Another Sunday game for the Pens means another Sunday Standings post a day early. Rejoice!
And, would you look at that, we have a new first place team this morning in the Metropolitan Division, and they are none other than your 5x Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins!
Points percentage and the games played column shows this is pretty much a mirage right now, since Carolina has only one point less than Pittsburgh, and with a significant four games in hand. So, yeah, really the Hurricanes are the best-positioned team at the moment, but, pssh, I don’t see the #1 next to their team this morning.
This is a wonderful culmination and fitting moment for the Pens, who at 17-2-2 in the last 21 games (which is a quarter of a season) have certainly earned the trip up the standings based on their strong performance over the last two months.
There’s still ~40 games to go for most of the contenders and a LOT of hockey still left. But for now at almost the All Star break, the division is right there for the taking for Pittsburgh.
A quick scan around the week that was in the division from last Saturday - last night:
- Pittsburgh (2-0-2): It was a lot of hockey for the Pens in the last week. This team could definitely use the impending All-Star break (which for Pittsburgh will last from Feb 2-7) to rest and recharge the batteries. But it’s always a good week when there are no regulation losses. And how ‘bout Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin with matching 1G+4A weeks? The two-headed monster is back in full force.
- Carolina (2-1-0): It wasn’t really the most convincing week for the Hurricanes, they lost 7-4 on Saturday to New Jersey, and then took until OT vs Vegas and a shootout versus Ottawa to pickup extra-time wins. I think at this point pretty much everyone is just trying to get to the All-Star break for some much needed rest.
- New York (R) (2-2-0): Not a great week for the Rangers, who lost their last two games including Henrik Lundqvist jersey retirement night last night. And to make matters worse, NYR’s desperate push at the buzzer fell just short of gaining at least one point in the standings against Minnesota. This will probably be forgotten about in the weeks and months ahead, being an out of conference game and all, but the division and seeding could be very, very close. A failure to get one, or possibly even two points in that game might be a difference-maker at the end for the Rangers for playoff seeding and a first round matchup. (Of course, every team will have those one or two games to look back on and regret, but this one coming so close stands out.)
- Washington (2-2-0): After only scoring one total goal on Monday (1-0 loss to Vegas) and Wednesday (4-1 loss to San Jose) the Caps broke free for a redemption 5-0 win in Dallas last night. Like Carolina, they also required extra time this week (OT) to defeat Ottawa. The Caps still don’t feel quite on track, and are engaged in “a riveting game of “Who Stinks Less?” between Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek” as or old pal Sean Gentille so humorously and accurately put it.
- Columbus (1-2-0): Columbus lost two games early in the week, one to those pesky Senators (2-1) and then CBJ got absolutely drubbed at home against Calgary (6-0), allowing 62 (yes, 62) shots to the Flames in the beatdown. But at least CBJ bounced back the next night for a 5-3 win over the Rangers! That would be nice for the Pens if the Jackets can play spoiler and get some more wins over the other top teams in the division. I wouldn’t hold my breath on that, though.
- New York (I) (1-2-0): Out of perhaps a mix of respect and fear, I have been very cautious to make any sweeping declarations about the slow start of the Islanders. However, it’s time to call it: the Islanders are finished for this season. Other than going 3-0-0 against the hapless Flyers, NYI is only 2-3-0 against everyone else since their season kicked back off in mid-January. They’re not making up enough ground and too far gone now.
- New Jersey (1-3-0): Tough week for the Devils, who lost a pair of one goal games by the score of 3-2 (to LA on Sunday, to Tampa on Thursday) and both were games where they led after the first period. That’s just kinda where New Jersey is right now, they’re competitive enough to start well, but lack the ability to finish and turn leads into wins.
- Philadelphia (0-3-0): And now to the comic relief section, we have the Flyers, who remain 0 for 2022 with three more losses chalked up in the past week. If you want to look ahead and be hopeful, Philly only has four more games until they play the Penguins on February 15th, in what some have already pointed out could be a historic 18th straight loss, if it comes to that. Maybe they win by that point, but right now, who knows.
Projectin’ them points
Playoff chances over the past fortnight. Winnipeg found an inauspicious time to drop several games in a row. pic.twitter.com/FTsR6DoHK9— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) January 28, 2022
This doesn’t include last night’s games, where Pittsburgh’s shootout loss won’t much alter the course, but the Rangers will take a small bump with a regulation loss. As of right now most of the models will be predicting a very close finish for the Pens and Canes, those head-to-head games (Feb 20, Mar 4, and Mar 13) will likely be the very most important contests of the season in the Metropolitan Division.
The week ahead
Everyone in the NHL will be done for the week after Wednesday with the All-Star game on the horizon for next weekend. Tuesday will be the most important day, showcasing the third Pittsburgh-Washington game of the season, with both teams 1-1-0 in the season series so far. There’s also a NYR-Florida game to pit two of the top teams in the East in what should be a very entertaining contest and clash of skill.