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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: The End is Nigh

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With two games left four positions are up for grabs.

Jamie Kellner

1. Washington Capitals: 102 Points (47-25-8) 80 GP

With a win against the Montreal Canadiens tonight, the Capitals can clinch the Metropolitan Division and home ice through the first two rounds of the playoffs. This is great news for Canes fans because it means the Caps have something to play for and will likely play at full power to get this win and potentially eliminate Montreal from playoff contention.

However, the Caps will be doing this without Michal Kempny, who is out 4-6 months after having surgery on a torn hamstring. Kempny averaged 19:11 of ice time per game in the playoffs last year which was sixth highest on the team. This has moved Christian Djoos into the everyday lineup with the third pairing and is playing 15:39 per game.

The Hurricanes aren’t the only team with NCAA free agent issues. The Capital have been informed by Chase Priskie that he will not sign with the team. The Hobey Baker finalist as a defenseman at Quinnipiac will opt to forego his opportunity in Washington and will be a UFA on August 15. He will be one of the most sought after free agents, meaning that he is bound to also sign with the New York Rangers in what should now be called the NYR Supplemental Draft. While it’s not a huge loss to the Caps, as Priskie was a sixth-round pick in 2016, he developed into a strong player in college and could have competed in the Caps depth chart.

2. New York Islanders: 99 Points (46-27-7) 80 GP

Going into the playoffs, the Islanders’ success lays in their top six. Their top two lines have combined for 107 goals this season, which account for 48.9% of the Isles total goals. If teams can fend off the top two lines, the bottom two lines are fairly harmless outside of Casey Cizikas who has 20 goals and is one of only two players in the bottom six that have double digit goals.

With the bottom two lines averaging 45.55% Corsi, the Islanders don’t have a ton of confidence rolling all four lines. The issue with a top-heavy team means that these lines can break down if they are forced to play huge minutes every other night without respite. This becomes more of an issue in the playoffs with increasingly physical games and more time for coaches to game plan around the teams and matchups. The Islanders success in the playoffs will be exactly what it has been all year, highly reliant on hot goaltending for a stretch of four games.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 97 Points (43-26-11) 80 GP

Evgeni Malkin returned to contact practice on Wednesday and could return to action as early as tonight against Detroit. Kris Letang is still out but is getting close and could be back for the first round of the playoffs. The Penguins have been playing well without Malkin and Letang. They have only had two games where they have failed to earn a point in the standings since Malkin was injured on March 16th. They have done this with a slumping Sidney Crosby who has been held without a goal for their last ten games.

It’s insane to think about how the team was able to stay this consistent without Crosby scoring, Malkin playing, and Phil Kessel struggling to find the back of the net. So don’t look now, but the Penguins will be full strength just in time to be extremely annoying and tough in the playoffs - just what everyone outside of Pittsburgh wants to see. However, if the Penguins lose both of their games remaining against the Red Wings and the Rangers and the Canes, Jackets, and Habs all win out, they could fall out of the playoffs. It’s not likely, but it can happen.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: 95 Points (44-29-7) 80 GP

Last week saw dark times for Canes fans as everyone started to remember the past nine years and not how great this season has been. The Canes dropped two in a row against the Caps, the first time since January 18th that they lost back to back in regulation. It was also the first time since December that they lost three out of four games, but they were able to bounce back Tuesday night for Petr Mrazek’s 100th career win and another signature fist pump and single knee celebration which also took the Canes back into the first wild card position in the East.

All season the Canes have been alternating starts between Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, but recently Mrazek has been the goalie to come up with the big save at the right time. Since the Jets game on March 8, Mrazek leads McElhinney in save percentage .941 to .903 and GAA 1.74 to 2.83. This gives Rod Brind’Amour a true number one to ride going into any possible series and avoid a scenario of second guessing himself and alternating goalies in a series. Ride Mrazek and if he struggles, they can pull the switcheroo and put in McElhinney. It worked in 2006 when the team needed a jump.

Now looking to the playoffs, the Hurricanes finally have their playoff fate in their own hands. If they can win over the bad Devils and the Flyers, who are playing for nothing, they’re in at the first wild card. If the Canes win on Thursday and the Canadiens lose, the Canes clinch a playoff berth.

Here’s where it gets crazy. If the Canes win both games and the Penguins lose one game, they claim the third in the Metro. If that happens and the Isles also lose out, the Canes climb up to second place in the Metro.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 94 Points (45-31-4) 80 GP

The Blue Jackets five-game win-streak came to an end on Tuesday with a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins. This was the first time they let up more than two goals in a game since two-straight losses on March 19 and 21 where they gave up four in each. In their five-game winning streak they gave up only four goals with three shutouts. The game Friday against the Rangers will prove whether this was a blip in the radar or a sign of a fatigued team.

The good news for the Blue Jackets is, like the Canes, their playoff fate is in their hands and they have the ROW tiebreaker over every other team in the race. The Blue Jackets have extremely easy (on paper) final two games against the Rangers and Ottawa Senators. The only issue is that it is a back-to-back. The Blue Jackets are 6-6-3 on the back end of these sets this season, and with the Senators being their opponent they are likely to get to over .500 in these games.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 82 Points (37-35-8) 80 GP

The Flyers organization struggled to get on the same page this year. Coming into the season they had high expectations after making the playoffs in the 2017-2018 season, but it seemed more realistic they were the 88-point team of the 2016-2017 season. They fired their GM a month in the season for not being aggressive enough and then fired their coach for having a 12-15-4 record through 31 games. The new coach, Scott Gordon, has a 25-20-4 record moving them up from 27th to 21st in the standings.

The Flyers were forced to sell Wayne Simmonds at the deadline for Ryan Hartman and a fourth-round draft pick since Simmonds was on an expiring contract. They also went through an NHL record eight goalies this season before they called up prospect Carter Hart for the stretch run. This has all culminated in being eliminated from the playoffs, but not in a spot to get a top prospect in the draft with just a 9.8% chance to make it to the top three. They are likely to draft at the 11th spot which does not help a rebuild, since the prospect at 11 is going to be at least a year off from joining the NHL team.

7. New York Rangers: 75 Points (31-36-13) 80 GP

The New York Rangers could have tanked for the best pick in the draft, but instead they are pushing for Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is currently the only goalie to start his career with 13 straight 20-win seasons. Head coach David Quinn has already said that he plans to play Henrik twice in the last three games so that he can continue this streak, and the team will rally around him to make sure that he can continue this streak.

After a loss last night Henrik has to win the last two games of the season to meet the mark. This means that he will start a back-to-back against the Blue Jackets and Penguins with something to play for, which from a Canes perspective hopefully leads to losses for both teams.

8. New Jersey Devils: 70 Points (30-40-10) 80 GP

The Devils hosted the cross-Hudson rivals Rangers on Monday. The teams share the metropolitan area and are only separated by 14 miles from door to door. That didn’t stop both fanbases from finally embracing each other and their poor seasons with a “We both suck” chant on Monday in the Prudential Center in Newark.

Looking ahead for the coming seasons, the Devils made a great hire in Tyler Dellow who will serve as their vice president of analytics. Dellow was working with the Athletic and was one of the pioneers in creating hockey analytics and bringing it to the masses with his first site, mc79hockey.com. Dellow has worked with an NHL team in the past, in a stint with the Edmonton Oilers from 2014-2016. This is a huge add for the Devils who are working in a rebuild. He will help them single out the right players to target moving forward.