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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: On To the Home Stretch

Heading into the last month of the season the Carolina Hurricanes top the Metropolitan Division, but a lot is still to be determined.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Washington Capitals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 96 Points (44-15-8)

The Carolina Hurricanes were seemingly able to break out of their scoring slump with Seth Jarvis, Nino Niederreiter and Martin Necas breaking through. The Canes' new addition of Max Domi also helped in the effort against the Washington Capitals with a two-assist performance. The biggest issue with the Canes has been front and center over the last few games and was the reason the Canes lost last night. They cannot stop taking penalties.

Since the start of March, they have taken 43 penalties which is the fifth most in the league over this time. The Canes are lucky that they have the best penalty kill in the league and have only let up six goals against while also scoring two short-handed goals in this time frame. However, we saw last night a poorly timed penalty by the captain, Jordan Staal, which led to the game-winning goal in overtime for the Lightning. Sure, refs swallow their whistles in the playoffs, but the Canes have had a horrid penalty differential this season, and they have had negative differentials over their last three postseason campaigns.

Now more than ever the Canes need to focus on playing a disciplined game. They have great even strength numbers and have the best penalty kill in the league. However, even the best penalty kill in the league will lead to additional goals against. When you fight for every goal in the postseason, you can’t afford any free goals against.

2. New York Rangers: 91 Points (43-19-5)

The Rangers’ trade deadline has paid massive dividends. In just six games since Frank Vatrano was traded to the New York Rangers, he has had four goals in six games played. All four have come in the last three games including two in their two games against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Rangers have also gotten a big return out of the new acquisition of Andrew Copp who also has five points in his three games with the Rangers since the trade deadline.

Both had an impact on last night’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. The win over the Pens also brought the Rangers to second place in the division. The win also brings the Rangers' record in their last 10 games up to 7-3-0 which is the best record in the Metropolitan Division over this time. The Rangers now have one game in hand with a one-point lead in the standings with one remaining game against the Penguins next Thursday.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 90 Points (40-18-10)

Yesterday the NHL announced that the salary cap will increase $1 million to $82.5 million. The league also announced that there will not be any significant increase to the cap until the 2025-2026 season. This is due to the $1 billion debt the players accrued during the pandemic. An additional $1 million in cap space will certainly help the Penguins re-sign key pieces of their roster who are free agents at the end of the season.

One of those key pending free agents is Evgeni Malkin who recorded his first hat-trick of the year on Sunday. The Penguins scored 11 goals against the Detroit Red Wings which also saw a goal from newly acquired forward Rikard Rakell. This was Rakell’s first goal as a Penguin. This was the first time that the Pens scored 11 goals since 1993. Malkin is the sixth player on the Penguins to record a hat-trick and now the Pens are tied with the Boston Bruins for the most hat tricks in the league.

4. Washington Capitals: 84 Points (37-21-10)

The Washington Capitals have been one of the hottest teams in the month of March but ended with a whimper on a 6-2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. While the Canes won the battle, the Caps won the war with a 3-1-0 record in the season series with the Canes. Some bad news for the Caps, the only team that had a better month was the Boston Bruins who they are competing with for the top wild-card position in the East that is getting more crowded. The Atlantic Division now has three teams that are within two points of each other with the last place of the Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, and Tampa Bay Lightning being the Caps' competition for the top wild card.

The best video of the season came last weekend. The Caps had a fan giveaway of foam apples reading “N1KY” to celebrate Niklas Backstrom’s 1,000th NHL point. When the fan-favorite scored a goal in their game against the New Jersey Devils, the apples rained down onto the ice. Fans spontaneously threw their giveaways onto the ice which caused chaos on the ice. It turns out thousands of foam apples take longer to clean up than hats. It was a real team effort for the cleanup, but everyone seemed to embrace and enjoy the chaos.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets: 69 Points (32-30-5)

The Columbus Blue Jackets will be without their backup goaltender and pending unrestricted free agent, Joonas Korpisalo for the rest of the season. Korpisalso needs surgery for a hip injury he sustained that has a six-month recovery. Hip injuries are tough for goalies which we have seen recently with Cory Schneider among others. He may be able to return to the ice in six months but it can take a full season for a goalie to return to pre-injury form. This will also hurt his prospects in free agency which could lead to him staying with Columbus in a backup role.

Columbus is looking to sign the fifth overall pick from the 2021 draft, Kent Johnson. Johnson is a forward for at the University of Michigan who can also play center. Michigan made it to the Frozen Four and will play in the national semi-finals on April 7 against Denver. Once Michigan’s season is over, the Blue Jackets will expect to sign Johnson and get him some NHL experience before heading into a full offseason and training camp. Johnson also played in the Winter Olympics for Team Canada and scored one goal and four assists in five games.

6. New York Islanders: 67 Points (29-27-9)

The New York Islanders were without Ilya Sorokin for last night’s game against the Columbus Blue Jackets with an upper-body injury. The Islanders are not expecting Sorokin to be out long-term, but he could miss another game or two. The Isles will rely on backup Semyon Varlamov and re-called Cory Schneider from the AHL to serve as the backup. Schneider isn’t expected to play unless Sorokin can’t come back by Friday when the Isles are on the back-half of a back-to-back.

GM Lou Lamoriello said that he was unhappy with his current forward group’s performance after the trade deadline. The statement was odd after the only moves he made were to extend current forwards and didn’t make any other deals. The Islanders are hoping to get an addition in the form of undrafted college free agent Bobby Trivigno. Trivigno is a Hobey Baker finalist this season and served as the captain of the defending NCAA champions in UMASS. The forward is able to sign with any team and the Islanders are one of several teams making a big push to sign him.

7. New Jersey Devils: 53 Points (24-27-5)

Jack Hughes has continued his tear on the ice with two goals against the Montreal Canadiens on Monday. The goals were his 23rd and 24th of the season and now has 54 total points all at the age of 20. Heading into the 2019 draft he was one of two candidates for the first overall pick and the New Jersey Devils get to be happy with their pick every day. His 54 points match that of the second overall pick of Kaapo Kakko.

According to Tankathon, the Devils have a 7.6% chance to win the draft lottery, but still have a realistic chance to get to the fourth-best odds of 9.7% which is currently occupied by the Ottawa Senators. The Devils are a team that is underperforming this season. They have had great contributions up and down their lineup, but have been largely undone by poor goaltending. They will hope that they can tank down to get the fifth pick and then solve their goaltending issues in free agency or with a draft-day trade in the offseason.

8. Philadelphia Flyers: 53 Points (21-35-11)

The Philadelphia Flyers have now begun their post-Claude Giroux era with a 1-4-0 record. The Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher has said the rest of the season will be used with an eye toward the future. One of the biggest changes has been Cam York playing on the first pairing with Ivan Proverov. York has replaced Justin Braun and the York-Proverov pairing has played better. York and Proverov have a 49.48% goals for, up five points from Proverov and Braun’s 44.85%. The 20-year-old defenseman is also being evaluated on the Flyers top power-play unit.

The Flyers also signed another piece they hope to be a key future piece in Noah Cates to a two-year entry-level contract. Cates was a senior at the University of Minnesota-Duluth whose season came to an end on Friday. Cates, a left-winger, also played on Team USA in the Winter Olympics where he scored one goal in four games played. In 37 games this season as a senior, he had 11 goals and 13 assists. He has slotted into the third line. This year will count as a full season so he will only be signed through next season.