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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Mid-Season Grades

Mid-season grades for each team in the Metropolitan Division. Who passes and who fails.

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 64 Points (31-9-2) A

The Carolina Hurricanes won the Central Division last season, but there were still questions heading back into the Metropolitan Division. They have proven that they are for real and can do it again. The Canes currently sit at a 70% chance to win the division according to The Athletic. The offseason was one that brought a lot of questions for the Canes, they brought in two new goaltenders, let their top defenseman walk and brought in a controversial player in Tony DeAngelo.

Frederik Andersen is an All-Star and ranks second in goals-against with a 2.01 and third in save percentage with a .929%. His 8.83 goals saved above expected also ranks ninth in the league, not too shabby. DeAngelo has filled in as the top power play quarterback well and ranks 10th in NHL defensemen in points with 33, 14 of which were on the power play.

The Canes also had a huge surprise in rookie Seth Jarvis. He has flown completely under the radar mainly due to not being in an original six or Canadian market but has filled in a top-six role admirably. In 33 games he has scored eight goals and 10 assists. His 18 points ranks 10th and his 2.22 P/60 rank fifth among rookies this season who have played at least 10 games. He has immediately made an impact for the Canes and added to the scoring depth of an already dangerous team.

2. New York Rangers: 64 Points (30-13-4) A-

The Rangers are much higher in the standings than expected this season and currently rank fifth in the league and second in the Metropolitan Division. This is singlehandedly due to goaltender Igor Shesterkin, who has been by far the best goaltender in the league with a .940 save percentage and 14.40 goals saved above expected. Without him, the Rangers would be sank. They are the worst team in the league by possession numbers with a 44.1% Corsi and are 15th with a 50.6% goals for. That means they are just marginally better at scoring goals than they give up at even strength despite Shesterkin letting up 14 fewer goals than expected.

The Rangers could end up being in a very bad place in the second half of the season if Shesterkin doesn’t continue to put up a historic level of performance. The Rangers have not fared well when he has not been in the net with a combined record of 8-8-2 when the backups have started. The Ranger's offense continues to be very top-heavy and have not had the contributions they were hoping to get out of their younger players. Both Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko have struggled to produce with 28 points between the two of them which would have them ranked sixth on the Canes combined.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 62 Points (27-11-8) A-

The Penguins have had one of the toughest seasons in the Metropolitan Division, only the Islanders having tougher circumstances. The Pens have had multiple COVID outbreaks and have had to deal with tough injuries to both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to start the season. They only have had 12 games with their top-two centers on the ice. This had them stumble out of the gates with a 3-3-2 record in October but have come back with a screaming record of 17-4-2 between December and January.

The Penguins have done it like they always have with random players stepping up when the team needs them to. Jake Guentzel, Evan Rodrigues, and Jeff Carter are the top three goal scorers on the team. One other player who has stepped back up has been Tristan Jarry. Jarry has a .927 save percentage which ranks fourth in the NHL. That is a complete turnaround from last season’s .909 save percentage. He looks to have really benefitted from the Pens' new goalie coach, Andy Chiodo who took over in August.

4. Washington Capitals: 59 Points (25-12-9) B-

The Washington Capitals have been fighting off the age curve for as long as we can remember. The Caps have the third-oldest team in the NHL with an average age of 28.63 so it would be expected to eventually see them decline, which they have. The Caps are still led by Alex Ovechkin who is already at 29 goals for the year. They have also seen Evgeny Kuznetsov and Tom Wilson improve, each of which has scored 13 goals this season. However, they have struggled with injuries. They entered the season without their top center, Nicklas Backstrom, who was rehabbing from a hip injury. They have also been without T.J. Oshie for most of the season with various injuries.

