Whomst among us could forget cries from within the 0-1 Devils’ locker-room calling the second game of the season a “must win”? (Which was a game they also lost). Since that humorous over-emphasis of a single game, New Jersey has gone onto win 12 of their last 13, including nine in a row. The crowd used to chant for head coach Lindy Ruff’s job, now the masses are gleefully apologizing for being wrong — which, given the coaching rankings...maybe we should too?
The amazing thing is, this is not a Philadelphia style start for the Devils with great results distracting from unsustainable shooting or red hot goaltending. In fact, it’s the exact opposite - the Devils are first in the league in 5v5 score/venue adjusted expected goals generated, and also first in the league by the same measure for the lowest expected goals allowed. Not only has New Jersey been winning a lot lately, they’ve been the dominant team in their games. That doesn’t necessarily mean being good in November guarantees they will stay that way over the long haul (NJ is probably not THE best team in the league, even though they’re playing like it at the moment), but it’s a heck of a start and one of the league’s best stories at the beginning of the season.
Let’s take a look at the standings and take a quick trip around the Metropolitan Division to see how things are going.
New Jersey (3-0-0): The Devils are lining ‘em up and knockin’ them down right now. Three home wins this past week to stay in first place in the division for a second Sunday in a row.
NY Islanders (3-1-0): It’s easy to think of a debate in ‘The Office’ about Hilary Swank, but in this case it’s “are the Islanders good”? They certainly achieved good results this week, but then again all three of their wins (Calgary, NY Rangers, Columbus) required third period comebacks, sometimes multi-goal ones at that. Falling behind or in deep holes late aren’t good signs. But showing some heart and gumption to rally back and win definitely is. Oh, and NYI also lost to Arizona this week. By shutout. Good luck taking that in and trying to feel confident this is a reliably good team.
That said, the Islanders are currently on a 103 point pace in the standings, so they also should be more than happy to be on a successful path while trying to get it figured out. But this still remains a fairly difficult team to get a handle on just exactly what they’re working with from night to night.
Carolina (1-3-0): An uncharacteristically poor week for the Hurricanes. They started out dreadfully, losing their first two games of the week by a combined 6-1 score to Toronto and Florida. That led to a response game on Thursday, where Carolina exploded for seven goals in a win over Edmonton to bounce-back from their recent struggles. All good, right? Not really, they lost 4-1 to Colorado last night. Some tough week in competition, but the Canes didn’t measure up very well to it in this week. It’s a long season and there’s no reason for a lot of concern, but while Carolina is one of the best teams in the league, the “one of” part is the key currently.
NY Rangers (2-1-1): Other than what had to be a cathartic 8-2 blowout win over Detroit on Thursday, the Rangers have been living and dying in a lot of one goal games. The other three games all were close, and a perfect one win, one loss, one OT loss split of all possibilities. Starting last night, NYR embarks on playing seven straight against the Western Conference, and not exactly the elite either (AZ, SEA, SJ, ANA are all upcoming), which is perhaps a chance to get right and fatten up at the expense of some lesser teams.
Philadelphia (1-2-0): The Flyers smacked down the struggling Blues 5-1 on Tuesday night, and then lost two in a row as their return back to earth continues. Other than that five goal game, Philadelphia only has eight total goals for in their other five November games as the offensive struggles to find consistency and generate enough support for Carter Hart (who continues to play well).
Washington (2-1-0): The Caps deserve some credit for a successful week and wins over two pretty good teams (EDM, TB) sandwiching a home loss to Pittsburgh. Friday’s game against Tampa devolved into some old school hockey where — if you’ll ever believe this — a Washington player threw a suspendable head shot on a defenseless opponent. Washington’s decision to sign Sonny Milano off the scrap heap is starting to pay dividends, he had two goals against the Lightning and is up to four points in four games so far.
Pittsburgh (2-0-1): One good sign for the Pens (other than simply breaking their losing streak)? The goals returned. In Pittsburgh’s recent seven game skid, they only averaged 2.29 goals (28th in NHL over this time). The Pens scored exactly four goals in each of their three contests this past week. In a wide open NHL these days, scoring four gives you a chance to win. Scoring two usually is not going to cut it.
Columbus (1-0-1): Johnny Gaudreau scored a goal and added two assists for the Blue Jackets to end a five-game losing streak on Thursday against his hometown-ish area Flyers team that he had interest in joining. That’s some delicious irony, and Columbus plays Philadelphia again next week so hopefully he does it again to remind them of the mistake they’ve made.
Model of the week
We turn to Dom Luszczyszyn at The Athletic for how that model is seeing the season take shape:
This model has also been impressed and tamped up expectations for the Devils based on their start. It’s still a believer in the Penguins to get their act together, but there’s a wide range of possible ending points for Pittsburgh too at the moment. The battle between Washington and the two NY teams might be one of the fun ones for the whole season, with potentially one spot for three teams if current projections continue onward.