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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Three Losing Streaks Solidify the Basement

With the Devils, Flyers and Islanders struggling, there is separation between the contenders and the pretenders.

NHL: Buffalo Sabres at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Washington Capitals: 38 Points (16-4-6)

The Washington Capitals defeated the Anaheim Ducks in a shootout on Monday, which was their first overtime or shootout win of the season. Before this, they were 0 for 5 in overtime and 0-1 in shootouts. The Caps are also happy to have T.J. Oshie back. The forward has played consecutive games for the first time since October. He recorded an assist on Monday which was his first point since Nov. 20 against the San Jose Sharks. His return bolsters the Caps' top six which has been extremely thin this season.

More positive news for the Caps on the injury front, both Nicklas Backstrom and Connor Sheary have been cleared for contact and have rejoined team practices. Backstrom is still recovering from a hip injury that bothered him during the playoffs last season. Backstrom declined to have surgery and opted for rehab and has yet to play this season. He previously had hip surgery in 2015 and hadn’t had any issues until this offseason.

2. New York Rangers: 37 Points (17-4-3)

The Rangers are without starting goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who is currently on IR but is likely to only miss two more games. Shesterkin has appeared to carry the Rangers this season and has emerged as the Vezina Trophy favorite early into the season. Backup Alexandar Georgiev has struggled this season with a .876 sv% and a 3.58 GAA in six starts. Tuesday night he performed admirably for the Rangers with a .926 sv% stopping 25 of the 27 shots he faced to earn his third win of the season. Any win with Shesterkin out is going to be a big success for the team.

The other big news out of last night’s game was Jacob Trouba’s hit on Jujhar Khaira, which knocked out the Chicago Blackhawks player before he hit the ice. No penalty was called on the ice outside of the fights that broke out after the hit so it's time to spin the wheel of punishment at the Department of Player Safety. If it's like Connor McDavid’s and Vincent Trocheck’s are going to draw major penalties, which they should if there is violent contact to a player’s numbers, you have to call a penalty here. When the point of contact is the head, even when a player’s head is down, there should be a penalty. The NHL is looking at these hits like the NCAA looks at targeting.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 35 points (17-6-1)

The Carolina Hurricanes have now won two games in a row for the first time since Nov. 20, when they beat the Los Angeles Kings. The Canes struggled with the loss of three starting defensemen to COVID but have looked much better with Ethan Bear returning. While the Canes still miss Brett Pesce and Tony DeAngelo, Jalen Chatfield and Maxime Lajoie have emerged as capable NHL defensemen. While both deserve to have more ice time than a seventh defenseman there should be no reason either of these guys rides pine while Brendan Smith plays regular time.

Lajoie and Chatfield are the top possession defensemen this season each having a 66% Corsi. Yes, they have the smallest sample size, but if they didn’t fit in at the NHL level they would be getting picked apart. Brendan Smith ranks sixth on the team in Corsi with 56.1%. Lajoie and Chatfield are both top three in goals for with 66.66% and 75% goals for respectively. Looking past the analytics, they’re faster and more dynamic. Smith’s shortcomings also showed themselves on the second goal against which was on the penalty kill where he was in no man's land while Pierre-Luc Dubois was able to go between the legs deflection to tie the game.

The other area where it is apparent is speed. There was a moment in the last game where Smith had a shot blocked and had a head start down the ice and was almost beaten by a Jets player for a breakaway. This was something that also happened in the Ottawa Senators loss. Smith does bring a great physical play to the team and the locker room really seems to love his presence. He should be with the team, but he should be played sparingly. There’s no need to take either Chatfield or Lajoie out of the lineup for him unless there is a back-to-back scenario. Regardless of the callups this season he should play the seventh defenseman role.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 29 Points (12-8-5)

Jake Guentzel has continued his great season and was named the NHL’s Third Star of the Week. The forward has a 13-game point streak that includes 12 goals and seven assists. The 13-game point streak is the longest for the Penguins since Pascal Dupuis had a 17-game streak in the 2011-2012 season. His 27 points are the most on the Penguins with Evan Rodrigues sitting nine points behind him for second place. Only one forward plays more minutes than Guenzel, Sidney Crosby.

