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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Canes Stay at Top of Crowded Division

Five teams sit within two points of the Carolina Hurricanes, teams are starting to get hit with the injury bug and western road trips start up.

Toronto Maple Leafs v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 10 Points (5-0-0)

The Carolina Hurricanes continued their good run of play to open the season undefeated through their first five games. While this keeps the Canes at the top of the division, in the Metro there is no wiggle room, so they haven’t pulled away from any team. There are five teams within two points of the Canes at the top, granted the Canes have games in hand over all of them. This is the exact difference that we have seen between being able to win a division like last year and having to claw for a wild card later in the season like the two previous Metro experiences.

The Canes have kept the lineup exactly the same since the first game and there is no reason to think that they should change that up against a Boston Bruins team that has been quick out of the gates but will be playing in a back-to-back. The Canes and Rod Brind’Amour will want to see what they have in Antti Raanta, Brendan Smith and Seth Jarvis. Jarvis is on the juniors' schedule that says he can only play nine games before having to be sent back down or stay in the NHL full time.

While he hasn’t seen game time, it is good experience to be around the NHL to see what is required night in and night out. However, it won’t benefit his development to sit out games. These players should see action this weekend as the Canes have three games in four days. Two of the games come against bottom feeders in the Chicago Blackhawks and Arizona Coyotes. It would benefit the Canes to add some desperation in the lineup in players fighting to prove they are worthy of more playing time.

2. Washington Capitals: 10 Points (4-0-2)

Alex Ovechkin is off to another quick start on the scoresheet. He has seven goals in just six games played, along with five assists. His 12 points are just one behind Connor McDavid for the league lead. Despite two goals in their last game against the Ottawa Senators, he did not lead the team in goals. That was TJ Oshie, who recorded a hattrick. The most surprising thing about the Cap's 4.33 goals for per game is the fact most have come at even strength. The Caps normally have a good amount of their offense come with a man advantage, but so far this season they only have an 11% success rate for three goals while on the power play.

An interesting player to keep an eye on is Anthony Mantha, who the Caps traded for at the deadline last season. Mantha is a good player, but the Caps traded Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, a first-round pick and a second-round pick in 2022. Mantha has been playing 14:45 a game which ranks just sixth for Caps Forwards. Mantha has been playing on the second forward line and the second power-play line which would explain the discrepancy between his time and TJ Oshie’s TOI of 17:34 despite being on the same forward unit.

3. New York Rangers: 9 Points (4-2-1)

The New York Rangers welcomed forward Ryan Strome back to the lineup in Monday’s 5-1 loss to the Calgary Flames. Strome was out on the COVID list for the Ranger's previous four-game road trip which saw them go 4-0-0. Kaappo Kakko also returned to practice from an upper-body injury, but likely won't play this week as he is skating with a non-contact jersey. It will be worth keeping an eye on him to see if he makes the Ranger's upcoming West Coast road trip that starts Sunday and runs through all next week.

On Tuesday, head coach Gerard Gallant expressed frustration with Alexis Lafreniere and explained his demotion to the third line saying “Laffy needs to do more.” The frustration comes as Gallant feels that his anticipation and ability to win 50/50 battles have taken a step back from last season. There is no doubt that Lafreniere can make game-changing plays, he already has two game-winning goals in the young season but has struggled to stay in the game flow. This reminds me of the way that Brind’Amour treated Andrei Svechnikov often playing him on the third line until he was comfortable with the game.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 8 Points (3-1-2)

The Pittsburgh Penguins' start to the season has certainly gone better than most have expected. This included an opening night win against the Tampa Bay Lightning and a 7-1 win against the Stanley Cup hopeful Toronto Maple Leafs last weekend without five of their main starters. It took them six games until they lost their first game in regulation Tuesday night.

The Penguins will continue to be thin in their lineup. There is still no timetable for return for both Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin, but Crosby has returned to skating. Bryan Rust is still listed as week-to-week with a lower-body injury and Kris Letang confirmed positive for COVID-19. With those major absences, other players have had to step up. Last night, John Marino, logged 26 minutes of ice time.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 8 Points (4-2-0)

The Blue Jackets bounced back after their loss to the Carolina Hurricanes with a 4-1 win over the Dallas Stars. The main switch in the lineup was moving Gregory Hofmann to the top six which immediately paid off for Hofmann who ended up with the Game Winner on Monday. Alexander Texier, who Hofmann replaced in the top six, also recorded a goal on Monday.

The Blue Jackets have been led by Elvis Merzlikins to start the season. He has earned a 4-0-0 record that has a .952 save percentage and just 1.47 goals against. Both lead the league for goalies that have played three or more games. The Blue Jacket’s two losses came with backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo in net, including the game against the Hurricanes on Saturday. Merzlikins said before the season started that he was driven to win the Vezina Trophy this season and he is certainly playing that way to start the season.

6. New York Islanders: 7 Points (3-2-1)

The New York Islanders have put goaltender Corey Schneider on waivers, likely to clear cap and roster space for Semyon Varlamov. The 33-year-old Russian goaltender started the season on injured reserve with an undisclosed injury and has yet to play a game this season. In his absence, Ilya Sorokin has started every game this season earning a 3-2-1 record. He will be happy to get some rest soon. The first start for Varlamov could be as late as Nov. 7 on a back-to-back set but could see earlier action if he is ready to go.

Sorokin has found his form with back-to-back shutouts against the Arizona Coyotes and the Vegas Golden Knights. Neither team is in form, but the ability to win in shutout fashion against both during the month-long season starting road-trip shows the focus of the team. The Islanders will head to Nashville this weekend before heading to Canada to face the Montreal Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets. It's very reasonable they could earn four to six points on this leg of the trip which should help them catch up in the division standings.

7. New Jersey Devils: 6 Points (3-2-0)

Since Jack Hughes was placed on Injured Reserve last Thursday, the New Jersey Devils have a 1-2-0 record. Hughes suffered a dislocated shoulder in last Tuesday’s game against the Seattle Kraken and did not return. The plan is to reevaluate the young center this Thursday to see when he can return to the lineup. The good news for the Devils now is they are off until Saturday when they open a back-to-back set against the Penguins. This gives him extra time to potentially come back from his dislocated shoulder and in the best case only miss three games.

The Devils were already thin at the center position, and this has forced Nico Hischier into the top line position and Dawson Mercer into the top six. Mercer has recorded a goal and an assist since the Hughes injury. The Devils are also hoping to get goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood back from a heel injury that he had treatment on in the offseason. Blackwood is also planning to be fully vaccinated in the next two weeks so he will be ready to travel and play with the Devils when they head to Canada to play Winnipeg Jets on Dec. 3.

8. Philadelphia Flyers: 5 Points (2-1-1)

The Philadelphia Flyers are missing new acquisition and top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis. Ellis has been day-to-day with an undisclosed injury and missed last Saturday’s 4-2 loss against the Panthers. Ellis is traveling with the team for their three-game Western Canada road trip but has not practiced and is expected to miss tonight’s game against the Edmonton Oilers. With Ellis out, Rasmus Ristolainen has been taking reps on the second power-play unit in practice.

A larger role for Ristolainen is not ideal. So far he ranks 18th out of 20 skaters in possession with a 40.54% Corsi and ranks fifth to last in goals for with 25%. His expected goals for is just a tiny bit better but still ranks third to last on the team with a 30.91% goals for. Even with these bad numbers his relative Corsi ranks fourth out of seven Flyers defensemen at -1.2. With Ellis out, everyone else has to shift up in the lineup which puts Ristolainen on the second pairing.