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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Kicking Off the Second Half

The Carolina Hurricanes lead the Metro, but every team has a different workload heading into the second half of the season.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 65 Points (21-10-3)

The Carolina Hurricanes certainly hoped for more coming out of the All-Star break. Rod Brind’Amour mentioned on Sunday that he hoped that Teuvo Teravainen would have had more progression over the break. The lingering injury kept him out of the first two games back, but in the long run, it is a better move to get him back to 100% for the long run than it is to rush him back for two Canadian games.

The Canes were also without Jesperi Kotmkaniemi who entered COVID Protocol on Sunday. The NHL has relaxed its rules to only test symptomatic players, but every player was tested to return to their teams after the break. Luckily Sebastian Aho, Frederik Andersen and Rod Brind’Amour tested negative despite playing with Jack Hughes from the New Jersey Devils who tested positive. Another aspect of the protocols is the fact that Canada is more strict than the US, so you will see players that are held from border crossings just to be safe.

The Canes’ slow start isn’t great, but they have struggled in empty buildings this year, saying that it is hard to get fired up for games when it is a practice environment. The Ottawa Senators have also matched up well with the Canes this season. The best thing to see in last night’s 4-3 loss is the fact they scored three unanswered goals to make the game close. It’s always great to see that this team does not quit, and they will be able to turn it around.

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

The New York Rangers do not have another game until Feb. 15. Their players are still on vacation and don’t have to report to the team until Friday. The break comes at a great time for the Rangers, who were without their top defenseman Adam Fox who was kept out of the All-Star Game due to an injury. They are expecting he will be able to return for the Ranger's first game back, meaning he will only have missed three games while being on injured reserve.

Heading into the back half of the season the Rangers will be very focused on how their younger players fare in their first full 82-game NHL season. Both Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko have struggled to make consistent impacts in the lineup. However, Lafreniere does rank second on the Rangers with 10 even-strength goals. The Rangers have not given him power play time, so his numbers appear smaller than his impact. The Rangers are just hoping one can really stand out over the long term. Think along the lines of how the Canes treated Marin Necas when he first came up and how they evaluated Seth Jarvis. It may seem like a slow process, but this is the first year this coaching staff is seeing these young guns.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 64 Points (28-11-8)

The Pittsburgh Penguins signed forward Jeff Carter to a two-year contract extension two weeks ago. The deal for the 37-year-old center will carry an AAV of $3.125 million. The contract comes as Jeff Carter has filled in for both Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin admirably. He is third on the team with 12 goals and sixth in points with 26. The signing could make things interesting for the Penguins that have three pending RFAs and 10 pending UFAs. Those UFAs include Evgeny Malkin, Zach Aston-Reese, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, and Evan Rodriguez, all impact players for the Penguins this season.

The Penguins are expecting that Malkin’s AAV will come down from $9.5 million to something under Crosby’s $8.7 million which would cover the value of Carter’s deal. It’s also reported that Rust is looking for a six-year, $6 million deal which combined with a Letang deal would mean the Penguins would only have around $8 million in space to sign all of their other free agents. The Penguins will have some very interesting decisions on their roster for who to keep for the future and who to let go, but it doesn’t look like they will be able to keep all of their impact players.

4. Washington Capitals: 59 Points (25-14-9)

The Washington Capitals have recalled goaltender Phoenix Copley from Hershey. Copley last played in the 2018-2019 season and earned a multi-year contract with the Caps but has not been utilized since. The Caps made this move despite any official word on the health of Vitek Vanecek. Vanecek has not played since he took a hit in the Pittsburgh Penguins game from Kasperi Kapanen. It is expected that Vanacek has an upper-body injury that has kept him out.