Two players who have struggled this season are Jason Zucker and Casey DeSmith. DeSmith played in his fifth game of the season Monday against the Seattle Kraken. He earned his first win of the season, and it was the first time that he let in under three goals this season. Heading into the game his 4.32 GAA was the bottom 10 in the league. Zucker has played on the second line all season but has struggled to produce consistently. He earned his first point in seven games with an assist in Seattle which marks his 10th point in 24 games.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 26 Points (13-11-0)

Most of the reactions to the Seth Jones trade this offseason centered around the draft picks in the deal, but 21-year old defenseman Adam Boqvist was also sent to Columbus. Already just 17 games into the season he has already set his career-best in goals with six, already two more than his other seasons. His nine points are on pace to set his career-high points which was last season with 16 points in 35 games with the Blackhawks. His six goals are fourth in the NHL and the best on the team.

Boqvist has two multi-goal games in the last six that he has played. He is doing this while playing sheltered minutes with 62.7% offensive zone starts. However, it’s not just all on offense. He is leading the team in both Corsi with 51% and relative Corsi at 7.0. He looks comfortable in the system, and he should make strides to move up the lineup when an opportunity arises.

6. New Jersey Devils: 23 Points (9-9-5)

Reality may be starting to set in for the New Jersey Devils, who have now lost their fourth game in a row and have a 2-6-3 record in their last 11 games. After an offseason that saw them make key signings, the Devils had aspirations to compete for a playoff position but sit six points out of the second wild-card position in the Eastern Conference with an uphill battle ahead. This isn’t a bad position for the Devils who are making strides to get out of the basement of the league, they will just need time for their younger players to develop in a competitive environment.

The Devils made their splash eight-year signing of Jack Hughes last week and their captain Nico Hischier is just 22-years old. This season has also seen the emergence of rookie Dalton Mercer whose six goals and 14 points both rank fifth in the league for rookies. Mercer has been centering the third line which means that Michael McLeod at 23-years old is the oldest center on the Devils. They have a great young formation but lack depth and defense to really have them ready to compete night in and night out.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 20 Points (8-11-4)

After losing an eighth game in a row, the Philadelphia Flyers fired head coach Alain Vigneault Sunday night. The move also means that assistant coach and former St Louis Blues head coach Mike Yeo has been named the interim head coach. The move didn’t make an immediate impact as the Flyers lost Monday by a score of 7-4 which also marked the second straight game that they let up seven goals. The nine-game losing streak has pushed them to seventh in the division only ahead of the New York Islanders who have played three fewer games.

Philadelphia came into the season with lofty goals and expectations to not just make the playoffs but contend for a Stanley Cup. Now they look like the Eastern Conference’s version of the Vancouver Canucks and will have some tough decisions to make moving forward. Ownership and upper management have been very impatient which led to the firing of a GM and coaches. Will they finally bite the bullet and acknowledge that it's time for a rebuild.

8. New York Islanders: 17 Points (6-10-5)

The postponement of three games for the New York Islanders was to stop the ongoing outbreak in the team. However, it could have also been an opportunity for the Islanders to stop their eight-game skid. However, that has not been the case. They lost 11 games in a row before beating the Ottawa Senators last night. They now have a 1-6-3 record in their last 10 games.

The toughest part about their slump is the fact it's not just one thing. The Islanders don’t have an easy answer for getting right. They have had a long road trip to start the season that was marked with a COVID outbreak and a couple of key injuries. They have had zero consistency in the lineup and even now without the COVID losses, they are still without key pieces in Ryan Pulock, and Brock Nelson. they need time to gel as a group and actually start to build momentum, just look at the Penguins. It took them a couple of games to get moving after they fully recovered from early injuries/COVID. They hope that the win against the Senators can be a real turning point in the season.