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Metro Roundup: Canes Struggle to Create Separation

The Canes drop two games to bottom-of-the-Metro foes, while the Isles continue to win.

NHL: NOV 05 Hurricanes at Flyers Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. Washington Capitals: 25 Points (11-2-3)

The Washington Capitals spend another week at the top of the Metropolitan Division and it’s no surprise that their offense is still elite. They have only scored fewer than three goals twice and exactly three goals three times. The Caps average 3.94 goals per game, only .06 goals behind the Nashville Predators who lead the league in goal scoring. The scores are coming at even strength and on the power play, but the Caps aren’t relying on their power play like in years past.

The Caps have the fourth highest shooting percentage at 9.8% at even strength, and have recorded the third most even strength goals with 38. They have 12 power play goals, which is also tied for third place with a 25.9% success rate. While everyone expects Alex Ovechkin to lead the team in goals, which he does with 11, the surprise has been Jakub Vrana who is second with nine including a hat trick on Sunday against the Flames. The Caps are just overpowering teams to victory, even with just league average goaltending from Braden Holtby and Ilya Samsonov.

2. New York Islanders: 22 Points (11-3-0)

With a win on Tuesday the Islanders now have the league’s longest winning streak at 10 straight games, scoring three or more goals in nine of those wins and posting a 1-0 shutout of the Sabres in the other game. Everything is working for the Isles, even down to rookie Cole Bardeau who scored his first NHL goal on a penalty shot on Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators. They aren’t relying on their power play during this period, with 31 of their 34 goals coming at even strength.

It is important to remember, though, that a long winning streak early in the season doesn’t guarantee anything. The Sabres won 10 straight last November before ultimately finishing 13th in the Eastern conference and sixth in the Atlantic last season. The Sabres, coincidentally, also ripped off their wins without much power play success, with just two more power play goals in their 10-game streak compared to the Isles streak. It is only the beginning of November and so much can happen between now and April.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 19 Points (9-5-1)

The Hurricanes came into the season with expectations to make the playoffs and go on another run. While their October tied the best in franchise history, they have laid two eggs in a row, losing to two of the bottom three teams in the division, both of whom looked vulnerable coming into the game. While two games aren’t the end of the world, if you want to compete for a top spot in the division you cannot lose to the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers. You must deal with the bad teams in your division to create separation.

The Canes decided to also go with 11 forwards and seven defensemen again against the Flyers, and again lost that game. Rod Brind’Amour said before the game that this is easy and that he can just play his best forwards more, but the Canes are yet to win when they deploy this group. Clearly, they still don’t know what to do with Haydn Fleury. They don’t feel comfortable enough to play him over Trevor van Riemsdyk in a full-time position but are worried - with good reason - they will lose him for nothing if they put him on waivers.

It seems that, by not calling up a player before Eetu Luostarinen joined the roster on Wednesday, they are trying to save as much cap as possible. This could be for two reasons. They could be holding out hope that Justin Williams will return, or they will be buyers at the deadline. The Williams situation is a lot easier because they can sign him to an incentive heavy contract which would carry a theoretical cap overage over to next season. Buying at the deadline, on the other hand, means they would need every penny. The difference between taking a whole contract and having a team retain salary can cost an additional pick or asset.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 17 Points (8-6-1)

The Penguins finally have good news on the injury front. They have Evgeni Malkin back and he is already making spectacular plays. He had a spin-o-rama assist earlier in the week against the Boston Bruins on Monday. The only player they now miss is Patric Hornqvist who at this point is more of a salary burden than he is a threat, so with him on LTIR it will free up more space for the Penguins moving forward who have been cap strapped.

The Penguins have lost their last two games against the Edmonton Oilers and Boston Bruins and have one more test against the Islanders before they have a streak of get right games next week. They play against the Blackhawks, Rangers and Devils, and it will give Malkin and other injured players time to get comfortable in the lineup again. The Penguins are the most dangerous when Malkin is finding the back of the net. He has just two games back from injury and has seven shots but has yet to hit the score sheet.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 16 Points (7-5-2)

Flyers fans had two things to be excited about on Tuesday. First, it was Gritty Chia Pet giveaway night. Second, they beat the Hurricanes by a score of 4-1. They won the same way the have earned points in their last three games: on the back of their power play. They have now gone 3-for-9 on the power play in their last two games, while also being perfect on the penalty kill, a big reason why they are earning points. Their top six is clicking. Sean Couturier, Oskar Lindblom, and Claude Giroux are all averaging a point per game in their last five games.

However, their bottom six has struggled to perform consistently. Kevin Hayes, Michael Raffl and Jakub Voracek have combined for 11 goals this season but have only a single goal since October 26th. They have been rotating in and out players from the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms in their fourth line. The latest addition is Mikhail Vorobyev who will get his shot as German Rubtsov failed to impress the bosses in his latest three-game call up. Rubtsov had a 28% Corsi and only a single shot in three games.

6. New York Rangers: 13 Points (6-6-1)

The Rangers are no longer last in the division, but still lost to the struggling Ottawa Senators by a score of 6-2 on Monday. That game was wild, featured multiple fights and at one point saw the Rangers penalty box crammed full of four different players. Despite the Rangers being basement dwellers and everyone knowing that coming into the season, they still get national television games — even when facing another bottom-feeder in the Detroit Red Wings under the marketing strategy of “Original Six” despite them having 20 points between them. Hockey!

Tonight, the Rangers take on the Hurricanes on the back half of a back-to-back. They are expected to start Alexandar Georgiev. Greg McKegg also got a start last game over Lias Andersson, but the Rangers could keep him in in a rare McKegg revenge game! The only real threat coming into tonight’s game is the top line that consists of Mika Zibanejad, Artemi Panarin, and Chris Kreider. If they can shut down that line, the Canes should be picking up two points and righting the ship after a bad loss to the Flyers.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets: 13 Points (5-7-3)

The Jackets have now lost five straight games and have a division worst -17 goal differential heading into a three-game road trip to Arizona, Colorado and Montreal, which is not what the doctor ordered. The Blue Jackets are struggling to score this season. In five of their 15 games they have scored one or zero goals and have a second worst 2.33 goals per game. It’s not for a lack of trying, though: their 33.1 shots for per game is top 10 in the league and are averaging more shots than their opponents this season.

The main issue is that their power play is scoring at just 12.5%. Canes fans know well that you have to get some of these as free goals to win games. They have a 5-2-3 record in one goal games and have no wins by two or more goals this season. Fixing the power play troubles could change their fortune in these games. The good news is that both the power play and their shooting percentage of 5.5% should both regress back to the mean.

8. New Jersey Devils: 12 Points (4-5-4)

Despite two straight wins, the New Jersey Devils are still mired at the bottom of the division. A bright spot in their struggling season is Taylor Hall who has a six-game point streak and eight total points during this streak. Hall’s impact on the team and the season has been huge over the first five weeks of the season. He has 13 points in 13 games despite only having two goals and a career low 4.8% shooting percentage. His 42 shots and five power play points also lead the team.

Much has been talked about with Hall who just wants to be on a winning team for once. Most of the Devils off season moves were likely done to attract Hall to stay. This week when the Devils head to Calgary to play the Flames, GM Ray Shero is set to meet with Hall’s agent about his future. These meetings will determine whether Hall will re-sign or want a trade at the deadline.