t read into this, Canes fans.)

The Rangers are struggling defensively. They are giving up 36.6 shots against per game, which is the worst mark in the league. It’s also no shock that the team that allows the most shots per game is also the worst possession team in the league with just a 42.95% Corsi. Their 2-4-1 record also comes with league average goaltending, as they rank 14th with a.931 sv% at even strength.

Defensemen Marc Staal and Libor Hajek are in the Corsi basement with just 35.95% and 33.59% respectively. The Rangers have moved Hajek up to the top pairing with Jacob Trouba and have paired Staal up with rookie Adam Fox. Fox has been playing surprisingly well with the Rangers and has the best Corsi at 52.52% on the team. He has been doing a great job at driving possession but has yet to find the score sheet and has just six shots on goal this season.