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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: The Injury Bug Bites

Multiple teams are facing significant injuries, and the Penguins completed the first major trade of deadline season.

Carolina Hurricanes v Dallas Stars Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

1. Washington Capitals: 77 Points (36-15-5)

The Capitals have struggled since returning from the All-Star break with a record of 3-4-0, and a record of 1-3-0 in the month of February. In their last two games both Ilya Samsonov and Braden Holtby were pulled in losses by a combined score of 12-5. The Caps have mostly been able to cover up their defensive problems this season, but lately they have been unable to cover it up. They have been missing assignments, misplaying odd-man rushes, and struggling in front of the net. Everyone on the team knows that they need to improve moving forward and hope this is just a phase they are going through.

It won’t be getting much better coming up. Next up they travel on a three-game road trip to Colorado, Las Vegas and Arizona that goes through Monday. They could be doing this without Evgeny Kuznetsov who left their last game on Monday with an upper-body injury. He is traveling with the team during their three-game road trip but is not expected to play tonight against the Avalanche. He has 19 goals and 27 assists so far this season, and will leave a huge hole in the lineup until he can return.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 74 Points (34-15-6)

The Penguins pulled off another big trade before the deadline. This time they acquired Jason Zucker from the Minnesota Wild for struggling forward Alex Galchenyuk, a 2020 first-round pick, and prospect defenseman Calen Addison. Addison was the Penguins second-round pick in the 2018 draft and was regarded as their top prospect. He is a right-hand shot and a power play quarterback for Lethbridge in the WHL. The Penguins also couldn’t make it two straight years with a first-round pick, but they sure tried. They will miss out on the first two rounds of an exceptionally deep draft this offseason. That pick is lottery protected and could switch to the 2021 first-round pick if the Pens somehow miss the playoffs.

The Penguins had to pay such a high price for Zucker because he is not just going to be a rental, but is signed through the 2022-2023 season at just $5.5 million cap hit. While the Penguins may still want to add a third center, they now have an actual replacement for Phil Kessel on the wing. Zucker has 14 goals and 15 assists this season and will make an impact in the top six. He has three straight seasons with 20 more goals and assists with the Wild. His 18.7% shooting will likely cool off with the Penguins, but he will likely be playing with one of the best players in the world of either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.

3. New York Islanders: 72 Points (33-16-6)

The Islanders fear they may have lost forward Casey Cizikas for an extended period. Cizikas left Tuesday’s game against the Philadelphia Flyers with a cut on his leg and was not putting weight on it while leaving the ice. He is expected to miss 3-4 weeks and has been placed on IR. This is his third injury of the season; he has missed nine other games due to other incidents.

The Islanders have called up Cole Bardreau in his absence. Bardreau has one goal and one assist in nine games played this season in the NHL. Barry Trotz expects the Islanders will look to add an additional center if he is out longer-term.

Cizikas plays on the Islanders’ fourth line with Matt Martin and Leo Komarov and has 10 goals and four assists so far this season. Where he really shines in on the penalty kill. His 2:20 of shorthanded ice time per game is the most of active forwards on the team. The only forward with more average time is Cal Clutterbuck who is also out injured with no current timetable to return. Clutterbuck was also cut by a skate against the Bruins and had to undergo wrist surgery.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets: 70 Points (30-17-10)

The Jackets have proven themselves to be the most resilient team in the league. They came into this season with low expectations after losing their top goal scorer and their starting goaltender. Even after those changes, they lost this year’s starter Joonas Korpisalo to injury, and had to go with newcomer Elvis Merzlikins who has come out of nowhere to rocket the Blue Jackets solidly into the playoff race.

Now the Blue Jackets will also have to stay in contention without their star defenseman Seth Jones and winger Cam Atkinson. They are the seventh and eighth players currently on the IR for the Blue Jackets and the eighth and ninth players missing time with injuries. In Saturday’s game Jones fractured his ankle and Atkinson sprained his ankle. Jones is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks, while Atkinson is only projected to be out two to three weeks.

