The Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference is the toughest division in the National Hockey League.
Only 11 points separate the eighth-place Philadelphia Flyers and the first place New Jersey Devils in the NHL’s Metropolitan Division.
That’s a tight race. It would probably be even closer had the Flyers not gone through a losing streak and if the Carolina Hurricanes had decent goaltending. Most teams have played between 25 and 27 games at this point.
Here’s how things look as of Thursday morning.
|1.||New Jersey Devils||16-7-4||36|
|2.||Columbus Blue Jackets||17-10-1||35|
|4.||New York Islanders||16-9-2||34|
|6.||New York Rangers||15-10-2||32|
Let’s dig a little deeper into each team, shall we?
New Jersey Devils
The Devils have been the surprise of the division. They have been scoring goals and playing excellent defense in front of goaltender Cory Schneider, who is playing the best hockey of his career and has an 11-5-3 record. Forward Taylor Hall has nine goals and 20 assists for 29 points. Rookie Nico Hischier, with five goals and 15 assists, has been a strong addition. Former Ranger Brian Boyle has added experience and depth to this Devils team. The days of playing the trap are long gone.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Lead by Vezina winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets find themselves once again near the top of the division. Artemi Panarin (seven goals, 13 assists) and Nick Foligno (six goals, six assists) have been holding their own while Cam Atkinson (nine goals) has been slowed by injuries. Head coach John Tortorella has Columbus playing his hard-hitting, shot blocking system, so everyone involved should expect the Blue Jackets to contend for the top of the standings.
New York Islanders
The Islanders have been playing surprisingly good hockey so far. Led by All-Star John Tavares (17 goals, 14 assists), Jordan Eberle (11 goals, nine assists) and some terrific goaltending from Thomas Griess (8-3) and Jaroslav Halak (8-6), the Islanders have been able to put wins together along with solid defense to be up in the top three of the division for most of the season so far.
The Caps have given up as nearly as many goals (86) as they’ve scored (90) but still managed to go 7-3 in their last 10 games. Braden Holtby has been starting between the pipes with 15 wins on the season. Of course, whenever talking about the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin’s name will come up. He has 21 goals, six on the power play, along with 11 assists. He dominates the right side of the ice on the power play and is the reason the Caps are in every game. Along with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, the Capitals should be able to head towards the playoffs. Unfortunately for them, the playoffs are their worse part of their game. The Caps have never made it to the Eastern Conference Finals with Ovechkin in the lineup.
The defending Stanley Cup Champions had a slow start to the season. Starting goalie Matthew Murray has been out of the lineup with an injury, but you can never rule out a team with Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby. It’s like having an All-Star team play every night. The Penguins know how to win games when it matters most—in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Expect to see them there again this year as they attempt to win three Cups in a row.
New York Rangers
The Rangers had a horrible start to the season. The free agent signing of Kevin Shattenkirk was supposed to bolster a poor defense from last season. He hasn’t, though the team has won 10 of its last 15 games. Mika Zibanejad leads the team in scoring with 11 goals and his linemates Chris Kreider and Pavel Buchnevich have all been able to find the back of the net consistently. The scoring by committee approach has worked well again this season. Five Rangers have registered at least 20 points (Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello, Buchnevich, J.T.Miller, and Shattenkirk), and four Rangers have tallied 10 or more goals (Michael Grabner, Zibanejad, Buchnevich, and Kreider).Though they’re out of a playoff spot now, the Rangers should have a good chance to contend for the Cup.
The Hurricanes are a young team. They are led by Teuvo Teravainen (eight goals, 14 assists) and Jeff Skinner (seven goals, 17 assists). The biggest disappointment is with their goaltending. Scott Darling is 7-8-5 with a .902 save percentage and Cam Ward (4-2-0) with a .914 save percentage—neither goalie has been able to to get the job done this season for the Hurricanes. They are 4-5-1 in their last 10 games played and will be facing an uphill battle all year just to remain a .500 hockey club.
Sitting at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division is the Flyers. Philadelphia is 1-4-5 in its last 10 games. Claude Giroux (11 goals, 17 assists) and Shayne Gostisbehere (three goals, 17 assists) along with Wayne Simmonds (seven goals, 15 assists), have been carrying the Flyers as much as they can. As has been the issue in past years, the Flyers are very weak at the goaltending position. They have already had four different goalies on their roster and none seem to be able to help keep the team in games.
What’s it all mean?
In the Eastern Conference standings, the Devils, Blue Jackets, and Capitals are in the top three spots. The Islanders and Penguins are in the first two wild-card positions, respectively. It may only be December, with four more months of regular season hockey left to play but no one wants to be on the outside of the playoffs looking in at any time.
Just 11 points are all that separates the good from the bad. That’s five wins and an overtime loss.
A winning streak by one team and a losing streak by another and these standings will flip-flop in a blink of an eye. The only way to make sure your team makes the playoffs is to keep winning every game you can.
The Metropolitan Division is without a doubt the toughest to play in. It has will also be the toughest to play against come April 2018.