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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Carolina Hurricanes Push for Second

The Hurricanes and Penguins put the pressure up on the Isles, and create distance between them and the Flyers.

Carolina Hurricanes v Winnipeg Jets Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Washington Capitals: 53 Points (24-6-5)

The Washington Capitals have just six regulation losses all season — and, just like we all expected, two have come to the Columbus Blue Jackets within their last four games. The Caps struggled in the first game, surrendering five goals in a 5-2 loss, and on Monday were shut out 3-0 with all three Blue Jackets goals coming right at the crease. The Caps have a record of 5-2-0 despite Alex Ovechkin scoring just one goal since the start of the month.

The Caps third line of Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, and Richard Panik have struggled this season, and have gotten worse each month. To start the season, they recorded 15 points in October, but dropped to 6 in November and 5 so far in December. Hagelin was injured to start the season, but has struggled since coming back and has yet to register his first goal. The Caps have been able to power through competition with their top line and John Carlson, but they need to have more success out of their bottom six.

2. New York Islanders: 46 Points (22-8-2)

The New York Islanders have loaned Oliver Wahlstrom to USA Hockey for the World Junior Championships. Some expected they would also loan Noah Dobson to Hockey Canada but the Isles decide that he is too valuable for the team to lose; Wahlstrom has spent most of the season in the American Hockey League, whereas Dobson is logging 13:18 on average over 10 games played and serves as the seventh defenseman. Dobson is slowly getting an increased role and saw three straight starts last week before taking a seat on Tuesday. He will see more and more use down the stretch, as the first year of his contract will register after he plays his next NHL Game.

The Islanders made some headlines for the wrong reasons on Tuesday, letting up seven straight goals to the Nashville Predators in an 8-3 loss. This was the first time that they have let up eight goals in three years and the first time in coach Barry Trotz’s tenure. The loss dropped the Isles’ record to 6-5-1 since their historic winning streak ended, and has brought them back to the rest of the pack in the division, with just a two-point lead over the Canes and Pens who are in third and fourth respectively.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 44 Points (21-11-2)

The Hurricanes have continued their point streak from last week and is now up to six games. The Canes have done it in multiple ways. They had back-to-back games of regulation shutouts, one with each goalie. Had it not been for an early whistle that took away a Sebastian Aho goal against the Vancouver Canucks, it would have been 120 shutout minutes. At the other end, they have scored six goals three times during this span, including multiple short-handed goals, power play goals, and even a lacrosse goal. Speaking of special teams play, the Hurricanes have been a top five team both on the power play and on killing penalties. The combined special teams’ percentage of 108.2% which is only behind the Edmonton Oilers’ 115.8%.

Pierre LeBrun reported that Justin Williams has ramped up his skating in the last three to four weeks and is getting back into game shape. Many have speculated that the Hurricanes may not be able to sign him due to being close to the salary cap already. The Canes currently have just under $2 million in space but are on pace for around $5 million of space at the trade deadline in February, which is also the last day that Williams can sign and still play in the playoffs.

Even right now, the Canes can offer him a contract that would be enough to get the job done. They can offer him a contract with bonuses, since any performance bonuses that go over the cap this season will be applied to the cap next season. This wouldn’t be an issue after Patrick Marleau and Justin Faulk’s combined cap hit of $7 million go off the books. Bottom line is if he wants to play, he has a spot on the team.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 44 Points (22-8-2)

The Penguins were one of three teams that put a player on waivers yesterday, when Stefan Noesen was sent down to the AHL. This has speculation flying that the Penguins are interested in signing the newly available Ilya Kovalchuk. Kovalchuk was just cut from the Los Angeles Kings and is free to sign anywhere but has said publicly that he only wants to go to a contender. It would certainly help for Kovalchuk to have fellow Russian Evgeni Malkin, but he has just three goals and six assists this season.

