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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Crowded in the Middle

Only four points separate six teams in the Metropolitan Division

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. New York Rangers: 23 Points (11-2-1)

When the New York Rangers hired Peter Laviolette as head coach there were some valid concerns. Laviolette had just come from the Washington Capitals who also had young players they were hoping to take the next step. Laviolette regularly benched young players in favor of vets on expiring contracts, so was there going to be more of the same in New York? After all, the Rangers had just fired Gerard Gallant for not getting the most out of his young players.

So far Laviolette has put those concerns to rest. He has gotten the most out of young forward and former first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere. Lafreniere scored twice Sunday night in a 4-3 shootout win against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Lafreniere now ranks third on the Rangers with seven goals, just three behind leader Chris Kreider. Lafreniere only has a single power play goal with his other six coming at even strength. Kreider on the other hand has six powerplay goals.

2. Washington Capitals: 18 Points (8-4-2)

The Washington Capitals had a terrible and slow start to the season. After five games they were just 1-3-1 and were in last place in the Metropolitan Divison. They had just four goals and ranked last in the league. Alexander Ovechkin was held without a shot on goal in consecutive games for the first time in his career. However, since the fifth game, the Caps have completely turned around their season. The Caps are 7-1-1 in their last eight games which was aided by a 3-1-1 performance during a five-game homestand.

These last eight games have rocketed the Caps up to third in the metropolitan division. This is all despite losing center Nicklas Backstrom for the foreseeable future. Backstrom has had hip issues and went through a resurfacing surgery last season. He was able to play 39 games at the end of last season and played eight this season before having to step away from hockey due to an “ongoing injury situation,” and has no timetable to return.

3. Carolina Hurricanes: 18 Points (9-7-0)

The Carolina Hurricanes have struggled for consistency early in the season. They have only played five home games so far this season. Coming into last night’s game the Canes were hoping to get some momentum and take advantage of some home cooking. Instead they played one of the flattest games since Rod Brind’Amour took the helm. The reason the Caps and Rangers are ahead of the Canes in the standings is because they are taking advantage of their home games and winning against struggling teams.

The Canes have looked dominant in flashes this season, but they rarely put together full 60 minute games. This season when they have made mistakes they directly lead to high-danger chances and goals. A big reason for the struggles has been defenseman Tony DeAngelo who ranks last on the team in Corsi, goals for percentage, and expected goals for. DeAngelo generates offsense and can QB the power play but the Canes already have two other defenseman who can do that.

Both Brent Burns and Dmitry Orlov can move the puck and QB high end power plays, but do it with way less liability. In this case the Canes have the luxury to forgo the extra offense for more defensive responsibility. Chatfield has a higher expected goals for and better possession metrics despite being defensively focused. The Canes can replace DeAngelo with Chatfield without losing any offense.

4. Philadelphia Flyers: 17 Points (8-7-1)

The Philadelphia Flyers were happy to have both Cam Atkinson and Sean Couturier back in the lineup this season. Both players missed all of last season with injuries. Couturier found the back of the net in just the third game of the season. That was his first goal since December 2021. The long-term return of the vets has created more competition down the lineup for the younger players. The most notable of the younger players that was squeezed out of the roster early was Morgan Frost.

Frost played the entire 2022-23 season for the Flyers recording 19 goals and 27 assists for 46 total points. However, The 24-year-old was scratched for a majority of the games in October and entered November having played just three of the Flyers’ first games. This had some calling for Frost to be traded, but the Flyers have shown no willingness to make a move. Frost may have finally broken through the full-time roster with a two-goal performance on Saturday and an assist last night.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 16 Points (8-6-0)

Sidney Crosby has been willing the Pittsburgh Penguins to victory in their current five-game win streak. On Tuesday Crosby tallied four points which included a hat-trick over the Columbus Blue Jackets. During the five-game win streak, he has five goals and nine total points. This is just a sample of his overall nine-game point streak evenly split between assists and goals, seven each.

The Penguins have announced that former Penguins great, Jaromir Jagr, will have his number retired on February 18th. His 68 will only be the third number retired by the Penguins, joining Mario Lemieux’s 66 and Michel Briere’s 21. He played 11 seasons for the Penguins racking up 1,079 points over 806 games and won two Stanley Cups. Jagr is 51 and is still listed as an active player for his hometown team in Kladno, Czechia.

6. New Jersey Devils: 15 Points (7-6-1)

If the playoffs started today, the New Jersey Devils would be on the outside looking in. This is of course in large part due to their injury woes and not the quality of the team. The Devils have been without their top two centers, Jack Hughes, and Nico Hischier for the last five games. In that span, they have won just a single game. Hischeir was injured on October 27th with an upper-body injury. He was added to IR on Tuesday. Hughes has been dealing with a shoulder injury he sustained on November 3rd.

The Devils did receive some good news, Hughes could join the team today in Pittsburgh. Even if he doesn’t play tonight, he could be in line to return on Saturday against the New York Rangers. Hughes returning sometime this week has to be considered the best-case scenario for the Devils. It originally looked like a serious shoulder injury that could have kept him out a lot longer than just five to six games.

7. New York Islanders: 14 Points (5-6-4)

The New York Islanders are one of two teams in the Metropolitan Division that has an active six-game losing streak. The disappointing start has led to fan chants to fire head coach Lane Lambert. Just this week players spoke out deafening Lambert and their coaching staff. The Islanders struggles are due to their lack of offense, they rank third to last in the league in goals for per game.

This isn’t a new issue for the Islanders, since the start of the 2019-20 season they rank 25th in the league in offense. They haven’t focused on acquiring more goal scoring over the last few season. Their only real acquisition has been trading for Bo Horvat at the deadline last season. He has 12 goals in 44 games since joining the Isles. Now that they are no longer getting league leading goaltending and penalty killing, they are unable to win low scoring games like they have been the last two seasons.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 12 Points (4-8-4)

The Columbus Blue Jackets are 1-6-3 in their last 10 games and have now lost six straight games. Five of those losses also came in regulation meaning they have just one point in their last six games. How is this happening again for the Blue Jackets? When they made the splash signing of Johnny Gaudreau, it was supposed to propel them back into contention. It’s tough to draw any conclusions from last season due to injuries, but this year was supposed to be different.

However, that has not been the case. Gaudreau has struggled this season with just a single empty-net goal on the season. He also ranks 11th on the team with just six points. During their six-game losing streak, Gaudreau has just six shots on goal and has recorded a single assist. They need more out of their top forward. To put it into perspective, Patrik Laine has played just seven games but has twice the goals of Gaudreau.