Welcome back to our (sometimes) weekly look at the NHL standings. It was a week mostly of inactivity for the Penguins, and with unexpected results. The Seattle Kraken came into Pittsburgh on a nine-game winning streak, but the Pens put them down with ease in a 3-0 victory. Then at the end of the week, the Pens traveled to Vegas to face a very banged up Golden Knights team. Despite (or perhaps even because of) all the time off, the Pens didn’t look to have their legs for a full 60 minutes and melted a 2-0 third period lead into a 3-2 regulation loss.
The unpredictability of hockey in two results!
Speaking of unpredictable, the New York Islanders made the first coaching change in the Metropolitan division this season. NYI had only won 19 of 45 games under Lane Lambert, though stayed in the playoff chase through playing lots and lots of overtime games and picking up a whopping 11 OTL points so far. Anyways, Lou Lamoriello got his notorious itchy coach firing finger out and the surprise wasn’t in sending out Lambert but who they brought in to coach the team. Welcome back to the NHL for the first time since 2016, Patrick Roy!
The Islanders have been a boring team to watch and deal with for a while, but business is about to pick up with the fiery and prickly Roy patrolling the bench. On one hand, you have to give the Islanders credit, they didn’t simply promote an assistant or AHL coach as a replacement. They went bold for a high risk that could bring out the best possible version of their team, or go down in a spectacular mess. The hockey world can’t wait to see how that goes.
Now, onto the standings:
The story at the top of the Metropolitan Division has been developing for a few weeks now. The Rangers hot start has been wilting away, and Carolina has been going up, up, up with eight wins in their last 10. The Flyers keep more than just hanging on — Colorado ended a five-game Philadelphia winning streak yesterday. The Hurricanes are essentially right on NYR’ heels, down now by three points but with a game in hand.
The Atlantic Division hasn’t had such drastic changes at the top, Boston and Florida continue to be comfortably ahead of the pack and both solidly in their position. A layer below is where the fun and drama lies. Tampa has suddenly lurched into gear, now riding a five-game winning streak that has gotten them above the Wild Card area for the first time all season. The Lightning’s fortunes have risen as things in Toronto have gone the opposite direction (1-4-1 in the last six), leading of course to much consternation and bad feelings among the blue clad faithful.
Here’s how the rest of the division is heaped together in the Wild Card chase.
Every team is smarting this morning, having lost their previous game. It would have been a golden opportunity for any of them to take advantage of their foes stumbling and move up a very tight rankings.
Based on games in hand, the Pens could pass or tie any team on this list besides Toronto right now. Of course, that would require actually winning the extra games still to go, which would be a major assumption. But even after last night’s disappointment for fans and players alike, in the long season everything is still in front of them and regardless of last night’s outcome they still have a lot of work to go.
Lately, most of the Metropolitan teams have not been terrible impressive; New Jersey continues to struggle through lackluster goaltending, Washington is the opposite with quality netminding propping up their record, the Islanders just fired their coach and went to the NHL equivalent of a nuclear option in Patrick Roy. Lots of turmoil all around.
That has opened the door for a success story, and the Detroit Red Wings are hanging around and looking to be that club who takes advantage. Who would have guessed 45 games in that Detroit would be 1-3 points behind Toronto? That speaks somewhat to the Maple Leafs’ unimpressive first half, but credit has to be given on the other side as well.
The assumption from most as this season has developed was that one Atlantic team would grab a Wild Card to make four playoff teams from that division (BOS, FLA, TOR, TB) and then one Metropolitan team between NJ, WSH, PIT, NYI would raise up and claim the other Wild Card spot. And maybe even two aforementioned teams would be off to the playoffs if they hopped Philadelphia.
Have Detroit (and the Flyers) done enough to force us to re-imagine that longstanding conventional wisdom? It makes for an area to watch in the final 35ish games to go.