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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: They’re Off and Running

The 2021-2022 season has started, but the disparity of games played jumbles the standings.

NHL: OCT 16 Hurricanes at Predators Photo by Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. Pittsburgh Penguin: 6 Points (2-0-2)

Every year you can just set it and forget it. The Pittsburgh Penguins will win games with tons of injuries and without one of their key players. This time the Penguins are out to a quick start without their top two centers, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, earning points in their first four games. This streak was also against top talent in the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers, both expected to compete for the Atlantic Division and the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Penguins have been relying on Jeff Carter to be their top center with the overall top-line of Jake Guentzel and Danton Heinen on Carter’s wings. Heinen wasted no time on the top line with three goals, but the Penguins had an even more unlikely hero in their first game, Brian Boyle. Boyle sat out last season but was signed to a PTO contract in September and is now playing fourth-line center and scored a goal in the win over the Lightning. The rest of the division was hoping to get a head-start against the Pens without their top-two centers, but those dreams seem to be fading away after every game.

2. Washington Capitals: 5 Points (2-0-1)

It's tough to make headlines during the first week of the season, but Alexander Ovechkin has reached two milestones in the young season. He scored his 732nd career goal against the New York Rangers to pass Marcel Dionne for fifth place in the NHL's all-time goal-scoring list. The Russian winger also played in his 1,200th career game last night against the Colorado Avalanche. He has played in 96% of the Washington Capitals games since he was drafted. Wayne Gretzky mentioned Wednesday night on TNT that he is rooting for Ovi to break his record. It is crazy to remember how many games he has lost due to multiple lockouts and now multiple pandemic shortened seasons.

One of the main pieces for the Caps is forward Evgeny Kuznetsov. The 29-year-old currently makes $7.8 million AAV and is signed through the 2024-2025 season. Over the last two seasons, he has been disappointing and included multiple suspensions for disobeying team and COVID rules. With that much money tied up in a player on a contending roster, the Caps have been relying on him to step up his game. It appears that he may be back to his 2017-2018 form with two goals and two assists so far in the season. This includes a two-goal performance against the Aves last night.

3. New York Rangers: 5 Points (2-1-1)

The New York Rangers' commitment to toughness this season has produced some mixed results. They came out of the gates slow against the Capitals team they so focused on and the Dallas Stars before getting back-to-back wins in Canada. It's easy to see that the Rangers are going to focus on outhitting their opponents all season. The Caps and Stars were able to match that play and win with their skill, the Maple Leafs were unable to match the physicality and lost in overtime. This season through four games the Rangers have 115 hits the most through four games of any season since the 2015-2016 season. This is also the most in the NHL this season.

New York is also being led from the crease. Igor Shesterkin has a .949 sv% and a 1.62 GAA in his three games played and a record of 2-0-1. The only regulation loss came at the hands of backup, Alexandar Georgiev. Shesterkin has only given up four goals in regulation in three games played. His ability to keep the flood gates closed has helped the Rangers win low-scoring games. With just one and a half skilled lines, the Rangers are not going to be able to win high-scoring contests, but they can win in three-on-three over times and low-scoring 2-1 game.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: 4 Points (2-0-0)

The Carolina Hurricanes have done what has been asked of them so far in this young season with a 2-0-0 record to start. Most of the questions around the team coming into the season were the uncertainty around the new additions. The additions from each of the last two off-seasons have directly led to the Canes' good start. The player with the largest impact has been Jesper Fast who has two goals in as many games played. Jordan Martinook mentioned how hard it was to bond as a team last season with COVID restrictions and how he’s not surprised that these guys are able to play better earlier on in the season.

The defense which is made up of 50% new players, has also looked solid up and down the lineup. The Canes have been able to use Ethan Bear in the top pairing with Jaccob Slavin with the newcomer seeing over 18:00 per game. This has allowed Rod Brind’Amour to shelter Tony DeAngelo on the third pairing with veteran Ian Cole, while also allowing DeAngelo to QB the top powerplay without having to worry about his defensive liabilities.

