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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Five Points Separate the Top Three Teams

As the division heads down the home stretch with just eight or fewer games to play, only five points separates the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 103 Points (47-18-9) 74 GP

The Carolina Hurricanes got through their tough five-game stretch with a 2-2-1 record, and then also lost at the last second to the Detroit Red Wings. They now maintain just a single point lead over the New Jersey Devils but still with a game in hand. A big part of their ability to win games had been thanks to Sebastian Aho. He now has six goals in his last seven games after having a seven-game goalless streak.

A player that has been a lightning rod for the Canes this season has been Teuvo Teravainen. While he’s not the scapegoat for all of the Canes issues, his down year is hard to ignore. He has missed a considerable chunk of time, including the latest game due to illness, and has not played a full season but his 12 goals and 24 assists are set to be lowest since the 2015-16 season, outside of his 21 game 2020-21 season. Just five of those goals and 14 of the assists have come at even strength. The problem isn’t just with production, his possession numbers leave much to be desired this year too.

He ranks last in Corsi (57.03%), last in scoring chances for (54.70%) and second last in expected goals (56.84%). This all comes while ranking fourth in offensive zone starts at 68.75%. Only Martin Necas, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Stefan Noesen start in the offensive zone more and all of them have better possession metrics. The whole weight of the team’s performance doesn’t fall on Teravainen’s shoulders and no one should think that they do. But when a team desperately needs offense and players to step up, those numbers hurt.

2. New Jersey Devils: 102 Points (47-20-8) 75 GP

Center Jack Hughes recorded his 40th goal over the weekend against the Ottawa Senators. He now has 87 points this year despite having missed a four-game stretch earlier this season. Throughout his career he has struggled to stay healthy for a full season, but he is showing his full potential to be a 90-100 point player. Nico Hischier has already hit the 70 point mark this season and with eight games left, two more players may join the club, Dougie Hamilton and Jesper Bratt.

Hamilton hit the 50 assist mark last game and is just one point away from hitting 70 points. His previous best season in points came in the 2016-2017 season when he had 37 assists and 50 points. His best season for points per game was his last in Carolina, the 2019-2020 season. He had 40 points in 47 games played which equates to .76 p/gp, well behind his current .92 p/gp pace this season. Bratt needs just four points to hit the 70 point mark and is on pace to do so at .89 p/gp.

3. New York Rangers: 98 Points (44-21-10) 75 GP

The New York Rangers officially clinched a playoff berth on Monday night after the Panthers loss to the Senators. With the playoff berth, the 2024 fourth-round pick they sent to the St. Louis Blues as part of the Vladamir Tarasenko deal will upgrade to a 2024 third-round pick. Certainly worth the price for the Rangers. The Rangers now sit just four points behind the Devils for second place having played the same amount of games. This has seen their chances of catching the Devils increase from 18% to 21% overnight according to The Athletic.

The third line dubbed “The Kid Line” of Alexis Lafrieniere, Filip Chytil, and Kaapo Kakko can be the difference maker for the Rangers. All season there has been a debate to keep them together or split them up to get more top-six time. With the deadline additions, the Rangers top-six filled out leaving the Kid Line together. On Saturday against the Florida Panthers, all three scored a goal in a 4-3 win. This is the second time all three of them scored in the same game. If they keep clicking they could have the deepest forward group heading into the Metropolitan Bracket

4. New York Islanders: 87 Points (39-28-9) 76 GP

The New York Islanders suffered back-to-back losses from the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Buffalo Sabres over the weekend. However, they picked the perfect time to get out of their slump on Monday night and defeated the New Jersey Devils 5-1. In that game, Bo Horvat scored a goal to end his 11-game drought with an empty net goal late in the third. They extended their playoff odds by securing a 2-1 shootout win over the Washington Captials. The wins increased their lead to three points over the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first wild card position with the Penguins still having a game in hand.

