With the NHL at pause for the Christmas break, there’s no better chance to look at how the Metropolitan Division stands at the moment.
Most teams in the division have played between 29-31 games, with only the Islanders (26) as a significant outlier that will need to make up more games than the rest. This same trend holds across the league, with 24/32 teams having currently played between the 29-31 game range at the Christmas break.
There is suddenly a log jam at the top, with three teams (Carolina, Washington, NY Rangers) separated by a single point, though that could be a bit skewed based on the respective games played. Carolina’s .741% points percentage currently ranks tops in the NHL, with the Capitals and Rangers also in the top five, meaning that there are several not only division contenders but also President Trophy candidates in the Metropolitan Division.
And really, the Penguins are growing ever-closer to making it a four team race for the top spot, leading the division in wins (7) and points (15) in the last 10 games played across the board. Pittsburgh is charging up the board and could be poised to play a healthy and full lineup for the first time all season coming out of the Christmas break as all of Evgeni Malkin, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust inch closer to returning.
In the lower half of the division, there are a couple of interesting stories. Unfortunately for them, the hot starts by Columbus and New Jersey have been completely erased by now. Both teams are in absolute free fall and seem headed for the basement. This isn’t unexpected, but much like the “pace horse” that jumps out to an early lead in a race but then totally slows down towards the end of the race, neither CBJ or NJ look like factors for a playoff spot any longer (and this “race” of a season isn’t even halfway done).
Then, we turn to Philadelphia, where a coaching change has at least temporarily breathed some life into the Flyers. Former Pens’ assistant Mike Yeo was named the interim coach on December 6th (with head coach Alain Vigneault and assistant Michel Therrien dismissed) and at first it looked like nothing registered. Yeo went 0-2-0 in his first two games, getting out-scored 10-5 total along the way. Since then, however, Yeo has steered the Flyers to a 4-0-1 stretch (the only loss coming by way of a shootout) and has Broad Street Hockey at least starting the mental math to see if playoffs are a possibility. They’re a long way from that, but the last five game stretch at least opens up the dream to begin unfolding.
In the other “could be a decent team in a hole” category, the Islanders are still trying to get it in game. They’re 3-2-4 in the month of December, which means 10 points in nine games. That’s not going to help catch up when the CAR/NYR/WSH/PIT crew of likely future playoff teams all have 12-15 points in the same stretch. The Islanders have not been able to find traction with all their adversity and troubles, perhaps demonstrated by their 2-5-3 record in their new, shiny home at UBS Arena. Did they go from “Fort Neverlose” to “Fort Cannotwin”?
Penguin Playoff Chances
Here’s what some models say for Pittsburgh’s playoff hopes at this point: