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Saturday Standings: The “games in hand” edition

There have been some extreme swings in the Metropolitan Division this season

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Pittsburgh Penguins v Vegas Golden Knights Photo by Zak Krill/NHLI via Getty Images

With a game tomorrow against Arizona, we’ll bump up our weekly look at the Metropolitan Division standings from Sunday to Saturday. The Pittsburgh Penguins wake up out west this morning in sixth place in the division, but that might be a little misleading, considering the total number of games played.

Having extra games in hand don’t matter until they are earned, but the Penguins should get past the Islanders’ 41-game result of 46 points by the time Pittsburgh plays three more games to even it out. Given the results of extra games, the Pens could be in a range from two points ahead of Washington through up to the six points that they are currently behind the Capitals.

And for as hot as the Rangers have been lately, Pittsburgh is two games behind them, and potentially as few as just two points as well.

The extreme swings of these teams has been something else too. Penguin fans no doubt know and tremble at the high peaks followed by seemingly endless valleys of trading long winning streaks for periods where winning looks impossibe.

The Capitals looked dead in the water as lately as early December. Washington started the year 10-11-4 and was 17 points behind NJ as recently as five weeks ago. Over the last month, the Caps have taken flight with a 12-1-2 record that got dinged to go 12-2-2 after losing last night in Nashville.

Similarly, the Rangers have an 11-3-1 record from December 5th through the present. That’s a big increase from going 4-6-2 over a large chunk of November.

All these ups and downs for teams like NYR, WSH and PIT have shaped the playoff race so far. Funny enough, when the Pens have been down, the other two have been red hot, and the other way around that when Pittsburgh has been at their best, NYR and WSH have been struggling mightily.

Overall the Pens have fallen away a bit in their current six-game losing streak. But as the NHL schedule has taught us time and time again, they’re only a few favorable results from being right back on track for a .610% points% (which is a trajectory for another 100-point season).

Let’s jet around the Metropolitan and comment upon the week that was for all the teams

Carolina (1-2-0): After posting a 12-0-1 record in the month of December, the Hurricanes have finally hit a bit of a bump in dropping a pair of games this week, including the last two that they have played. Despite that, Carolina remains well above the fray for the mayhem below them in the standings at this point. They’re getting healthier with Max Pacioretty back in the lineup and goalie Frederik Andersen practicing again.

New Jersey (1-2-0): Why can’t I shake the feeling this is a team in risk of collapsing in the second half of the season? Probably because for as great as the Devils’ ridiculously awesome start was, NJ is also also only 5-8-3 and one of the league’s worst teams since December 1st. The Devils have an absolutely massive game this afternoon against the Rangers. Their start bought them time, but if New Jersey makes the playoffs they are going to have to do it with more than just a 20-25 game electric start.

NY Rangers (3-0-0): The Rangers haven’t quite been as hot as the Capitals, but NYR is right there with them. This week New York up put a total of 14 goals in their three victories, and had seven different players record at least three points this week. The Rangers are clicking on all cylinders right now, well besides Alexis Lafreniere who wasn’t a healthy scratch this week but was one of the few skaters to not produce a point.

Washington (1-1-1): There could be some good news soon for Washington with the status of Tom Wilson and even Nicklas Backstrom in their respective return to injuries. Speaking of that, T.J. Oshie has been red hot in his latest period between injuries. Seems like he is either always banged up, or always putting up points in the games he is able to play in. Alex Ovechkin also keeps doing his thing, with three more goals in three games this week, 13 total SOG and playing over 20 minutes. The engine powering the Caps is looking as strong as ever.

NY Islanders (1-3-0): Tough week for the Islanders, who played the classic upper Canadian road trip swing of SEA-VAN-EDM-CGY in rapid succession this week. Perhaps not surprisingly, it was a struggle to get results, that’s a really tough trip and it seems like the NHL almost always schedules that b-2-b EDM-CGY (or CGY-EDM) Alberta games for Eastern teams. Very uncool of them to do that. Anyways, the reward is that most of the Islanders’ games for the rest of the month are at home, beginning with a five-game homestand this week.

Pittsburgh (0-2-0): Speaking of scheduling, it feels like the Penguins have been lounging out on the road and in the sun for a long time now. They play tomorrow in Arizona, and then it’s an offensively quick turnaround to a Tuesday night home game against Vancouver, followed by two days off. The scheduler got the layout of the week reversed. Anyways, the Penguins playing less games than everyone means they have to make that up eventually - and they get started on that soon. From January 13-January 28 (start of bye week/All-Star break), the Pens have nine games in 16 days, including three divisional road games (@CAR, @NJ, @WSH). Huge end of the month for the Pens coming up and that’s even before a busy four-game week that kicks off tomorrow.

Philadelphia (2-0-0): In our latest installment of what these idiots are up to, hey when Torts is right, he’s right. (Also is Kevin Hayes the first player in league history to have been a healthy scratch the same season as being named an All-Star? lol)

Columbus (0-2-0): Poor Columbus got out-scored by a combined 10-2 in their first two games of 2023. To make matters worse, their upcoming games are: Carolina, @Washington (who beat them 6-2 this week), @Tampa, Carolina. It, um, is probably going to get worse before it gets better for the Blue Jackets, to put it mildly.

Playoff tracking

Dom from The Athletic’s model is still sweet on the Penguins, projecting them for 100 points on the season still and likely comfortably making the playoffs. I guess if you want to continue to use all your focus and hopes to send one team down, make it the Islanders at this point, though it sure would be nice if the Caps or Rangers want to cool off and have another down period again.