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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Top Five Set Heading into Thanksgiving

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The top five have separated themselves from the bottom of the division with large point streaks or winning streaks.

NHL: NOV 24 Hurricanes at Red Wings Photo by Allan Dranberg/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. Washington Capitals: 35 Points (16-4-5)

The Capitals have ruled Nicklas Backstrom out for Wednesday’s game against the Florida Panthers. This will be his third straight game missed due to an upper-body injury. The Caps have lost their last two games without Backstrom but did earn a loser point on Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks. This makes the Caps record 3-2-2 over their last seven games, their worst seven game stretch since they started the season with the same record.

The Caps have been in talks for games overseas next season. There are early reports that the Caps could be added to the international series with a game in Russia or Sweden. There are already games scheduled for Czech Republic and Finland next year, but none for Sweden or Russia. There has never been an NHL regular season game in Russia, which makes the most sense as a location for the Caps. On top of Alex Ovechkin, they have Evgeny Kuznetsov, Dmitry Orlov, and Ilya Samsonov.

2. New York Islanders: 34 Points (16-4-2)

The Islanders’ historic point streak came to an end at 17 games with a 3-0 loss to the Anaheim Ducks on Monday, their first regulation loss since October 11 when they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 5-2. They end their West Coast road trip tonight against the LA Kings, and anything other than a win would mean this is the worst three-game stretch of the season for the Isles.

One of the more confusing things about the Isles run is that they have had terrible possession numbers the entire season. Only two players, Noah Dobson and Casey Cizikas have positive Corsi ratings, and both players have been in and out of the lineup. Defensemen Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock on the surface appear to have terrible possession, with a 44.96% and 42.53% respectively. However, they have a zone start percentage of just 36%, so they are taking just about every defensive zone faceoff and despite that they are even in goals. They have really come into the role of being the shutdown pair for the Islanders to lean on for the rest of the season.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 31 Points (15-8-1)

Andrei Svechnikov and Dougie Hamilton have been getting a ton of attention for their play as of late. Teuvo Teravainen has flown a little under the radar in November with 16 points in the last 15 games which leads the team. His last three games are all multi point games which includes a three-assist game against the Florida Panthers last weekend. He is a player that is always happy to set up others with his great vision and passing but its so much fun to watch him when his shot is on. He had just two goals heading into November so it’s great to see that he has more than doubled that total this month.

I don’t think that people forget about Teravainen necessarily, but the conversation lately has shifted to both Sebastian Aho and Martin Necas who have really been heating up. By now we are all aware of Aho’s slow starts, but when he gets rolling, he is a treat to watch. He has scored six goals and nine total points since November 11th and is a big reason the Canes have won six out of the seven games in that time. This accounts for half of his season point total and when the Canes top line is humming, they are hard to stop.

It’s not just the top line that has been clicking, but the Canes have gotten solid production out of their third line despite Erik Haula’s injury. Necas has shown that he belongs in the NHL and can think and perform night in and night out at an NHL level. Since the 11th he has three goals which ties him for third on the team in this span. The Canes’ third line has combined for five goals in these seven games and exists to create favorable matchups deeper down teams’ rosters on a nightly basis.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 30 Points (13-7-4)

The Penguins were happy to see defenseman Kris Letang return to their roster on Monday. Letang will return to his position as the number one defenseman and had 25 minutes of ice time in his first game back. With Justin Schultz out “longer-term” with a lower-body injury he sustained in practice last Wednesday, Letang’s return was well-timed. While Schultz has struggled to really be an impact player this season, he still started plays and quarterbacked the power play while Letang was out. Of his eight points on the season, three did come on the power play.

