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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Carolina Hurricanes Rise to the Top

The Carolina Hurricanes regain the top position of the division from the Pittsburgh Penguins.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Philadelphia Flyers Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 74 Points (35-11-4)

The Carolina Hurricanes have now won three straight games and have earned points in four straight. The Canes struggled out of the All-Star break and haven’t looked like they have in the past but have still shown that they can win when not playing their best. The last week has shown what the Canes have to look forward to in March and April. They will have 30 games in 59 days that include five sets of back-to-backs.

Head Coach Rod Brind’Amour has been adamant about rotating players in and out of the lineup to maintain fitness and to keep players fresh. On Monday they sat Seth Jarvis in favor of starting Derek Stepan and Steven Lorentz, who has been surging as of late. The Canes now are also being hit by injuries. Defenseman Brendan Smith was hurt blocking a shot in Pittsburgh but was able to travel back with the team. Monday, Tony DeAngelo also left the game with an upper-body injury.

This will not be the first or the last time that they will be going through injuries. Most players are banged up on the team to some extent but have been able to battle through, just look at Vincent Trocheck. Brind’Amour and the training staff will have a monumental task in managing the workload for the players. They gave the players the day off yesterday, and it will become a more common occurrence to have optional skates or full days off for recovery. The saying it’s a marathon, not a sprint has never been more relevant for this team.

2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 70 Points (31-13-8)

We have just under a month until the trade deadline and one of the most intriguing storylines for the deadline is former Pittsburgh Penguin, Marc-Andre Fleury. Tristan Jarry has had a great season, but last season’s playoff performances could seed doubt in management’s minds. He had just a .888 save percentage in six games with a 3.18 GAA. This season Jarry has played the third-most games of any NHL goalie with 41 which also includes the third-most starts of 39. The Penguins have only played backup Casey DeSmith 12 times. If they continue this trend will Jarry still have the stamina and legs at the end of the season and into the postseason?

This is a similar concern for the Canes who have started Frederick Andersen 36 times. As the season progresses and load management becomes more important, teams will be relying more on their backups. We saw that with Antti Raanta starting against the Penguins on Sunday and getting the win. Both the Canes and the Penguins will have to start their backups more, but the Pens have shown they don’t have trust in DeSmith this season. An upgrade for their backup in Fleury or another goaltender would be just the upgrade they need.

3. New York Rangers: 69 Points (32-13-5)

The New York Rangers finally returned to play last week after two full weeks off between games with a 2-0-1 record last week. The Rangers picked up right where they left off. They have struggled to score with just five goals in their last three games with two of these games going to a shootout. They have been able to win these games because Igor Shesterkin has let up just four goals in this same span. If the Rangers believe they can contend this season they will need to be aggressive at the deadline and add some depth scoring.

The Rangers rely only on three main players for goals, Chris Kreider, Mika Zibanejad, and Artemi Panarin. Kreider is on an absolute outlier year for his career with 33 goals, more than any other season in his career by a significant margin. Now we are seeing what happens when his 20.8% shooting percentage regresses and it’s not pretty for the Rangers. Since the restart of the season, he has zero goals on 12 shots and now they average less than two goals for per game. As the Canes know well, you can’t win in the playoffs when you rely on one or two players to do all of the offensive lifting.

4. Washington Capitals: 65 Points (28-15-9)

For the first time this season, every Washington Capitals player skated in practice at the same time. February saw the Caps struggle with lasting injuries to Vitek Vanecek and T.J. Oshie but now both are full participants at practice along with Justin Schultz. The return of crucial players back to the lineup has been a much-needed boost in the recently struggling team’s spirit. This comes at a crucial time for the Caps that hope to be at full strength ahead of a crucial stretch of their schedule that will see them play 13 games in March and 14 games in April.

