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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Carolina Hurricanes Keep Pace

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The Canes stay one point out of the wild card spots as the Blue Jackets struggle and the race remains close for second and third.

NHL: New York Islanders at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

1. New York Islanders

The Islanders have been flip flopping between two arenas this season: Barclays Center in Brooklyn hosted 20 games and the Nassau Memorial Coliseum on Long Island hosts the remaining 21. This just seemed to be a throw away year after the offseason, but with their hot play considerations have had to be made to playoff logistics. The league announced on Friday that the first round would be played at Nassau Coliseum and any further rounds would be played in Brooklyn. I’m sure the fans are happy to get one round at the Coliseum, but this will widely be seen as bad news for Isles fans who have not ever taken to Barclays as a home — obstructed views or not.

The Isles just closed out their season in Brooklyn with a 5-2 win against the Edmonton Oilers. They finished with a 12-6-2 record and now move to Long Island where they have a 6-1-2 record. It seems strange that they would play more regular season games in Long Island but only host one playoff series there, but Barclays has a much larger capacity which means more money. But in all honesty it is still the Islanders, so even getting to the second round would be a huge accomplishment and isn’t likely.

2. Washington Capitals: 73 Points (33-20-7)

The Capitals waived forward Devante Smith-Pelly yesterday. The Caps originally appeared to waive Dmitrij Jaskin but later it was revealed that they changed their minds and waived Smith-Pelly instead. Smith-Pelly is a year older and $100k cheaper than the Russian forward, but he is an UFA at the end of this season. The decision to change their minds was described as an “organizational decision.”

Smith-Pelly was a fan favorite in Washington, D.C. and had the game tying goal in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final last season. The good news for him is that he will get picked up today. He plays a physical and tough game and can plug into any bottom six. He is what playoff teams want to add going into the stretch. It is also being reported that the Caps have a deal in place, but nothing can be official until he clears waivers and they have the money cleared or the roster spot.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 71 Points (32-21-7)

GM Jim Rutherford said that he is unwilling to move the Penguins’ 2019 first-round pick at the deadline. This means that any shuffling will have to be done player for player, which seems unlikely. The Penguins have already been among the busiest trading teams in the league. But without any cap space, it would seem unlikely that they would be able to bring in a rental player with a high contract without shipping out salary or giving up a first round pick.

The issue is who could they realistically trade. The candidates potentially include Tanner Pearson, who they acquired earlier this season, Bryan Rust, or Olli Maatta. The issue is that Maatta is on IR and expected to be out a month with a shoulder injury. Anyone else on the team either makes under $2 million or is part of the core of the team. With Rutherford continuing to back Jack Johnson, he will be there for the remainder of his five-year contract, although that’s likely to be the case regardless with that ungodly contract.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets: 69 Points (33-23-3)

It appears that that the Blue Jackets have the flu going around in their locker room. Forward Artemi Panarin missed Tuesday night’s game with illness which prompted some... interesting quotes from the organization. It’s clear that they are beyond frustrated hearing trade rumors night in and night out about the forward, and that they knew no one would believe them if they gave a boiler plate answer on why he was sitting out. They are not the only team that is battling the flu around the league. Connor McDavid missed last night’s game with the flu, and Sidney Crosby was also quarantined by the Pens.

The Blue Jackets struggled without Panarin and lost their second in a row, and third in four games on Tuesday. They have two final games before the trade deadline. They go to Ottawa on Friday and play at home against the Sharks on Saturday. If they cannot keep pace with Montreal or the Hurricanes, we could see a more aggressive sell off than normal. This would be similar to the Hurricanes who sold off last year despite being only one point out of a playoff position on deadline day.

5. Carolina Hurricanes: 68 Points (31-23-6)

The Canes do have one big thing to look forward to this week: the return of Jordan Staal. Just last month Rod Brind’Amour said he was hopeful Staal could return “this season” and now he is playing in a contact jersey at practice and getting time between Micheal Ferland and Teuvo Teravainen. Just hearing that as a second line feels so right, and they are probably among the more talented linemates Staal has played with in his time with the Hurricanes.

