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Sunday Standings: Gearing up for the second half of the season

As we take a breath at the All-Star break, a look at the standings in the division

2022 Honda NHL All-Star Game Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Now that Tristan Jarry and Jake Guentzel have done their parts to help the Metropolitan Division win the All-Star game and the game is in the rear-view mirror, it’s time to gear up for the second half of the season. For the Penguins, that starts on Tuesday in Boston, where they will begin playing the last 36 games of the regular season up until a game on April 29th against Columbus.

Here’s how the Metropolitan Division is at the break:

Pittsburgh slips from first last weekend to now third after a win-less week as the top of the division continues to be unrelenting and unforgiving as Carolina and the NY Rangers continue to set a torrid pace at the front of the line.

There’s not much drama in the East as far as who the playoff teams will be, but the key of the second half will which teams slot into the eight different positions.

Key games in this week include:

Monday - Carolina @ Toronto
Tuesday - Penguins @ Boston
Thursday - Carolina @ Boston

There aren’t too many hugely important games as far as top teams clashing this week. In fact, in some cases there isn’t any action at all — the Rangers don’t play until February 15th! The Bruins will be a key team to shape the Metropolitan this week, as they host the Pens and Hurricanes.

It could be a make good week for the Capitals, their next three games are against lower-end teams (Columbus, @Montreal, Ottawa) as they look to catch back up to the teams ahead of them.

February will be interesting and unique for the NHL, since no games were initially scheduled from the All-Star break through the end of the Olympics. But due to pandemic postponements that happened mostly in December and the players getting pulled from going to the Olympics, teams have back-filled some NHL makeup games. For the teams that didn’t have many postponed games (like those aforementioned Rangers) that means a lot of inactivity, where we will get to see some rest versus rust debates in action.

The schedule will be lighter for Pittsburgh than recent months - they have two two-day breaks, one three-day break. Since January 5th, the Pens only had two two-day periods between games, on either end of their long Western road trip.

Business will finally pick up later in the month, Pittsburgh sees Carolina (Feb 20th) and the Rangers (Feb 26th) for the first time all season in what will be so critically important results for playoff seeding.

Overall in the Pens last 36 games, almost half of them (17) will be against Metropolitan Division opponents, plus three more contests against Boston and one more game a piece against Tampa, Florida and Toronto as the other playoff-bound Eastern Conference teams. That makes for a pretty tough strength of schedule ahead for Pittsburgh, who also still have to play two games against powerhouse Colorado as well.