As the NHL heads into the holiday break, things are pretty much the same in the NHL Metro Division. All season long it has been a tight race as once again the Metro Division is proving to be the toughest in the league. Nine points separates first from last in the division. With things being so tight, every win matters especially now. Time to go inside the NHL Metro Division notebook from the week that was.
NHL Metro Division Notebook Holiday Edition
Staying Red Hot
For the New Jersey Devils playing better hockey has been their goal from the start of the season. Being in first place as the holidays roll around is an added. As a matter of fact the Devils were predicted to finish dead last in the Eastern Conference coming into the season. With the season almost half over, the Devils it in first place in a tough Metro Division. Having won four games in a row and five out of their last six games, New Jersey sits one point ahead of the Washington Capitals. Taylor Hall, New Jersey’s leading goal scorer, is carrying the Devils this season. He is showing the young players on the team what it takes to win in the league. Speaking of the kids, first overall pick Nico Hischier is sure impressing the Devils in his first season.
Bump in the Road
As the Washington Capitals enter the holiday break, the team is starting to play some of its best hockey of the season. Despite losing the last two games, the Capitals had been rolling winning eight of their last nine games. That stretch had allowed Washington to climb up the standings into second place. Even in defeat Washington was able to pick up one point. However, the Capitals are not finding life on the road that easy. Washington will return from the break to a schedule that includes two divisional games. Washington knows their struggles prior to December has made them a better team. If Washington can continue gaining points in such a tight division, their chances of making playoffs will increase significantly.
Tale of Two Teams
For the Columbus Blue Jackets it has been a tale of two teams. Head coach John Tortorella expects more out of his team. After being embarrassed in back to back games giving up a total of 14 goals, it was time for his team to step up. Step up is exactly what they did. Columbus was able to pick up five points to close the week. And in one of the best games of the season took their rival the Pittsburgh Penguins to a shootout. Though Columbus ended up losing, the team knew it was capable of playing with any team in the division. Throughout the season Oliver Bjorkstrand has continued to improve with each game. Bjorkstrand now with 23 points, is now second in team scoring right behind Artemi Panarin.
Best of the Rest
-A team that is under a lot of scrutiny heading into the holiday break is the New York Rangers. It has been an up and down season so far for the Rangers. After not starting off the season strong, the Rangers have rebounded nicely to sit in the first wild card position if the playoffs were to start today. The Rangers did not end the week on a high note losing two games in a row one of them being to their divisional rivals the New Jersey Devils. Despite all of that the Rangers are playing some good hockey, though they will want to improve things in front of their own net. Once that happens, the Rangers will be able to play with even more consistency.
-The other team in New York, the Islanders got some much needed good news. The Islanders won the bid to build a new arena back on Long Island at Belmont Park. With that news, the team could focus on signing on John Tavares their superstar player. Even with that news it appears Tavares will not be making any decisions until the off season. With that being said, the Islanders were still playing hockey on the ice. It was a rough week for them in the standings losing two of three games only while only gaining three points. One player in particular stood out this week and that was Mathew Barzal. Barzal continues to amaze as he recorded his first career hat trick. He has to be considered a favorite for the Calder Trophy and has potential to be an All Star along with John Tavares and Josh Bailey.
-For the Carolina Hurricanes consistency is the name of the game. Over the past six games, the Hurricanes have been able to win five of those games. Carolina will want to forget about their 8-1 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Despite that loss, Carolina is playing better hockey. Sitting three points out of a playoff spot, the Hurricanes know there is still work to do. This is a team that was expected to be in the playoffs this season. In order for that to happen Scott Darling must be better. More specifically, Darling must give his team a chance to win every night. He can’t be the reason, the Hurricanes loose the games.
-It has not been the season the Pittsburgh Penguins had hoped for. Too much inconsistency has plagued the Penguins this season. Despite their struggles, the Penguins are still in striking distance of making the playoffs. However, General Manager Jim Rutherford will be looking to make major changes once the holiday freeze is over to improve his hockey club. The one thing Jim Rutherford cannot fix is fatigue. Many players on the Penguins roster have played a ton of hockey over the past two seasons. Just like Chicago and Los Angeles, the Penguins have fell to the Stanley Cup hangover. With many veteran players gone, Pittsburgh will be looking to find players that fill those roles in order to get back to the playoffs.
-Despite the Flyers going through an 11-game losing, the team sits just four points out of the final playoff spot. Most of this can be attributed to the play of Jakub Voracek. Ever since the team started to win Voracek has picked up his game. While his linemate Sean Couturier is getting all the attention, Voracek is the one doing all the work. Though the Flyers have struggled recently, the break is just what the doctor ordered. Many players on the Flyers need some rest to recover from their injuries. The Flyers have a couple extra days off before they get back to work in Florida. In order for the Flyers to make a run at the final playoff spot, the team must continue to win and pick up points. In order that to happen goaltender Brian Elliott must be their best player.
Everyone enjoy your holiday break!!!