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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Holiday Break Edition

A quick check in on the Metropolitan Division as the holiday break comes to an end.

Carolina Hurricanes v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Kevin Sousa/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Washington Capitals: 57 Points (26-7-5)

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Tom Wilson was ejected from a National Hockey League game. This time it was against the Boston Bruins on Monday, after he lost his mind against David Pastrnak and speared him in the groin before attempting to fight the winger, sparking a predictable brawl. Wilson also forced Torey Krug out after a hit just five minutes into the second period. Charlie McAvoy also suffered an injury in the last two minutes of the game when he was hit by T.J. Oshie. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy believes that the Department of Player Safety will be busy after the game which also had Bruins players complaining of multiple slew foots. All of this came in a game where the Capitals lost 7-3, which is probably a part of what set them off.

In the night before the Boston debacle, Nicklas Backstrom recorded four points against the New Jersey Devils and recorded his 900th NHL point. Backstrom is also on an expiring contract and is negotiating himself, which is always a tricky idea. Normally the Agent acts as a buffer so players don’t hear their own criticism and how the organization values them less. Backstrom and the Caps are currently at a standstill as Backstrom wants a five-year deal and the Caps want just a three-year deal. One of the other points is that Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are likely to have their next contracts expire at the same time. This will be a most interesting contract negotiation to keep an eye on over the next few months.

2. New York Islanders: 49 Points (23-9-3)

The Islanders are coming out of the holiday break hoping that they play better than they did going into the break. They have lost three out of their last four games, all three coming at home where they allowed almost six goals per game. They continued to struggle since ending their unbeaten run, hovering around .500 with a 7-6-2 record in their last 15 games. While this is considered above NHL .500, the Islanders have lost more games than they have won and the longer this goes on, the more it undoes their 17 game point streak (which is welcome news for the rest of the division).

The Islanders, much like the Hurricanes, are going to get a ton of home cooking to start 2020 with just two games outside of the New York metropolitan area. The bad news is that they haven’t won a home game in regulation since the start of December. They might have better luck in their three-game road trip to start up after the holiday break than they will in January.

3. Philadelphia Flyers: 47 Points (21-11-5)

The Flyers’ break may have come at a bad time, in the midst of a four-game winning streak which has seen them move up to third in the Metropolitan Division by a point over the Penguins and Hurricanes. The Flyers have averaged five goals in each of their last four games, and are finally getting the contributions that they thought they would get out of James van Riemsdyk and Kevin Hayes this season.

Through the last four games van Riemsdyk has four goals and Hayes has three. Both players have scored a third of their season total and now rank first and second on the team. The Flyers are starting to lean more on Hayes who also logged 20:52 of ice time in Ottawa, which was his highest of the season. Van Riemsdyk is now playing on the second line and top power play unit and is doing a great job of filling in for Oskar Lindblom.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 46 Points (21-11-4)

The Penguins sent winger Stefan Noesen to waivers and he was subsequently claimed by the San Jose Sharks. The 26-year-old winger had two goals in six games played with the Penguins this season but has yet to find the back of the net with the Sharks. The Penguins finished their Western Canada road trip with 12 forwards, but sent Joseph Blandisi, Thomas Di Pauli, and Kevin Czuczman down to the AHL before the roster freeze.

The move to send players down before the roster freeze isn’t anything new or to read into. The Penguins will re-assess their forwards and injured players coming out of the break and recall the needed players today as needed.

5. Carolina Hurricanes: 46 Points (22-13-2)

The Carolina Hurricanes finished up a great road trip to western Canada but have struggled to adjust back to East Coast life and have lost back-to-back games with some very questionable defense and a leaky penalty kill. The Canes just can’t wait to get to Saturday which will start a 14-game span over three different months that features just two away games. They will have plenty of home cooking and time to find their rhythm.

The Canes welcomed back center Erik Haula who already has two goals and an assist since his return, bringing his season goal total up to 10 which is the fourth best on the team. The wild game against the Leafs he showed just how much he brings when he is in the lineup. Martin Necas also had a four-point game and five total points since Haula returned. Necas is only the fourth player in Hurricanes history to record a four-point game before turning 20. The other three are Eric Staal, Elias Lindholm, and Sebastian Aho. Necas’ 21 points are also the fifth most by rookies and his eight goals ranks fourth.

At the other end for the Canes, the third pairing has had a rough couple of games including an inexplicable deciding goal against in Toronto off the draw from a lazy d to d pass. Now seems to be the best time to go ahead and get Haydn Fleury some ice time with Jake Gardiner. Fleury has looked incrementally better each time he has appeared. At the end of November and early December he was getting regular ice time but has just played one time since December 6th.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 40 Points (17-14-6)

The Blue Jackets came into the holiday break with the longest winning streak in the division at five games. They also have points in eight straight games and have a 6-3-2 record with all three losses coming at the start of the month. Joonas Korpisalo has started all eight of these games and hasn’t had a night off since December 7th. This month he has been great and has only allowed more than two goals four times this month.

They have also done this despite a ton of injuries on the team. The Blue Jackets are without Sonny Milano, Josh Anderson, Ryan Murray, Zach Werenski, and Brandon Dubinsky. They are getting complete team buy in which has been a big reason for their success. Fifteen different players have scored a goal since the start of December, and you can see the buy in during both of their recent wins against the Capitals. In their last two games they have outworked the Caps and made them extremely frustrated in two wins with a combined score of 8-2.

7. New York Rangers: 38 Points (17-15-4)

The Rangers hired David Quinn as head coach because he was supposed to be able to develop their prospects and usher them into a new era. After the Vitali Kravtsov issue which has seen him go back and forth to Russia and express his frustration with playing in the AHL, Lias Andersson has now requested a trade. Andersson was drafted seventh overall in the 2017 NHL Draft with the pick that was acquired by the Rangers when they sent Antti Raanta and Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes. In 66 NHL games he has just three goals and six assists but has played a ton of time on the fourth line.

After being sent back down to the AHL this season and only recording five points in 13 games played, he has requested a trade and has left the team. Rangers GM Jeff Gorton said that he will be using the holiday roster freeze to evaluate the market and will look to move the young center after the freeze. This also comes as rookie Kaapo Kakko has been struggling with just six goals and eight assists in 32 games and has been held without a goal since November 12. While he is just 18 and will continue to get better, the prospects’ season has not gone to plan.

8. New Jersey Devils: 29 Points (12-19-5)

The Devils insist they are not undertaking a full rebuild after trading Taylor Hall, but they don’t have a ton of successful young players to build around, and their veterans are all on contracts that expire in the next two seasons. After this season Wayne Simmonds, Andy Greene, and Sami Vatanen are all going to be unrestricted free agents. Next season they could potentially lose Travis Zajac, Nikita Gusev, Kyle Palmieri, Blake Coleman, and Connor Carrick. With the team as bad as they are, it would be tough to convince Vatanen and Simmonds to re-sign on a team that is trending down.

They could look to run a fire sale and could get some assets for Simmonds if they retain some salary, and could get a lot for Vatanen, who can slide into any team’s top four and is still in his prime at 27. Their other pieces are going to be tough to move and their biggest acquisition, P.K. Subban, has struggled this season and has two years at $9 million left which would likely require a full 50% salary retention to get returns. They just don’t have a ton of pieces that are going to return roster assets. Their best player fetched zero top prospects or roster pieces, so the Devils don’t really have a choice in their next step.