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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Everyone Up and Running After All-Star Break

The New York Rangers were the final team to get back to the ice after the All-Star Break and now every Metro team has started the back half of the season.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Minnesota Wild Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: 70 Points (31-11-8)

The Penguins are going to be without their assistant coach Todd Reirden, who had to have knee surgery on Monday. The former Washington Capitals head coach slipped on ice while trying to shovel his car out and there is currently no scheduled return date. Reirden is in charge of the power play which as of late has been firing on all cylinders scoring 18 power-play goals in the last 18 games for a league-leading 31.6% conversion rate in 2022. Former Charlotte Checkers head coach, Mike Vellucci will take over and newly added staff member Matt Cullen will also help in Reirden’s absence.

Captain Sydney Crosby scored his 500th goal last night in Philadelphia. It has to be the top arena to score that milestone goal outside of Pittsburgh. Crosby scored his first career goal and point in Philadelphia and has now come full circle with his 500th. This is the arena and fan base that has been the most hostile towards him in his career. He is now only the second Pens player to hit that milestone, along with Mario Lemieux.

2. Carolina Hurricanes: 67 Points (32-11-3)

The Carolina Hurricanes announced yesterday that they have assigned goaltender Pytor Kochetkov to the Chicago Wolves. Kochetkov signed a two-year deal with the Hurricanes last offseason but was loaned back to his KGL team Torpedo Nizhny Novgorod. The KHL recently announced that their regular season would end after the All-Star break and immediately start the playoffs. With Torpedo being in sixth to last place, their season was over, so they terminated Kochetkov’s contract.

The 22-year-old goaltender was originally drafted by the Hurricanes 36th overall in the 2019 NHL draft. Despite playing on one of the worst teams in the KHL he registered a .926 save percentage and recorded two shutouts in a 10-10-2 record. He is now the fourth goaltender in the organization that is under 24-years-old, joining Jack Lafontaine, Eetu Makiniemi, and Beck Warm.

It’s a complete turnaround for the Canes who had not had strong goaltending prospects for them to now have three good prospects in the system. Makiniemi, who is also 22, has played 14 games in the AHL this season in Chicago with an 11-2-1 record a .922 save percentage, and a 2.06 GAA, both are in the top five of the AHL. Makiniemi is currently injured so it has opened the door for Lafontaine and Kochetkov to earn starting time.

3. New York Rangers: 66 Points (31-13-4)

The New York Rangers returned to play Tuesday for the first time since Feb. 1. In their first game back they earned a shootout goal against the Boston Bruins. In the game starter, Igor Shesterkin was pulled from the game in overtime by the independent concussion spotter. He was not happy and slammed his stick against the glass on his way out of the game. Alexandar Georgiev entered the game for the last 40 seconds of overtime and the shootout to win the game and pick up the extra point for the Rangers.

Shesterkin passed initial concussion tests and made his triumphant return at the start of the shootout that eventually lasted nine rounds. Yes, you read that right, NINE ROUNDS. K’Andre Miller ended up winning it for the Rangers in the ninth round when he was able to beat Bruin’s goaltender Jeremy Swayman to earn the victory. Much was said after the game about Shesterkin’s reaction to having to leave the game but in his statement, after the game, he said “Honestly, I did lose control of it when I got sent off. You saw me hitting the boards with my stick. That won’t happen again. I promise.” The frustration is understandable, and the statement goes a long way to admitting guilt and looking to improve for the future.

4. Washington Capitals: 61 Points (26-15-9)

The Washington Capitals hit the road last night and they have done so without injured TJ Oshie who has been on IR for the Caps since being injured last month. Oshie has returned to skate for the first time since being on IR and has been practicing with Anthony Mantha. Vitek Vanecek is on the road trip despite not having played since Feb. 1. While he has not been practicing, this is a welcome development for the goaltender who has started a majority of the games for the Washington Capitals.