The Caps have really struggled on the power play without Backstrom, they rank just 29th in the league with a 15.2% success rate. They also have been the worst team in overtime and have lost a league-leading nine games in the extra frame this season. They limp into the break off of a tough January that saw their offense dry up with just 2.42 goals for per game which ranked 29th in the league. This propelled them to a 5-6-2 record which saw them drop from second to fourth in the division during this time.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 41 Points (20-22-1) B

The Columbus Blue Jackets came into the season expecting to be in a full rebuild. The Blue Jackets ended up having three first-round picks and nine total picks in the 2021 NHL draft and are set up with two in the coming draft. They traded their top-pairing defenseman, Seth Jones, to the Blackhawks for Adam Boqvist, two first-round picks, and a second-round pick. They acquired a young defenseman in Jake Bean for a second-round pick from the Carolina Hurricanes. The trades and roster construction have led to a youth movement in Columbus that has made them the second-youngest team in the league with an average age of just 25.24 years old. That means the average player is almost two and a half years younger than the Canes.

The Blue Jackets sit fifth in the Metropolitan Division standings despite have a roster strategy that would have then expected to be down in the bottom five of the league. They started the season strong with a 12-8-0 record through November, but have struggled since with a 8-14-1 record in December and January. They have struggled to limit their losses and string together wins which is classic for a young team. However, the team will get good experience in being competitive night in and night out which can help grow the young core of the team. Columbus only has two pending UFA’s, one of which is Max Domi so they probably won’t have a large selloff at the deadline which could lead to a productive back half of the season.

6. New York Islanders: 38 Points (16-16-6) D

The Islanders entered the season hoping to reach their third straight conference final (Stanley Cup Semifinal) but that quickly changed. The Isles had to start their season with a 13-game road trip as their home arena was still being finished. They ended the road trip with a 5-6-2 record, not nearly as bad as it could have happened. However, the Isles also dealt with a big COVID outbreak during the road trip while the NHL was reluctant to postpone games. The end of the road trip and first homestand ended up with an eight-game losing streak before games were eventually postponed.

The Isles continued to struggle in December with a 4-2-4 record and another pause in their season, the league-wide COVID shutdown. The Isles have struggled to get any momentum going with three different breaks in their season which has seen them have 11 games postponed, more than any other team in the league. This has led to inconsistent play with January being their best month with a 6-4-0 record, enough to bring them from last to sixth in the division. They will be challenged with 44 games after the All-Star break with one of the oldest teams in the league, things don’t look great for the Isles to continue their climb.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 38 (15-22-8) F

Last week Chuck Fletcher held a state of the franchise press conference with the Flyers chairmen. In this press conference, the Flyers still believe that they have the pieces in place to be contenders and expect to be “in it” next season. They believe that they are 2-3 core pieces away from getting back to contending. That’s already not an easy lift and that’s before you consider that the Flyers are looking to trade their captain Claude Giroux at the deadline to a contender. So who are they expecting to be these other pieces and where would they get them from? Maybe they are expecting a Rutherford Special of trading Giroux and having him re-sign as a free agent, but that’s unlikely.

The Flyers will get back players they have lost to injuries like Ryan Ellis and Sean Couturier, but only have a projected $13 million in cap space with only 25 contracts. They have four pending RFAs and 10 pending UFAs. They have already been using prospects like Morgan Frost in the NHL with mixed results, would they really bring up Zayde Wisdom at 20 for a full season, seems unlikely? The Flyers continue to make confusing organizational decisions instead of looking at the writing on the wall and setting up an accelerated re-build that will no longer be an option soon.

8. New Jersey Devils: 35 Points (15-25-5) D

The New Jersey Devils came into the year with the expectations that they were going to take the next step. They were able to sign premier defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Thomas Tartar and goaltender Jonathan Bernier, all three were big targets for other teams, including the Carolina Hurricanes. The Devil's ability to recruit these free agents is a sign of a team at the end of a rebuild. The offseason signings propelled the Devils into having realistic expectations for the 2021-2022 season.

However, those expectations haven’t gone to plan. The Devils are still in last place in the division falling way short of expectations. They head into the All-Star break on a five-game losing streak which includes two straight losses to the Toronto Maple Leafs by a combined score of 13-5. The Devils are having the worst-case scenario of a young team that needs to experience winning together to develop a winning culture. They are a team that’s reminiscent of the 2010’s Hurricanes.