With the first full week of February in the books, teams continue to flip positions in the standings. As a matter of fact each week the NHL standings change with different teams in different positions. With the trade deadline approaching, two teams have started to separate themselves from the rest of the division. To no one’s surprise those teams are the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins. Time to go inside the NHL Metro Division Notebook to recap the weekly events.
NHL Metro Division Notebook
Firstly, to say the Washington Capitals are flying under the radar would be an understatement. Having climbed all the way up from the bottom of the division to the top is very impressive. Even with the Capitals running on all cylinders, Washington is still not considered a Cup contender. Those who follow the NHL have seen this picture before. The Capitals have a good regular season and fail in the playoffs. However, this year has a different feel. With all the struggles Washington faced this season, they will be battle ready once the playoffs start. Washington picked up two huge divisional victories over Columbus before falling to Detroit in overtime. Do not sleep on this Washington team as they are a true contender.
Clicking at the Right Time
The Pittsburgh Penguins are coming alive. The two-time defending Stanley Cup Champions remain in the second position trailing their rival the Washington Capitals. For the Penguins, things are starting to finally click. Winning two of three games while recording a five point week is excellent for team that was struggling about a month ago. Pittsburgh picked up an emotional win over their former teammate Marc-Andre Fleury to begin the week. The Penguins followed that up by a shootout loss to Dallas then won in St. Louis. Things right now could not be any better for the Penguins. Phil Kessel is making a case for the Hart Trophy while Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin continue to do what they do. Pittsburgh is hungry for the three-peat and only look to get better.
Making Some Noise
Entering the week, the Philadelphia Flyers found themselves on the outside looking on the top three. For the Flyers it has been a season of streaks. During the beginning of the season, the Flyers endured a 11-game losing, before going on a 10-game winning streak. Through the last month the Flyers have lost more than they won. Now the Flyers find themselves in the midst of a four-game winning streak. This has allowed the Flyers to climb the standings. Most of the winning was attributed to Brian Elliott coming back from injury. However, Elliott is injured once again. The question will be can Michael Neuvirth handle the load going forward? With Elliott injured prior this winning, the Flyers struggled without their leading man. Things must change this time for the Flyers.
Best of the Rest:
-Entering the season, the New Jersey Devils were expected to finish in last place. Despite all the odds, the Devils were able to get off to a great start. This great start has allowed the Devils to remain in a playoff spot. However, that could change if New Jersey can not figure ways to win more consistently. The problem being is the rest of the teams are adjusting to New Jersey’s style of play. While New Jersey has made the proper adjustments, the Devils are still a young team with a lot of inexperience and hitting walls at different parts of the season. Adding to the list of woes is the fact their starting goalie Cory Schneider is out with a groin injury. The team expects Schneider to be out at least another week if not more. The Devils will need Keith Kinkaid and Eddie Lack to shoulder the load.
-Another team with expectations entering is the Carolina Hurricanes. For the Hurricanes just being in the mix for a playoff spot in an accomplishment in itself as Carolina had a terrible start to the season. Having traded for Scott Darling, the Hurricanes thought they had found their man going forward. However, that was not the case. In fact, former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Cam Ward has taken control of the net again. Carolina is responding better with Ward in net. Carolina has picked up five point during the week. In order for Carolina to maintain position they must continue to get points. In such a tough division like the Metro, the difference between making the playoffs and missing could a mere one or two points.
-For the first time all season, the Columbus Blue Jackets find themselves on the outside of the playoff picture in the Metro Division. Losing two of three divisional games did not help the Blue Jackets cause. Columbus is not playing great defensively right now. Despite their blowout win over New Jersey, the Blue Jackets still have many inconsistencies in their game. Artemis Panarin still remains great for the Blue Jackets. He currently leads the team with 45 points. Panarin has done all that has been asked of him –though Columbus knows they can be better. Head coach John Tortorella expects them to be better. With the heart of the divisional schedule being played this month, these games could make or break the Blue Jackets season.
-The New York Islanders are a curious team. On paper the Islanders have a solid team, however execution on the ice has not been up to their standards. There are moments in seasons that can be game changers for a team. The Islanders comeback against Detroit on Friday night could be the thing the Islanders need to get the ball rolling. Of course Mathew Barzal was involved in the comeback against the Red Wings. Another five point night for this sensational rookie. If Barzal has not locked up the Calder Trophy, he is pretty darn close to it. The biggest question mark for the Islanders continues to be goaltending. If the Islanders could get better goaltending, New York could be higher in the standings. Look for the Islanders to make some sort of move for the stretch run of the season.
-The New York Rangers have come out and have told their fans they are in a full on rebuild mode. With the trade deadline approaching, the Rangers have pieces teams want in Rick Nash and Michael Grabner. The strange thing about the timing of this announcement is that the Rangers find themselves within a playoff position. New York sits three points from the final playoff spot. Considering the Rangers want to rebuild for the future, the team is still competing on the ice. However, that depends on the game. After tough loses against Dallas and Boston, New York finished the week on a two-game winning streak. The wins were not pretty, but wins none the less. If the Rangers can get back to the style of play that allowed to wins games in November and December, then the Rangers have a shot for the playoffs.