More importantly for the Isles, they sit four points ahead of the Florida Panthers for the final playoff position.. Since losing Matthew Barzal, the Isles have still been able to go 10-5-2 since February 18th. This record has kept the Panthers at bay even with a struggling offense. They average 3.24 goals per game which ranks 17th in the league while their power play is ranked 30th and has a success rate of just 12.2%. But they are thanking their stars that they have Ilya Sorokin in net.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 84 Points (37-28-10) 75 GP

Even after the deadline, the Pittsburgh Penguins have struggled with a 7-7-1 record in the month of March. The Penguins have struggled in net and did not address it at the deadline. Tristan Jarry (.908) and Casey DeSmith (.907) rank 27th and 30th respectively in save percentage. They also rank 37th and 45th in GAA for goalies that have played at least 13 games. Neither will win a game, but both are capable of giving up a game. Not what the Pens want heading into the playoffs.

As the Penguins have struggled to increase their position in the standings ahead of the playoffs, the calls for Ron Hextall to be fired have gotten much louder. Now ESPN’s Emily Kaplan and The Athletic’s Josh Yohe both believe that he will not survive the season as Penguins GM unless they make a deep run in the Playoffs. While Hextall hasn’t been terrible, he just has struggled to make difference making moves for a team contending. He has just made small tweaks and favored signing guys he knows over taking chances on other players (see last free agency).

6. Washington Capitals: 77 Points (34-33-9) 76 GP

This weekend it was reported that Washington Capitals’ Center, Evgeny Kuznetsov, has requested a trade. The same report mentioned that he had also asked for a trade two years ago. The relationship between the player and the team has grown increasingly strained. This season, Kuznetsov has been moved off of the top line and the top power play unit in favor of Dylan Strome.

Kuznetsov was drafted by the Capitals in 2010 with the 26th overall pick. His play in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs was a significant reason the Caps won the Cup. His 27 goals and 83 points in the 2017-2018 season were his career highs. This season he has 12 goals and 42 assists in 75 games. He has two more seasons left on his current contract that carries a $7.8 million cap hit. The contract also has a modified no-trade clause that allows him to submit a 10-team no-trade list.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 71 Points (29-32-13) 74 GP

Philadelphia Flyers Chairman and Governor, Dave Scott announced he is retiring on April 17th. Dan Hilferty who is the CEO of Comcast Spectator to take over the role. This is a shift in the top management of the Flyers ahead of a busy offseason. The Flyers need to hire a President of Hockey Operations as well as figure out what they are going to do with Interim GM, Daniel Briere. The season has been one of change for the Flyers who within the last year have a new CEO, GM, and Coach.

They are also trying to find their future core which has led to some younger players getting larger roles and more minutes. That seems to be paying off for them though as forward Owen Tippett has eclipsed the 20 goal mark and the 40 point mark for the first time in his career. A large jump from his 10 goals and 21 points last season. Morgan Frost has also had a breakout year currently with 16 goals and 38 total points. He has already more than doubled his career high. Noah Cates who has also been centering the first line in just his second NHL season also has eclipsed 30 points in just his first full professional season.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 54 Points (23-43-8) 74 GP

The Columbus Blue Jackets’ tank just got a little bit easier. The team announced five injuries over the weekend: Patrik Laine is out 2-4 weeks with a biceps injury, and Erik Gudbranson, Mathieu Oliver, Nick Blankenburg, and Elvis Merzlikins are all listed as week-to-week or out for the remainder of the season. The Blue Jackets will finish their season with Michael Hutchinson and Jon Gillies between the pipes. They also have the second-hardest strength of schedule remaining according to The Athletic.

However, despite it all, they still managed to take the Boston Bruins to overtime in their last game. Hockey.

There was a lot of speculation around sending Cole Sillinger down to the AHL. The sophomore has struggled with just three goals and eight assists through 61 NHL games. The move was to help the young forward’s confidence but also get him playing in a bigger role. Just think of a basketball player that needs to see one drop. Once he makes an impact, his confidence will come back. He already has a three game point streak with the Cleveland Monsters who are also in the final playoff position in the North Division of the AHL which could provide him with some good postseason experience and help him have fun playing hockey again.