1. Washington Capitals: 86 Points (40-20-6) 66 GP
The Capitals finished January with a poor 4-7-1 record, the worst in the Metropolitan Division and second-worst in the entire league over that span. After a loss to the Philadelphia Flyers last night they hold a single point lead over the Flyers for the lead in the division and lead the Penguins by four points who are in third. The Caps have been on a slide in large part because of underperformances from previously strong players. Goaltender Ilya Samsonov, who had won his previous 11 starts, went 0-4-0 for the month. Another player in a slump has been Michal Kempny, who was healthy scratched last night, his first scratch of the season. Kempny was a mainstay with the Caps during their Cup run and signed a bargain deal after that season. His cap his is just $2.5 million through the 2021-2022 season.
TJ Oshie gives the backstory behind his famous beer chug at the Capitals’ Stanley Cup rally https://t.co/HE9VGffZkS— RMNB (@russianmachine) March 4, 2020
Another reason for the move was to also put Dmitry Orlov back to his natural side. He has struggled since moving to his off side, which has now led to Kempny being the odd man out in the lineup.
But there was some good news for the cap strapped Capitals yesterday. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly announced that the league salary cap is projected to move up to between $84-$88.2 million next season. That will give some breathing room to a team that has seven free agents next season and only $10 million in cap room if the cap limit had stayed the same.
2. Philadelphia Flyers: 85 Points (39-20-7) 66 GP
The Flyers have now won seven straight games after a 5-2 win against the Capitals last night. It wasn’t all good news for the Flyers, though, who lost winger James van Riemsdyk to a broken hand last night. Joel Farabee has been called up from the AHL and will slot in against the Carolina Hurricanes tonight.
Van Riemsdyk is a significant loss for the Flyers. He has 19 goals and 21 assists this season. He has played on the third line with Derek Grant and Tyler Pitlick and has made them an actual force to play against. This matchup has been tough for teams to counter in the long run and has covered up for their sub-par fourth line.
AV confirms a break for JvR. Said severity/length of absence still yet to be determined.— Charlie O'Connor (@charlieo_conn) March 5, 2020
The Flyers may be dangerous as of late, but it’s hard to take them seriously for the long run. They are the team that are also most likely to have the floor drop out on them during the last month of the season. In part, that’s down to some extremely inconsistent goaltending. While Carter Hart has a .921 sv% since February 1, on the season he is at just .909. Backup Brian Elliott has a season-long .899 sv%, which is on par with his play as of late. They rank 24th in the league at a .913 even strength sv% and have had to rely on their fourth place, 9.2% even strength shooting percentage. They might be playing well now, but could easily be back into the wild card fight soon.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 82 Points (38-21-6) 65 GP
The Penguins finally ended their six-game losing streak which started three games before the deadline. Their first win since February 18th was a 7-3 win over the Ottawa Senators, who are the perfect team to play when you need a get right game. Over this skid the Penguins have dropped from the first team in the division down to third place behind the surging Flyers. The Penguins did get defensemen John Marino and Brian Dumoulin back from injuries before Tuesday’s game, which did provide a significant boost to the team.
That awkward moment when you go see your ex, who you still have feelings for, but you’re with your new bae who you are also very into... pic.twitter.com/w9KY5hJ8th— Christina Marleau (@c_marleau) March 1, 2020
The Penguins have been undone by bad goaltending and bad defensive breakdowns. Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry have alternated starts, and rank 54th and 58th respectively in save percentage since February 20th. Neither have over a .860 sv% and are averaging over a 4.00 GAA. The Penguins have done well to limit overall shots against, ranking second with just 25.7 shots against per game. However, when they do let up a shot, it’s a high-danger chance. They have given up 65 total high danger chances and 13 high danger goals against, which rank third to last and last respectively.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets 79 Points (32-21-15) 68 GP
The Jackets, much like the Islanders have opened the door for the Hurricanes with just two regulation wins in their last 10 games. The insane thing, as you may have noticed, is that they have FIFTEEN overtime losses, which is by far the most in the league.
Something to note is that the NHL implemented a rule for this season that ROW (Regulation and Overtime Wins) is no longer the playoff tiebreak. It is now RW (Regulation Wins), in which both Columbus and the Isles are each one behind the Hurricanes, 24 to 25 for both teams, each of whom have played more games than Carolina.
The Blue Jackets even being in the playoff race is an incredible feat for head coach John Tortorella. I am not a fan of Torts, but he has dealt with the most injuries and losses to a team that I have ever seen. Not only did they find out this week that Josh Anderson will not return for the rest of the season, they also lost Oliver Bjorkstrand for eight to 10 weeks. Their star reserve goalie Elvis Merzlikins has missed the last three games to a concussion. The only good news is that Ryan Murray back from injury. Sunday was his first game since December 14th. He has averaged over 20:00 of ice time since returning.
