With the NHL season a quarter of the way complete, it’s time to take a look back at some of the good, the bad, and the ugly in the Metropolitan division.
Washington Capitals fans may not want to acknowledge it, but it’s true. The New York Rangers are good. So good that the Rangers sit atop not only the division, but in a three-way point tie with Montreal and Dallas for league’s best. Henrik Lundqvist is playing some of his best hockey as he leads the league in goals against, save percentage, and wins. Mats Zuccerello has recovered from his skull fracture he sustained in last year’s playoffs, to not only be able to walk and talk again, but is leading the team in points, and Rick Nash has shaken the funk he has been in by scoring a hat trick over the Florida Panthers.
While the Rangers are doing well a quarter into this season, the New Jersey Devils have been a nice surprise in the Metropolitan division. The Devils have posted a 11-8-1 record, despite not having one of their best players in Patrick Elias in the lineup at all this season. Even without Elias in the lineup, the Devils have received solid goaltending from Corey Schnieder who (as of this posting) has a 10-5-1 record with a 2.05 goals against, and a .928 save percentage. The Devils have done so well, that there are rumblings that head coach John Hynes is a front-runner for the Jack Adams trophy. Hynes stated about his team, “Every game right now we feel like we’ve had an opportunity to win, even the games we didn’t win, we were right there and that’s something we wanted to do. When we’ve been in difficult situations, we’re coming from behind or playing tight games and finding a way to win in OT or the shootout, and those are all components of being difficult to play against. So it’s a good start but we have to really continue to do that and build it.”
Heading into this season, there was much excitement surrounding the Pittsburgh Penguins after they acquired Phil Kessel in a trade from the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the Penguins have a 12-8-0 record, captain Sidney Crosby is not posting the numbers that many predicted he would have since the acquisition of Kessel. Crosby (as of this posting) has 3 goals, 8 assists and is a -9. There are even suggestions that Crosby has fallen out of favour with owner Mario Lemieux. While both sides are denying this rumor, other recent comments by star center Evgeni Malkin of “…We don’t play right. We don’t play hard. We’re mad at each other.” may suggest that there’s more going on in the Pittsburgh dressing room than what’s being reported.
Staying in the state of Pennsylvania, the Philadelphia Flyers are also not doing so well at this quarter mark of the season also. The Flyers had high hopes going into this season after re-signing Jakob Voracek to an 8 year, $66 million contract. However, the new contact seems to have not translated to better play on the ice so far this season. Heading into their game against the Islanders, Voracek has only 1 goal, 10 assists and is a -6. Hardly great numbers worthy of a huge contract. While Voracek’s struggles are well documented, it is important to note here that the Flyers have also been bitten by the injury bug. Injuries to Mark Streit, Ryan White, and R.J. Umberger have compounded the Flyers issues early in this season. Couple that with shaky goaltending from Steve Mason, it is not really a surprise that the Flyers are sitting in sixth place in the Metro.
On the other hand, the team that is just above them in the standings, the New York Islanders find themselves dealing with the distraction of a teammate facing personal issues in Travis Hamonic, who has stated that he wishes to move West for personal reasons. Not only has this been on the minds of many of the Islanders personnel, but the fact that the Islanders cannot seem to put together a good winning streak in order to propel them to a better position in the division. However, as the season goes, on the Islanders could put together a winning streak that could propel them to be in the middle of the standings as the season continues.
To say that the Carolina Hurricanes were going to be bad this year was a given. But, not this bad. The Carolina Hurricanes find themselves only 2 points ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Granted, the Hurricanes are in the midst of a rebuilding/youth movement, they were not expecting an injury to veteran James Wisniewski mere seconds into the first game of the season. Wisniewski was to give the Hurricanes the veteran presence they so desperately need. Not only have the Hurricanes scrambled to deal with the loss of Wisniewski, they have decided to bring up this year’s draft pick, Noah Hanifin to shore up the team’s defense.
While James Wisniewski recovers from a knee injury that he sustained with his new team, the Carolina Hurricanes, his old team the Columbus Blue Jackets have not been better. The Blue Jackets were a pre-season favorite of many NHL analysts and writers (and myself included!) to be at or near the top of the Metropolitan division. The Blue Jackets started the season a with a dismal 0-8-0 record. This poor performance cost former head coach Todd Richards his job. The Blue Jackets then hired John Tortorella to help turn this team around. While the Blue Jackets aren’t a .500 team at this point in the season, that could change fairly quickly with Tortorella at the helm. Couple that with improved goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky, and more scoring from Brandon Saad, Scott Hartnell, Ryan Johansen, and others, the Blue Jackets could make a push for a playoff spot and a better position in the Metropolitan.
In conclusion, winning the Metropolitan division will be a tall order for the Capitals, as it has some good teams, some bad, and some downright horrible teams. But, that doesn’t mean that the Capitals can expect the Metro division crown to be handed to them, as it is still very early in the season, and any one of the teams in their division can go on a winning streak. Because of this, expect the next quarter of the season to be just as exciting as the first.
By Andrea Sobolik