With the NHL Holiday Break upon us, it is a three team race to make the playoffs. With the Metro Division having a sub par year, only three teams will make the playoffs. As it stands right now Washington, Columbus, and Pittsburgh hold the first three spot. Six points separates third place from fourth place. As the NHL takes three days off for Christmas, let’s go inside the NHL Metro Division Notebook to see where these teams stand at the holiday break.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Heading into the Holiday Break
Washington Capitals – The defending champs have extra motivation this season. After winning the Stanley Cup last season, Washington would like to repeat just like their rival the Pittsburgh Penguins did. Similar to last season, Washington got off to a slow start. Everyone talked about having a Stanley Cup hangover. And, sure, did the Capitals party too hard? Yes, but they deserved to after all their struggles. Unlike some Stanley Cup Hangovers, this one lasted 45 days. Now the Capitals are clicking on all cylinders. Washington has a pretty healthy lineup. Tom Wilson is back in the lineup after his injury and suspension. Alex Ovechkin is lightning the lamp at a high rate. Through 35 games, Ovechkin has 29 goals. The rest of the team is settling in under new head coach Todd Reirden. Washington brought everyone back from their championship winning team, but the key piece is Tom Wilson.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Sitting two points behind Washington is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Columbus has points in six straight games, with wins in five of six games. So much for Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin being distractions for the team. Bobrovsky is on fire for the Blue Jackets as he has wins in four straight games including wins in back to back games. We know Bobrovsky is solid in the regular season, but can he get it done in the playoffs. On the other hand, Panarin is a game changer and is essential for the Blue Jackets. These players could be used as own rentals as the Blue Jackets have eyes on winning the playoffs. For the sixth straight season, Cam Atkinson has recorded at least 20 goals. Atkinson is playing really well this season playing alongside Panarin. The team is in good hands just in case Panarin leaves.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Here is another team that had a slow start to the year. After making deep runs in the playoffs the past three seasons finally caught up with the Penguins. It took some time, but the Penguins are finally getting it together. It also does not hurt their GM called them out for their poor play. Jim Rutherford was not satisfied with his team play through the beginning of the season. So he decided to shake things up some by. One player that has stepped up lately has been Bryan Rust. Rust is coming into his own this season. Not to mention Rust has scored some crucial goals for the Penguins already. One area that is worth keeping an eye is the goaltending position. While Casey DeSmith has been good, can he keep getting the job done or will the Penguins need a veteran presence.
Best of the Rest:
New York Islanders – Santa came early to the New York Islanders this season as he delivered Barry Trotz and Lou Lamoriello. Having two guys like spear heading the rebuild on Long Island was essential. Not having stability at the GM and head coaching positions sure held this team back some. Now with these two on board the Islanders are exceeding expectations. Many felt the Islanders would be near the bottom of the division. But thanks to Barry Trotz solid defensive structure the Islanders are competing for a playoff spot. Will the Islanders make the playoffs? Who knows, but they will fight each night to earn two points. Anders Lee and Brock Nelson share the team scoring lead with 12 goals each. If the Islanders can get some more consistent goaltending they would be a threat for a playoff spot.
Carolina Hurricanes – All smiles for the Carolina Hurricanes head into the break with a win. After starting off the season playing lights out hockey, the Hurricanes have come to Earth. Early in the year, the Hurricanes occupied the first spot in the Metro Division. From that point on, it was all downhill. Many felt this was the year Carolina would take the next step towards the playoffs after making all the changes in the offseason. However, the Hurricanes still need another goal scorer to go along with Sebastian Aho. Aho leads the team with 38 points which includes 14 goals. He has been a bright spot for this team this season. First year head coach Rod Brind’Amour continues to adjust to the NHL. Being a head coach is totally different than being an assistant. Carolina has some really good young pieces imagine if the team had a good goalie.
New York Rangers – Things to end well for the Rangers heading into the holiday. Even though the team picked three points during the week, the way the Rangers played they deserved more. New York is exceeding expectations this season. This was supposed to be a rebuilding season for the Rangers. New head coach David Quinn wants his team to work hard in every game. The Rangers are going to have to because they just don’t have the skill they once had. Entering the season, the Rangers made some smart restricted free agent signings as they signed these players to either one or two year deals. What has been impressive this season has been the play of guys like Filip Chytil and Neal Pionk. These players have become key contributors for the Rangers this season. Chris Kreider has found his scoring touch this season, while Mika Zibanejad continues to amaze.
Philadelphia Flyers – It was a hectic week for the Philadelphia Flyers. Once the dust settled from all the talk, the Flyers fired head coach Dave Hakstol replacing him with Scott Gordon. In addition, the Flyers decided to call up Carter Hart. Hart became the sixth goalie to start a game for the Flyers this season. Everyone knows what Carter Hart can be, but he still needs time to develop. Things started out great for the Carter Hart. He won his first two games for the Flyers before falling short in a game against Columbus. In an ideal world, Hart will be returned to the AHL on a high note. The worst thing the Flyers could do to this kid is play him until the magic runs out. We all the goaltending is a problem, that is why Chuck Fletcher will look to add a veteran goalie some time soon.
New Jersey Devils – Lately it has been a tale of two teams. Either the New Jersey Devils plays really good or really bad. There is no middle ground. After the team’s 4-0 start, the Devils are below NHL .500. There is going to be growing pains when you are a young team. Last season everything went right for the Devils, which allowed them to make the playoffs. This season the breaks are just not there. New Jersey is also seeing what the team has when it comes to their prospects. It is now or never for some of these players which include Pavel Zacha and John Quenneville. While it does take some time for the players to develop, both of these players have been given plenty of chances to succeed. With Cory Schneider on IR, MacKenzie Blackwood has been called up and has played well enough to earn future starts.