5. New York Islanders: 78 Points (35-22-8) 65 GP
The Islanders have been slumping since February 13th and have a 2-6-2 record in their last 10 games, which has seen them fall down the standings to fifth in the division with just a three-point lead on the Canes, who have a game in hand. They have been relying mainly on Semyon Varlamov in net, but have been rotating in Thomas Greiss as of late in their four-game losing streak. The main issue is that Greiss has not recorded a win since the 10th of February. Greiss let in three goals in the first 12 shots of the game against Montreal that saw him get pulled early. In relief Varlamov let up two goals on 14 shots faced.
Thank you to everyone for the positive messages and thoughts! I am extremely grateful. Please know they did not go unheard. Luckily for me the skate only cut my eyelid. Sorry for the late response...facial recognition wasn’t working... thank you again my friends. Johnny B— Johnny Boychuk (@joboych) March 4, 2020
The Montreal game also featured a scary moment when defenseman Johnny Boychuk took Artturi Lehkonen’s skate directly to the face and under the visor. The skate appeared to hit the length of his face vertically. He left the game immediately in shock and did not return. It took 90 stitches to fix the cut, but did not cut his eyeball, only the eye lid. This is almost one year to the day when he took Mitch Marner’s skate to the throat on March 1st last season. The skate miraculously did not cause a cut because the blade hit directly and let off and did not move to cause a cut. There has not been an announced timetable for his return.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 75 Points (35-24-5) 64 GP
For the Hurricanes, this odd break near the end of the season came at the perfect time. With the additions of Brady Skjei and Vincent Trocheck, the Canes have new players in big positions that were trying to learn the team and system on the fly. It’s also important to remember that, at defense and center respectively, both players have massive defensive responsibilities that are going to be tough to learn on the fly. Skjei has averaged 21:25 in his first three games with the Canes, which is second only to Jaccob Slavin. Trocheck has averaged 17:03 of ice time and ranks fourth for all forwards.
This break also gives the two relief goalies some extra practice time with the NHL coaches. Neither Anton Forsberg nor Alex Nedeljkovic have earned a win, with Forsberg at 0-1-0 and Nedeljkovic at 0-1-1. Forsberg was also pulled in his last start after letting in three goals in his first 20 shots against the Montreal Canadiens. With Nedeljkovic in net the Canes were able to eventually force overtime before losing.
We knew things weren’t going to be great with those two in net, but neither are close to a .900 sv%. Ned at .857 and Forsberg at .885 and at even strength they are at .864 and .862 respectively. As a team they have the second worst high danger save percentage in the league at just 70% despite being 16th in the league with 28 high danger chances against. The good news is that Don Waddell believes that Petr Mrazek is around 7 days from returning. This could bring a needed boost in goaltending and a morale boost to the team in general knowing that they again have a more trusted guy between the pipes.
7. New York Rangers: 74 Points (35-27-4) 66 GP
The Rangers have cooled off from their incredible February streak, which saw them win 11 out of their first 14 games in the month. They lost forward Chris Kreider on Saturday in a 5-2 loss to the Flyers. The Rangers had climbed to within four points of the playoffs, but those dreams look to have died since losing the speedy winger to a fractured foot. The Rangers have lost three straight games, all by at least two goals.
With no timetable for Kreider to return, many were expecting a call up from Hartford and to see one of the prospects get a larger roll with the team. However, the Rangers have not called anyone up. They are plugging in ex-Hurricane Phil Di Giuseppe directly into the first line with Mika Zibanejad and Pavel Buchnevich. Since the injury Di Giuseppe has seen an increase in ice time from around 10 minutes a game to 13 minutes, but has yet to find the scoresheet with the top line and is a -2 rating. I can’t imagine this experiment will continue for much longer, with Julien Gauthier playing well and other high-end prospects ready to try to take the next step.
8. New Jersey Devils: 64 Points (26-28-12) 66 GP
The Devils had been rotating goaltenders Louis Domingue and Mackenzie Blackwood in the NHL this season. When they dealt Domingue at the deadline for AHL goaltender Zane McIntyre, the backup position went back to Cory Schneider. Schneider suffered a hip injury which required surgery in the 2018 offseason. The surgery has been said to require over a year to fully recover from which led to his rocky 2018-2019 season and the tough start to this season. Over the past season and a half, he has played 22 games in the AHL with a 14-game stint this season.
Nice to see Cory Schneider's back and up to his old trickspic.twitter.com/csQPJx3qmE— Gregory Balloch (@GregBalloch) February 28, 2020
Since returning on February 25th he looks like a new goalie. Maybe he found his confidence in Binghamton, or maybe he is finally fully recovered from the injury. It could even be a little of both. In three starts since returning he has a 2-0-1 record including a shutout against the Anaheim Ducks last Sunday.
He has recorded a .957 sv%, which puts him fifth in the league since the deadline and has allowed just four goals in three games. It’s a nice story in an otherwise rough season for the Devils, who will hope that he can perform on that level moving forward for the rest of his $6 million AAV contract that runs through the 2021-2022 season.