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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Standings Posturing before the Final Stretch

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Five Metro teams are fighting for four playoff spots and are only separated by eight points.

Ottawa Senators v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

1. Washington Capitals: 85 Points (39-21-7) 67 GP

The Capitals are surging at the right time, winning five straight games including a dismantling of the Flyers last night. The Capitals now have sole possession of first place with one more game played than the teams in contention. The Caps have a fairly balanced schedule for travel but have nine games left against playoff teams. Three of these games are against the league leading Tampa Bay Lightning which they will be happy to get two points out of.

The Capitals and the Hurricanes have a home and home coming up at the end of the month. The game at the Capital One Arena in Washington, D.C. will feature Evgeny Kuznetsov bird celly bobbleheads. They announced the promotion with a tweet referencing the Bunch of Jerks moniker that is taking the league like wildfire. This is one of the best things that has come from the Canes postgame celebrations. They are pumping life and personality into other teams, not just Carolina.

2. New York Islanders: 83 Points (38-21-7) 66 GP

The Islanders may have just lost their league leading goaltender, Robin Lehner, on Tuesday. They were able to hang on to a win a shootout on Tuesday against the league worst Ottawa Senators, but Lehner left the game in the third period after being run through by Brady Tkachuk. There is no official word of his injury, but the Isles have called up Christian Gibson on an emergency basis if Lehner is unable to play. This would be a massive loss for the Islanders who are just four points ahead of the Hurricanes and Pittsburgh Penguins. Lehner has been their best player this season and with surging teams behind them, there is a real chance they could fall back into the wildcard if he misses significant time.

The Islanders had to really work to get Barry Trotz’s 800th career win. The Islanders also fought through a serious flu bug which also forced them to call up Josh Ho-Sang and Michael Dal Colle on emergency basis, and they were forced to use Dal Colle with six skaters out. There was fear that Casey Cisikas was not going to be able to play with the flu and Ho-Sang would have to fill in, but Cisikas was able to play 12 minutes which forced Ho-Sang to sit.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 79 Points (35-23-7) 66 GP

The Hurricanes won five games in a row before losing in overtime in Boston on Tuesday. The Canes have looked impressive in their last six games which include two comeback wins and a 6-1 win against the Los Angeles Kings, two of these games in spite of being without Calvin de Haan. The loss to Boston comes at a bad time as they now face three games in four nights against the Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, and Colorado Avalanche on Friday, Saturday, and Monday respectively.

The big issue with the Canes is their inability to hold onto leads. On Saturday the Canes had two goals on their first three shots but had to battle back after letting up three straight goals to the Florida Panthers. On Tuesday it was more of the same, giving up three straight to the Bruins after leading by two with 10 minutes left in the second. During these two games the Canes blue line has looked messy. They are giving up the puck on the offensive blue line which is leading to odd-man rushes going the opposite way.

The point that they were able to pick up on Tuesday proved to be critical and keeps them in third place for the time being. Moneypuck still has the Canes with an 88% chance to make the playoffs largely in part due to their remaining schedule. The Canes have three games remaining against the teams they are fighting against for playoff position. They also only have seven road games left, with nine of their last 16 and seven of their last nine coming at PNC Arena.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 79 Points (35-22-9) 66 GP

The Penguins have seven of their last 13 games against teams that are currently in playoff position. This doesn’t include their home and home with Columbus tonight/Saturday. That will feel like a mini playoff series because if either team loses both games, it will significantly drop their chances to make the postseason. The good news for the Penguins is that they too have more home games than away games left. Five of the games against playoff teams are at home, while only two are on the road. The Penguins also end with Detroit twice and the Rangers, which could come as three easy wins heading into the playoffs.

The Penguins enter this critical stretch in the standings with a five-game point streak, including two wins against the teams vying for the final spots in the East. The biggest issue for the Penguins right now is the slump of Phil Kessel. The offensive winger has now been held to 15 straight games without a goal. He has made a push to up his shots on goal as of late, but he has not found the twine. While most players generally shrug these streaks off to bad luck, Kessel really seems to be getting frustrated saying that “it feels like I’m not going to score again this year.”

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 77 Points (37-26-3) 66 GP

Since the Blue Jackets loaded up at the deadline they have gone just 2-3-0, being outscored 18-10 in these games. While this could be due to so many changes in the locker room in such a short time, the Blue Jackets have to turn it around very quickly if they want to have a chance to make the playoffs. They barely beat the worst team in the division, the Devils, on Tuesday in a shootout. They now face seven-straight games against teams currently in a playoff position. 10 of their last 16 games will also come on the road, so their margin for error is the thinnest of the bubble teams.

The most confusing acquisition at the deadline was Keith Kinkaid. Despite acquiring more goaltending depth they have loaded up starter Sergei Bobrovsky starting him in eight straight games. He has also started 14 of their last 16 only getting two games off since the start of February. Now with this stretch of seven games coming up including three in four nights against Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, and Boston, they are going to have to eventually start Joonas Korpisalo or Kinkaid in one of these games.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 72 Points (32-27-8) 67 GP

With Carter Hart out with an injury, Brian Elliott has been filling in with a 3-1-1 record and has kept the Flyers in somewhat playoff contention. The Flyers couldn’t continue their success and lost to the Washignton Capitals when the Hurricanes and rest of the Metro needed the Flyers to win. But, this is going to be the Flyers for the rest of the season. Good enough to make noise, but not good enough to to anything of significance.

One of the more interesting and fun stories from this week was the highlights from the show Wired that the NHL produced for the Stadium Series. There are some great mic’d up moments between the two rivals. On top of that, we can keep re-living the Penguins’ late collapse over and over again.

7. New York Rangers: 65 Points (27-28-11) 66 GP

Most of the talk around the Rangers in not standings based, but rather about their first-round pick, Vitali Kravtsov. Kravtsov is an offensive talent and has 21 points in 50 games as a 19-year old in the KHL. The Rangers have been kicking the tires as to whether or not to sign him to his entry-level contract now that the Russian’s season is over. The benefit is that they can get him over into their facilities early and get a better assessment. The issue is if he plays 10 or more games he burns a year of his contract and would also have to be protected in a possible Seattle Expansion Draft.

Kravtsov has flown up many prospect rankings this season, which is what is pushing up his development timeline. His KHL contract runs through the end of April, meaning that he would have to be released from his current contract before signing with the Rangers. That shouldn’t be an issue for him, he plays for Traktor Chelyabinsk, which is the same team Evgeny Kuznetsov played for and they had no issue releasing his contract. It is just another thing to keep an eye on in this situation before he can come over to the NHL.

8. New Jersey Devils: 59 Points (25-33-9) 67 GP

Nico Hischier missed Tuesday’s game against the Blue Jacekts with an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day. Realistically the Devils will want to keep him out as long as possible to make sure that he returns to full health — and, not to mention, to help facilitate the full tank. Without Hischier the Devils’ top line was Jesper Bratt, Travis Zajac, and Drew Stafford and Bratt left Tuesday’s game early with an injury. Somehow, the Devils still managed to get a point of the game, eventually losing in the shootout.

Hischier and Bratt also join Nathan Bastian, Mirco Mueller, Kyle Palmieri, John Quenneville, Sami Vatanen, Miles Wood, and Pavel Zacha on the injury list. This is an insane injury list which just shows just how ravaged the Devils have been with injuries. This doesn’t even count earlier significant injuries to Cory Schneider and others who were out earlier this season. While the Devils aren’t going to be competing for a Cup any time soon, it is also important to remember that they are better than they have been playing the last few months. They are further along than it would appear.