NHL Metro Division Notebook: Tight Race at the Top

NHL Metro Division

It would be safe to say the race for the top spot in the NHL Metropolitan Division is tight. The top five teams in the division are separated by five points. If one of the teams have a bad week, they could go from first to fifth in a blink of an eye. There was so much drama in the Metro Division this week. Time to go inside the NHL Metro Division Notebook for the week that was.

NHL Metro Division Notebook

Just Hanging On

The Columbus Blue Jackets are barely hanging on to the top spot in the Metro Division. While the Blue Jackets won two games this week, their coach was not happy with how they played. In the Blue Jackets home and home series with the Devils, Columbus did not compete at a high level. Things went from bad to worse during the final 40 minutes of the first game. Through the first period of the following game Columbus’s play did not improve.  All of sudden Artemi Panarin took over the game recording a five assist night to lead Columbus past the Devils. What was so amazing is that Panarin would get an another assist against the Coyotes on Saturday night. If Panarin continues to play this well, Columbus will have no issues winning games. One player who needs to improve is Cam Atkinson, who is vital to the team’s success.

Washington On the Rise

If you were not paying attention, then you missed the surprising rise of the Washington Capitals. Many experts believed the struggles the Capitals faced at the beginning of the season will help them once April comes along. First, the Capitals must make it to April. With each game the Capitals are improving and becoming  the team everyone thought they would be this season. Washington has won four games in a row, averaging four goals a game. The Capitals have caught lightning in a bottle with the reuniting of Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin is now over 20 goals on the season and is on pace for 50 goals. It is truly amazing the magic these two players have. For one thing the Capitals are a better team when these two are together.

Learning Curve

All teams face must face adversity. New Jersey just like every other team must pass tests in order to prove they belong with the big boys of the division. After falling short in their previous game, the Devils wanted to prove they can play much better. In the first game against Columbus, the Devils outworked and out played the Blue Jackets winning 4-1. Through the first period of the next game, everything was going New Jersey’s way. In a blink of an eye everything changed. Through the final 40 minutes of the Columbus game, and the entire Rangers game, New Jersey fell victim to not playing fundamentals. In the words of coach John Hynes, the team played “too loose and too soft to win.” The players know they must play harder and tougher against divisional opponents in order to be successful.

Best of the Rest:

– The New York Islanders just sit one point behind the Devils and four points behind the Blue Jackets. The Islanders had a bad four-game road trip winning only one game. In the Islanders three loses, the team did manage to pick up one point, but the team was hoping for more. While John Tavares and Josh Bailey have been leading the Islanders in points, it has been the stellar play of Mathew Barzal that has caught the attention of the NHL. Every time Barzal touches the puck, magic happens. Barzal has points in 10 of his last 12 games. He has been quite the surprise for the Islanders this season. New York is hoping the friendly confines of the Barclays Center will help the team start winning again.

–  For the Pittsburgh Penguins, the week was not a good one. Losing two of three games did not improve their position in the standings. Having Matt Murray injured does not help. Tristan Jarry is holding the fort down while Murray recovers from his injury. The Penguins hope that Murray can return sometime this week. One thing that has been concerning is how poorly the team is playing 5-on-5. For a team that prides itself on good defense, that is something that is lacking lately from the Penguins. Playing from behind constantly does not help either. Like most teams Pittsburgh is better when they have a lead, but too many times this season, the Penguins have had poor starts. Now that the hard part of the schedule is over, the Penguins hope they can gain some ground in the coming weeks.

– Another team that has been playing catch up has been the New York Rangers. The Rangers were able to gain some ground on their divisional opponents winning two of three games this week. The Rangers only sit five points behind the Blue Jackets for the top spot in the division. With Mike Zibanejad out of the lineup, it has been the play of Mats Zuccarello who has been carrying the load for the Rangers. In the two this week, Zuccarello registered at least two points in each of those games. Another player who has improved has been Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is putting the Rangers on his back like he used to do. As Lundqvist goes, so do the Rangers. If the Rangers can continue to play great on home ice, it won’t be long until they see their hard work pay off.

– The road has not been kind to the Carolina Hurricanes. During the team’s six game road trip, Carolina has lost three games already. However two of the loses came in overtime and Carolina was able to pick up two “loser” points. In each of those two loses, Carolina had chances to win the game. In the game against the Sharks, Carolina let another two goal lead slip away. That is one Carolina will regret not getting two points in. In the game against the Kings, Carolina rallied back from a two goal deficit, and had a chance to win in it in overtime. If Carolina can start protecting leads, the team can improve and potentially get on a winning streak to propel them higher in the standings.

– Maybe Philadelphia should continue to play all their games on the road. The Flyers snapped their 11-game losing streak by sweeping the Western Canadian Road trip. It was a good thing that the Flyers got out of town when they did. With all the talk of their coach potentially getting fired, trips like these bond teams. That is exactly what happened. The Flyers were led by Brian Elliott. Elliott was in net for all three of the Flyers wins. In each of the victories, Elliott was able to average only two goals against. When your goalie is your best player, it feeds the rest of the team. That is exactly what happened. A player like Wayne Simmonds, who had been struggling, starting to find his game again. If the Flyers can continue to put wins together, they could be a team that could be climbing the standings quickly.

Read More:

NHL Trade Rumors: Ian Cole and Goalies on the Move

NHL Metro Division Notebook: Believe the Hype

Photo Credit: By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

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