Getting Staal back means that something is going to have to give up the middle. Lucas Wallmark has been playing on the second line and could be sent down without passing through waivers. The Andrei Svechnikov-Jordan Martinook-Brock McGinn line has been an incredible energy and scoring line for Carolina. They registered the only goal on Tuesday. The bottom line is currently centered by Greg McKegg who has been with the team since Staal’s absence.

While he doesn’t have as much upside as Wallmark, McKegg has proven to be a reliable player who cements a bottom line that allows Brind’Amour to roll four lines all game. The other issue with McKegg is that if he were to be sent down to the AHL, he must clear waivers. McKegg’s Corsi is 4% lower than Wallmark, but where the big difference comes in his goals for percentage. McKegg ranks seventh on the team with a 55.56% whereas Wallmark is third to last at 41.18%. With Aho emerging as a true number one center, it may not leave room for Wallmark who is a top six style player.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 63 Points (28-25-7)

You would have thought the week after Evgeni Malkin swung his stick wildly at Michael Raffl the Flyers would be a little more careful with their sticks, but it is the Flyers after all. Defenseman Radko Gudas two-handed Nikita Kucherov in the head after Kucherov stick lifted him in the corner. Gudas didn’t use incredible force with the stick, but still made contact forcibly and purposefully. He was assessed a minor on the play and a two-game suspension yesterday by the Department of Player Safety as a repeat offender.

This came at a rough time for the Flyers, who had a three-game win stream and won seven of their last nine. After a hot run in 2019, they have now drawn level with the Buffalo Sabres in the wild card race as well. While he has been playing primarily in the third pairing, it is a tough loss for the Flyers who lack experience on their blue line. Gudas’s linemate, Robert Hagg, also faced supplementary discipline after the game against the Lightning. He was suspended $3,091.40 (that 40 cents is important, clearly) for interference on Cedric Paquette at the end of the third period. This is the maximum amount allowable under the CBA.

7. New York Rangers: 60 Points (26-25-8)

One of the main reasons for the Rangers defensive struggles is Brady Skjei’s transition to a top pair defenseman. This season and last season his time on ice has been almost identical. In 2018-2019 he averages 21:03 per game and in 2017-18 he averaged 21:02 per game.

However, there has been one massive difference: his utilization. Skjei had a 56% offensive zone start percentage last season as compared to his 45.1% offensive zone start percentage this year. He has also been playing with Marc Staal, who is ranked as the 124th left defenseman in the league by Corsica.

Skjei doesn’t have the liberty that he had last year of selective deployment. This season he is being thrown to the wolves, and it hasn’t gone well for him. He has just a 44.53% Corsi and his production has also decreased from where it was last year. But, it is important to remember that he is only playing in his third full NHL season, and this is more likely just a blip in the radar. This is a natural part of NHL defenseman’s development and not all teams can be blessed with Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. This is more like throwing Haydn Fleury into the top pair next season and telling him to tough it out.

8. New Jersey Devils: 54 Points (23-29-8)

The Devils were able to help out the Canes with a 4-1 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday, but they were unable to repeat their magic on Tuesday against the Penguins. The Devils have struggled to find consistency on the ice without their captain, Taylor Hall. Hall resumed skating on Sunday but has yet to have a scheduled return. The Devils hope he can come back at all this year in the 23 games without him, they have only won 10 games.

A couple of weeks ago there was a lot of speculation around Hall’s future with the team. Management has come out and said that they do not intend to trade him this season, and likely wouldn’t be able to due to his injury anyway. The winger has just one year left on his current deal and is eligible to sign an extension starting on July, 1 this year. He currently said that he is happy in New Jersey, but if the team sells hard at the deadline, how happy will be to stay on a losing team?