The bye weeks are over, the All-Star game is well in the rear view mirror and for the NHL this is getting to the best part of the season. With NFL season over after today, hockey becomes more in focus, the games get more meaning and the race to the playoffs is about to get to full throttle.
Here’s how the standings look this morning in the Metropolitan Division.
And, at this point, just as relevant is taking a peak at the wild card chase to see how the Atlantic Division teams are doing.
It was not the best time for Buffalo to drop a 7-2 game yesterday, and Florida continues to remain consistently inconsistent with up-and-down results. Neither look like a tremendous threat to the wild card at this point, but a five or seven game winning streak would chang that in a hurry if either side gets it together.
With the WC out of the way, let’s take a trip around the division for interesting and news and notes about the week that was, with the team’s record over the week highlighted.
Carolina (0-1-0): It was a frustrating night for the Hurricanes last night, who were out-shooting the Rangers and for a majority of the game looked in great position. But it was Carolina who lost, and ended up losing big on the scoreboard by a 6-2 final score. Is that the type of game that tips the balance and tells management/ownership they better go and answer NYR picking up Vladimir Tarasenko in a trade by going out and getting a big name of their own? We’ll see, but it just might.
New Jersey (2-0-1): Don’t look now but the Devils are only a few points behind Carolina for first place. The week started with some unsettling news: Jack Hughes will be out week-to-week with an undisclosed injury. But that blow hasn’t caught up to New Jersey on the ice, who keep clicking along. Dougie Hamilton should be playing his way into Norris consideration, since a Jan. 22nd win of Pittsburgh, Hamilton has 14 points (5G+9A) in the last seven games played.
NY Rangers (4-0-0): Did the extended break benefit anyone more than the Rangers? Whatever they did with their rest, it apparently worked as they came back this week and rattled off four straight wins, including the aforementioned HUGE road win in Carolina. And, also as mentioned, the Rangers made their big trade move early to get in Tarasenko and add him to an offense that already is top-10 in the NHL in goals/game. Very impressive week for NYR to get great results on the ice, and also make their team a lot more formidable for the playoffs
Washington (1-0-0): The Caps returned from their break with a very impressive 2-1 road win in Boston — which only marks the second Bruins regulation loss in their building this season. Washington has kind of been hanging in there this season until this point, where they’ve become mostly healthy (or, maybe about as healthy as they’re going to get is a bettr way to put it). Much like last season, the Capitals look like they can probably scrape into the playoffs with a wild card, only to find themselves as fodder for a divisional winner.
Pittsburgh (2-1-0): Losing the biggest shutout score in the Crosby era against LA is a tough one to take for the Pens, but it actually was a positive week for them in the big scope of things. Turning a 1-0 deficit in the third period against Colorado into two points for the standings was a very huge and very clutch performance. Add on an easy win against Anaheim, and the Pens did what they needed to do — and all still without starting goalie Tristan Jarry who misses another full week due to injury. If Jarry returns and stays back, that should offer a very big boost to help get Pittsburgh up to fourth place.
NY Islanders (2-1-1): On the whole, there’s nothing wrong with the Islanders’ record this week. It’s also encouraging that new acquisition Bo Horvat has been everything and probably more that they could have hoped by scoring three goals in his first four games with the Isles. But this week’s schedule was soft, and NYI turned a 4-2 lead against Vancouver into a regulation loss and followed it up by letting a 3-2 third period lead against Montreal slip away into an overtime loss. That’s three points squandered down the drain that the Islanders really, really needed against lesser opponents. That’s going to make life harder down the stretch, and the Isles are already starting to run out of games remaining compared to their competition.
Philadelphia (1-1-1): Steady as she goes week for the Flyers, who remain a playoff non-factor but also aren’t bad enough to be in position to definitely get a good draft pick. Also, in a weird twist, all three of the Flyers’ games this week ended in 2-1 scores. Probably no one has noticed them with the Eagles gearing up for the Super Bowl today anyways.
Columbus (1-1-0): Gotta give the Blue Jackets props for once, they had a home-and-home with Toronto this Friday/Saturday and earned a split. And that split meant winning on the road after going down 2-0 in the first period. No one’s going to write a Hollywood script about that kind of upset, but good for ol’ Lumbus to not give up and send the Leafs’ fans home perturbed.
Penguins’ Playoff projections
The Athletic: 76%
Ineffective Math: 72.1%
Right now the playoffs are no guarantee, but still a pretty fair bet for the Penguins. The games in hand and points% situation should/will have them pass over Washington and get some distance on the Islanders pretty soon, but there’s still ~25ish games to go.