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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: The Top Bunches Up, The Canes Keep Pace

Forget about the second wild card position, the Carolina Hurricanes are within striking distance of second place in the Metro.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at New York Rangers Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

1. New York Islanders: 72 Points (33-17-6)

Barry Trotz has completely turned the Islanders around in his first season even after losing John Tavares. Someone who deserves the most credit in the turn around is Mitch Korn. You might remember his as the odd goalie coach from 24/7 who lived out of his car. Korn is the Director of Goaltending for the Islanders but has worked with Trotz in both Washington D.C. and Nashville. He has been the main factor in the success of Pekka Rinne and Braden Holtby.

The Islanders goaltenders of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss ranked 45th and 67th in the league last season in save percentage respectively. As a team they ranked 26th with a .917 even strength save percentage. This off season they acquired Robin Lehner from the Sabres who ranked 28th in the league with a .916 even strength save percentage. He had just a .908 save percentage with 3.01 goals against in 53 games played. In his first year with Korn, he now leads the league with a 2.08 GAA and a .929 save percentage.

2. Washington Capitals: 69 Points (31-19-7)

What’s going on with the Islanders isn’t anything new: the exact same thing happened in Washington. Braden Holtby was the main starter for the Caps in both the 2012-2013 season and the 2013-2014 season at just age 22. He was still rough around the edges but showed promise. In the ‘13-‘14 season Holtby ranked 43rd in the league with a .915 save percentage in 48 games played. In just his first year with Korn as his goaltending coach his save percentage rose to .923 as he took on a greater workload and started a league high 73 games.

Throughout Korn’s tenure Holtby was a perennial Vezina candidate. From 2014-2017 he had a save percentage over .920. In this time, he led the league in wins with 131, was fifth in save percentage with .923, third in GAA with 2.17, and had the most shutouts with 21. Now in his first season without Korn, Hotlby is having his worst season statistically with a .907 save percentage and a 3.04 GAA. It is clear that Korn’s departure has had an effect on Holtby’s success.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 67 Points (32-20-3)

To the Blue Jackets organization and fans, the deadline has to look like impending doom creeping closer and closer. The Blue Jackets have now won four straight games and have had confirmations that Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky will test free agency. These scenarios happening simultaneously are driving the team in opposite directions pushing them to win now and trading for futures. While this is happening the Canes are hoping that Columbus punts to the future and drops down the standings down the stretch.

However, GM Jarmo Kekalainen has other ideas. He has a tough job ahead of him to trade two impact players and then immediately turn those pieces around for players that can contribute this year. He will likely have to trade Panarin and/or Bobrovsky to another contender, preferably in the Western Conference for future assets. He can then turn those assets into other rental players, but that plan would take time, which is quickly running out. This will be a tough to pull off and if done incorrectly, the Blue Jackets could be without their two best players with no immediate replacements.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 67 Points (30-20-7)

The Penguins were in the middle of one of the most controversial and more talked about events this week. During their game with the Philadelphia Flyers Michael Raffl was roughing Evgeni Malkin up along the boards. Malkin took exception and wildly swung his stick at Raffl’s head but didn’t make flush contact. Malkin was assessed a match penalty and an additional one game suspension by the Department of Player Safety. This ban was served last night against the Oilers.

The Penguins defense has been struggling with injuries and have now turned to…*checks list*…Chad Ruhwedel. Olli Maatta has been sidelined with a separated shoulder and expected to miss a month. Another defenseman, Justin Schultz, has also been out since October 13 with a fractured leg. He appears to be close to returning, but just isn’t 100% ready. The Penguins are hoping that he can come back and fill in the gap that Maatta’s loss has created.

5. Carolina Hurricanes: 64 Points (29-22-6)

The Hurricanes have been alternating between Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney all season rotating frequently but with Mrazek seeing more starts. Since McElhinney has returned from injury, their deployment has been equal with each goalie playing two games in a row before the other would take over. Despite the equal deployment, the stats aren’t as close as one would think. Mrazek has started 27 games to McElhinney’s 21 starts.

Despite starting six fewer games, Mac has two more wins and six fewer regulation losses. McElhinney leads the team with a .917 save percentage and a .243 GAA, whereas Mrazek has a .897 save percentage and a 2.73 goals against average. When looking at the style that they play, McElhinney is the has the cooler head and the calmer play. Mrazek makes stronger pushes side to side and often finds himself outside of the post. This causes a wild over-reaction to get back or, Vezina candidate Jaccob Slavin to come to the rescue.

Even looking at Mrazek’s last win, which was a shutout, Slavin prevented three goals. Whenever Mrazek strays too far, he knows to get on the back post and hit the ice. His spin-move sweep checks shut down the Rangers second chances in the game. Heading down the stretch the hope would be to have McElhinney get more of the tougher matchups as opposed to the second half game on back-to-backs.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 59 Points (26-24-7)

The Flyers have now won eight out of their last 10 games and lost their first game in regulation since January 12th on Monday against the Devils. This makes the Flyers, if you can believe it, the hottest team in the league over their last 10 games and the seventh hottest team in the NHL, behind the Hurricanes (of course) and the Islanders in the Metro.

The Flyers winning is pretty much the worst-case scenario heading into the deadline. They don’t have a chance to make the playoffs and now they are hurting their chances for a higher pick. If they keep this up they will end up in no mans land out side of the top 10 but also outside of the playoffs. On top of that this gives the organization and fans more hope that they are a good team, which may also prevent them from a full sell at the deadline which can also set their rebuild back.

7. New York Rangers: 56 Points (24-24-8)

One of the bright spots for Rangers fans is Tony DeAngelo. The 23-year old defenseman was part of the trade that sent Derek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes. DeAngelo has four goals and 11 assists in 37 games played, which is a career high. He also brings the energy to the Rangers and his 41 penalty minutes are third on the team. He has proven that he belongs with the Rangers full time and has a 45.89% Corsi For which is the fourth highest for defensemen on the team.

DeAngelo doesn’t seem poised to be a top pairing guy long-term, but this is still a good development for the Rangers. Their defense has been one of the worst in the league for the past two seasons. Any development that shows they have promise on the blue line is good news for New York. They will be looking to add a couple of defensemen in the draft and should also acquire a prospect at the deadline that can help fill out their defensive corps.

8. New Jersey Devils: 50 Points (21-27-8)

Can we just agree to fire this team into the sun? I mean, seriously, without Taylor Hall what is the point of this team? They are the second worst team in the league and are six points behind the Rangers for seventh in the Metro. But they manage to thoroughly outplayed the Hurricanes on Sunday to serve them their only loss on their five game road trip.

After beating the Hurricanes 3-2 the Devils returned to their normal form and got plastered by the Blues by a score of 8-3 with Keith Kinkaid in net. Cory Schneider has returned from his latest injury, but he is still yet to earn a win this season. He started his first game since December 14 on Saturday in a 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. With his return, MacKenzie Blackwood was reassigned to the AHL. In his most recent stint he went 6-4-0 with the Devils at the age of 22. The Devils are dangerously close to a Scott Darling situation with Schneider.