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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Welcome to the 2020s

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How is each team entering 2020, and how are they performing after the calendar flipped to the new year?

Montreal Canadiens v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Washington Capitals: 59 Points (27-9-5)

The Capitals have now lost two straight games in regulation for the first time this season, and have lost three of their last four games. The Caps were the only team that had not lost consecutive regulation games before Tuesday. Since December 9, goalie Braden Holtby has a 2-5-0 record and has lost his last three starts. Since then, he has just a .871 save percentage and 3.71 goals against average in these last seven starts. Ilya Samsonov has played well in his relief appearances, winning his last five starts and last recording a loss on November 15.

Tuesday’s game also had an unexpected absence. Forward Nic Dowd missed Tuesday’s game as his wife went into labor Tuesday and gave birth to their first child. Dowd is not expected to miss any more games, and it is a perfect time for him given that the Capitals have only two road games in their next eight games, both of which are just short trips to Raleigh and Philadelphia. He will also be able to spend time with the family at the end of the month for the All-Star break, so the timing can’t be much better for a young family.

2. New York Islanders: 53 Points (25-11-3)

The Islanders have struggled to find consistency since their win-streak. Last season the Islanders loved playing at Nassau Colliseum, but this season hasn’t worked so well. They have lost their last four games at home and have four more games at Nassau this month, so maybe their next game in Brooklyn on January 11 can turn their home troubles around. One place they have had few problems is in net with Semyon Varlamov, who lost his first game in regulation since November 27 last night.

Even in the loss to the Devils he performed admirably, allowing two goals on 31 shots for a .935 save percentage. Of goalies that have played at least 10 games since the start of December, he ranks tied for fifth in the league with a .923 save percentage and third with a 2.31 goals against average. The only problem is that the only goalies better in GAA are Joonas Korpisalo and Tristan Jarry — who, of course, are both in the same division. Varlamov’s hot run has come at the perfect time, since backup Thomas Greiss has been struggling. Since November 25 Greiss has a 2-6-0 record after winning his previous eight starts.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 53 Points (24-11-5)

The Penguins received more bad news on the injury front. This time they lost Jake Guentzel for the season with a shoulder injury. This comes just a week after he was announced as an NHL All-Star for the first time in his career. Guentzel is tied for 12th in the league with 20 goals and leads the Pittsburgh Penguins team in both points (43) and goals. Guentzel is projected to miss four to six months after having surgery on his injured shoulder.

The Injury occurred during Monday’s game against the Ottawa Senators. After scoring a goal he was tripped up and went into the boards head-first. He has now been placed on Long Term Injured Reserve which means that his six million cap hit will be off the books. The injury will also likely force Jim Rutherford’s hand to make a trade sooner rather than later, now that they are going to need to replace the scoring.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: 50 Points (24-14-2)

Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that Justin Williams and the Hurricanes are approaching finalization of a new contract that Williams will re-sign by the end of the weekend. We have covered how the Hurricanes can afford the cap hit despite being up against the limit and reducing daily cap as much as possible. Now the question everyone is asking is how he fits in. He isn’t going to be the captain anymore, but he will still be a huge calming presence in the locker room and will benefit the team off the ice.

On the ice, though, is he still going to be effective? It has been lost on most that Williams had his best year since 2011-2012 with 23 goals and 53 points. The 23 goals were the fourth most of his career, even with a 9.7% shooting percentage which was worse than any of his seasons with the Capitals. Williams probably slots in with Jordan Staal and Andrei Svechnikov on one of the top two lines.

Yes, this changes the top six, and Warren Foegele is the presumed odd man out despite having a good season and a hot streak at the moment. But, this could move Foegele down onto a line with Lucas Wallmark and Jordan Martinook, keeping him in the lineup and perhaps leaving Brock McGinn as the healthy extra. Williams’ addition strengthens the top six and therefore the bottom six downstream. Also, looking at teams like the Penguins who are losing forwards week after week, why would you not want to add depth and fresh legs with a top six forward?

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 49 Points (22-13-5)

Anytime the Flyers have had the ability to make significant moves in the division, they have failed to capitalize on their opportunities. They currently sit just a point behind the Hurricanes in fourth and three points behind the Penguins in the division. The Flyers are in the middle of a six-game road trip that has seen them already lose three games, including one against the bottom dwelling Los Angeles Kings and the struggling San Jose Sharks. They were dropped last night by the Golden Knights and they have two games left in their trip that concludes with a game in Raleigh on January 7.

With the return of Michael Raffl, the Flyers had to send a forward down to the AHL, and they chose 20-year-old Morgan Frost. Frost has played 18 NHL games this season and has seven points. He has failed to record a goal since he scored in back-to-back games to start his NHL career. He has struggled to produce consistently, so his move to the AHL will be good to get him additional time and confidence. If he goes down and produces, he can force the front office’s hands to call him back up and send another player down in his place.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 46 Points (19-14-8)

The Blue Jackets had a rough week, as they lost their starting goaltender in Joonas Korpisalo for four to six weeks to a meniscus injury. Korpisalo started a lion share of the games and had recorded every win for the Blue Jackets this season with a 17-10-4 record. Elvis Merzlikins now fills in as the starter for Columbus. Despite not winning a game so far this season, he has now won back-to-back games against the Panthers and Bruins (!), the latter in overtime.

Head coach John Tortorella also made news when he criticized the officials after the Korpisalo injury and a non-review for time remaining on the clock led to a shootout loss to the Blackhawks. While sometimes Tortorella can be over the top, this time he was spot on. There was no real explanation from the refs at the time or from the league after the game as to why the refs didn’t put time on the clock despite an obvious error. He has been fined $20,000 for his comments, plus a pending $25,000 fine if he does it again.

7. New York Rangers: 42 Points (19-16-4)

Despite the Rangers’ struggles this season, it is crazy to think where this team would be without Artemi Panarin. Panarin has 55 points in 39 games played and ranks sixth among all skaters in points. By way of comparison, he has 15 more points than Teuvo Teravainen, who leads the Canes in points with 40. Panarin has been moved from the top line and is now playing along side of Ryan Strome and Jesper Fast. While the top line was clicking before, this gives the Rangers a more balanced top six, and has proven to be effective since MikA Zibanejad returned from injury.

The bad news for the Rangers is their power play has not had the efficiency that they did early in the season. They were red hot out of the gates, scoring on over 30% of their chances in the first two weeks of the season, but have declined since. Their season total is just 18.7%, but in December had a success rate of just 15.9% on the strength of just seven power play goals, two of which came against the Hurricanes on the 27th. Outside of that game, they have really struggled to find consistent success on the man advantage.

8. New Jersey Devils: 36 Points (15-19-6)

The Devils have gone on quite a little run in the second half of December. They now have points in their last four games and have a record of 6-2-1 since December 14th. They are still in second to last place in the league but have clearly shown Ray Shero who is willing to be part of the rebuild and who can be shipped out. Being so far down in the standings also means that the Devils will continue to be active in the trade market before the deadline.

With the second most cap space in the league, they can add salary from a contender earlier than the end of February deadline. The earlier they take on salary, the more valuable the trade because the extra month on the Devils’ books frees up space from the trading team. This could be a way to get NHL assets in return rather than just getting prospects like they did in the Taylor Hall trade.