With all eyes on Pittsburgh making their run up the standings, it is the Washington Capitals that continue to dominate play on the ice. The top three teams in the division are the ones that everyone expected to be there from the start. After some slow starts by two teams, the status quo is restored in the division. While it has been a down year for the division, the better teams are starting to rise to the occasion. The division is still wide open especially the third spot. With the holiday freeze coming, don’t be surprised if a move or two happens in the next couple days. Time to go inside the NHL Metro Division Notebook.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Defending Champions Dominating
If there is one team that is running away with a division, it is the Washington Capitals. After a slow start, the Capitals are rolling once again. The team is back at full strength, as TJ Oshie returned to the lineup. Washington is on a mission to repeat. Speaking of repeating, it appears that Alex Ovechkin is not ready to release the Rocket Richard Trophy just yet. Through 32 games, “The Great Eight,” has 29 goals. Ovechkin is on tear as he recorded a hat trick in back to back games this week. Having Oshie back in the lineup has rejuvenated this team. Oshie adds a different element to the team’s power play. He is a true different maker. One player that has not hit his stride yet has been Evgeny Kuznetsov. Through26 games, Kuznetsov only has seven goals on the season. Wait until he gets going again.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Things are not going according to plan for the Columbus Blue Jackets as of late. Over the past seven games, the Columbus Blue Jackets only have two wins. With Pittsburgh picking up steam, the Blue Jackets hold on the second spot in the Metro is starting to slip. Columbus picked up three points during the week. The team was hoping for more. Sergei Bobrovsky is starting to play better for the Blue Jackets, but he still can take his game to another level. We all know the Columbus Blue Jackets have a great young defensive corps, but it is the offense that is making noise. Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Josh Anderson are picking up the slack on offense. Dubois and Anderson each have 13 goals each, while Atkinson leads the team with 19 goals. Columbus has a tough stretch ahead and the team knows they can play much better.
The Penguins continue to march of the standings in the Metro Division. Sitting in third place, only one point behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pittsburgh is playing better and better with each passing game. Despite a loss to Chicago on Wednesday night, the Penguins were able to pick up six out of eight points this week. It appears that general manager Jim Rutherford is satisfied at least for right now with the goaltending situation. Casey DeSmith and Matt Murray are playing much better, but this is still a weakness. DeSmith is coming into his own, when Murray was out of the lineup. Murray was just activated from IR, and played pretty good in his first appearance since being injured. Of note, defenseman Kris Letang left Friday’s game with an injury and is listed as day to day. According to reports his injury could have been a lot worse.
Best of the Rest:
New York Islanders – With the Islanders about to embark on a four game road-trip, the team was able to pick up a much needed win on home ice. The Islanders are into the stretch of their schedule, where most of their games will be played back at the Nassau Coliseum. There is nothing fancy about the Islanders. The Islanders will not score much, but they will play a good defensive game. The last four games the Islanders have played have been one goal games. It is always good to end the week on a high note. After two tough loses, the Islanders found a way to win a close game. Mathew Barzal, who is having a quiet season, propelled the Islanders to victory with a goal and an assist. Maybe this is the game that finally turns his season around.
Carolina Hurricanes – Speaking of ending a week on a high note, that is exactly what the Carolina Hurricanes did. Carolina snapped a three game losing streak in front of their home fans. The first game home after a long trip is always tough. Regardless of the reason, Carolina was not ready to play against Toronto. In the next two loses, the Hurricanes had leads in each of those games, but failed to close the deal. The more heartbreaking loss was the one to Washington. Carolina had a three goal lead and let it slip away. The Hurricanes have come back to Earth some, but have the ability to put a string of wins together. The players will have to work hard each and every game to get the victory.
New York Rangers – Not an ideal week the New York Rangers after coming off a bye week. Losing to Tampa Bay will be chalked up to a the Rangers running into a better team. Losing to Arizona and Vegas can be thrown into the column of the Rangers being outworked by their opponent. In fact, the Rangers were up 3-0 on Arizona before the collapse was on. How does the old saying go, the worst lead in hockey is three goals, and in today’s NHL, no lead is safe. Even with Henrik Lundqvist playing well, he could be playing better. Lundqvist did call out some of his teammates after the loss to Vegas. Lundqvist felt that some players were not fighting hard enough for one another and were not ready to play. In fact, David Quinn echoed the same sentiments.
New Jersey Devils – There is no such things as a moral loss, but the Devils can remain positive after their past two games. The team is showing signs of playing better. The Devils showed great resiliency and character after coming back from a 4-1 deficit to the Vegas Golden Knights. The team’s overtime win could be the turning point in the season. While the Devils did lose to the Nashville the following night, New Jersey showed their residency once again tying the game late. One of the big reasons why the Devils got three points this weekend is because of the play of Keith Kinkaid. If it was not for Kinkaid, the Devils might not got any points. With Cory Schneider continuing to struggle, Kinkaid is the starter in New Jersey. The question facing the Devils is what the team is going to do with Schneider?
Philadelphia Flyers – Things are going from bad to worse in Philadelphia. Everyone knows it is tough to go through Western Canada, but this was out right embarrassing. While the Flyers did pick up one point against Calgary, Philadelphia is just not playing well. The goaltending is a major issue. It does not matter who is in between the pipes, the Flyers continue to give up a ton a goals. There is constant pressure in Philadelphia to win games. There is even more pressure on the team, with so much speculation about the future of head coach Dave Hakstol. During a report on Hockey Night in Canada’s Saturday Headlines segment, Chris Johnston told the audience, the situation around the head coach, is worth watching. While there is no definitive decision just yet, you have to believe a change is coming sooner rather than later.