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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Carolina Hurricanes Slip to Third in the Metro

The Devils and Islanders rose to the top of the division, but the Canes still have games in hand over both.

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. New Jersey Devils 20 Points: (10-3-0)

The New Jersey Devils will be without goaltender McKenzie Blackwood for the next 3-6 weeks. The goalie suffered a sprained MCL last week in their 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers. Vitek Vanacek will now have to carry the majority of the load between the pipes. The loss for the Devils won’t be a huge one for them though. Both Blackwood and Vanacek have sub .900 save percentages and negative goals saved above average. However, Vanacek has saved 0.42 goals above expected more than Blackwood. The goalies had had an even split of starts, but now that Akira Schmid has been called up to back up Vanacek, it should lean more towards the Czech netminder.

The Devils are similar to the Hurricanes in the fact that they aren’t getting great goaltending but are allowing such few shots and scoring more than enough to make up for it. The Devils lead the league with an average of 23.8 shots against per game which is 1.9 fewer shots than the second place Canes. The Devils offense has been firing on all cylinders, scoring 3.64 goals per game. They are the most fun team to watch right now because they are never out of a game and viewers are guaranteed to see plenty of goals.

2. New York Islanders: 18 Points (9-5-0)

The Islanders have to be happy about coming back from a two goal deficit to beat their cross-city rivals, the New York Rangers. The Isles have been a hot team as of late but when looking at their performances you can see that it may not be sustainable. The Islanders 103.3 PDO means that they will have to come back to Earth at some point. What has fueled this has been their 10.3% even strength shooting percentage and Illya Sorokin who has looked great with a .933 GAA this season which ranks as the sixth best goaltender in the league.

The Islanders were without Cal Clutterbuck in their game against the Rangers, who left the Islanders’ game Monday against the Calgary Flames. Clutterbuck has been an energy guy for the Isles and leads the team with 53 hits despite missing time this season.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 17 Points (8-3-1)

If there has been one weak spot in the Carolina Hurricanes this year it has been the goaltending. While it might seem like a recency bias after the loss against the Toronto Maple Leafs, it has been an issue all season long. The Canes are the second best team at limiting shots in the league, allowing just 25.7 shots per game but their 0.912 even strength team save percentage ranks just 21st.

Now looking at the goalies’ performances, there’s always the question of the quality of chances that are being let up. If the Canes let up 25.7 shots but they are mainly high danger, you would expect the save percentage to be lower. However, the Canes 93 high danger chances against is the fifth best in the league and the Canes also rank sixth in high danger chance save percentage. Carolina also leads the league in limiting scoring chances, letting up 14 less chances than the second place Florida Panthers.

The Canes are limiting all types of chances and the goalies are saving the high danger ones at a better rate than most. However, Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta rank 28th and 45th in save percentage among goalies who have logged over 120 minutes of ice time respectively. Both goalies also have negative goals saved above average meaning they are playing below replacement level right now. The Canes offense has been able to overcome these shortfalls, but if they want to make a real playoff run they are going to have to get more out of the goalies.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: 16 Points (7-3-2)

Two years ago the Philadelphia Flyers made one of the most head scratching moves by trading for Rasmus Ristolainen and then extending him for five years with a $5.1 million AAV. Ristolainen has consistently been one of the worst possession defensemen in the league.

While he has missed some time to injury, he has played eight games this season and the stats have not changed. Through his eight games, he has racked up a 23.85% Corsi For and a 16.42% expected goals for rate. Both are at the bottom of the barrel for the Flyers.

While the previous regime was happy to play him in the top four despite his underlying numbers, Ristolainen has firmly cemented himself in new head coach John Tortorella’s dog house, already starting to be healthy scratched. His play drew these comments from Tortorella, “He’s going to get another crack at it. But in everything about his game, I think he needs to be better.” His spot in the lineup now is not confirmed on a nightly basis and with a $25 million contract, the Flyers aren’t going to have a ton of options if he further falls out of favor.

5. New York Rangers: 15 Points (6-5-3)

The New York Rangers are the Bizarro version of the Rangers from last season. Last season they had bad possession numbers but relied on historic goaltending to propel them to the playoffs. This season the Rangers are a top five team in possession with a 54% Corsi but sit at fifth in the Metropolitan Division. Igor Shesterkin led all NHL goalies last season in goals saved above expected, but so far this year ranks just 25th with 0.77 goals saved above expected.

What advanced stats say about the Rangers is that they are very unlucky. With just a 972 PDO they rank fifth to last in the NHL. They will see a bounce back and it should be expected to see them rise through the ranks as they regress to the mean. The biggest issue for the Ranges has been their poor even strength shooting percentage at just 6.6% which ranks 29th in the league. Don’t be surprised if they tear off a double digit winning streak at some point this season.

6. Washington Capitals: 14 Points (6-6-2)

In this week’s version of the Washington Capitals injury report, Defenseman Dimitri Orlov has been added as “day-to-day.” The addition of Orlov to the injury report brings the total up to seven players. This time last week John Carlson was listed as day-to-day but was moved to IR on Thursday. To replace the missing pieces the Caps called up Sonny Milano who was signed last month and also claimed Nicolas Aube-Kubel off of waivers from the Toronto Maple Leafs.

One player that is still going strong for the Caps is Alex Ovechkin who scored his 787th goal on Saturday to pass Gordie Howe for the most goals scored with a single franchise. He added another on Monday in the Caps win over the Edmonton Oilers. His eight goals on the season ties him for sixth most in the NHL this season.

7. Pittsburgh Penguins: 10 Points (4-6-2)

The Pittsburgh Penguins have now lost seven games in a row to go from the top of the division to seventh place in the Metropolitan Division. This is the first seven-game losing streak for the Penguins since the 2005-06 season which predates the Penguins drafting Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. The Penguins don’t have many options to recover either. They are only missing Teddy Bleuger and have just $5k in cap space. Heading into the season they just gave head coach Mike Sullivan a contract extension through the 2026-27 season.

The Penguins defense is one of the biggest factors of their downfall. Their top pairing of Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang are both bottom five in the team in possession with 48% Corsi. This is despite a 53% offensive zone start percentage, which rank second and third for defenseman on the Penguins. Both also have a sub 50% GF which also ranks bottom two on the team for defensemen. The Penguins really miss the defensive defenseman in John Marino, and may have to look to shuffle the paintings to find success.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 6 Points (3-9-0)

The Columbus Blue Jackets straight up did not have a good time in Finland. They lost their two games against the Avalanche by a combined score of 11-5. Friday’s 6-3 loss was a little closer than their 5-1 loss on Saturday. These two losses now bring the Blue Jackets losing streak to five games. In those five games, they haven’t held a lead at any point which adds up to 300 minutes without a lead at any point. The losing streak also brings their record down to 3-9-0 which is the third worst start in franchise history. As a reference, their first season as an expansion team they went 3-8-1.

The one piece of good news for Columbus is they finally scored on the power play. Heading to Finland and through 10 games the Blue Jackets had not scored on the man advantage. Now they have power play goals in each of their last two games. Patrik Laine was also able to get a bit out of the starting gates he stumbled out of in Finland scoring his first goal since returning from injury. Getting Laine and Johnny Gaudreau going at the same time should see big results for a struggling Columbus. They look to end their losing streak against the Flyers tomorrow.