Last night marked his second game in the 2021-2022 season and he was not able to replicate his success in his first appearance. Last night he was pulled after letting up four goals on 19 shots for a .789 save percentage. This failed to match his other games .955 save percentage on 21 shots against the Edmonton Oilers. It has always seemed strange that they would not work him in more in a season that they have struggled in net and more so that they never gave him a shot after re-signing him in 2019.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 43 Points (21-22-1)

The Columbus Blue Jackets couldn’t have entered the All-Star break in a worse fashion being beat by the Florida Panthers by a score of 8-4. The Blue Jackets also had to play the game without Jake Bean, who has been playing on the top pair with Zach Werenski. Bean is scheduled to miss four weeks with a groin injury. This isn’t all on the Blue Jackets, the Panthers' offense has been on fire. They had 73 goals in January which is the most goals scored by a team in a month in 25 seasons.

The Blue Jackets offense will enter the break on fire with three straight games scoring four goals or more. The Jackets have been led by Patrik Laine who has four-straight multi-point games including back-to-back multi-goal games Sunday and Monday. These nine points in the last four games bring his totals to 24 points in 25 games. While he has struggled to some extent, with zero powerplay goals and some inconsistent play. He went through incredibly tough hardships this season with both an injury and losing his father. Seeing him play at nearly a point-per-game pace is a welcome sight.

6. New York Islanders: 38 Points (16-17-6)

The New York Islanders will return to play for the first time since the All-Star break tonight. This will only be the second road game for the Islanders since Dec. 16. Out of their last 15 games, 14 have been at home after having an incredibly long road trip to start the season. The other issue for the Isles, was their last major west coast road trip was canceled due to COVID. Heading into the back half of the season, the Islanders have an 8% chance to make the playoffs according to The Athletic. The second half will prove to be a crowded one with the Isles still to play 43 games left to play, the most of any team in the league.

The Isles head into their first game shorthanded. The great news, Kyle Palmieri is on the NHL Non-Injury list on paternity break and will rejoin the team mid-road trip. The Isles also lost Austin Czarnik who was claimed off waivers by the Seattle Kraken. The 29-year-old forward was generally the 13th or 14th forward on the roster but did have two goals and three assists in 11 games played. He was waived due to the taxi squads being dissolved after the All-Star break.

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

Longtime Flyers captain Claude Giroux served as the captain for the Metropolitan Division All-Star team with the late loss of Alex Ovechkin. Giroux appeared to enjoy the role and earned himself MVP honors for the All-Star weekend. Giroux really seemed to gel well with Rod Brind’Amour and both were credited with motivating the team to win the four-team tournament. While it’s a real pie in the sky idea, it is still fun speculating that he would be able to join the Canes at the trade deadline as a rental.

The Flyers named former Flyer Daniel Briere as a Special Assistant to the General Manager. Briere was on the Flyers for six seasons before having his contract bought out as a compliance buyout after the most recent lockout. He has experience in a front office having spent five years as the President and Governor of the Main Mariners of the ECHL. He has also been part of the Flyers’ player development department for the last two seasons in a part-time role. I would expect this is a similar process and development that the Carolina Hurricanes had for Ron Francis. This should set up Briere as a future GM of the Flyers.

8. New Jersey Devils: 37 Points (16-26-5)

While the Devils have found success stories with their forwards, they have struggled mightily in net this season. The biggest difficulty for the Devils is simply consistency. Through the first half of the season, they had six different goaltenders start a game for the Devils. Starter Mackenzie Blackwood’s 22 starts lead the team but is still a minority of the starts this season. In 23 total games played he has just a .984 save percentage and has allowed 11.7 more goals than expected. He is only ahead of Philipp Grubauer in that category. Blackwood currently is out with an injured heel which has caused more turmoil in net.

The Devils have had to rely on a stable of goalies to back him up including trading for Jon Gillies in mid-December. Gillies started the season in the ECHL with the Maine Mariners, and after a short stint with the AHL Providence Bruins, he ended up signing with the AHL Lehigh Valley Phantoms. In early December he signed with the St. Louis Blues and played one game before being traded to the Devils. Now he has started seven games with a 1-5-1 record with a .907 save percentage. His lone win was against the Carolina Hurricanes on January 22nd.