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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Carolina Hurricanes Regain Top Position with Games in Hand

The Canes are tied with the New York Rangers, but have played three less games than New York. The two play on Friday.

NHL: Player Headshots 2022 James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 54 Points (26-8-2)

The Carolina Hurricanes recovered from a bad loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets with two good wins. The Canes got good news getting Jaccob Slavin back before Tuesday night’s game. His losses this season have proven to be the hardest for the team to overcome this season. Martin Necas sat out last night’s game and the team was still able to put up a touchdown against the Bruins. Meanwhile, against two struggling teams the Canes were only able to go 1-1-0 without Slavin.

It is common for fans to say that the Canes are overlooked in the league, but it was great to see both Sebastian Aho and Frederick Andersen were named to the Metropolitan Division All-Star team. This was also without Sidney Crosby announced. The league is taking note of the skill in Raleigh, and it is worth noting when the Canes are aptly represented. It’s easy to play the victim card, but let's have fun this time and realize the Canes almost had three players in the All-Star game when the team requires at least one representative from each team.

2. New York Rangers: 54 Points (25-10-4)

The New York Rangers have not missed a beat since losing multiple players and their head coach to COVID protocols and have a 6-3-1 record in their last 10 games. The Rangers have shown great flexibility with the lineup ever-changing, including losing Igor Shesterkin, Artemi Panarin, and Barclay Goodrow during this time. Now they will have the reverse issue of trying to get everyone back into the lineup all at the same time as they are finally expecting to have a full roster against the Toronto Maple Leafs Wednesday.

Heading into the game it will be interesting to see where Lafreniere will slot back in. The former first overall pick has struggled to make the impact he was originally thought to bring to the blue shirts. He has just 20 goals in 97 career games but was starting to make an impact on the roster including a two-point game on Jan. 3. Now the big decision point will be if he comes in on the second line or the third line and see if he can be in the top six in a fully healthy roster.

3. Washington Capitals: 53 Points (22-9-9)

Alex Ovechkin’s ability to keep putting up these goal numbers every year is truly remarkable. Every season it seems like everyone expects one thing, for the aging curves to finally catch up to the Caps and Penguins. Ovi has remained undefeated. In just 40 games, his 27 goals already surpassed his goal total from last season. He is scoring at .66 goals per game pace, which would mean that over 82 games he is projected to score 55 goals. That would be the most he has scored since the 2008-2009 season when he scored 56. He could have 55-goal seasons 13 years apart.

The Caps have four players with 10 or more goals this season and have combined for 127 goals this season which ranks seventh in the league. The preposterous thing about Ovi is that his 26 goals account for 20% of the total offense for the Caps and even in this season at 36 years old. The Athletic projects that his market value would actually be $14.1 million almost five million more than his current $9.5 AAV.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 51 Points (23-10-5)

The Pittsburgh Penguins were happy to see Jason Zucker’s return to the lineup brought instant impact. He scored two goals in a comeback 5-3 win against the Vegas Golden Knights. Zucker scored one even strength and one powerplay goal. His boost to the second powerplay unit is great news for the Pens who have the 21st ranked powerplay unit in the league with an 18.1% success rate. It may be the only dark spot in a red-hot Penguins play right now that are 8-2-0 in their last 10 games which have seen them threaten the Caps for third place in the Metro.

When the NHL announced the last man in for the All-Star Game, the Penguins got their second player into the exhibition weekend. Jake Guentzel will join Tristan Jarry as Penguins' representatives. Guentzel had to be the most deserving player to get into the All-Star game as his 20 goals tie him for ninth in the NHL for goal scoring which ties the now biggest snub Brad Marchand. However, Guentzel has played on a team that has been without both of their best players for a significant portion of the season and was still able to score at this rate.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 35 Points (17-18-1)

The Blue Jackets followed up their 6-0 win against the Hurricanes last week with a 9-2 loss to the Florida Panthers last weekend. That sums up the Blue Jackets season really well. They have just lacked consistency on a night in and night out basis. To be fair, that is common with younger teams and is something that many Canes fans can relate to. They are showing that they have to talent to hang with good teams, but they are finding ways to lose more games than vice versa. The other game was against the Canes where they gave up seven straight goals to lose after a four-goal lead.

For the Blue Jackets, this has to make them feel closer to competing than they thought they would be starting the season. The Blue Jackets' plans last offseason was to start a rebuild and they moved players to start accumulating future assets. They will stay the course and sell at the deadline, but they certainly look like a team that has a solid core to build around. The way that management has strategized the last few seasons have them as the anti-Flyers who have refused any attempts at a long rebuild despite having a terrible roster.

6. Philadelphia Flyers: 34 Points (13-18-8)

The Philadelphia Flyers have been one of the worst teams in 2022 with just one point since the turn of the calendar with an 0-7-1 record in eight games played. The losing streak extends back to December with the Flyers last winning a game on 12/29 in Seattle. The Flyers have not been able to put together any offense. In 2022 they currently rank third to last with just 2.0 goals for per game. It’s impossible to win on a consistent basis with just two goals per game. They were hit with COVID but have had most of their players back the last week and a half.

Now after their most recent loss to the New York Islanders, the Flyers' chances to make the playoffs sits at just 0.8% according to moneypuck. With an organization that has refused to rebuild and was set back from the Ron Hextall years of drafting, the Flyers will have a long road ahead of them to field a competitive team. The main question facing the team is whether or not they will have a full teardown at the trade deadline.

7. New Jersey Devils: 33 Points (14-18-5)

Jack Hughes will represent the New Jersey Devils at the 2022 NHL All-Star game. Hughes missed time this season with an injury but did not miss a step when he returned. He has scored 9 goals and 11 assists in 20 games. The Devils have had contributions from all around their lineup with six players at the 20 point mark or above. Hughes’ scoring rate at a point per game does lead the team.

The Devils must be surprised to have a balanced attack this season. They struggled to produce offensively outside of Nico Hischier and Hughes. This season they rank 17th with 2.86 goals for per game. Their main issue this season has been defense where they are seventh-worst in the league with 3.38 goals against per game. This seems counterintuitive since their biggest free-agent signing in years was Dougie Hamilton to solidify the top end of the defense. So far that hasn’t been the case.

8. New York Islanders: 32 Points (13-13-6)

The toughest thing around the New York Islanders is trying to compare them to the rest of the division. Even with the COVID stoppages this season, they have played four fewer games than any other team in the division. The Islanders have won two of their last three games and again have their game tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets postponed due to a previous game being postponed.

The good news is the Islanders winning two of their last three games is seeing them climb back up the standings to see them just two points behind the Flyers for sixth place with five games in hand. The Islanders still have the fifth-best chance to make the playoffs in the Metro with a 5.3% chance according to Moneypuck. This is over the Flyers, Devils, and Blue Jackets. The Isles close out this month with six straight home games which could lead to their chances being greatly increased.