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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: All-Star Break Edition

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The teams and players may be on a break, but the Roundup keeps on going.

New York Islanders v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Washington Capitals: 71 Points (33-11-5)

The Capitals have a full-blown goaltender controversy on their hands. Braden Holtby has started 33 games with a record of 18-9-4 compared to Ilya Samsonov’s 15-2-1 record. Out of all goaltenders who have played 16 or more games, Samsonov has the lowest GAA at 2.06 and the fourth best save percentage at .927%. Holtby is a sub .900 goal tender this season and has a 3.09 GAA. This year is more lopsided that last season. While Pheonix Copley only played 24 games, he had a 16-7-3 record compared to Holtby’s 32-19-5. Holtby had a .911% save percentage and a 2.82 GAA compared to Copley’s .905% save percentage and 2.90 goals against.

This would seemingly spell trouble for Holtby, who has struggled since the 2016-2017 season. Since then, he has struggled to return to his Vezina Trophy form and has seen large stretches where the backup has taken over, whether it was Philipp Grubauer, Copley, or Samsonov. He has played fewer than 60 games in each of the last three seasons and is likely not going to get there again this season as he has just played 33 games. Holtby’s share of games has been decreasing since the start of the year. Samsonov is 5-0-0 in 2020 compared to Holtby’s 1-2-0.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 67 Points (31-14-5)

The Penguins have the second-best record in the Metropolitan Division over their last ten games with a 7-3-0 record. However, they limped into the break on a 3-0 shutout loss to their cross state rivals, the Philadelphia Flyers. They don’t face an easy schedule on the way out, as they play the Flyers in their first game, followed by four straight games against teams in playoff position.

While Matt Murray has won his last five starts, Penguins fans have been frustrated with the goalie who has been relegated to the backup position. I don’t know how angry they can really be when he makes a low $3.75 million, but he has experienced Bronx cheers back home after making routine saves. Murray only responded, “No comment” when asked, but Evgeni Malkin defended the goalie after their last home game saying, “We hear that in Philly, not Pittsburgh.”

3. New York Islanders: 63 Points (29-15-5)

Out of the many playoff teams in the Metropolitan Division, the Islanders have had the weakest recent stretch, with their 4-4-2 record in their last 10 games bringing their record in January down to 4-5-2. This equates to a .455 points percentage, which ranks 21st in the league.

Islanders fans have felt confident in their team and have had a chip on their shoulders all season after they were projected to do poorly but came out so strong. Since the end of their 17-game point streak, they have been a strikingly average team, with a record of 13-12-3 after starting 16-3-2. Since November 25th, they are 24th in the league with 2.64 goals for per game and 10th in goals against per game. They are also 19th and 24th in their power play and penalty kill respectively. They just don’t stand out anywhere.

Mathew Barzal continues to be their leading scorer with 22 points during this span, but only eight goals. His season 52.4 GF% drops all the way down to 40% since late November, despite an extremely high 65.2% offensive zone starts in that same span. That is an unthinkable combination for most players, let alone your star player. Head coach Barry Trotz was frustrated with Barzal on Tuesday and benched him in the third during the 4-2 win against the New York Rangers. After the game he commented “He knows why he was benched.” (Oh.)

4. Columbus Blue Jackets: 62 Points (27-16-8)

The Blue Jackets remain the hottest team in the league, extending their win streak to six games. They have a record of 16-2-4 in their last 22 games, which took them from a solid sixth place in the division up to fourth, while overcoming a massive point deficit to overtake the Flyers and Hurricanes. Unlike the Islanders, once their 12-game point streak came to an end, they have continued their hot play. We can’t expect these crazy streaks out of every team in the Metro, but avoiding taking multiple losses in a row is exactly what the Hurricanes need to do to be able to get back into contention for third place in the division.

The Blue Jackets have done this with a rotating lineup and despite their leading goal scorer having just nine goals over the last two months. They are getting contributions from all over their lineup, with seven players having 10 or more points in their last 24 games. They don’t need a high scorer when they have only allowed 1.92 goals per game since the start of December, which comes out to just 46 goals against, six fewer than the Stars who are in second place. Their forecheck just shuts down opposing breakouts which means they never give up odd-man rushes or high danger chances.

5. Carolina Hurricanes: 61 Points (29-18-3)

Justin Williams has had an immediate impact for the Hurricanes, recording the game winning goal in the shootout against the New York Islanders and following that with two goals against the Winnipeg Jets including the game winner. With Williams proving that he can produce immediately, Rod Brind’Amour is going to be tasked with finding his ideal lineup. Since Williams has returned the Carolina Hurricanes have been cycling through their forwards. First, they scratched Jordan Martinook on Sunday before scratching Erik Haula on Tuesday.

We knew adding a forward was going to lead to a round of musical chairs, so this shouldn’t catch anyone by surprise. One of the benefits of having Williams back is also to give Haula more rest so his knee stays healthy which will also keep him sharp longer in the season. It did seem weird to scratch an alternate captain, someone who is supposed to help set the tone.

The most obvious choice, although one that will certainly pain Brind’Amour, is probably Brock McGinn. Despite his off-the-charts work rate, one that has endeared him to his coach, McGinn has the worst production on the team. His .23 goals per 60 and .90 points per 60 are both last on the team. While his Corsi is over 50%, his offensive zone start percentage is 53.4% and his relative Corsi is -.08, which is 8th out of 12 on the team. While he brings physicality to the game, Martinook can do the same thing, with added leadership and better scoring chances.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 60 Points (27-17-6)

The Flyers head into the break on the outside looking in, one point behind the Canes for the final playoff spot. The Flyers are happy to head into the break off of a 3-0 win against the Penguins which does give them momentum heading in.

With Carter Hart injured, backup Brian Elliott has taken over between the pipes and won his first three games, only surrendering one goal in his last 54 shots faced. Hart was scheduled to miss two-to-three weeks so he could be back right after the All-Star break next Friday against the Penguins. Worst case, he wouldn’t return until the game against the New Jersey Devils on February 6.

Which leads us to one of the strangest stories of the year, one that could only happen in Philly: Gritty being investigated for possibly punching a 13-year old fan at a fan only event. After playful banter and a photo, it was said that Gritty took a full running start and punched the kid as hard as possible. While there is no substantiating evidence of the story, the Flyers are offering game day experiences to remedy the situation.

7. New York Rangers: 50 Points (23-21-4)

The Rangers did the Canes as many favors as they could by beating the Islanders twice last week, but couldn’t get it done against the Blue Jackets or Islanders this week. Tuesday night they played without their all-star, Artemi Panarin, who missed the game with an upper-body injury. We have seen players sit out a game before the all-star break to avoid having to go to the game or getting an obvious suspension, but Panarin also missed the last two Rangers practices as well.

With Panarin out, Chris Kreider will represent the Rangers at the All-Star Game, but the bigger concern for the Rangers is to get Panarin back healthy ASAP. His 26 goals rank seventh in the league and his 68 points rank fourth. He has tallied eight more goals and nine more points than the second-place player on the team. He is by far the most productive player on the Rangers, and without him they lack the lethal kick that can put a team away.

8. New Jersey Devils: 41 Points (17-24-7)

There’s not much to say about the woeful Devils, so let’s talk about where they might have the most impact the rest of the season: at the Trade Deadline.

Every season we talk ourselves into the deadline being some great exciting day with hundreds of trades. In reality there have been just around 20 trades per season since 2014, with 23 last season, but with only four major deals (Derick Brassard, Mark Stone, Kevin Hayes, and Wayne Simmonds). Most of the trades were just small deals and tweaks, think bottom six/bottom four improvements. The 2020 Trade Deadline will, in all likelihood, be even quieter.

First, the list of players available at the deadline is just thin. After Kreider, it falls to Alec Martinez and Ilya Kovalchuk on TSN’s trade bait list this season. The Hurricanes first-round draft pick is the tenth most valuable asset on the board. Second, too many contracts are untradeable, which also leads to the first point. Almost every free agent is getting a seven- or eight-year deal and the end of those deals are guaranteed to be bad, and the beginning might not even be pretty. These contracts become impossible to off-load unless they are to tanking teams willing to take on cap hits.

Finally, most of the teams are going to be looking at small tweaks. Outside of the Montreal Canadiens, there don’t seem to be too many teams looking to be desperate to make a risky trade.