The Caps are one of the oldest teams in the league and have struggled with a compact 2022 schedule. Before the Olympic break, the Caps had just a 9-9-2 record in 2022 which saw them drop all the way down to a wild card position. The team is using the break to get as much rest as possible with the team having a long three-day break from team activities this past week. They hope the added rest can help get the team back to their winning ways.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 53 Points (26-23-1)

It's going to seem like De Ja Vu all over again, but there isn’t a better story in the Metro than Patrik Laine right now. He scored another two goals against the Toronto Maple Leafs last night and scored his first hat trick for Columbus on Thursday against the Chicago Blackhawks. He now has points in his last 10 games including a three-game multi-point streak. Over these 10 games, he has scored multiple points eight times and was limited to a single point just twice. Laine now has 35 points in his last 31 games, which includes 18 goals and 17 assists.

The Blue Jackets now sit just nine points out of the second wild-card position behind the Boston Bruins. While it is unlikely that they will be able to pass the Bruins, giving the younger players something to play for will be much more valuable in the long run than limping out the season like the New Jersey Devils or the Buffalo Sabres. It is always important to have goals even if they aren’t the most reachable. Just look at what happened to Noah Hanifin and Elian Lindholm when they went to a contender, all the sudden they perform better. The Blue Jackets are going a long way in establishing a culture for their young players that are showing they have something to fight for after competitive play in 2022.

6. New York Islanders: 45 Points (19-20-7)

The New York Islanders are still the only team outside of the top eight teams in the east with a chance to make the playoffs. After losing to the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, the playoff door is closing quickly. Now, it looks like a coin flip to pass the Blue Jackets for fifth in the Metropolitan Division. While the Islanders do have a slight chance to make the playoffs it feels like they’re trending in the wrong direction, yes even after a win against the Seattle Kraken. The Islanders have had an aging core over the last few seasons that have been able to overachieve, now that they haven’t continued that, they have tons of tough decisions to make.

The Isles are a team that wouldn’t have dreamt of a rebuild last season, but it is a real decision for them to make. They are destined to sell at the deadline, but it will all come down to whether they are able to make hockey trades or rental trades. Hockey trades that are NHL player for NHL player are more typical at the draft and not the deadline, but never count out Lou Lamoriello. The Isles could come out with enough draft capital from the trade deadline to also flip in the draft for NHL talent to put around Matt Barzal and the other core pieces they have in place.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 40 Points (15-26-10)

Nothing is more shocking than the fact that the Philadelphia Flyers are not in last place of the Metropolitan Division. The Flyers have now lost six straight games for the third time this season. This is of course on top of two 10 games win streaks that include a 13-game losing streak in December and January. This team had a 1-10-2 record in January. The Flyers are now in danger of being the third team in NHL history to record a third 10-game losing streak in a single season. Only the 1992-93 Ottawa Senators had three and the 1974-75 Washington Capitals had four such streaks.

The Flyers sit only one point above the New Jersey Devils for the last place in the East and fourth to last in the NHL. The other bad news for the Flyers is they do not have a second-round pick in this draft. Anything they can return through trades will likely be as good as or worse than their own second-round pick if they would have kept it. This second-round pick, which could be the 26th overall pick, was given to the Arizona Coyotes to TAKE Shayne Gostisbehere off of their hands. Gostisbehere currently ranks third on the Coyotes with 30 points. That would rank fourth on the Flyers and his 22 assists would be tied with Claude Giroux for second on the Flyers. It almost seems like a bad idea to sell low on players.

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

The New Jersey Devils have one of the most interesting pieces at the trade deadline in Pavel Zacha. He is one of the only players that isn’t a rental at the deadline as a 24-year-old pending restricted free agent. Zacha has been playing on the second line as a winger for the Devils but also plays center. The Devils have their top two centers in Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, so they can afford to lose Zacha if it means a significant return to help their depth in other areas. Zacha averages 17:07 of ice time per game and has scored 12 goals and 11 assists in 47 games played.

While he is arbitration-eligible, he is coming off a three-year contract that has a cap hit of $2.25 million. He won’t be due a huge raise after this season and could work well as a second center on an up-and-coming team or a third center/top-nine forward for a contending team. The big advantage to trading him is they could get an NHL-ready player in return. Ideally, that would be a defenseman for the Devils who will also likely be trading pending UFA P.K. Subban for more traditional rental returns of prospects and picks.