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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Carolina Hurricanes Extend Division Lead

The Carolina Hurricanes stayed undefeated and extended their Metropolitan Division lead over the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals.

Arizona Coyotes v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 18 Points (9-0-0)

The Carolina Hurricanes lost Nino Niederreiter for “a few weeks” against the Chicago Blackhawks. His absence coupled with Seth Jarvis’s inexperience caused ripples throughout the lineup. The rookie forward was originally slotted in the fourth line to start Sunday’s game with the plan to move him around the lineup depending on his play. Jarvis looked good in his debut earning an assist on the game-winning goal. Rod Brind’Amour was happy with his play saying that he didn’t look like a rookie out there.

However, Brind’Amour does not like playing young players in real impact positions. This caused every line to change in the blend-o-matic which also included Jordan Martinook playing on the second line. Jarvis is also not going to develop playing on an energy fourth line, he needs to be out where he can create plays and find open space, something he showed he could do this weekend.

The Canes desperately need to return back to their original top six which was one of the most productive groups in the league and keep the bottom six as close as possible. While Karel Vejmelka played well for the Coyotes on Sunday, the Canes group really struggled to produce with only two goals against a depleted and bad Coyotes team. The Canes are about to have a tough test of the Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning on a road trip starting this weekend, they will need to be on top of their game to earn wins in either of those games.

2. New York Rangers: 14 Points (6-2-2)

The New York Rangers signed defenseman Adam Fox to a seven-year contract extension with a $9.5 million annual cap hit. It's not often a $9.5 million cap hit can be viewed as team-friendly, but the reigning Norris Trophy winner could have held out for more money, and no one would have blamed him. The contract does put the Rangers in a bind moving forward. They now have $37.6 million taken up by four players: Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, Jacob Trouba and Fox. Next season they have just 15 players under contract and just under $12 million in cap space.

This also doesn’t also take into account that the Rangers will have to find new deals for upcoming restricted free agents Kaapo Kakko, Alexander Georgiev and Samuel Blais this offseason and will have Alexis Lafreniere as a pending free agent next season. The Rangers are putting themselves in a similar position as the Maple Leafs in having to fill a lot of roster positions with minimum contracts. For anyone upset about the hard cap not allowing teams to keep their drafted players, no one forced the rangers to spend almost $20 million in free agency in Panarin/Trouba and Fox was neither drafted nor developed by the Rangers.

3. Washington Capitals: 13 Points (5-1-3)

Right after recording a hat trick last week, T.J. Oshie suffered a lower-body injury against the Detroit Red Wings. Oshie, who ranked third on the Capitals in goals at the time of his injury, is listed as week-to-week. Oshie’s injury along with Nicklas Backstrom has pushed Connor McMichael and Daniel Sprong into the top six. The second line of McMichael, Sprong and Anthony Mantha has struggled and has yet to appear on the scoresheet. Head Coach Peter Laviolette has had to be selective in how he deploys this line. They have a 70% offensive zone start percentage.

This has helped them produce a positive Corsi rate, but their inability to find the back of the net is going to hurt the Capitals in the long term. Since Oshie was injured, they are 1-1-1 including the Red Wings game where he left. Their win came against a struggling Arizona Coyotes. The Caps will be able to activate Backstrom as early as Saturday when they play the Flyers but will have to face the Florida Panthers before they are able to do so.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets: 12 Points (6-3-0)

The Columbus Blue Jackets are currently without forward Max Domi who is quarantining in New York City after being placed in COVID protocol. Domi has been effective this season for the Blue Jackets with four points in four games played and is looking to finally have a breakout year in Columbus. Domi plays on the second line with Jack Roslovic and Oliver Bjorkstrand which has been the best possession line for the Blue Jackets with a 53% Corsi. The second line has also been effective on the scoresheet with five goals between them, only behind the top line which has eight goals.

