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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: There’s a Log Jam in the Middle

The Canes continue their strong start, but the middle of the division has bunched up with three teams tied for fourth.

NHL: NOV 09 Hurricanes at Lightning Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 20 Points (10-1-0)

The Carolina Hurricanes came out of their three-game road trip in great shape with a 2-1-0 record over the last week, which culminated with the Canes' first overtime experience against the Lightning. Right before the road trip started the Canes lost Nino Niederreiter to a lower-body injury. The Canes struggled early trying to replace him, having to come back against the bottom-dwelling Arizona Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks, and they were never close against the Florida Panthers.

The Canes' initial replacement strategy was to move Jordan Martinook to the top line and shuffle the middle six with Seth Jarvis on the bottom line. They would then have to switch lines midway through the game to try to generate offense. The Canes looked much better Tuesday night with the traditional lines of Steven Lorentz on the third line and Martinook on the fourth line with Derek Stepan and Jarvis. Jarvis has also shuffled up and down the lineup throughout the night with him seeing time with Vincent Trocheck and Martin Necas.

The Hurricanes have also been without Brett Pesce since the Blackhawks game, where he crashed into the boards. The Canes have used Brendan Smith on the third line which has also forced Tony DeAngelo into the second pairing. Smith’s first two games have been rough. His 36.3% Corsi is 17.8% lower than anyone else on the team, with an astounding -26.1% relative Corsi. The Canes need to hope that Pesce can come back soon or even look at an AHL replacement if he doesn’t improve soon.

2. New York Rangers: 17 Points (7-3-3)

On Monday night, the New York Rangers handed the Florida Panthers their first regulation loss despite being outshot 45-18. The Rangers were able to score shorthanded, at even strength and on the powerplay. The Rangers have been led by Adam Fox who was the shorthanded goal scorer. This was Fox’s third goal of the season who is more of a playmaker from the blue line than a goal scorer. He also has 10 assists on the season. His 13 points are tied for the lead on the team with Artemi Panarin.

What is surprising is that Panarin has one fewer goal this season than Fox. The Rangers leading goal scorer is Chris Kreider, whose nine goals is more than double any other player on the Rangers. Kreider has blown away the rest of the team in goal scoring with Mika Zibanejad second with four goals and four players tied with three goals. This also shows that the Rangers have a surprisingly balanced attack, something that no one was expecting with their top-heavy attack of recent years.

3. Washington Capitals: 16 Points (6-2-4)

The Buffalo Sabres were just what the doctor ordered on Monday. The Washington Capitals ended their three-game slide when they beat the Buffalo Sabres Monday night. The Capitals have a 2-3-0 record since they have been without T.J. Oshie with their two wins coming against the Arizona Coyotes and the Sabres. Oshie is still rated as week to week but hopes they can get some reinforcements back with the return of Nicklas Backstrom. Backstrom has been eligible to return from IR since Saturday but has yet to return to the ice for the Caps.

The injuries for the Caps have created some interesting callups that lead to an all-rookie line in their last game. The line consisted of Axel Jonsson-Fjallby, Connor McMichael and Brett Leason. Jonsson-Fjallby was originally drafted by the Capitals in 2016 and earlier this season spent a week with the Sabres after he was claimed on waivers. After visa complications, he was again claimed by the Capitals which has now culminated in his NHL debut Monday.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: 14 Points (6-2-2)

The Flyers have been inconsistent this season. Nothing shows this more than losing to the Penguins without their head coach and multiple starters and then beating the Washington Capitals the very next day. The Flyers have been led by their goaltending with the fourth-best goals against per game. Carter Hart has led the team in starts with seven so far this season with a 3-2-2 record and a .926 GAA. More surprisingly backup goaltender, Martin Jones, has been 3-0-0 with a team-leading .950 save percentage. Jones has only let up five goals against in 100 shots faced.

