With most of the Metro Division on the NHL mandated bye week, things are really getting interesting. While the teams at the top were in a comfortable position, the teams at the bottom are now catching up. 11 points separate the first place team from the last place team, so a major losing streak could be crippling to a team at the top. Let’s go inside the NHL Metro Division notebook to recap the week that was.
NHL Metro Division Notebook Bye Week
The Washington Capitals are starting to pull away in the Metro Division. The Capitals are on a four-game winning streak as they enter their mandatory bye week. Washington was able to pick up two divisional wins against the Carolina Hurricanes, who were surging in the standings. Some things never change as Washington continues to dominate the Hurricanes from their days as division rivals in the Southeast Division. Alex Ovechkin is on pace to have another 50 goal season as he currently sits with 28 goals. During the week the NHL announced the rosters for the All-Star game. Along with Alex Ovechkin, Braden Holtby was named to the Metro Division team. The fact that Washington was able to bank points heading into their bye week will help down the road as teams continue to chase them in the standings.
Struggling to Maintain Position
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be thanking the NHL for the fact the rest of the division had off this past week. Columbus is in the midst of the two game losing streak. While the Blue Jackets did pick up two points in the standings, they were not able to pull away from the Devils, who sit a couple points behind them. Columbus will not be happy they could not get closer to Washington. Entering their bye week, Columbus will get a much needed time off. Artemi Panarin continues to have a stellar season, but was not named to the All-Star Game. His teammate Seth Jones will be the lone representative from Columbus in Tampa at the end of the month. With only four games the rest of the month, Columbus knows those points will be valuable for their position in the standings.
Back to Earth
It appears the New Jersey Devils are coming back to Earth. While New Jersey is still in the top three of the Metro Division, the Devils are struggling on the ice. As a matter of fact, the Devils have now lost six games in a row. To make matters worse the Devils have lost their last couple divisional games. For a young team like the Devils, the players know that they have not earned anything yet. Nothing will be given to the Devils in the second half of the season especially as New Jersey enters the heart of their divisional schedule. Head coach John Hynes knows his team will need to improve defensively for the team to win. Another aspect of the Devils game that must improve will be persistence. Winning puck battles and being hungrier on the puck will make the Devils a tougher team to play against.
Best of the Rest:
-The New York Rangers are still sitting in a nice position. The Rangers hold one of the two wild card spot. Coming off their bye week, the Rangers have lost two games in a row. The Rangers were not ready to play either game. It is understandable as the Rangers only got back to work Friday night. The reason the Rangers are in their current position is because of their goaltending. Henrik Lundqvist earned another All-Star appearance and it is for good reason. Lundqvist elevated his game in order for the Rangers to be where they are now. The Rangers got some good news as Chris Kreider had successful surgery and will be reevaluated in six weeks. New York must start playing smart hockey game that allowed them to climb up the standings during a stretch in November and December.
-Things in the Metro Division certainly can change on a dime. A week ago the Pittsburgh Penguins were in last place, now they hold a playoff position. Pittsburgh used their bye week to their advantage. Many players on Pittsburgh needed the time off since they have played so much hockey over the last two seasons. As it was announced this past week, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang were named as participants for the upcoming All-Star game. While Crosby admits he should not be there, he is still have a good year. The Penguins know things do not get any easier as Pittsburgh heads on their annual California road trip. Climbing back up the standings was a challenge enough, but staying there will be a fight as well.
-The Philadelphia Flyers are on the outside looking in coming off the bye week. Philadelphia earned a hard fought victory over the Devils Saturday night. Picking up divisional wins is huge for a team that has struggled all season, but as of late is one of the hottest teams in the NHL. While many of the Flyers were deserving to go to the All Star game, Claude Giroux is the only representative from the Flyers. His line mates of Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier are having stellar seasons as well. Philadelphia has a tough divisional schedule coming up as they sit one point of the final wild card spot in the East. As the Flyers start to rely on more of their offense, they will be a tougher team to play against.
-The Carolina Hurricanes also have 48 points, but they did not help their cause in the standings this week. Losing three of four games heading into the bye week hurt the momentum they built at the beginning of January. Carolina had a chance to make up ground in the standings with teams in front of them on the bye week. Carolina is a young team that needs to learn to lose before they can learn how to win. Holding leads has been a problem for Carolina all season. This will be one aspect the coaching staff will look at over the bye and fix those problems once the Hurricanes get back on the ice.
-There are no adjectives to describe how well Mathew Barzal is playing for the New York Islanders. Coming off the bye week Barzal potted a career high five points as the Islanders defeated the Rangers. Though Josh Bailey and John Tavares are heading to the All Star game, Barzal needed some consideration. While the Islanders sit in last place with 48 points, the players are not worried. The team knows it will be able to gain ground since a lot of teams are on their bye week. Four games in six nights will text the mental toughness of the Islanders. The key will be how well the goaltending for the Islanders holds up during this stretch of games.
Things will certainly interesting as the second half of the season gets going.