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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: New Jersey Devils on a 10 Game Win Streak

The Carolina Hurricanes remain in third behind the surging New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Chicago Blackhawks Kamil Krzaczynski-USA TODAY Sports

1. New Jersey Devils: 26 Points (13-3-0)

It seems like nothing is going to slow the New jersey Devils down who seem to be defying the odds in the most important position, goaltending.

The Devils lost one of their goaltender, Mackenzie Blackwood, last week due to a knee injury, then last Thursday, Vitek Vanacek left their game against the Ottawa Senators for “precautionary reasons.” This left third-string Akira Schmid to take over.

Schmid ended up stopping all seven shots to beat the Senators before earning his first start since January 31st on Saturday. Over his two appearances he has a 2-0-0 record with a .920 save percentage. Vanacek returned to the crease last night and earned a win over the Montreal Canadiens, stopping 25 of the 26 shots that he faced.

The win last night brought the Devils win streak up to 10 games. This is the first time that they have had a 10 game win streak since the 2005-06 season. They have also won 13 of their last 14, as they started the season with back-to-back losses. They are now tied for second in the NHL with the Vegas Golden Knights and are only behind the Boston Bruins in the league-wide standings.

2. New York Islanders: 22 Points (11-6-0)

This season the New York Islanders have been led by Matt Barzal and Brock Nelson who both have 18 points, but in dramatically different ways. Barzal has scored zero goals but has 18 assists which ranks third in the NHL heading into Tuesday night’s games. His 1.06 assists per game means that he is on pace to record 87 assists. This would be his best point total since he had 85 points in his rookie 2017-2018 season. His points resurgence comes at the perfect point for the Isles who just committed to an 8 year extension with a $9.1 million AAV that runs through the 2030-2031 season.

While Barzal has been leading the way with helpers, Brock Nelson leads the Islanders with nine goals. Last season Nelson scored a career high 37 goals, nine higher than any other season he has had. There were questions coming into this season whether or not that performance was an anomaly or just a snapshot of things to come. At 31 years old he was a candidate for the aging curve to start, but with nine goals in 17 games he is scoring at a 40 goal pace so far this season.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 21 Points (10-5-1)

The Carolina Hurricanes have high expectations this season so its not hard to say that a 6-4-0 record in their last 10 games is a bit of a disappointment. This has seen the Canes remain behind the two frontrunners, sitting in third place in the Metropolitan Division behind the surging New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders. While they have a game in hand on the Islanders, they are five points behind the Devils, granted there is still plenty of time to make up those points.

You can’t make the playoffs in the first eight weeks of a season, but you can miss the playoffs in that time and the Canes don’t seem to have anything to worry about in that regard.

The Canes haven’t fallen victim to trap games yet this season and recently beat the middling Chicago Blackhawks by a score of 3-0. However, what is concerning is the Canes inability to take advantage of opportunities against good teams. The Canes lost 4-1 to the Aves entirely due to their inability to score on multiple power plays. It may seem like a skipping record to bring up a struggling power play but insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

The Canes power play ranks 28th in the league with a 12.9% success rate. When you combine this with their mediocre penalty kill that ranks 17th at a 78% kill rate there isn’t much positive to take away from the Canes’ special teams. Good teams should look to have their special teams rates add up to 100% and the Canes are just at a paltry 90.9%. In comparison the San Jose Sharks who currently sit at 28th in the league standings have a 90.9% penalty kill success rate. The Canes really need to turn around their special teams play if they expect to have a special season.

4. New York Rangers: 19 Points (8-6-3)

The Rangers have great top end talent, but the questions around the team have been around their depth and young players making the next step. One player that appears to be on the cusp of making that jump is Julien Gauthier. Gauthier was originally drafted in 2016 in the first round by the Carolina Hurricanes before being traded for Joey Keane during the 2019-2020 season. Gauthier has struggled to stick with the Rangers in a meaningful role. Heading into the season he has just five goals and 12 assists for the Rangers in 91 games played.