While their 6-2-2 start is stronger than they had hoped and have been led by their second-place 103.6 PDO behind only the Hurricanes. However, unlike the Hurricanes, their underlying numbers aren’t great. They only have a 49% Corsi and 47% expected goals for which points to them being outplayed regularly but still winning games. The Hurricanes still maintain a 54.4% Corsi and a 53.38% goals for showing that they have a better formula for sustained success.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 14 Points (7-3-0)

The Columbus Blue Jackets continue with their injury struggles. First, they lost Max Domi last week and now they lost Patrik Laine for four to six weeks with an oblique injury. This puts even more of an emphasis on rookie Yegor Chinakov. Chinakov was already elevated in the lineup to replace Domi and recorded his first NHL points Saturday with a two-assist performance against the Colorado Avalanche. That game also saw him hit a career-high of ice time in 16:19. That was over four minutes more than he had played in any game previously.

The Blue Jackets are hoping that Jack Roslovic can pick up the pace to return to where he was last season. Last season, his first in Columbus, he had 12 goals and 34 points in 48 games played. This season he has only recorded three assists in 10 games and only one assist in his last nine. He has now been demoted to the third line behind Boone Jenner and Cole Sillinger and plays on a line with Gregory Hofmann and Kevin Stenlund. This has also come with a reduction in ice time by about four minutes per game from when he started the season.

6. New Jersey Devils: 14 Points (6-3-2)

The New Jersey Devils received bad news on Monday when they learned the Miles Wood will have to undergo surgery for a hip injury which will likely keep him out for the season. Wood tried to rehab from his hip injury but with no progress, he will have to have to go the surgery route. Wood suffered an injury in preseason that was initially reported as “bumps and bruises.” Last season he had 17 goals and 25 points over 55 games. His 17 goals tied for most of the team with Pavel Zacha and his 25 points ranked fifth.

The Devils did get their starting goaltender Mackenzie Blackwood back. In two games he has a 1-0-1 record and posted a 35 save win last night against the Florida Panthers. The Devils are hoping that they can get some stability in net and have already used four goalies in 12 games relying heavily on Jonathan Bernier. With Blackwood returning, the Devils waived Scott Wedgewood who was claimed by the Arizona Coyotes last week. The Devils were also able to return Nico Daws to the AHL. Now the Devils can actually use the two goalies they were expecting to use during the offseason.

7. New York Islanders: 12 Points (5-3-2)

The New York Islanders got backup goaltender Semyon Varlamov back from an undisclosed injury on Sunday. The Islanders lost his season debut by a score of 5-2 but with Varlamov only letting up three goals on 37 shot attempts. This was the Islander's first loss since the second game of the season and ends a seven-game point streak. Even in the loss, the Islanders should be happy with the Russian backup who still earned a .919 SV%. The person who benefits the most from Varlamov’s return is starter Ilya Sorokin who started the first nine games of the season.

The Islanders are also on the home stretch of their season-opening road trip with only three games remaining before opening their brand-new UBS Arena. They have a record 5-3-2 record but have a tough schedule to end the trip with a back-to-back set against the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning. They currently sit two points behind a three-way tie for third place in the division and eight points behind the Canes for the division lead. They hope to still stay in striking distance come the end of next week.

8. Pittsburgh Penguins: 12 Points (4-3-4)

The Penguins are currently last in the division in large part due to the fact they haven’t been able to field even close to their full lineup. The Penguins have lost 10 players to COVID protocol and their head coach Mike Sullivan for multiple games. They have now lost two-straight games in a shootout and have a 1-3-2 record in their last six games. This finally seems to be the bridge too far for them to handle with roster losses. For years they have been able to overcome injuries to Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin, but now they currently sit four points out of third place with four teams between themselves and an automatic playoff position.

It is reasonable to believe that the Penguins will recover and be able to make up the room they lost in the division. It is early in the season, but with only four regulation and overtime wins, they are going to lose any standings tiebreaker currently in the Eastern Conference and could really come into play down the stretch. Over the last few seasons of the Metropolitan Division, the difference between home ice in the first round and the second wild-card position has only been separated by less than four points.