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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Trade Deadline Heats Up and Playoff Race Tightens

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The Jackets have come back to earth, the Hurricanes are starting to make a run, and there’s a new face atop the division standings.

Edmonton Oilers v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 80 Points (37-15-6)

The Penguins are the hottest team in the Metropolitan Division, with a 7-2-1 record in their last 10 games despite a rotating lineup. On Tuesday, Evgeni Malkin was a late scratch against the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Penguins still went up 5-0 before eventually winning 5-2 without their top scorer. Sidney Crosby had a four-point game against the Leafs which included three assists. Crosby’s 798 assists now moves him past Jari Kurri for 32nd all-time for assists. It was also his 34th career four-point game, which is the most among all active players and is six ahead of Alex Ovechkin in second.

Since returning from injury, Crosby has seven goals and 15 assists for 22 total points in just 13 games. It also seems that the Penguins are happy with their acquisition of Jason Zucker, who has three goals and an assist in his first four games with the team. In most other seasons the deadline acquisitions have ended up on the third line or away from Crosby, so the Penguins must be happy to have someone who finally slots into the first line to give them a very tough top line to defend against.

2. Washington Capitals: 79 Points (37-17-5)

The Capitals have lost the division lead and have continued their post All-Star Break slide. They are now 4-6-0 in their last 10 games, which is the worst mark in the Metropolitan Division, and hold a 2-5-0 record in February. After scoring a hat trick against the Los Angeles Kings on February 4th, Alex Ovechkin has been held to zero points and a -6 rating in their last five games.

The Caps made a bit of a shakeup trade on Tuesday when they traded a 2020 second-round pick and a 2021 conditional third-round pick to the San Jose Sharks for Brendan Dillon. If the Caps win the cup this season, the third-round pick upgrades to a 2020 third-round pick that was originally owned by the Arizona Coyotes.

Dillon’s addition means the Caps now have seven defensemen. This means that either Jonas Siegenthaler or Nick Jensen will be the seventh defenseman. Siegenthaler has a 50% corsi and Jensen has a 50.5% corsi. Siegenthaler has outscored Jensen two goals to none and nine points to five over their 58 games played. Despite Siegenthaler’s play, he averages just 15:51 of ice time, behind both Jensen at 17:38 and Radko Gudas at 16:53. So while Siegenthaler has slightly better play, he has played more sheltered minutes on the third line with Gudas, which would mean he would likely be the odd man out.

3. Philadelphia Flyers: 73 Points (33-20-7)

The Flyers have won four of their last six games, and their wins have come against crucial opponents. They tallied wins against the Blue Jackets, Panthers twice, and Capitals, all teams racing for playoffs. Now the Flyers are days away from the deadline and giving Chuck Fletcher all the reason in the world to buy at the deadline. They need to use someone to slot in with Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny on the second line since James van Riemsdyk has been demoted to the third line and struggled playing at a higher level.

Another area where they could theoretically use more help is with goaltending. While they are still touting Carter Hart as the next Patrick Roy, he is struggling. He has a .908 sv% overall, but at even strength he has struggled. Since January 5th is even strength save percentage of .899% ranks 52nd in the league. He also ranks 48th in Goals Saved Above Average at -5.28, just above Brian Elliott who ranks 49th. I don’t expect they will actually make a move to improve goaltending, but they could be in for a rough ride down the stretch with their tandem.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: 72 Points (34-21-4)

The Hurricanes had their best game of the season on Tuesday. They played a full 60-minute game against the Nashville Predators and beat them with every line contributing. It might be worth Tom Dundon keeping the moms around the team a couple more weeks for the stretch run if they would continue this level of play. Andrei Svechnikov is in the midst of an eight-game point streak and Sebastian Aho has a point streak of 10 games. Aho now ranks fourth in the league in goals with 34, one more than both Jack Eichel and Nathan MacKinnon, both of which are getting Hart Trophy buzz.

One player that is just flying completely under the radar in points is Jaccob Slavin. We all know he is incredible defensively, but he has 30 points on the season with five goals and 25 assists. His 30 points is as much as Ivan Provorov and Mikhail Sergachev, who are offensive defensemen that don’t provide as much defensive upside as Slavin. You can see it now in games where Slavin is much more comfortable jumping into rushes and breakouts. Every so often you watch the trailer in the zone charging towards the goalie and waiting for a rebound and — wait a minute, that’s number 74. You would have to think that he has benefitted from playing with Dougie Hamilton and seeing what he has been able to do at both ends of the ice.

