Now that the All-Star break is behind us, the NHL season is about to heat up for the unofficial second “half” of the year (most teams had already played about 50 games, or 60% of their seasons).
Still, February and March is when the action picks up, divisional games tend to increase in terms of frequency and intensity and playoff positioning are hammered out.
Here’s the Metropolitan Division at the break. The Pittsburgh Penguins will be busy from here on out, having played a handful less games than teams they’re competing with like Washington and New York (I).
That opens the door for the Pens to still comfortably waltz into fourth place in the division, and a sure-fire playoff spot. However, it would also mean a ticket against a division winning team in the first round.
We’ll quickly take a trip around the division for interesting and news and notes about the week that was, with the team’s record over the shortened week highlighted.
Carolina (3-0-0): Carolina was one of the few teams active this week (they now catch the benefit and don’t play until Feb 11th with their bye week coming on the back-end now). It was another great week, with the Hurricanes putting down the Bruins 4-1 last Sunday in a matchup of the East’s two best teams so far this season. Carolina then continued their comeback ways to down LA 5-4 in OT before a convincing win over a resurgent Buffalo team by a 4-1 score. At this point, they might not want a bye week or break to happen with the roll that they’ve been on. After seven straight wins, it’s all systems go in Raleighwood.
New Jersey (0-0-0): The Devils get back to work on Monday. With no action on the ice this week, the Devils’ off ice pursuit of a top six winger in the trade market have left many wondering if NJ will pony up and pay a big trade price for San Jose’s Timo Meier? Considering the other major rumored suitor is the rival Rangers, will that influence or push New Jersey to action? It makes for a great story line ahead of the trade deadline.
NY Rangers (0-0-0): The week starts with three straight home games against Western teams for the Rangers. Good chance for them to put more points in their pocket. In recent years, NYR has quietly done a good job of saving up space during the season to put themselves in position to add at the deadline (CapFriendly projects them to add $6.7 million in salary cap hits before they even need to move anything out). That’s a huge advantage and edge on many of their competitors (like Pittsburgh!) who manage to the cap much differently and with far less room.
Washington (1-1-0): Washington absorbed a 5-1 loss at the hands of Toronto, then survived blowing a 3-1 lead against lowly Columbus before the Caps could pull out a 4-3 OT win and go into the break on a high note. The Capitals are off until the 11th and better get some rest in while they can - in the two weeks once they get back they play Boston, Carolina (twice) and NYR and haven’t done terribly well against “top of the table” type teams.
Pittsburgh (0-0-0): The Pens are back on Tuesday at home against a Colorado team that seems to be strengthening, and then Pittsburgh takes off to play the three California teams. Last year the Pens went 2-1-0 on that swing, but are only 4-8-0 in the last six years in games happening out in sunny CA. This year, they likely can’t afford their usual stumbles out that way.
NY Islanders (0-0-0): It seemed like the Islanders would need something drastic to give them a jolt, and boy did they ever get it this week. Despite not playing games, the Islanders made the biggest and boldest move of the season so far by adding center Bo Horvat in a trade with Vancouver. It’s a very curious move — Horvat is an impending free agent and center isn’t exactly NYI’s most pressing need, but for the short-term it strengthens them. Will that help turn things around this season? The Islanders have a LOT of work to do, despite being close in points, their games played is high, points% is relatively low and they’re going to have to out-perform multiple foes (WSH, PIT, BUF even FLA) to get there.
Philadelphia (0-0-0): All is calm now, but you just know that won’t last for long. The Flyers’ chance of “sadness” (no playoffs and no top-five pick) is among the highest in the league.
Columbus (0-0-1): Columbus has sunk to last in the NHL in points. They lead the league with 32 regulation losses. Their years of making the playoffs consistently from 2017-20 are but a memory. Connor Bedard could change everything, but at this point they could desperately use a win somewhere.
Penguins’ Playoff projections
The Athletic: 77%
Ineffective Math: 69.6%
Almost any and every model is still pretty sweet on the Penguins at this point. Despite some excitement and an uptick, Buffalo is still on the fringes. Florida’s barely on the radar as well. The Islanders and Capitals remain on paces below Pittsburgh.
Point projections over the last fortnight, going into the all-star break: pic.twitter.com/ABw35zWaAk— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) February 2, 2023
The Pens and Islanders play three more times this season, as do the Pens and Rangers. It’s time for the best part of the season for the NHL after the break.