If the playoffs started today, there would be five teams from the Metro Division in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Of course that is if the playoffs started today. However, there is still a month to go in the season, and things could change again. Columbus took advantage of the Canadiens being off, while Pittsburgh and Carolina were able to keep pace as well. Not to mention the Islanders are struggling at the wrong time. The only clear favorite is Washington. Let’s go inside this week’s NHL Metro Division Notebook.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: One Month Left To Go
Washington Capitals – The Washington Capitals just put together the quietest six game winning streak this season in the NHL. With the playoffs only a month away, the Capitals are hitting their stride. Such perfect timing for the defending Stanley Cup Champions. The All-Star break came at the perfect timing for this team as the Capitals hit a wall. Now the Capitals know what it takes to win. Alex Ovechkin is four goals away from hitting the 50 goal mark again. When Ovechkin goes into the Hockey Hall of Fame, he will be known as the most dominate goal scores in history. There are two teams that could give Tampa Bay problems, one is the Bruins and the other is the Washington Capitals. Until someone beats them in the playoffs, there is no reason the Capitals can’t go back to the final.
New York Islanders – The New York Islanders are picking the wrong time to have a losing streak. Even with the two wins, the Islanders are still in second place. They did not look good in their two wins over Ottawa. Granted the Islanders are exceeding expectations, but if New York continues to lose, they might lose home ice advantage. What is even worse, the Islanders could end up in the group of teams fighting for a wild card position. In this division, you don’t want to be in that group. With all Barry Trotz has done with this group, there is another level these players can find. On the other hand, this group is so inexperienced they might be running out of steam. Lots of big games against teams in the playoff races. Those are crucial points they need to get.
Pittsburgh Penguins – For the first time in a long time, the Pittsburgh Penguins are fighting for their playoff lives. With only a month to go, the Penguins flip between the third spot and the first wild card spot.. All season long, the Penguins have been looking for consistency. That is the main reason why Pittsburgh is in this position. Having to face adversity this early, it makes every game feel like a playoff game. With all the injuries on defense, the Penguins had to get back to basics. The Penguins defensive game has gotten better because they had they too. However, there is still too many inconsistencies in their game. Even with Sidney Crosby in the top 4 in points, its Jake Guentzel who leads the team in scoring. After back to back great playoffs, this is Guentzel breakout season. Down the stretch Pittsburgh needs better goaltending.
Best of the Rest:
Carolina Hurricanes – Here is the second of three teams fighting for not only the third spot, but the wild card positions as well. Carolina had a rough week, losing two of three games. The Hurricanes were able to pick up three of six points. This season, the Hurricanes have finally be able to take the next step. Over the past seasons, the Hurricanes were nothing but a tease, but this season something is clicking. Playing the underdog role suits this organization. Rallying behind the “Bunch of Jerks” label certainly seems to be helping. As much as the “Storm Surge” is great, you can clearly see visiting teams will play harder in Carolina to avoid seeing that. The schedule makers did not help the Hurricanes as the month of March is filled with teams fighting for a playoff position.
Columbus Blue Jackets – What is going on in Columbus? Even with all the trades the Blue Jackets made, they are not clicking. And Columbus needs to start clicking in order to make the playoffs. Right now, the Blue Jackets are in a playoff spot, but that could change. Columbus got two wins during the week. One against New Jersey and the other against Pittsburgh. They also lost a game to Pittsburgh. In the win against the Devils, the Blue Jackets did not play well but escaped in the shootout. Against Pittsburgh, Columbus was clicking on all cylinders. The big story of the week was Sergei Bobrovsky’s rest. Bobrovsky did not dress in the loss against Pittsburgh. Even stranger is that Keith Kinkaid did not start the game Columbus lost, considering his record against the Penguins.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Philadelphia Flyers are still in playoff contention. Philadelphia sits five points behind Columbus and Montreal. Still a big hill to climb. However, if the Flyers continue to win their divisional games, the gap might close even more. Unfortunately, the Flyers will be without Jakub Voracek for two games. Voracek was suspended by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety for interference when he hit Islanders defenseman Johnny Boychuk on Saturday night. That is a big loss considering how well he is playing with Claude Giroux. It is a big week for the Flyers with games against Washington, Toronto, and Pittsburgh. The Flyers will be in this race all the way until the last day of the regular season.
New York Rangers – Regardless where the New York Rangers finish in the standings, this team will always fight. Especially when the Rangers play on Madison Square Garden ice. One stat that stands out for the Rangers this season, is that the Rangers have played in 36 one goal games. That stat shows even though the Rangers are in a rebuild, they are competitive. New York will not go down without a fight. While it may have taken some time Pavel Buchnevich is turning into the player the Rangers thought he would. Just like with any young player it takes some time to adjust to the NHL game. But lately Buchnevich has been put into situations to succeed. Going forward Buchnevich is a player the Rangers will want to build around.
New Jersey Devils – With the playoffs out of reach and the season being a total loss, the Devils are focusing on the future. The Devils are injury ridden, which has allowed players from the AHL to be called up and get looks from John Hynes and the coaching staff. New Jersey is on a six game losing streak. Clearly, this losing has gotten to the players. Blake Coleman said it best, “We are sick of losing.” This comment came after the Devils blowing a 2-0 lead to the Rangers on Saturday night. It was the first time in the Ray Shero/John Hynes era the Devils lost a game when leading after two periods. New Jersey is fielding an AHL team each and every night. Even though this is a process, the Devils took a major step back this season.