Another Sunday game pushes up our weekly feature about the standings of the Metropolitan Division. Here’s how the teams have fared in the week following the All-Star break.
Carolina (1-1-1): Not a great week by the Hurricanes’ standards - they dropped a back-and-forth entertaining game against Toronto by a 4-3 OT score on Monday and then fell by the same 4-3 score in regulation to those pesky Senators just one day later. Carolina regained form with a 6-0 beatdown against Boston. They have a pretty tough week ahead (@MIN tonight, who have been red hot lately, then against Florida and Nashville) before finally playing the Pens for the first time this season next Sunday (Feb 20th). With all of that, maybe this is the time to at least temporarily sell on Carolina stock? Their early/mid-February schedule is pretty rough.
Pittsburgh (2-0-0): Solid week for the Pens who found a way to comeback on Boston on Tuesday and then stave off those Senators on Thursday. The next week should be fairly good to them, though “should” is never a sure thing in the NHL (@NJ tomorrow, hosting Philadelphia on Tuesday, @Toronto on Thursday).
NY Rangers (0-0-0): No games this week for NYR, they will be nothing if not rested! And it’s not like they have really even played THAT many games, but this year’s schedule is what it is as far as being a mess. The Rangers finally get back on the ice on Tuesday against Boston, their first game in 14 days. One player who won’t be playing is Kaapo Kakko, out at least a month with an injury in a blow to the already weak depth chart they have up front. The Rangers are the division’s most interesting trade deadline team, as they have $35 million in banked cap space and a ton of need to add a few pieces to bolster their team.
Washington (1-1-0): Something remains amiss in DC, where the Caps are just 6-8-2 in their last 16 games. This week’s ignominy was losing to Columbus at home, conceding the game winning goal just 45 seconds away from overtime. The goaltending position remains a disaster with Vitek Vanecek, who has been fairly sturdy lately now on IR, Ilya Samsonov has been as enigmatic as ever and Pheonix Copley is just not going to be the answer. If Marc-Andre Fleury really did give Washington the old thumbs down after he certainly was courted by them, retire his number in Pittsburgh after all. The Caps are dead in the water without improved goaltending, and the answer doesn’t seem like it’s coming internally. If Washington can’t get Fleury, it doesn’t look like there are any real impact starting goalies out there to be had.
Columbus (2-0-0): Shoutout to little brother for beating the Caps, and CBJ completed a perfect week by taking down Buffalo in OT on 4-3. And the Jackets play Montreal today, who may be the worst NHL team in recent memory (which is not said for exaggeration, the Canadiens’ current .250 points% is the worst of any team in the 2000’s). Columbus is way, way behind with no real playoff prospects this season, but they have competed and found a way to grit to a decent season. Not sure they’re going to be able to build too much on that or where the future goes for them, but there’s something to be said for over-performing.
NY Islanders (1-1-0): One team not over-performing are the Islanders, who have finally fallen back to earth. After years of exceeding expectations and arguably playing over their heads and finding ways to frustrate through great defense and goaltending, the Islanders have had just a dreadful season. As usual, no one really knows what to make of this team. Will they be back next year? Possibly, but some of the contracts they have very recently signed and have on the books for 3-5 more seasons (Palmieri, Cizikas, Pageau) look really, really bad in terms of performance, salary and age based on this year. In a worst case scenario, that could be a big problem down the line.
New Jersey (2-1-0): Don’t look now, but the Devils have scored 14 total goals in their last two games. (OK, one game was against Montreal, so that should barely count). New Jersey also has a very interesting upcoming schedule: they host the Pens tomorrow, and then Tampa on Tuesday and then it’s eight days off before playing @Pittsburgh on Feb. 24th. What do you do with all that time, especially just a few weeks after the All-Star break where many a player takes a vacation or trip? Give everyone another vacation? Practice faithfully? Pretty wild stuff, already can’t wait to see on Feb 24th if the Devils are rested and play great against the Pens, or if it looks like they’re skating in quicksand for the first period to work out the rust.
Philadelphia (0-1-0): The Flyers only played once this week, but they were able to make Detroit look like an offensive juggernaut in a 6-3 Red Wings win. Philadelphia is B-A-double D bad right now. Will Tuesday’s game be the final time that Claude Giroux plays against the Pens as a Flyer? There’s a real chance. Some think he might return in the off-season, but they always think a player will comeback. Sometimes that happens, sometimes it doesn’t once a player is free and gets a change up.
Top games of the week
Today: Carolina @ Minnesota — not huge for the standings given it’s out-of-conference game, but ever since they lost the Winter Classic the Wild have a 9-1-1 record. This game should be a challenge for the Hurricanes on the road against a quality opponent, but they typically measure up well in such games.
Tuesday: Philadelphia @ Pittsburgh — I mean, it’s Pens/Flyers, it still moves the needle. Pittsburgh is 2-0-0 against Philly this year, including a 6-2 beating last month. The fourth and final game is on April 24th in the season’s last week and by that point the Flyers “give a shit” level could be at record lows as they limp down the line.
Boston @ NY Rangers — The Bruins need to stabilize after having a bad week of losses and the Marchand fiasco. It would be nice if they welcome the Rangers back to the schedule with a loss.
Washington @ Nashville — The Predators are pretty good this year too, and the Capitals’ goalie for this game might well be three raccoons standing on each other’s shoulders. They’ve tried about everything else and it probably couldn’t be worse.
Wednesday: Florida @ Carolina — Florida is getting into “must watch” territory for sheer entertainment value. Lots of high-paced action and skilled play from them, with tons of goals at both ends of the ice on most nights.
Thursday: Toronto @ Pittsburgh — Jack Campbell has been very solid for the Leafs this season and last, but he also only has a .883 save% in his last 10 games. He still has a 6-2-1 record because Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews are just assaulting the league right now and helping him out. But Campbell’s fall from Vezina level goaltending lately has to be a concerning storyline with spring and that dreaded first round of the playoffs around the corner..