The Caps were able to win by a score of 4-1 last night and they hope that can turn their bad luck around. They have just a record of 7-8-2 in 2022 and have struggled to perform at a consistent level since the league paused for COVID around Christmas. The Caps also lost defenseman, Justin Schultz, to a lower-body injury. He seemed to aggravate the injury while chasing an icing call. Schultz had been playing on the third pairing with Trevor van Riemsdyk, but now the Caps will have to look at a mid-road trip replacement for the vet defenseman.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 47 Points (23-23-1)

Patrik Laine was named the NHL's second star of the week with three goals and three assists in three wins in three games for Columbus. Laine has extended his current point streak to seven games and has seven goals and six assists in that period. Laine has been the focus for the Blue Jackets as of late because he’s one of the only bright spots for the team and is in a contract season. The Blue Jackets may want to sign him long-term, but they also have the option to sign a qualifying offer at $7.5 million for a season.

The Blue Jackets will have an interesting decision as to what to do with the Finnish forward. If they haven’t had good long-term talks, they could look at a good hockey trade that could return much more significant assets than a traditional rental deal would return. It will come down to how they feel about their prospect pool and whether they feel that they are ready to push with the current group they have or kick the ball down a couple of years. Either can be the right decision, they just don’t want to end up like the Flyers in limbo and refusing to commit to one path or the other.

6. New York Islanders: 40 Points (17-20-6)

The New York Islanders recalled goaltender Cary Schnieder from the AHL on Monday. They needed a second goaltender after Semyon Varlamov tested positive for COVID-19 on Saturday in Calgary. Due to the positive test coming while in Canada, he will have to stay in isolation in Canada for six days. He will be able to come down to re-join the team on Friday. Schneider has not played in the NHL since the 2019-2020 season and has been playing in the AHL with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers the last two seasons. He has played 16 games with a .906 save percentage.

Varlamov could end up being a target at the trade deadline. While his record has been less than stellar at just 3-9-1, there’s only so much he can do. In his last two starts, he has only let up four goals and had over a .930 save percentage, and earned two losses. He could end up being a good option for teams looking for goaltending depth at the deadline. The issue is he still has a $5 million AAV cap hit for another season, so the Islanders would have to eat some cap to make a move work.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 39 Points (15-24-9)

The Philadelphia Flyers currently have seven players on IR and two other players day-to-day. This has opened up spots for younger players like Morgan Frost. Frost was sent down to the AHL Phantoms on February first but returned to the NHL lineup last night. Mike Yeo and the organization have put pressure on Frost to grow defensively and use his body more. He is on the third line with Maxwell Willman and Connor Bunnaman. Bunnaman is stepping in for recently injured Gerry Mayhew. The Flyers are also preparing to be without their top center soon.

Philadelphia Flyers captain, Claude Giroux, told GM Chuck Fletcher that he wants to be traded to the Colorado Avalanche but would also go to Minnesota or St. Louis. The Flyers rebuild is in full effect and they are looking to get a big return before the trade deadline. His departure would open up more opportunities for young players like Frost or Cam York. York is just 21 years old and has only played 16 total NHL games, 13 of which have been this season. York played in the NHL between Jan. 4 to Feb. 1 but has not been back in the NHL since.

8. New Jersey Devils: 39 Points (17-28-5)

New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban played his 800th NHL Game against the Ottawa Senators last week. Though out of his now 804 games played he has 462 points with 113 goals. Subban has always been a dynamic and hardworking defenseman. Over the last three seasons, he has transitioned from being a top-pairing defenseman for a contender to being a positive role model for one of the youngest teams in the NHL. Seeing these milestones and the work ethic that it takes to get to this point could prove to be valuable for these younger players. Who knows if he will be with the Devils after this season, but his impact will still be felt in the young leadership core for years.

Speaking of young leaders, Nico Hischier was named the NHL First-Star of the Week. He led all of the NHL in scoring last week with five points in three games. More good news for one of the young Devils, Jack Hughes has returned to practice after entering COVID protocol after All-Star weekend. They also had Dougie Hamilton return to practice. He was not with the team on their most recent road trip but was seen in a regular practice jersey. He is coming back from a broken jaw.