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Sunday Standings: The post-Thanksgiving look at the Metropolitan Division

How are the Pens’ postseason hopes looking at the important Thanksgiving marker? We take a peak at that and the rest of the division

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Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Islanders Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

After a few weeks of golfing and then other schedule conflict with Penguin games, our Sunday Standings series returns. Here’s a look at the Metropolitan standings:

Thanksgiving is typically used as a standard marker for the future, as teams approach 14 of the season being completed at the 21-game mark. If that is true, what we have seen is a three team pack at the top break away in the points. The Hurricanes and Capitals especially look like they’re well on their way to steam towards two of the three automatic playoff spots in the division due to their results and process.

The Rangers have gotten great results, but their underlying results are not as promising. So far this is a team being powered by a few high-powered skill players like Artemi Panarin, Adam Fox, Chris Kreider and great goaltending performances from Igor Shesterkin. But there are a lot of passengers and some troubling signs from expected goals that may or may not catch up to them.

Cracks are there, but a good power play and being able to prevent goals has led to a lot of early season wins. Similarly, the Flyers started out 5-2-1 but without a great process and have come back to the pack big time.

That pack of teams from fourth to seventh place is separated by just four points, with a different amount of games played, but points percentage says they are arranged in a proper order for now.

The early surprises of the season have been Columbus and New Jersey out-performing preseason expectations, with the Blue Jackets especially playing really well and winning 12 out of 19 games to start the year.

The Pens have steadied their season with the five game winning streak that came to an end last night. They’re a bit of the opposite of the Rangers right now, with Pittsburgh having an excellent process yet to this point have been bitten by a terrible power play and not much finishing.

Luckily for the Penguins, the NHL’s top ranked penalty kill has at least salvaged special teams play, but there’s no doubt they have left points on the table this season by failing to strike with the man advantage. If the Pens weren’t getting excellent goaltending from Tristan Jarry, they would probably be in a world of hurt right now.

Speaking of that world of hurt, the Islanders season may well have been decimated by the injuries and COVID losses that have spiraled them on a eight game losing streak. NYI’s next few games have been postponed, giving them a chance to stabilize. But it’s a really big hole with the Islanders 12 points behind the Pens today for the final wild card spot (though NYI does have four games in hand). Games in hand are only valuable if a team can get results, and right now the Islanders have been unable to do so.

There are several key matchups in the week ahead, Washington and Carolina collide this afternoon in a battle of the two top teams in the division and NJ and Philly will meet today too. The Flyers and Rangers play on Wednesday and on Saturday the Capitals will host the Blue Jackets in the inter-division games of the week. For best results for the Pens, there will be hopefully as few OT games as possible.

This outlook is from Thursday but still paints enough of a picture to speak on now.

With four really strong Atlantic teams and then four non-factors, the other issue for the Metro is that they likely will only have one wild card available to them, with Boston at this point projected on a path for fourth place in the Atlantic.

In simple terms, if we keep assuming WSH and CAR will be safe and out of the fray at the top of the division (which is reasonable at this point) that means there will be two playoff spots for the Rangers, Blue Jackets, Penguins, Devils, Flyers and Islanders to compete over. As of right now, for Pittsburgh, those are the teams it will be absolutely critical in future games to beat in regulation. In a more broad scope, that is the immediate competition that they should be looking to stay ahead of all but at least one to ensure a playoff spot. If the Bruins fail to kick it into gear that would open up another spot as well and makes them worth tracking for the Pens’ playoff chances.

Current Penguin playoff chances by model:

The Athletic: 80%
Moneypuck: 76.7%