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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Pittsburgh Penguins jump two teams to move to second

The Washington Capitals fall to fourth and the Canes inactivity saw them drop to third place in the Metro.

NHL: Vegas Golden Knights at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. New York Rangers: 60 Points (28-11-4)

The New York Rangers are set to be without young winger Kaapo Kakko for an extended period of time. Just before Saturday’s game against the Arizona Coyotes, he was a late scratch and is now listed as week-to-week on injured reserve. Kakko apparently suffered an upper-body injury some time ago that has been lingering. The Rangers expect he could be out through the All-Star break. They are also without Filip Chytil who suffered a lower-body injury against the Coyotes and is listed as day-to-day.

Rangers’ forward Chris Kreider was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week last week. He had five goals and two assists in just three games. He also had a goal in Monday’s game against the Los Angeles Kings which brings his active goal streak up to six games. Monday’s goal came on the man advantage to bring his power-play goal total up to 15, which leads the NHL. Now just 43 games into the season he has 30 goals which is two more than his previous career-best season.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 59 Points (27-10-5)

The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the hottest team over the last two months losing just three times since the start of December. They now have a record of 17-3-0 in their last 20 games which have seen them rocket up the standings from fourth place to second in the Metropolitan Division. The Penguins have really been able to lean on Tristan Jarry who has been consistently exceptional this season with a 2.09 GAA and .928 save percentage both ranking in the top three in the NHL. On top of that, they have a top-10 goal scorer in the league in Jake Guentzel which gives them a balanced team.

The Penguins are going to be without center Teddy Blueger for six to eight weeks with a broken jaw. The injury occurred in Sunday’s game against the Winnipeg Jets on a hit delivered by Brendan Dillon. Blueger isn’t the flashiest player, but he plays a shutdown role on a line with Zach Aston-Reese and Brock McGinn. He also centers the top penalty kill unit for Pittsburgh that is the top team in a league on the kill.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 58 Points (28-9-2)

The Carolina Hurricanes may have won last night but the real loser is the lineup. Ethan Bear was a healthy scratch again and hasn’t played since January 13th. Bear has been replaced by Brendan Smith who started the year as the seventh defenseman. Brind’Amour was asked about the lineup and said that he wants to keep a winning lineup in place. The problem is he has this record with young offensive-minded defensemen.

The same thing that he is doing to Bear is what he did to both Haydn Fleury and Jake Bean. Fleury played top-four minutes with the Anaheim Ducks last season before getting Dave Hakstol’ed this year. Meanwhile, Bean is playing on the top pairing for the Columbus Blue Jackets with Zach Werenski. The problem this year is magnified because Smith is the worst defenseman that has been played over the others. Jani Hakanpaa and both Joel Edmundsson had the merit to be in the lineup, Smith does not.

Smith was caught completely flatfooted and out of position Tuesday night in a goal against. He was also out for a goal against in the Devils game last weekend. Bear ranks better in both Corsi and goals for percentage than Smith. He also can provide on the offensive side with his seven points to Smith’s four. All around he has a much better ceiling and a much higher floor from both the analytics and eye test perspectives.

4. Washington Capitals: 55 Points (23-11-9)

The Washington Capitals have struggled to find the back of the net at even strength which has led to their 4-5-2 record in their last 11 games. In this time span, they rank 24th in the league with just 2.43 goals for per game. One would tend to think that it wouldn’t be an issue because the Caps have Alex Ovechkin and a deadly powerplay, but in reality, they rank 29th in the league with a 14.8% success rate. When a team has success on the power play it can really cover up for weaknesses, but the Caps are seeing what happens when you don’t have that luxury.

The Caps have had battles with injuries, but it seems very odd that goals would dry up when they got Backstrom and T.J. Oshie in the lineup together. The Caps are still without Anthony Mantha who was injured in November with a shoulder injury that required surgery. Mantha’s absence does open up interesting possibilities at the trade deadline his $5.2 million AAV has been on LTIR and with a possibly lengthy rehab, he could pull a Nikita Kucherov and sit out until the playoffs affording even more flexibility to the Caps that will need to add at the deadline to make a deep run.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 37 Points (18-20-1)

There are plenty of teams that are interested in trading for Arizona Coyotes defenseman Jakob Chychrun. This week the Columbus Blue Jackets have also thrown their name in the ring to land the 23-year old. This seems odd for a team that is not contending to look at Chychrun, but he is signed for three more seasons. This isn’t a rental, it’s a full-on hockey trade and the Blue Jackets could have the upper hand. Arizona wants a first-round pick, a player, and a prospect and Columbus is in a great spot to offer all three.

First, they will have a more preferable first-round pick because it will be earlier than the contending teams. The Blue Jackets also have two first-round picks from the trade that sent Seth Jones to Chicago. The Blue Jackets have also been active in trading over the last few seasons which has led to them stocking their franchise with young players and prospects in a very rapid fashion. Now they can use these assets without much of an impact to obtain a young high caliber defenseman.

6. New York Islanders: 36 Points (15-14-6)

The New York Islanders have the second most games rescheduled due to COVID at 13, just one fewer than the Ottawa Senators. The Isles will have 11 games in February, one more than the Canes have scheduled in February. While most teams are either playing for seeding or draft picks at this point, there is still plenty to play for on Long Island. According to MoneyPuck their chances to make the playoffs have increased to 13.6%.

They are the only team in the Eastern Conference that falls between a 0% and 90% chance to make the playoffs and doesn’t have their fate mostly determined. The next two months will determine their strategy at the trade deadline. In a season they were expecting to challenge for a Stanley Cup they could become real sellers which could advance re-tooling an aging lineup that has five pending UFAs which includes alternate captain Cal Clutterbuck.

7. New Jersey Devils: 35 Points (15-21-5)

The New Jersey Devils have now dropped five of their last six games only winning against the Carolina Hurricanes last weekend. The Devils have let up three or more goals in each of their last six games. The Devils have had issues with goaltending, starting fourth-string goaltender, Akira Schmid. Schmid ended up letting up three goals on seven shots before being pulled during the first intermission. He was replaced by Jon Gillies who ended up stopping 23 of 24 of the shots he faced.

Jesper Bratt scored the lone Devils goal last night. That extended his goal streak to three games and his point streak to six games. In this six-game streak, he has five goals and three assists. He now has 14 goals and 23 assists in 38 games. This is just one goal shy of his career-best and he has already surpassed his career-best points. This is a fantastic development from the Devils who need their young players and prospects to hit the next level in order to compete in the long term. Bratt is showing that he can be a top-six winger goes a long way in advancing the Devils rebuild.

8. Philadelphia Flyers: 34 Points (13-22-8)

The Flyers now have two losing streaks of at least 10 games this season. This marks the first time since 2011 that a team has had two such losing streaks in the same season when the Colorado Avalanche accomplished the dubious feat. The Flyers were able to accomplish this in just 40 games, not even halfway through the season. This is the earliest a team has had two streaks since the Ottawa Senators only needed 38 games in their inaugural season to lose 10 games in a row twice.

Elliotte Friedman reported on the 32 Thoughts the Podcast on Monday that Chuck Fletcher is planning to have a state of the franchise press conference this week. This could set in motion the rebuild they have been avoiding for years. It has also been reported that the Maple Leafs have made a serious offer for captain Claude Giroux. Giroux has spent the last 15 years in Philadelphia but is in the final season of an eight-year $66.2 million deal.