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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: The League Returns

The NHL has returned to playing games after a pause due to rising COVID cases. The top of the Metro sees continued success.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

1. New York Rangers: 48 Points (22-8-4)

The Rangers currently sit at the top of the division after winning three straight, which included two straight wins over the Tampa Bay Lightning. They ended Monday as the top team in the league above the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes, who round out the top three. This has highlighted the fact that the Metro has once again been the dominant division in the league. The top three teams in the division have absolutely feasted on the Atlantic Division with a combined record of 24-6-3, with the Rangers leading the way with a 10-2-0 record.

The Rangers' recent success has come without their best player Artemi Panarin, who has been forced to miss three games while in COVID protocol. Panarin is eligible to return Saturday against the Anaheim Ducks. Since the return from the break, Mika Zibanejad has been playing like a first-line center again with five points in four games including a hat trick against the Lightning on Sunday. Second-year player Alexis Lafreniere has also picked up his play with three points in their last three games with a goal and an assist against the Oilers on Monday. That was his second multi-point game this season and his first since October 21.

2. Washington Capitals: 48 Points (20-6-8)

With an overtime loss against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday, the Caps have now lost their league-leading eighth overtime game of the year. The Capitals have played in 10 games requiring extra time and have a 2-8 record in those games. Both wins came in a shootout with no wins coming in the three-on-three portion of overtime. This is confusing for a team with top-end talent and a lack of forward depth. Overtime normally benefits teams with more skill and creativity with extra space, but that hasn’t been the case this year for Washington.

Last week on New Year’s Eve, Alex Ovechkin scored his 275th career power-play goal in Detroit against the Red Wings. He now stands in first place passing Dave Andreychuck. The next milestone for Ovechkin to pass is Jaromir Jagr’s 766 goals. Ovi is just 13 goals from passing the Czech legend for third place all-time in NHL goals. He now also sits 140 goals behind Wayne Gretzky for the all-time record.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 47 Points (23-7-1)

The Carolina Hurricanes have won both of their games since returning from the league-wide COVID break around Christmas. Last Saturday’s game marked the first time the Canes had their top-nine and full defense back since November, and it showed just how dangerous the team can really be. The Canes have now scored 11 goals in their last two games but are off until Friday when they open a back-to-back against the Calgary Flames and Florida Panthers. Both teams currently sit in playoff positions in their respective conferences.

The Canes have done a great job of stopping and starting their season without much lag time. In previous seasons, teams struggled with too much time off and their bye weeks, but the Canes have been consistent all season. This is in large part due to playing for a Rod Brind’Amour coached team that never lacks purpose, but there are always the occasional games with a lack of urgency that they limited this season. They have won both of their games this season coming off of postponed games by a combined 9-3 score.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: 41 Points (18-8-5)

The Pittsburgh Penguins have played just one game since the league shut down. They returned last Sunday against the San Jose Sharks that was almost as crazy as the Canes' seven unanswered goals. They won 8-5 and were up 6-1 after the first period. The Sharks were able to come back to make it a 6-5 game before the Pens were able to put it away with two late goals. The game also featured two Penguins hat-tricks with both Bryan Rust and Evan Rodrigues scoring three goals. Rodrigues now has 13 goals on the season which is second on the team only behind Jake Guentzel who has 16 goals. The win extended the Penguins' win streak to eight games which dates back to Dec. 4.

Looking ahead, Pittsburgh has a back-to-back starting tonight and will kick off a six-game road trip on Thursday. It looks that Tristan Jarry is nearing a return from COVID at the perfect time for the team. The starting goaltender returned to practice yesterday and should be able to return in one of these back-to-back games. This is also big for the Pens to avoid having a lengthy period of Casey DeSmith starts, as DeSmith has been one of the bottom goaltenders in the league this season.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 32 Points (13-13-6)

Heading into Tuesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks, the Flyers got some bad news. Claude Giroux and Ivan Provorov were entered into COVID protocol meaning the Flyers would be without their top center and a top-pairing defenseman which they were unable to overcome. This was the first game in Provorov’s career that he has missed in his six-season career. His consecutive game streak came to an end at 403. It’s a shame that it came to an end this way, but it is also impressive that he made it through the last two seasons without entering protocol.

The loss of Giroux and Provorov could not have come at a worse time. They were already slumping with a 1-1-1 record heading into last night’s game. Now with another loss, they sit four points behind the Bruins for the final wild-card position despite having played four more games than Boston. They now have a 5-4-2 record since Mike Yeo has taken over coaching duties.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 31 Points (15-15-1)

It’s never good when you let up seven goals in consecutive games, but that’s exactly what the Columbus Blue Jackets have done. This isn’t all on team defense, the Blue Jackets have had to use three different goaltenders in the last two games due to injuries to Daniil Tarasov and Elvis Merzlikins. Last night Columbus started Joonas Korpisalo who has been the worst-performing goalie for Columbus this season with a 3-5-0 record and a .881 sv%. Tarasov looked very impressive in his start against the Hurricanes stopping 31 of 33 shots faced through two periods and that hasn’t been a one-off performance for him. In four games he has only let in seven goals on 111 shots faced for a team-high .937 sv%.

A piece of good news for the Blue Jackets, they got their star winger, Patrik Laine, back from injury. Laine returned to the lineup last Thursday and has now played in three straight games. He didn’t take long to make his return felt, as he scored in his first game back against the Nashville Predators. Laine brings back his dynamic play and looked dangerous against the Canes last weekend without breaking through on the score sheet. The one-piece to look at with him is his declining ice time which has been reduced by two minutes in each of the last two games from 21:57 down to 16:58 in the most recent game.

7. New Jersey Devils: 31 Points (13-16-5)

The New Jersey Devils have been hit with a huge bout of bad luck. Dougie Hamilton has a broken jaw which requires surgery, which is scheduled for today. Captain Nico Hischier missed last night’s game with a lower-body injury. Jonathan Bernier is also out for the season with hip surgery which often takes more than a season to come back from. On the COVID front, they also added two players to protocol: Yegor Sharangovich and Pavel Zacha. Sharangovich is not an everyday name but has had five points in the last four games.

To summarize, the Devils are without their captain/top center, their top defenseman, three of their top seven goal scorers, and their highest performing goalie. All of this comes right when the Devils have been hot, winning their first three games after the COVID pause. They were unable to overcome the roster losses to continue their winning streak against the Boston Bruins. The Devils hung in the game much longer than expected, so they have the chance to right the ship against the struggling Blue Jackets in their next two games.

8. New York Islanders: 26 Points (10-12-6)

The Islanders have only played two games since the league resumed play. Their four-game west coast road trip was postponed due to being in Canada. This has now brought their total to 10 postponed games. Games taking place in Canada have been postponed due to attendance restrictions put in place because of rising COVID cases. Some Canadian teams have still played road games against US opponents and there was also a Maple Leafs game played in an empty stadium for TV reasons.

With just 28 games played, they have played the fewest games this season. With the Olympics being canceled games will now be played between Feb 6 and Feb 22. That would mean that the Isles should be able to get six or seven games in the just over two-week span which should help prevent a traffic jam in their schedule late in the year. The Isles are not scheduled to play again until next Thursday when they open a five-game homestand against the New Jersey Devils.