It is important to remember with sprains that they take a very long time to heal, so even if Atkinson can play in three weeks, he will not be 100%. Jones has six goals and 24 points this season, and nine points on the power play. They will miss his 19:10 of ice time per game and 2:34 on power play where he quarterbacks the top unit. Atkinson has 12 goals and 26 total points so far this season, and also contributed on the power play with three goals and eight points on the man advantage. They will now be without two of their top five power play performers.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 69 Points (31-19-7)

The Flyers got their young goaltender, Carter Hart, back from injury this week. Hart was solid in his return with 30 saves and a 4-1 win against the Florida Panthers in his first start since January 13th. They are easing him back into play, but Brian Elliott has to be very happy to get some relief. Over the past month Alex Lyon has only started two games over this span with a 1-1 record and came in once in relief. Over the three games Lyon had a .890 sv%.

Captain and career Flyer Claude Giroux recorded his 800th career point in the Flyers’ 7-2 weekend rout of the Capitals. Giroux is the third member of the 2006 draft class to hit this milestone, behind Phil Kessel and Nicklas Backstrom. Giroux also moved to fourth all-time in Flyers regular season scoring, just 49 points behind Brian Propp for third. He is one of just 16 active players to reach the milestone and only three more players mave more points in the last 10 seasons: Patrick Kane, Sidney Crosby, and Alex Ovechkin.

6. Carolina Hurricanes: 67 Points (32-21-3)

The Hurricanes have been playing some inconsistent hockey, but with the top line finally consisting of the three best forwards, they have been able to get production from their best players. Last Thursday in Arizona Rod Brind’Amour created the line of Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho, and Teuvo Teravainen. In just three games they have combined for seven goals and 14 total points. Svechnikov has proven that he can handle playing on this line and hasn’t been scared to go into the dirty zones and lay hits to get puck. He leads all Canes players with seven hits over the last three games and has the third highest hits/60 on the team with 8.40.

It has been great seeing Aho performing at a high level on a consistent basis. He now has seven goals in his last six games. Before this streak he has just one goal in his previous 10 and you could see the visible frustration on his face. This now moves him to sixth in the league with 31 goals on the season, nine behind Auston Matthews and Alex Ovechkin who lead the league at 40.

However, the Canes have been far from perfect. They still continue to let up the most high danger chances per game in the league. On Tuesday, Petr Mrazek did his best to keep the Canes in the game, only letting in one goal from 15 high danger chances at even strength. The other two goals came on the power play when the Canes could not stay out of the box in the second. Not only could they not help Mrazek defensively, they only posted one goal against the Dallas Stars backup goalie, Anton Khudobin.

7. New York Rangers: 60 Points (28-23-4)

The Rangers aren’t done with their rebuild, but it certainly looks like they have found their goalie of the future in Igor Shesterkin. He is the first rookie to earn three 40 save starts in his first seven games. While that stat is very clunky and baseball-like, he has a 6-1-0 record in his first seven starts. In his most recent game, he was the first goalie that I have seen get pulled by a concussion spotter. He was struck by Andrew Copp of the Winnipeg Jets and fell backwards into the net. This prompted them to call down to the ice to have Shesterkin tested. I would like to see this happen even more when it comes to goalie head contact and shots squarely off the mask.

Elliotte Friedman has reported that the Rangers and Chris Kreider are having contract talks. Most have said that Kreider would prefer to stay a Ranger, but has the highest value for a rental player going into the trade deadline. If the two do come to an agreement, it would show that the Rangers believe they are almost done with the rebuild and are keeping players that add value now. The only tricky thing they will have to navigate is the next year’s $6 million cap hit from Shattenkirk’s buy out. Heading into 2021-2022 without that hit, Marc Staal’s $5.7 million, and Henrik Lundqvist’s $8.5 million, they could have a ton of money to use to sign players.

8. New Jersey Devils: 50 Points (20-25-10)

The Devils continue to struggle this season. Most recently they lost to the Florida Panthers by a score of 5-3. While that might not sound bad, the Panthers started eight defenders — including starting two defenders in their fourth line. Defensemen Mike Matheson and Mark Pysyk skated with center Noel Acciari and combined for three of the Panthers’ five goals. All teams seem to be facing incredible amount of injuries, so it was fun to see the Panthers pull off a creative way to work around it and get a win out of it.

The Devils do have a tough decision to make heading into the trade deadline and offseason. They have three goaltenders that they are rotating, Louis Domingue, Mackenzie Blackwood, and Cory Schneider. Schneider has been buried in the AHL for most of the season, but returned in mid-January yet remains without a win. The problem is, he is the only Devils goaltender still under contract going into next season. Blackwood has handled a majority of the games this season and has been the best performing goalie on the team with a .910 sv% and a 2.84 GAA, both better than Domingue and Schneider who are sub .900 on the season.