He failed to make the team out of camp this season, but has since returned to the Rangers playing most recently on the second line with Artemi Panarin and Vincent Trocheck. In the young season he has two goals and an assist in nine games played since October 25th. While the numbers aren’t eye popping he is starting to produce at a somewhat regular pace and has cemented himself in a top six role. This has seen vets like Ryan Reaves get healthy scratched.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: 17 Points (7-6-3)

For the past two seasons no prospect had more hype for the Philadelphia Flyers than Morgan Frost. However, he has yet to find another gear in the NHL. At the end of last season he was demoted to the AHL to try to gain confidence and this year he has already been healthy scratched once. Frost has a 41.7 Corsi For percentage this season which ranks fourth to last for Flyers who have played more than 10 games. This has led to him being demoted to the third line and even finding himself taking shifts with the fourth line.

While Frost has struggled, Owen Tippett has seized his opportunity. Tippett is just 23 and is now playing on the top line with Kevin Hayes and Travis Konecny. In just 10 games played this season he has three goals and three assists. Tippett has steadily seen his icetime increase and saw a season high 20:51 on Sunday against the Dallas Stars. This could be in some part due to getting a chance on the top powerplay unit.

6. Washington Capitals: 16 Points (7-9-2)

The Washington Capitals made two acquisitions during the season by signing Sonny Milano and claiming Nicola Aube-Kubel off of waivers. In Aube-Kubel’s third game with his new club, he earned a match penalty and was suspended for three games for a bad hit on the Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Cal Foote. With the injury news the Caps have, the last thing they needed was careless and dangerous plays to take out more of their players.

On the bright side, Sonny Milano was moved up to the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov last night in their game against the Florida Panthers. While the forward did not earn a point in a 5-2 loss, he has recorded two goals and two assists in six games played with the Caps. The Caps took a swing, signing Milano to a one-way contract that guaranteed him $750k regardless of if he was in the AHL or NHL, and the depth scoring addition certainly seems to be earning dividends for the Caps.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins: 15 Points (6-7-3)

The Pittsburgh Penguins lost 5-4 in overtime to the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. In the postgame media huddle starting goaltender Tristan Jarry made comments that he is dealing with some injuries which have impacted his play. He was quoted, “That’s obviously affected my playing. I’m trying to get back to 100% healthy. I’m trying to do everything I can. I think that’s what affected it.”

Head coach Mike Sullivan was asked about Jarry’s status and he downplayed any possible ailments and said he has no plans to limit Jarry moving forward.

Actions speak louder than words though and even after multiple days of rest, the Penguins started Casey DeSmith against the Toronto Maple Leafs. With all the Leafs skill, one would assume it would be ideal to have a starter in the crease over a backup. DeSmith didn’t fare well against the Leafs in a 5-2 loss that saw him let up four goals on 32 shots. The game also saw the Leafs goaltender and former Penguin Matt Murray earn his first win of the season.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 11 Points (5-9-1)

The injury bug has been going around the Metropolitan Division but no one has had it worse than the Columbus Blue Jackets over the last week. They lost their top defensive pair on Thursday with Zach Werenski out for the season with a separated shoulder and torn labrum and his partner Nick Blankenburg is out 6-8 weeks with a fractured ankle. Then on Friday, both Sean Kuraly and Jakub Voracek were added to the IR. The team then also announced on Monday that Patrik Laine will miss 3-4 weeks with a sprained ankle.

And to top it all off, both starting goaltender Elvis Merzlikins and former Canes defenseman Jake Bean each left last nights game with injuries.

The Blue Jackets currently sit tied for last place and have only played two games since losing their entire top pairing. They are not going to be rising up the standings any time soon. It certainly looks like the Metropolitan Division is in line to have another huge first overall pick in the division. The toughest part for the organization now is staying positive with a young team but not having them get used to losing.