With all the attention on the teams in the top three, as it should be. The teams at the bottom of the division sometimes get lost in the mix. As a matter fact, the two teams that made the playoffs last season, now reside at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Two seasons ago, the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers finished with the top two picks in the NHL Draft. Things are heading that way again this season. While there is still time for both of these teams to make up ground, the schedule does not get any easier. Is the hill just to big to climb for these two team? Find out in this week’s edition of the NHL Metro Division Notebook.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: It’s Midnight Cinderella
The Washington Capitals are finding their groove again. The defending champs are back in first place. Though the Capitals seven game winning streak came to an end at the hands of the Anaheim Ducks, the Capitals are clicking on all cylinders. It especially helps to have Tom Wilson back in the lineup. Wilson has goals in six straight games. However, Wilson is still up to his old ways. During a game against New Jersey, Wilson was assessed a five minute major and a game misconduct for his late hit on Brett Seney. Wilson avoided supplemental discipline, but all eyes are on him when he is on the ice. During parts of the Capitals seven game winning streak, the team was without Evgeny Kuznetsov due to an upper body injury.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Keeping pace with the Washington Capitals are the Columbus Blue Jackets. One of the main reasons for the Blue Jackets success has been the play of Cam Atkinson. During a stretch in November, Atkinson recorded goals in seven straight games. In the games where Atkinson did not score, he at least recorded an assist. All in all Atkinson has points in ten straight games. While Atkinson leads in the team in goals and points, one player that is coming into his own is Pierre-Luc Dubois. The third overall pick in the 2016 NHL Draft has taken some time to develop, but is turing into the cornerstone piece the Blue Jackets hoped he would be when they drafted him. Dubois is third in the team in points and is being put out on the ice in all situations by the head coach.
New York Islanders
Look who is back in the playoff race in the Metro Division. The New York Islanders. Now that the team is back in the Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders will truly have a home ice advantage. As head coach Barry Trotz pointed out in his press conference last night. Trotz thanked the people way up in the rafters making noise during the entire game, which energized his club. The fans truly lifted the Islanders past the Blue Jackets on Saturday night. The Islanders are playing well under Barry Trotz so far this season. While there will be ups and downs, the Islanders are making sure the downs do not last too long. With some much competition near the bottom of the standings, the Islanders know winning now will matter in the long run. Another thing benefiting the Islanders is their scoring depth. No one player has more than nine goals.
Best of the Rest:
Carolina Hurricanes – Look who is back in the mix of the playoffs, the surprise Carolina Hurricanes. The Hurricanes are just one point the New York Islanders for third in the Metro and one point behind Montreal for one of the wild card positions. Carolina had only two games this week, picking up three points. Carolina embarks on the California road trip starting this week. That trip is not as dreaded as it use to be. While all three teams are still good, they are not as dominating as they once were. Carolina has a chance to make a statement on this road trip. If the Hurricanes want to be considered a contender for the playoffs this season, getting at least two wins on this trip will be necessary.
New York Rangers – It was a touch week for the New York Rangers. While the Rangers did pick up three points during the week, it should have been four or five considering the Rangers lost to the Winnipeg Jets when the team was were up 3-0. That is a tough one to take considering the Rangers were outplaying the Jets for two periods. The Rangers had another bad loss to the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night. One bright note is that the Rangers are playing well on home ice. Madison Square Garden has always been good to the Rangers. Ryan Strome is starting to produce with the Rangers since being traded. In the last four games, Strome has three points (2G, 1A).
Pittsburgh Penguins – The Pittsburgh Penguins have some soul searching to do. With Matt Murray sidelined, the Penguins need to decide who is their starting goaltender. It is either Casey DeSmith or Tristan Jarry. Or maybe it is not even a player on their roster currently. General Manager Jim Rutherford could trade for a starting goalie with Murray out of the lineup. We have seen Rutherford is not afraid of changing things up. The deal he made to bring Tanner Pearson over from Los Angeles surely shook things up. Pittsburgh should have at least won two games this week, but goaltending and defense let them down. The Penguins has the skill offensively to succeed, but in their recent championship seasons, their defense was rock solid. Pittsburgh needs to play that way away.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Philadelphia Flyers are cleaning house. This past Monday, the Flyers relived general manager Ron Hextall of his duties. There is some belief that Hextall fell on the sword for head coach Dave Hakstoll. Regardless of what the situation was, Hakstoll is a lame duck coach going forward. Paul Holmgren and Bobby Clarke are in the process of interviewing people of the vacant general manager’s position. While the team is is no rush to fill the position, the belief is that Chuck Fletcher is the front runner for the job. After firing Hextall, the Flyers decided to fire some of Hakstoll assistant coaches. The team has not performed well on the ice since the firing. Though the Flyers won against their instate rival the Penguins, the team looks uninspired. Don’t be surprised if the Flyers make an offer to Joel Quennevhlle to be the team’s next head coach.
New Jersey Devils – Another team that was in the playoffs last season that continues to struggle this season are the New Jersey Devils. While the Devils are playing better, they still are not able to put a winning streak together that would propel them back into the playoff race. Even though the Devils have picked up points in overtime over the past week, those were the games that the Devils won last season to put them into the playoffs. Is the message getting lost from head coach John Hynes? Hard to say, but the Devils need to be able to start and finish games much better. Keith Kinkaid is the clear number one goalie, as he started back to back games for the first time this season. The scoring depth the Devils had last season is not there this season. Defensively the Devils are a mess, which must be addressed.