Their interest may also be reliant on what they do with Alex Galchenyuk. The forward, acquired in the Phil Kessel deal, has struggled to produce in any meaningful way for the Penguins. He has just two goals and eight assists in 25 games in his first season in Pittsburgh, a year after having his worst season since 2013-2014 with just 19 goals and 22 assists for 41 points. The only question is, with his value diminishing, what would they be able to realistically get for him in the open market after just trading one of their most skilled players?

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 41 Points (18-11-5)

The Flyers received terrible news this past weekend. Their leading scorer, and 23-year-old winger, Oskar Lindblom, was diagnosed with Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer. Players from around the world are showing their support. His former Swedish team is honoring him with a helmet decal and the Flyers are wearing special Oskar Strong tee-shirts. The Flyers’ Logan Pyatt, who plays for their AHL affiliate, beat the same diagnosis four years ago.

The Flyers also lost rookie Joel Farabee to a three-game suspension for a hit on Mathieu Perreault last weekend. The Flyers have now called up two more forwards as they continue rotating forwards in and out of their lineup from the AHL. This time, they will go with Carsen Twarynski and Nicolas Aube-Kubel. The pair has 25 NHL games and two points between them. The good news is that Travis Konecny returned to the lineup on Tuesday; the Flyers missed his presence on the defensively and desperately needed a forward body back.

6. New York Rangers: 36 Points (16-13-4)

With the Rangers crossing the 30 game mark last week, the Hurricanes officially own the Rangers’ 2020 second-round draft pick. The pick was originally a third-round pick that was acquired in the trade that sent Adam Fox to New York. The rookie had to play 30 games for it to upgrade, and he has played in every Rangers game this season. This adds to the Hurricanes 2020 draft that also includes two first-round picks, if the Maple Leafs don’t have a top 10 pick.

This is great news for the Canes and a mixed bag for the Rangers, who are happy to have a top four defenseman in their new rookie. The 2020 draft is being touted as the deepest draft since the 2015 draft that produced Connor McDavid and a total of nine NHL All-Stars. The 2020 draft prospects dazzled scouts at the Ivan Hlinka tournament this season. Now the World Junior Championships are just around the corner and the Canes will have a lot to look at with such a deep draft eligible roster.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets: 34 Points (14-14-6)

David Savard won more of the Blue Jackets fans over on Tuesday when he stood up to Tom Wilson after a dirty hit. With just two minutes left and the Blue Jackets up 3-0, Wilson laid an illegal hit on Vladislav Gavrikov and Savard stepped up. The defenseman did what he could do and held his own in a fight against the heavyweight. This late and launching hit, of course, came one day after T.J. Oshie blamed the NHL for making Tom Wilson out to be the bad guy. (Timing is everything.)

The Blue Jackets kept the momentum up after shutting out the Caps by beating the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday by a score of 5-3. This is just the fourth time this season that the Blue Jackets have won back-to-back games. The win was also their fifth game in a row earning points with a 3-0-2 record, their longest streak of the season. They have a great chance to extend that point streak two more games with the woeful Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils coming to town to end this week.

8. New Jersey Devils: 25 Points (10-17-5)

The Taylor Hall watch came to an end on Monday, with what many would consider an underwhelming return. Hall, who was just a season removed from an MVP season, was traded to the Arizona Coyotes for a 2020 first-round pick, a conditional 2021 third-round pick, and three prospects. The first-round pick is top three protected, in case the Coyotes somehow slip and win the draft lottery, and the 2021 pick can improve to a second-round pick if the Coyotes win a playoff series. Additionally, the pick can improve to a first-round pick if they win the Stanley Cup and re-sign Hall.

The prospects involved are Nick Merkley, Nathan Schnarr, and Kevin Bahl. All three were drafted by the previous GM in Arizona and they were willing to cut ties with prospects that are widely considered to be middle tier. GM Ray Shero is very high on defenseman Bahl who is 6’7” and is a good skater. Shero does not believe that this is a full on rebuild, but by obtaining zero immediate NHL assets and none that are likely to start in a high capacity in the next couple of seasons, it certainly feels that way.