As the year 2017 comes to a close things in the Metro Division could not be tighter. One of the toughest divisions in hockey coming into the year has lived up to the hype. There have been a lot of surprises inside the division during 2017. Could those surprises continue into 2018? Only way to find out is to watch and find. Time to review the final week of 2017 as we go inside the NHL Metro Division Notebook.
NHL Metro Division Notebook New Year Edition
Back to Form
With so many expectations on the Washington Capitals in years past, this season the Capitals fell off the radar. All of a sudden Washington is rounding into form as the team everyone expected them to be this season. As the team closes 2017 on a two game winning streak, the Capitals are back atop the division. The team sits one point in front of the Devils, after defeating them Saturday night. Coach Barry Trotz has he guys playing the right way as the team rolls four competitive lines out each and every night. To no one’s surprise Alex Ovechkin leads the team with 24 goals and 41 points. Since being reunited with Nicklas Backstrom, Ovechkin has come into his own. Washington is also getting production from its backend led by John Carlson. If the Capitals can hold onto the division lead, expectations could rise.
Learning to Grow
One of the biggest surprises in all of hockey this season has been the play of the New Jersey Devils. As a matter of fact, New Jersey has been in either first or second in the division since the season began. New Jersey is led by their rookies of Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Will Butcher. As the season progresses, the players are learning how tough the NHL can be. The Devils had their season high five game winning streak snapped on Friday. Then lost a tough divisional battle on Saturday night to the Washington Capitals. Coach John Hynes needs his players to live in the moment and learn from their loses which will make them a tougher team to play against later in the season. Many thought New Jersey would slow down, but that has not happened. In fact the Devils are for real and here to stay.
Coming on Hard Times
For the Columbus Blue Jackets, things went from bad to worse. Not only is Cam Atkinson lost to injury, but the team also lost Alex Wennberg. With both players are out of the lineup for up to six weeks, Columbus will turn to other players to pick up the slack. While Artemi Panarin is producing at a high rate, he is not leading the team in goal scoring. Panarin needs to score more goals for Columbus to have a better chance at the playoffs. When Josh Anderson leads the team in goals, that is not a good sign. Anderson is a good player, however, the player that should be leading the team in goals is Panarin. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky has not been himself this year either. While Bobrovsky”s numbers are still good, he will need to be better for the Blue Jackets.
Best of the Rest:
-Coming out of the break, the New York Rangers only played two games winning one and losing one both in shootouts. New York is preparing for the Winter Classic as they play the Buffalo Sabres to open 2018. Occupying a playoff position to close 2017 is the perfect situation for a team that started the season very poor. In fact, the Rangers have climbed out of the cellar after an impressive two months of hockey. Many believed the loss of Antti Raanta would be vital to the team’s success. However, backup goalie Ondrej Pavelec has filled in nicely providing much relief to Henrik Lundqvist. Pavelec’s play has made him reliable to point where he has the chance of starting more games. Kevin Shattenkirk has finally settled into his new role with the team. It took some time for Shattenkirk to feel comfortable. Now that he has, Shattenkirk’s production has risen.
-The New York Islanders are an interesting team in the Metro Division. During games at the Barclays Center, the Islanders seem to be untouchable. But when the team goes on the road, they seem to be different. Do the Islanders lose confidence? No, but having the die-hard fans behind them surely helps the Islanders when they are at home. Though the Islanders play on the road has improved as of late. One thing that needs to happen for the Islanders to maintain their position in the playoffs is to pick a number one goalie. Thomas Greiss has been decent this year, but Jaroslav Halak has been a little bit better. Playing two goalies the whole season will not bring the results the team wants. Pick a guy and stick with him. This will give the team confidence and the play will improve.
-The Carolina Hurricanes are turning back to the clocks closing out the year. As a matter of fact, former Conn Smythe winning goaltender Cam Ward has wrestled the starting job away from Scott Darling. Ward had guided Carolina to a four game winning streak prior to their loss Saturday against St. Louis. So much has been expected of this team coming in. Now the Hurricanes only sit two points out of the final playoff spot in the East. The play of Sebastian Aho is being noticed not only by his teammates, but by the rest of the league. Though he only has 29 points on the season, Aho is showing why he is one of the best young players in the league. He is tied with teammate Teuvo Teravainen for the team league as Carolina has one of best young duos in the league.
-It has not been the season so far the Pittsburgh Penguins expected it to be. Pittsburgh is out of a playoff spot ending 2017 and in order for them to be in a playoff spot come 2018 they must start playing better. Like all season, the loses in the off-season has hurt this team. Another thing that has plagued the Penguins is fatigue. Pittsburgh has played a lot of hockey over the last two seasons. It is hard to repeat never mind three-peat as Stanley Cup Champions. While Sidney Crosby has been putting up points, he is not playing up to his standards. As a matter of fact the other star players on the team need to step up to help this team. Defensively the Penguins are not good. While Matt Murray has been good, he is still adjusting to being the number one goalie.
-For the Philadelphia Flyers it has been a season of ups and downs. The Flyers have climbed from the bottom to be within striking distance of the playoffs. Though Philadelphia has split their last couple of games, the time is now for the Flyers to find their winning form. If the team wants any shot at the playoffs, Philadelphia needs to play winning hockey. However, that will not be easy the Flyers enter the heart of their divisional schedule. The only way to make up ground in the standings is to win games or inside such a tough division. After a sophomore slump, Shayne Gostisbehere is playing great hockey again. His play defensively has allowed his offensive game to develop even more. Now the Flyers just need timely goaltending to climb even higher in the standings.