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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Playoff Position Separation Forms

The top three teams of the Metropolitan Division stay strong, while the teams below start to lose ground.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Vegas Golden Knights Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 24 Points (12-2-0)

Tuesday night was the first time in weeks that we saw a fully healthy Carolina Hurricanes forward group, and it showed the embarrassment of riches they have. With Seth Jarvis in the lineup and playing on the first line, Jesperi Kotkaniemi was moved down to center the fourth line. While it is still not ideal to be playing him on the fourth line, this is an important and good step for Kotkaniemi. He is able to learn how to play center in this system while also keeping him poised to move up to the top six if there are any injuries giving the Hurricanes a hilarious level of flexibility that any team would love to have.

Just last season we had instances where the Canes were down both multiple centers and multiple top-six players, and they had to rely on either a first-line Brock McGinn or a top-six Jordan Martinook in these roles. While both are fine players in their roles, they are not players that are going to be able to score night in and night out, that’s the depth that the Canes have now. They won’t need to rely on a younger player like Morgan Geekie or Steven Lorentz to “step up” into a bigger role, they have players who have been there before and can do it again.

This also is still up in the air with the Seth Jarvis situation. He is out there looking like Sebastian Aho did as a rookie. While he is playing wing and is undersized he is affecting the play positively every time he is on the ice. The Canes will still have the option and the depth to send him down to juniors at any point and yes even after he plays 10 games, but he is making that decision harder every night. But why would they? He is like a rookie Aho in that he is doing everything right but just not showing up on the score sheet. The goals will come as he gets used to NHL goaltending and he could very well be a huge part of the Canes this season.

2. Washington Capitals: 23 Points (9-2-5)

The Washington Capitals had to make a tough decision to send Hendrix Lapierre back to the QMJHL. The 2020 first-round pick and 19-year-old prospect scored his first NHL goal on opening night but was unable to crack the scoresheet in the next five games. Lapierre had played in the top six on the second line but was not playing every night. The Caps made the decision with three games to spare counting against his contract but felt that it was the best move to get him on the ice every day. In his first two games back in juniors he’s registered three assists.

The Caps also announced that they have extended center, Nic Dowd, to a three-year contract with a $1.3 million AAV. This almost doubles his current contract and cap hit. Dowd has been out with a lower-body injury that has helped him out of the last three games and he has only been able to play nine games so far this season. However, he has been a reliable center with a team-best 56.4% faceoff win rate. When the team is fully healthy he slots in as the third center but also rates third among Caps forwards in penalty killing time with 1:21 per game.

3. New York Rangers: 23 Points (10-3-3)

The New York Rangers were dealt a huge blow in their win against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday. Sammy Blais went down awkwardly against the boards after a hit by P.K. Subban and was unable to put weight on his leg leaving the ice. Yesterday it was announced that he has suffered a torn ACL and will be out for the season. Blais has been a versatile forward who has played up and down the lineup, most recently playing on the top line with Mika Zibanejad and Chris Kreider but has also played on the second and third line giving the Rangers some much-needed flexibility in the forward lines.

This will force the Rangers to make multiple lineup changes which will include moving Barclay Goodrow to the top line as the right wing. The forward depth was going to be an issue for the Rangers this year, to the loss of a winger who can play in the top six is huge. They have Kakko, Julien Gauthier, and Ryan Reaves below Goodrow in the depth chart. The Rangers will get Filip Chytil back from an injury that kept him out three games and he will return to center the third line and the Rangers also recalled Gregg McKegg from the AHL.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: 18 Points (8-4-2)

The Flyers are again going to be without defenseman Ryan Ellis. Ellis returned to the lineup on Saturday with 18:46 of ice time in his first game since Oct. 20. Ellis is now listed as week-to-week after what appears to be a re-aggravation of the hip injury that he sustained in the final pre-season game. In just four games played the top-pairing defenseman has registered five points. They have been able to cover up for his absence quite well with a 6-2-1 record in games where Ellis has not been able to play.