He isn’t the only defenseman with newfound confidence. Haydn Fleury has been great since Dougie’s injury, and even better over the past two weeks. His 52.7% Corsi is the third best on the team for all defensemen since the All-Star break, which is better than even Slavin’s 52.1%. This is despite Fleury having a lower offensive zone start percentage (48.8%) than Slavin (53.4%). Fleury took an awkward spill in the third period of the Predators game and did not return to the game. Things may be all clear, though, as the Canes have not called up a defenseman for tomorrow. The Canes are expected to give an update on Wednesday if he sustained a lasting injury.

5. New York Islanders: 72 Points (33-20-6)

The Islanders have been active in the trade market, acquiring Andy Greene from the Devils for a second-round draft pick in 2021 and a low-end prospect. Greene was the captain of the New Jersey Devils and brings a great veteran presence into the locker room. Greene is going to help defensively, he has just two goals and 10 assists but averages 3:24 shorthanded time per game. On average he played 66.3% of the time that the Devils were on the penalty kill.

Even on a bad Devils team, he ended up with an even corsi which ties him with the top corsi with the islanders. This move is likely to replace Adam Pelech, who is out for the rest of the season with an Achilles injury. Greene’s acquisition means that Ryan Pulock is likely the seventh defenseman for the Islanders. I would still think that the Islanders need to make a trade to cover the Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas injuries, so it’s strange to see them trade for a defenseman first.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 72 Points (30-19-12)

The Jackets have only earned three points in their last six games with an 0-3-3 record since February 8th. This is a best-case scenario for the Hurricanes, who have now moved into the final playoff position. The Blue Jackets now face the Flyers and Predators, so their schedule isn’t getting easier. With how bad they have been lately, you would think that a shakeup trade could be coming to change the mood.

In their last six games, the Blue Jackets offense has completely dried up. They have just 10 goals in that time span, and only eight at even strength, losing those past six games by a score of 19-10. Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the way with three goals, but no other player has multiple goals. Goaltending has also struggled, with Elvis Merzlikins’ save percentage over their losing streak down to just .889%. His overall save percentage has dropped from .924% on the season, down from first place just two weeks ago.

7. New York Rangers: 66 Points (31-24-4)

The Rangers traded defensive prospect Joey Keane to the Carolina Hurricanes for forward Julien Gauthier. Keane is a right-handed defenseman prospect who made the AHL All-Star Classic this season. This is his first professional season and he has recorded eight goals and 22 assists for 30 total points with the Hartford Wolf Pack and is now added to a crowded blue line in Charlotte.

This trade shows a couple of things. The Canes were willing to sell high on Gauthier while not thinking he was going to make the NHL team. It also shows that they were not able to use Gauthier in a package to get an NHL player in return, but got a younger asset with more team control in return.

The Rangers immediately kept Gauthier in the big leagues for their two-game road trip against Chicago and soon the Hurricanes on Friday. In his first game, he started on the fourth line with Brendan Lemieux and Brett Howden. He received 7:18 of ice time and recorded a shot on goal in the team. He was also used on the second and third lines, replacing Jesper Fast and Phil Di Giuseppe respectively in those roles.

I can’t wait for the inevitable hat trick that comes Friday against the Canes as Lundqvist also posts his 600th career shutout in PNC.

8. New Jersey Devils: 54 Points (22-27-10)

The Devils kicked off their trade deadline early with a couple of deals. They started when they sent Captain Andy Greene to the Islanders for David Quenneville and a 2021 second-round pick. Next, they sent Blake Coleman to the Tampa Bay Lightning for Nolan Foote and a 2020 conditional first-round pick. The pick was originally the Canucks first-round pick from the J.T. Miller trade. If the Canucks do not make the playoffs this season, it transfers to the 2021 first-round pick. This was a good return for these two players and could leave the Devils with three first-round picks in the deep 2020 NHL draft, which the possibility that two could move to next season.

The players that the Devils received are good prospects. Nolan Foote was the Lightning’s first-round pick last season and is a highly touted winger. He won the gold medal with Canada in this year’s World Junior Championships and has 15 goals and 18 assists in 26 total games as the captain for Kelowna in the WHL. David Quenneville, a defenseman, will join his brother John in the AHL. David has bounced back and forth between the AHL and the ECHL for the past two seasons with most of his games coming being in the ECHL. David doesn’t appear that he will be making an impact at the NHL level soon.