Brind’Amour has also had increased confidence in the younger forwards of Martin Necas and Andrei Svechnikov. Both have played significant roles in the top six. Svechnikov has come out of the gates fast in a larger role and leads the team with three goals in just two games. This play also helps relieve pressure from the top players like Sebastian Aho when they don’t score because they know the second line can pick up the slack.

5. New Jersey Devils: 4 Points (2-0-0)

Like the Carolina Hurricanes, the New Jersey Devils have played just two games so far this season. They had one of the best highlights of the year with an overtime win in their first game which also included an all-time great goal celebration by Jack Hughes. Hughes is going to be the biggest player to watch this season for the Devils. In just his third year in the NHL, he is playing on the top line. He already has two goals this season which should see him pass his previous career-best of 11 goals he set last season. With three points in two games, he is also likely to outpace his 31 point season last year which was also a career-best. However, he is now listed as day-to-day with a shoulder injury that he suffered last night.

Goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood was placed on IR for a heel injury which means between the pipes they are going to have to rely on a new acquisition, and Carolina Hurricanes legend, Jonathan Bernier. Bernier struggled in the first game with a .889 sv% but bounced back against the Kraken last night. They have brought in Scott Wedgewood to act as the backup in the meantime. Lucky for the Devils they don’t have any back-to-back sets until Halloween which could be the first time Wedgewood could see action. The other night that could make sense to give Bernier the night off is Saturday when the Buffalo Sabres come to town.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 4 Points (2-1-0)

The Columbus Blue Jackets quick start can only be described as fool’s gold. Their first three games have been against the Arizona Coyotes, Seattle Kraken, and the Detroit Red Wings who are all in a (re)building phase. It's not unrealistic to have thought that they would win all three of these games heading into the season. The rest of the month will start the gauntlet of nine games against good teams that could end with Columbus losing seven to eight games very easily. This includes a game against the Canes on Saturday.

The Blue Jackets are getting contributions from key players with question marks. Patrik Laine and Max Domi each have a goal and multiple assists. Laine is coming off a tough season where he only scored 12 goals and Domi only had nine. Both were parts of huge trades that included major pieces from the Blue Jackets and have big shoes to fill. The bad news for the Blue Jackets, Domi was added to IR and is expected to miss 2-4 weeks with broken ribs. Columbus will hope that it will not derail his return to form long term.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 3 Points (1-0-1)

Heading into the season it was known that the Flyers’ chances rest on the shoulders of goaltender Carter Hart, and the first week proved this to be the truth. The Flyers 1-0-1 record directly correlated with his play. In their first game, the Flyers lost to a rebuilding Vancouver Canucks team in overtime because Hart gave up five goals on 39 shots with a .897 save percentage. In their win over the expansion Seattle Kraken, he only let up one goal and made some highlight saves. Without a quality backup plan this season, the Flyers will go the way of Hart all season.

It is important to remember they are only two games into an 82 game season and have only played against two Pacific teams that are likely to miss the playoffs. Their first real test will come in the coming week when they play two playoff favorites in the Atlantic in the Boston Bruins and the Florida Panthers. This will be a big test to see if they can compete against quality teams. Another weird schedule quirk, the Flyers don’t open up division play until November 4th against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

8. New York Islanders: 2 Points (1-2-0)

This is the first year that the New York Islanders have all of the expectations on their shoulders, but they were dealt a tough hand to start the season with a 13-game road trip. Carolina Hurricanes fans can remember how these long early road trips can derail a season before it begins, but if they can survive with a good record, they will have a ton of home cooking at the end of the season to help boost their points in the standings. The team will not play their first home game in their brand new stadium until a month from now on November 20th.

Being away from home that long is tough on anyone, but it is even worse when you are starting a season and trying to get back in rhythm. Goalies are normally creatures of habit which can explain Ilya Sorokin’s rough start. Sorokin let up 11 goals against in his first two games but was able to turn it around in game three earning the second star of the game with a 39 save, one goal against performance. Even with last night’s performance he still ranks fifth to last with -2.93 goals saved above average, a large number in just three games.