The second week of January marks the end of the first half of the season. Teams in the Metro Division are still only separated by 10 points. Winning and losing means everything this time of year as many teams still believe they are in playoff contention. With the standings so close a major losing or winning streak will shake things up drastically. What will the second half of the season bring in the Metro Division? Let’s recap the week that was in the weekly Metro Division Notebook.
NHL Metro Division Notebook
Leading the Pack
The Washington Capitals are rolling along like always. Two wins to start the new year. Both games needed extra sessions, but Washington is starting to pull away in the Metro Division. While Washington continues to win like seasons past, most people are not paying attention to their season. When has a team like the Capitals been less under the radar? Never. The reason for this is because the Capitals can never win in the playoffs. Washington has been flying under the radar all season. Their start was not good, but maybe it has made them battle tested and mentality stronger for the post season. Alex Ovechkin is closing in on the 30-goal plateau once again and nobody seems to be noticing that. The best for the Capitals going forward is that they continue to fly under the radar.
Facing Adversity Again
The New Jersey Devils are facing adversity once again. This time New Jersey is in the midst of a five game losing streak , their longest of the season. Though the Devils have picked up three points during this stretch, holding leads have been a problem for the team lately. Defensively the Devils have not been playing well. Too much running around and not sticking with assignments has hurt the club. The Devils mandatory week off could not come at a better time. Though they will not be able to take to the ice until next Saturday, the players can rest up physically and mentality from a grueling first half of the season. In three of the Devils loses there have been some controversial calls, that has hurt the team mentality. New Jersey must learn to overcome these calls to have continued success.
Finding a Way
For the Columbus Blue Jackets getting wins without two key players in their lineup is something to celebrate. Columbus has started off the New Year strong with two wins. Sitting only one point behind New Jersey and four points behind Washington, the Blue Jackets are sitting in a good position. The team is finding ways to win games especially when the team does not play their best hockey. Artemi Panarin is stepping up without Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg in the lineup. Panarin needs to be the guy for Columbus. He was brought in for a reason. He is the leader of the team with those two players out of the lineup. Another player that is finding his game for the Columbus at the right time is Sergei Bobrovsky. Bobrovsky is playing with a purpose. Besides Panarin, Bobrovsky must be on his game every night for Columbus to be successful.
Best of the Rest:
– The new year has been good to the New York Rangers. New York has two wins so far this season. The team is playing much better than they did back in October. The Rangers saved their season against the Vegas Golden Knights. Ever since then the Rangers have been playing much better hockey. Henrik Lundqvist is back to the Lundqvist of old. Many fans have taken him for granted through the years, but Lundqvist constantly shows why he is one of the top 10 goalies in the league. New York is getting balanced scoring throughout its lineup. And while Chris Kreider is lost for the season, the Rangers determination to fight back into playoff position has not wavered. A standout player for the Rangers in the first half has been Michael Grabner. Grabner has 18 goals on the season and is one of the best penalty killers in the league.
– The hottest team towards the end of the first half of the season has been the Carolina Hurricanes. Having earned points in four of their six games, Carolina has clawed their way in the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Carolina will look to pick up more ground as some teams in the Metro Division will be on their bye week. That will not be an easy task as the Hurricanes will face the Capitals twice and the red hot Tampa Bay Lightning. Finnish sensation Sebastian Aho is tied for the team lead with 33 points and currently has points in six of seven games. With a mix of veterans and young talent the Hurricanes will be a tough team to play against. Carolina needs to learn to protect leads. Too many times this season Carolina has blown third period leads. This trend must be fixed going forward.
– The Philadelphia Flyers are rolling once again. Philadelphia is in the midst of a four game winning that has propelled them in the standings. As a matter of fact, the Flyers are now tied with the Hurricanes in points with 46. Even though the Flyers have been winning, they sit on the outside looking because they have played one more game than Carolina. The play of the Flyers top is superb. Each night the play of Giroux, Voracek, and Couturier continues to amaze the hockey world. For Couturier, he has established a new career high this season in points with 42. And while the Flyers top line continues to shine, the play of other players is picking up as well. Surprisingly enough the play of their young defensive corps has also helped the Flyers. Transitioning from defense to offense is crucial especially with the weapons the Flyers have.
– The New York Islanders enter their bye week ending their five game losing streak. For a team that has hopes of the playoffs, losing five games in a row did not help their cause. While John Tavares and Josh Bailey continue to score at a high pace, New York cannot rely on one line to win games. Though Mathew Barzal continues his point streak, the Islanders during that five game stretch had problems scoring goals. The Islanders have the talent to put up five goals a night, but the consistency from the rest of their lineup is not their. Consistency is also a problem for their goalies. It appears for now Jaroslav Halak has wrestled back the number one goalie position from Thomas Greiss. Both goalies need to be better for the Islanders. Timely saves and goaltending will be keys for the Islanders come the second half of the season.
-Who would have thought the Pittsburgh Penguins would be in last place in the Metro Division? Nobody. However, the loses are playing a bigger role than most would have thought. Do not want to sound like a broken record, but the loss of Marc-Andre Fleury is enormous. Fleury was a veteran presence in goal for Pittsburgh when he was there. Matt Murray is a good goaltender, but can he carry the weight of playing 60-65 games? Sure he can, but having Marc-Andre Fleury last year helped him for sure. Nothing against Tristan Jarry, who has played decent this season, he is an AHL goalie learning to play at the NHL level. Pittsburgh will need to make changes if they want to get back to the playoffs. But those changes could be too little too late.
Stay tuned to see what the second half of the season brings in the Metro Division.