A large part of that has come off the back of goaltending. The biggest question mark for the Flyers coming into the season was whether or not they would be able to regain pre-pandemic form between the pipes and the bad news for the division is that it looks like they have. They are ranked seventh in goals allowed per game with 2.54 and also rank fourth with a 93.9 even-strength save percentage this year. Six of their wins have come in games where they have let up two or fewer goals against. While they aren’t at the top of the division they are proving to be a hard out night in and night out even without Ellis.

5. New Jersey Devils: 17 Points (7-4-3)

The New Jersey Devils had their game Tuesday night against the Ottawa Senators postponed. The Senators have had three of their games this week postponed due to a COVID outbreak in the locker room that has landed 10 players in protocol and an assistant coach. Having any games postponed this season now officially opens up the option for the NHL to cancel their Olympic participation. There is a clause in the contract that allows the NHL to pull out if they need the time in the planned break for games. Hopefully, it will take more than three postponed games for this to happen.

The extra break could prove to be beneficial for the Devils. Goaltender, MacKenzie Blackwood left Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers after being elbowed in the head by Kaapo Kakko. He entered concussion protocol in the third period and did not return to play. Blackwood has recently returned to the team and has a 2-0-1 record in four games started (he was not credited with a result in Sunday’s shootout loss). He leads the Devils with a .937 sv% and a 2.37 GAA and was providing much-needed stability before this injury.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 16 Points (8-5-0)

The Blue Jackets have a 4-2-0 record in their last six games which has been powered by Jakub Voracek and Oliver Bjorkstrand who both have had lengthy point streaks. Bjorkstrand’s streak ended on Monday at five games but in those previous five games, he had two goals and four assists. Voracek’s streak is still ongoing and sits at six games. Voracek has eight points in those six games which include one goal and seven assists and included back-to-back two-assist games.

Rookie Yegor Chinakhov recorded his first NHL goal and his second multi-point game on Monday against the Detroit Red Wings. His first goal is one he won’t forget, a highlight breakaway goal that tied the game for Columbus. This could prove to be a breakout goal for him. He had plenty of opportunities over the last two weeks, but like Seth Jarvis, he just hasn’t gotten the bounces. Now that he has opened scoring and the pressure is off, he can relax and loosen the grip on his stick. He and the Blue Jackets hope that they will start to come in bunches.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins: 14 Points (5-6-4)

The Pittsburgh Penguins getting back most of their starters from the COVID list has failed to deliver immediate dividends. Sunday saw the return of Sidney Crosby, Marcus Pettersson, Brian Dumoulin, and others but resulted in a 6-1 loss to their heated rival in the Washington Capitals. The Penguins are nearing having a fully healthy roster for the first time this season and are only missing Evgeny Malkin who has yet to play this season.

The Penguins are hoping that all of these players coming back can gel quickly because they currently sit seven points out of third place in the division. They have now also lost eight out of their last 10 games which means only them and the Islanders have a points percentage under .500 in the Metropolitan Division. No team in the division had fallen under .500 until last night when both teams managed to achieve the feat at the exact same time.

8. New York Islanders: 12 Points (5-6-2)

Leo Komarov and the New York Islanders have terminated their contract. Komarov who is in the last year of a four-year, $12 million contract, will be headed to the KHL to be closer to home and his family. When Matt Martin came back from an injury, Komarov was sent down to the AHL. He decided not to report and work out on his own before ultimately deciding to leave the league. Komarov would not have had a full-time role in the AHL due to a rule only letting a maximum of six NHL veterans dress each game. Bridgeport would have had to rotate players.

Komarov played a bottom-six role with the team but was beloved in the locker room. He recorded 48 points in 161 regular-season games with eight more points across 44 playoff games. This move, which was initiated by the player, will free up cap space for the Islanders at the deadline with the remainder of his $3 million no longer counted against the cap. Combined with the movement of Johnny Boychuk last off-season, the Isles are in a good place with their cap moving forward.