Heading into the season one of the knocks against the Blue Jackets was their depth and specifically their top six. Now they are going to have to rely on rookie Yegor Chinakov on the second line while Domi is out for the next two games at a minimum. Chinakov is a 20-year-old Russian forward who is still looking for his first NHL goal. Between filling in on the second line and the second power-play unit, this will be his best chance to pick up his maiden goal.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 11 Points (5-2-1)

The Flyers Western Canada road trip ended up a success winning two of their three road games including beating the formerly undefeated Edmonton Oilers. The Flyers were also able to bounce back from their loss against the Calgary Flames with a 3-0 shutout win last night over the inept Arizona Coyotes. The Flyers were also able to do this without their top-pairing defenseman Ryan Ellis who was made the trip to Canada but has yet to return. Ellis has now missed five straight games with a lower-body injury. This has been the same injury that kept Ellis out of practice in the preseason and could end up being a nagging injury if he is rushed back.

In his place, Rasmus Ristolainen has been playing on the second pairing with Travis Sanheim, but the pairing has been the worst on the team in possession numbers. The pairing has just one game with positive Corsi, last night’s game against the Coyotes. In the previous five games, they averaged a 38.17% Corsi and a 34.59% expected goals for. While this can work against weaker teams, it will become apparent when they start playing the full gauntlet of Metropolitan teams, you can’t just roll out one good pairing and come away with wins night-in and night-out.

6. New Jersey Devils: 9 Points (4-3-1)

Dougie Hamilton looks to have hit his stride in Newark. Hamilton had a slow start to the season but in the last week, he has four points in five games played. He also leads the team with 24:03 of ice time per game, picking up right where he left off in Carolina. Hamilton has proven to be the best off-season acquisition for the Devils, their other big signing Tomas Tatar has struggled. He was a free agent that many Canes fans wanted in Carolina, but he has yet to register a goal and has just three assists in seven games played this season, with only two even-strength points.

Games for the Devils largely come down to who is in net for them. Jonathan Bernier has a record of 3-1-0 in four games, losing his first game on Tuesday. Their backups of Scott Wedgewood and Nico Daws are a combined 1-2-1 record. Bernier has a .907 sv% and is the only goalie for the Devils who has been over .900. The good news for the Devils is they should be getting their full-time backup in Mackenzie Blackwood back after getting vaccinated. This should go a long way in creating more stability in the crease and stabilizing their biggest issue for the team.

7. New York Islanders: 8 Points (3-2-2)

It's going to be very tough to form any conclusions about this New York Islanders team this year. Not only now because of the long road trip, but also later when they have a home-heavy schedule. What they have shown, they have stuck with their defensive identity. They have a 2.43 goals for and goals against per game. The goals for is bottom ten while the goals against is top ten. Their power play ranks 15th in the league but their penalty kill is top 10. They might not score in bunches, but it's also hard to score on them in bunches.

However so far this season, it just seems like Islanders light or diet Islanders. They have scored two or fewer goals four times this season which is a big reason they have only won three games. They recorded back-to-back shutouts last week against the Coyotes and the struggling Golden Knights but have struggled against the better teams and teams in the Metropolitan Division. While they are only two points down on the Capitals who are in third place, no one expected the Islanders to be in seventh place at this point in the season, and they need to get out of this road trip still in striking distance.

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

The Pittsburgh Penguins were very happy to get their captain, Sidney Crosby, back in the lineup last Saturday against the New Jersey Devils. Crosby struggled in his return with a -3 rating and committed a penalty that led to the game-winning penalty shot goal for the Devils. Because he has been out for so long, it could take him some time to get back to full speed. Unfortunately, his return was short lived as he tested positive for COVID yesterday.

Crosby wasnt the only one who tested positive yesterday, Brian Dumoulin was also added to the list. They join Chad Ruhwedel and Marcus Pettersson who were added to the COVID-19 list on Tuesday. They are still without Kris Letang who is not eligible to return from the COVID-19 list until Thursday against the Flyers. This brings the total of players that have been in protocol to eight for the Penguins this season.