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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Canes Slip but Maintain Division Lead

The New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils continue their climbs up the leaderboard.

NHL: JAN 15 Canucks at Hurricanes Photo by Katherine Gawlik/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 62 Points (27-9-8)

With Frederik Andersen fully healthy and playing well, the Carolina Hurricanes made the easy decision to reassign goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov to the AHL. This may seem stunning as Kochetkov has played well at times this season, but the Canes need every penny of cap space and there’s no good reason to carry three goaltenders in the NHL.

This now gives Kochetkov the ability to play consistently in the AHL which can help him regain confidence. He was visibly upset after the loss on Sunday against the Vancouver Canucks when he failed to stop the final shot by Elias Pettersson. The main reason this move was made is due to the fact that Kochetkov is the only goalie on the team on a two-way deal. They keep the goaltending depth without having to worry about losing a player.

When it comes to the argument that Antti Raanta and Andersen are more injury prone and may be less reliable, that has no impact on Kochetkov or the goalie group as a whole. If someone does pick up an injury, he can be recalled immediately and be back with the team. In the long run it is better for him to consistently start against more comfortable opponents.

2. New Jersey Devils: 61 Points (29-12-3)

The New Jersey Devils have been unbelievably streaky this season. They stumbled out of the gates but rattled off 19 wins in their next 21 games. Then came December where they had a 4-7-2 record that included an 0-5-1 stretch. Then the calendar flipped to 2023 and the Devils are once again on a hot streak with a 6-1-1 record which includes an active five-game win streak. With their road win on Monday, they now have 18 road wins for the first time since the 2017-2018 season.

While most of the talk around the league has been on Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier has flown a bit under the radar. Hischier already has 20 goals this season. This is the third time he has reached the 20-goal mark in a season and is just one shy of his previous career best. Of those 20 goals, five are game-winning goals which is fifth in the league. As a comparison both Jordan Staal and Sebastian Aho have just three.

3. New York Rangers: 57 Points (25-13-7)

The New York Rangers have been without their second-leading goal scorer, Chris Kreider, since last Tuesday. Kreider injured his shoulder against the Minnesota Wild last week from a hit by Marcus Foligno. His absence did not slow down the Rangers though as they have a 3-1-0 record since, which included multiple come-from behind victories. Kreider was listed as doubtful on Monday night but could be nearing a return as the Rangers made some roster moves yesterday to make room.

The Rangers have only lost consecutive games in regulation just once this season. That came all the way back in November when they lost three straight from 11/23-11/28. Their two come-from-behind wins last week bring their total to 12 this season which is the fifth most of any team heading into last night’s games. This consistency has seen their playoff chances rise from just over 30% to start of December to 75% currently according to The Athletic.

4. Washington Capitals: 54 Points (24-17-6)

In four games since returning, Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson have combined for a goal and two assists, and team has a 2-2-0 record, with both losses coming against the Philadelphia Flyers. The return of the Caps' forwards has led to some interesting scratches to say the least. In the last four games, Anthony Mantha, Dylan Strome, and most recently Lars Eller have been scratched. The carousel will likely end after Monday’s overtime win over the New York Islanders however, as forward Nic Dowd left after a lower-body injury early in the game.

While the rest of the forwards are getting sorted out, Alexander Ovechkin just keeps on scoring regardless of who he’s on the ice with. On Saturday, he tied Mike Gartner for the most 30-goal seasons in the NHL with 17. Ovechkin has scored 30 or more goals in all but one of his seasons as a pro. The season he didn’t was the 2020-21 season where he scored 24 goals in a shortened season that only saw the NHL play 45 games. He scored 30 or more in the lockout-shortened season and the shortened 2021-2022 season. Remarkable numbers in a league that has been plagued by shortened seasons throughout his career.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 50 points (22-15-6)

The Pittsburgh Penguins are 4-7-2 in their last 13 games. Since December 18th, their 10 standings points rank 26th in the NHL and is only ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets in the division. The reason for this has been the loss of both Kris Letang and Jeff Petry from the blue line. The Pens lost Petry on December 10th and Letang on December 28th. Before injuries, Letang and Petry were the top two defensemen for Pittsburgh in terms of time on ice with 24:32 and 22:00 respectively. This has forced other defensemen to take on more minutes every night.

The most prominent has been Brian Dumoulin. Dumoulin started the season on the top pairing but due to struggling performance was dropped down the lineup. Since Petry was injured, Dumoulin has averaged over 20:00 minutes per game. That’s not ideal for a player that has a 40% goals for, third to last in the team, and it shows. The Penguins have been outscored 44-33 in this timeframe with him on the ice.

6. New York Islanders: 50 Points (23-18-4)

The Penguins’ poor play since mid-December has opened the door for the New York Islanders to pass them in the standings and differentiate themselves, but they have failed to grasp that opportunity. Since December 18th, they have gone just 5-5-3 to remain tied with the Pens for the final wild card position and they still remain four points behind the Caps. Nothing has summed up the Isles' play better than their game Monday night against the Caps, one of the key teams in the wild-card race, where they blew a three-goal lead and lost in overtime.

The Isles’ offense has continued to struggle, averaging just 3.02 goals for per game ranking 24th in the league. This isn’t anything new though, as looking back from 2020-2023, they have scored just 2.83 goals for per game, ranking 23rd and have largely kept their same core intact. The Isles haven’t had that elite goal scorer and with nearly $5 million in current cap space, the Isles should look to make a deal sooner rather than later. Multiple teams are looking to sell and most recently the Vancouver Canucks have said everything is on the table. If they wait until the deadline they may run out of time.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 45 Points (19-19-7)

Rasmus Ristolainen finally scored a goal this season and even more astounding was the fact that it came shorthanded. The Finnish defensemen came to Philadelphia at a high price — and even pricier extension — and has brought essentially negative value since with very little going well at either end of the ice. To his credit, his defensive game has improved by leaps and bounds, and his goal did help his team to a 5-2 win against the Anaheim Ducks last night, but his is one of multiple contracts that the Flyers would be better off without.

This week in, “What is John Tortorella up to?” he took the iPads away from the players on the bench. He cited that the players are focusing too much on the past and not paying enough attention to the present. They are 2-1-0 since the decision which included a win over the Washington Capitals who are in a playoff position.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 28 Points (13-29-2)

The Metropolitan Division has seen its fair share of surprising healthy scratches, and now Columbus Blue Jackets have their own entry. On Monday the Blue Jackets scratched 19-year-old Cole Sillinger. Sillinger had a breakout rookie season with 16 goals and 15 assists in 79 games last season, but has struggled this year, with just two goals and five assists through 38 games.

Therefore, they can afford to send Sillinger down to the minors to give him more playing time, gain confidence, and continue growing and they can do this even if it makes their NHL team worse, because it would be killing two birds with one stone. This isn’t unprecedented, as the Chicago Blackhawks just sent Lukas Reichel down after having three points in four games to actively make them worse in the NHL. While it’s tougher for the player to understand, it’s likely better for the long term.