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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Down the Home Stretch They Go

We are now in the final month of the season, the only thing left for the Metro is to vie for playoff seeding.

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Buffalo Sabres Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 98 Points (45-17-8)

The Carolina Hurricanes dropped another disappointing game Tuesday night to bring their record down to 4-3-3 in their last 10 games. This is also happening at the worst time for the Canes as the Tampa Bay Lightning are now the first wild card team in the East, which would mean the Canes are set for a first-round matchup with the two-time defending champs. It’s important to note that the Canes aren’t playing terribly, they just aren’t putting everything together and they haven’t gotten every bounce.

While it's not time for a full meltdown, it is concerning that their worst play of the year is coming at the most important time of the year and when you want to see the team peaking. This could be a blessing in disguise because a second or third seed could mean an easier matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins so maybe they are just going full galaxy brain and we are all along for the ride.

Since the mid-point of March, the Canes are still the top possession team in the league with a 59% Corsi but have had the third-lowest even-strength shooting percentage at just 6.2%. Hmm, where have we seen low springtime shooting percentages before?... In the grand scheme of things the Canes just have to keep up their work and not get too frustrated. All year they seem to play like once the floodgates open they score in bunches, but when they are stifled they grip their sticks too tight. Now we are just seeing that over a longer-term.

2. New York Rangers: 96 Points (45-20-6)

Tuesday night’s game was a real get-right game for the New York Rangers who had lost two straight games before beating the Devils by a score of 3-1. The game saw Ryan Strome return from a lower-body injury and he returned to his normal position in the lineup centering the second line. The Rangers are going to have a crowded forward group which will make their lineup decision increasingly interesting as the season is coming to a close. They still have Kappo Kakko and Kevin Rooney who have been out with injuries. This means that the Rangers currently have 17 available forwards if you include both injured players.

Head Coach Gerrard Gallant has been rotating players in and out of the lineup all season but with three new acquisitions at the deadline and two injured players coming back things could get interesting. The Rangers wouldn’t have an issue with sitting Rooney, but where would a player like Kakko slot back in. the 21-year-old just has 14 points in 37 games played this season, would they really want to slot him in over Frank Vatrano or Andrew Copp who have both been playing great in the top six?

3. Pittsburgh Penguins: 92 Points (41-20-10)

It hasn’t taken long for Rickard Rakell to make his presence felt with the Pittsburgh Penguins. The forward was acquired at the deadline to bolster depth but it didn’t take long for him to slot into a top-six role just as many expected he would do. He has now been playing on Evgeny Malkin’s wing and both players have benefitted. Since March 21st, Malkin has six goals and Rakell has three which ranked first and third on the Pens respectively.

The Pens increased flexibility in their top six with Rakell and the increased flexibility in the bottom six with Danton Heinen look to be perfect acquisitions at the deadline. The Penguins lost forward Jason Zucker Thursday and is still being evaluated five days later which is normally not the best news. With both Heinen and Rakell having previous playoff experience with Anaheim, the Pens also don’t have to worry about plugging in young and inexperienced players down the stretch.

4. Washington Capitals: 84 Points (37-22-10)

The Washington Capitals had five days off, a rarity for NHL teams down the stretch, but the extra rest didn’t help on Sunday. They fell to the Minnesota Wild by a score of 5-1 which means they lost their two games last week by a combined 11-2 score. Their poor performance of late led to the team to call a players-only meeting on Tuesday.

Washington’s deadline acquisitions did make an appearance in Sunday’s loss. Marcus Johansson confusingly made an appearance on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. This moved Tom Wilson, who is having the best offensive season of his career, down to the third line. Another new acquisition, Johan Larsson was added to the fourth line which means both Connor McMichael and Axel Jonsson-Fjalby were healthy scratches. While both players are young they bring some speed and energy to the lineup, but Peter Laviolette opted for experience.

5. New York Islanders: 73 Points (32-27-9)

The Islanders' 10-6-1 record in March was only their second winning month of the season, the other being a 6-4-0 record in January. They accomplished this while playing the most games of any team in March (17) and they also have the most games in April (16). On Sunday The Islanders beat the New Jersey Devils by a score of 4-3. While this may seem like an insignificant win against one of the first teams eliminated from the playoffs, there was a much bigger meaning in the game.

Goaltender Cory Schneider won his first game since 2020 when he was a member of the Devils. Schneider underwent hip surgery before the 2018-2019 season and it took him a calendar year to register another win but he never recovered to his pre-injury level of play. Since that same season he has bounced around between the AHL and the NHL levels and it is great to see him get back to a level where he can win an NHL game. Hip surgeries are very serious for goalies which we have also seen with Tukka Rask and now Anton Khudobin could be experiencing the same issues.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: 72 Points (32-27-9)

You can add Blue Jackets players to the growing list of players to speak out against NHL officiating this season. On Monday night, Brad Marchand laid a hit on Andrew Peeke who looked to be out on the ice, but the officials let the play go and the Bruins eventually scored. The general rule is an injury won’t be blown dead until the team that is affected gains control of the puck. However, the refs do have discretion to blow the whistle if the injury is serious which is exactly what veteran Jakub Voracek argued after the game.

It also didn’t help that the Blue Jackets also went on to lose that game in overtime which was their seventh loss in a row. The team was down bad and feeling it. Columbus was able to wash the bad taste out of their mouth last night with a win against the reeling Philadelphia Flyers. The game also saw rookie and Columbus junior hockey alumni Carson Meyer score his first NHL goal. He is one of three Ohioans on the team along with Sean Kuraly and Jack Roslovic.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 55 Points (22-37-11)

The biggest news out of Philadelphia is the ending of defenseman Keith Yandle’s Iron Man streak at 898 games. Yandle was a healthy scratch for Sunday’s game against the New York Rangers. With the focus on the future for the Flyers, they need to see what they have in their young defensemen and evaluate how they play together. Yandle was a big story over the last two seasons. First, he was set to be scratched to start the season with the Florida Panthers last season but after the players protested, Yandle’s streak remained intact.

He was then bought out and then signed by the Flyers who kept him in the lineup until he was able to set the new Iron Man streak and play until 989. While many would say why not let him get to 1,000 consecutive games, he realistically shouldn’t have gotten to 989 in the first place. Now Phil Kessel is hot on his heels with an active 969 game streak. He could realistically get to 1,000 games, although still questionable due to the Yotes’ antics of having him play one shift and leave the game so he could get home to his wife who was in labor.

8. New Jersey Devils: 54 Points (24-40-6)

The New Jersey Devils have now been eliminated from the playoffs with their loss to the New York Islanders on Sunday. That game was quite eventful which saw Jack Hughes get injured off of a clean hit from Oliver Wahlstrom and a retaliation fight from P.K. Subban. While Isles fans were upset over the fight, Subban stuck up for the young star and sent a message to not only the Islanders but his own team that you need to stick up for your younger players. It’s reminiscent of some of the Canes’ most recent fights.

The Devils will also have an interesting offseason coming up. They desperately need a goaltender. They have the league’s worst goaltending with an 89.6% even-strength save percentage. They also have to sign three key young pieces on their roster. Pavel Zacha, Jesper Bratt, and alternate captain, Miles Wood, are all arbitration-eligible restricted free agents. Bratt and Zacha both could be intriguing offer-sheet candidates.