It’s a little far in the distance, but one thing to look at around the deadline is the Penguins goalie depth. They have three goalies in their organization with NHL playtime. You can look at a team like the Toronto Maple Leafs that desperately need a backup goalie and one that is on a cheap deal. They could use either Tristan Jarry, who started in their win on Monday, or Casey DeSmith who are both on cheap deals. DeSmith is currently on the more expensive deal at $1.75 million. With all of the players on IR the Pens currently have over $2 million in cap space, which will go up even more with Sidney Crosby on IR for another month. They can afford to take on another player with a cap hit.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 29 Points (12-7-5)

I think we have the first candidate for Pavel Buchnevich Memorial Alain Vigneault Doghouse Player of the Year, or PBMAVDPoY for short, in Shayne Gostisbehere. Gostisbehere has been healthy scratched for the last two games for defenseman Robert Hagg. The 26-year-old defenseman has struggled to get back to his 2017-2018 form and has just six points and 15 PIMS in 22 games, but does rank 12th out of 26 in possession with a 51.06% Corsi.

Meanwhile, the player that he has been benched for, Hagg, ranks 17th and third to last for players who have played significant time on the roster with a 47.13% Corsi. The main issue with Gostisbehere is the fact that he has just a 2.5% shooting percentage, which is the worst on the team and the worst in his career, and with just 37 shots this has led to his unusually low goal number. He seems to be going through a tough patch, but it just doesn’t seem that benching him for the worst defender on the team makes a lot of sense when you are trying to win games.

6. New York Rangers: 24 Points (11-9-2)

The Rangers expect to get Mika Zibanejad back for their game Wednesday against the Hurricanes - perfect timing for the Hurricanes, who have just two wins within the division. Zibanejad is a huge piece for the Rangers to get back, who have been playing without their top line center for their last 13 games. This will slot Ryan Strome back to the second line with Brendan Lemieux and Pavel Buchnevich. Zibanejad will resume his position with Artemi Panarin and Chris Kreider, making the top line a real threat again.

The Rangers, unsurprisingly, will start Henrik Lundqvist against the Canes on Wednesday. The 37-year-old goaltender hit a huge career milestone on Monday. The overtime win against the Minnesota Wild moved him to 5th all time on the NHL career wins list. His 455th win in 871 games moves him past Curtis Joseph. He now sits 29 wins behind Ed Belfour in fourth and 236 wins to catch former St. Louis Blues goaltender Martin Brodeur. Broudeur has 691 wins in 1266 NHL games.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets: 24 Points (10-9-4)

The Blue Jackets last played a Metropolitan Division opponent on October 26, which was 12 games ago. They now face seven division foes in their next ten games. In that 12 game stretch they went 5-5-2 but have improved in their last six games with a 4-1-1 record. The recent stretch has kept them from being completely buried in the division. The next ten games will be huge on whether they will have any implications on the playoff picture in the new year.

The Blue Jackets have been propelled by their starting goaltender Joonas Korpisalo who has started eight games over this stretch with a 5-3-0 record with a .922 sv%. Backup Elvis Merzlikins has struggled in his first season with a 0-2-3 record this season and a .890 sv%. He made a late blunder on a clearing attempt against the Winnipeg Jets that cost the Jackets the game. Merzlikins has been sent to the AHL for playing time and will be replaced by goaltender Matiss Kivlenieks. Kivlenieks has 6-1-2 with a 2.51 GAA and a .903 sv% in the AHL. The Blue Jackets really need to find a backup to let Korpisalo off the hook so he doesn’t have to play 70 games this season.

8. New Jersey Devils: 20 Points (8-11-4)

Early in the season, the New Jersey Devils moved an assistant GM, Tom Fitzgerald, to the bench as an assistant coach. The move wasn’t a first, but many speculated that he was there to get a closer look at the team and the bench for the front office. His time behind the bench came to an end on Monday, without much fanfare or change for the team. While the Devils have improved with a 6-6-1 record in November, they could very well have another losing record this month. You would think the front office would be ready for change.

According to The Athletic they have just a 4% chance to make the playoffs, while Money Puck has them slightly higher at 15.3%. The two-ton elephant in the room is the status of Taylor Hall. This season was supposed to be an audition for the team to show Hall they can compete and make the playoffs. With all the additions to the team, it’s tough for a team to click immediately. That’s what we’ve seen with the 8-10-4 start through Monday. They are coming around more as of late, but it’s already too late for the team in what is shaping up to be the toughest division in the league.