Saturday marked the half-way mark of the 2015-2016 NHL season. The Capitals are running away with the Metropolitan Division with 65 (yes, 65!) points. With that being said, let’s take a look at the other teams in the division.
Will the Rangers give the Capitals a push to take over the division lead? Will the Islanders get the defenseman they so desperately need? Will the Penguins play harder under a new head coach? Can the Devils continue to surprise everyone? Can the Flyers improve now that they’ve sent Lecavalier out west? Can Carolina continue to build for the future? Finally, will we see at least one epic meltdown of head coach John Tortorella in Columbus?
In short, to answer all these questions: Maybe, not likely due to injury, doubtful, if Mike Cammelleri isn’t out long, no, it’s possible, and let’s hope so!
But let’s be serious here: the Metropolitan division has been fun to watch for Capitals fans this year, as they are dominating their division, and for the most part the Eastern Conference. (The Capitals have only played 11 of their 41 games against the Western Conference and have only won 7, so for argument’s sake, it’s safe to say they have dominated their own conference) At this point, barring anything unforeseen, the Metropolitan Division will be a race to see who finishes behind the Capitals, and what each team can do to improve over the final half of the season, and assess where they are, compared at the quarter-mark of the season.
We begin in the Big Apple. The Rangers have compiled a 22-14-5 record, good enough for the second spot in the division. The Rangers sprinted out of the gate when we last looked at them in our report at the quarter mark of the season. At that time, they were tied with Dallas and Montreal for the top spot in the league, and Lundqvist could do no wrong. Fast forward 20 more games, and the Rangers have fallen back to Earth, winning only 4 times in the month of December, posting a 4-9 record (including a 7-5 humiliation by the Oilers). This is leading many to believe that perhaps the Rangers are too old and won’t be able to compete for a Stanley Cup. However, this is a Rangers team that has consistently beaten the Capitals in the playoffs, and will do anything to remain competitive. They will do everything they can to make sure they make the playoffs and disrupt the incredible run the Capitals have had this year. Look for the Rangers to make more moves before the trade deadline to bolster their roster to do so.
Remaining in the Empire State, and just outside of the Big Apple, we head to Brooklyn. The New York Islanders have posted an 8-5 record in the same amount of games in December, and posting a total of 42 goals, while giving up only 26. With these kinds of numbers, it’s no surprise that the Islanders will be and continue to be fighting for the second spot in the Metropolitan division. While this is great news, the news isn’t all good for the Islanders, as the team is learning to play with one of their best defensemen in Johnny Boychuk as he is out with an upper body injury. Being out with Boychuk will be difficult, but the Islanders also are dealing with the fact Travis Hamonic has asked to be closer to his family out in Western Canada and has asked for a trade. Not only that, Hamonic now finds himself on the shelf for 2-3 weeks due to a lower-body injury. But, if the Islanders complete this deal (and it has said that General Manager Garth Snow has been pushing to make a deal, but the injury to Boychuk has put a wrench into these plans.) before the trade deadline, the Islanders will need help on the blue line, and could put a dent on the hope that the Islanders can move beyond the first round of the the playoffs.
One team that wishes to move beyond the first round of the playoffs are the Pittsburgh Penguins. With the incredible talent this team has, one would think they shouldn’t be in 4th place, some 20 (yes, 20!) points behind the Capitals in the standings. However; this is the case. The Penguins have underperformed so badly this year, they fired head coach Mike Johnston right around the quarter mark of the season, after posting a respectable 15-10-3 record. General manager Jim Rutherforth stated the reason for the change in coach staff was simple. “I felt it was time for a coaching change because our team has underachieved. Our expectations are much higher with this group of players.” That would be an understatement regarding this team. A team that has the likes of Crosby, Kessel, Malkin, and Fleury (just to name a few) should not be in fifth place, and 2 points out of a play-off spot.
Many predicted that while they were going through a rebuilding phase, The New Jersey Devils have been a surprise in the Metro at the half-way point. The surprise resurgence of Mike Cammalleri with 35 points in 38 games, and goaltender Corey Schneider has posted stellar numbers (18-13-5, 2.09 GAA, and a .926 save percentage) has the Devils holding on to a one point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning for the second wild-card position. However; the Devils will have to learn to play without Cammalleri for a while, as he has been placed on the Injured Reserve with an upper-body injury with no timetable for his return at this time. If Cammalleri can get healthy soon, keep an eye on the Devils to hang on to that second wild card spot.
Across the border in the City of Brotherly Love, the Philadelphia Flyers find themselves 4 points behind the Devils for that second wild card spot. The Flyers recently traded Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn to the Los Angeles Kings in a move many felt that it would allow Lecavalier to get playing time and to retire on a high note, and give the Kings some depth defensively. While the Flyers no longer have this distraction, this is a team that has decent scoring in Claude Giroux and Jakob Voracek, but still is struggling defensively. The Flyers have been banged up on the blue line, losing Mark Streit for several weeks due to injury, and rookie Shayne Ghostisbehere is now day-to-day with a lower body injury that he sustained almost 2 months ago. Throw in an upper body injury of Michal Neuvirth, and personal issues of Steve Mason, the Flyers have been shaky (despite some bright spots) and inconsistent between the pipes.
Staying in the vein of inconsistency, this is usually a theme that applies to a team that is experiencing a youth movement. The Carolina Hurricanes are in the midst of one this season. At the halfway mark of the season, the Hurricanes are a respectable 18-18-3. This is despite losing veteran James Wisnewski mere moments into the season, and having to rush the development of this year’s first round pick Noah Hanafin. While the team still has a long way to go to even consider making a run for the playoffs, the team has a solid scoring punch with Justin Falk leading the team with 31 points and Eric Staal with 26 points. It is noted that Eric Staal has been mentioned in trade rumors with several teams, as he is a free agent after this season, and could be that final piece for a team who is looking to win the Stanley Cup.
Finally, the Columbus Blue Jackets have been the biggest disappointment in the Metro division this season, even at the halfway mark. While the team started out with a dismal 0-7-0 record under former coach Todd Richards, the team hasn’t fared much better under the fiery John Tortorella, posting a 15-17-4 record. Many in Columbus believe that there are a few things to blame for the team’s disappointing season thus far. One was the distraction of the disgruntled Ryan Johansen. Columbus has since traded him to Nashville for Seth Jones. Now that distraction is handled, the team now deals with the injury bug yet again that crippled them last year. Injuries to Sergei Bobrovsky, Nick Foligno, Matt Calvert, Curtis McElhinney, and David Calvert have not helped the Blue Jackets improve upon the sub .500 mark they are at this time.
In conclusion, the Capitals may have the division at hand at this halfway point, but again, this sport is always prone to surprise and to shock us as fans. Nothing is set in stone at this point, as we are only half way through the season, and much can and will change.
By Andrea Sobolik