2017 has just begun and the NHL is in high gear halfway through the 2016-17 season. The Metropolitan Division is currently flexing its muscle around the league. If the NHL Playoffs were held right now, 5 Metropolitan Division teams would be in the mix.
Only 3 points separates the top 4 Metropolitan Division teams – Columbus, Pittsburgh, Washington, and NY Rangers. This division battle will likely go all the way down to the wire to the very last day.
So, let’s recap and grade how each Metropolitan Division team has done through the half way mark in the season. Who has exceeded expectations, and who has fallen flat?
Analysis: The Hurricanes are currently right on the outside looking in. They are only 3 points outside of the final wild card spot.
The Hurricanes have been good at PNC Arena this year. They have won 13 out of 18 home games to date. However, the Hurricanes have been a team that has struggled on the road. They have only won 6 out of 23 on the road.
Jeff Skinner has led the way for the Hurricanes. Skinner, 24, has recorded 15 goals and 32 points through 40 games this year. While Justin Faulk is the lone Hurricanes representative to the NHL All-Star game, the Hurricanes have seen great play from fellow blueliner Jaccob Slavin.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Analysis: The Jackets have exceeded expectations this year. They are at the top of the Metropolitan Division, and recently went on a 16-game win streak.
Cam Atkinson is leading the way for the Jackets in scoring. He has 20 goals and 40 points through 40 games. The Jackets have seen a strong push from some of the younger players too. 19-year old defenseman Zach Werenski is aleady playing big minutes for the Jackets and at the top of the rookie defensemen points race. Alexander Wennberg, who was a 1st round pick of the Jackets in 2013, is also giving the Jackets an additional scoring threat.
A big key to the Jackets success this season is their powerplay. The Jackets have the top powerplay unit in the NHL, as it is clicking at over 25% effective.
New Jersey Devils
Analysis: The Devils are off to a rocky start this year. They are floating near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division, and are only ahead of the New York Islanders.
The Devils are struggling to score goals this year. They rank 28th in goals per game (2.19). Taylor Hall has been the top producer for the Devils this year, but has been in and out of the lineup with various injuries. The Devils are also at the bottom of the league in shots forced per game (27.4).
There is a big hill to climb for the Devils to get back into the picture. A coaching change could be on the horizon too if things to not improve soon.
New York Islanders
Analysis: From a playoff contender to a pretender, the Islanders have slipped a bit. Earlier this season, the Islanders placed veteran goaltender Jaroslav Halak on waivers.
The Islanders have not been getting the scoring they have been used to getting. Anders Lee leads the team with 14 goals, while John Tavares leads the team with 27 points.
The Islanders are at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division because of inconsistent goaltending. Their special teams has not been as good as it has been before too. The Islanders powerplay is ranked 25th in the NHL, and their penalty kill ranks 22nd in the NHL.
New York Rangers
Analysis: The Rangers lead all the Metropolitan Division teams in goals scored. They have scored 146 goals through 42 games.
Kevin Hayes and Derek Stepan are leading the way for the Rangers with 31 points each. The Rangers have 6 skaters who already have 10 or more goals.
While the Rangers have been scoring, Henrik Lundqvist has had an average season. In 29 games played, Lundqvist has recorded 18 wins and a 2.55 goals against average and a .912 save percentage. Lundqvist’s numbers have been a bit subpar for him, but the Rangers have received some quality starts from backup netminder Antti Raanta. Raanta has recorded 10 wins for the Rangers this season.
Analysis: The Flyers have remained on the bubble like they ended last season. While they have the Hurricanes and Maple Leafs chasing them in the wild card spot, the Flyers are a top 10 team in goals forced per game.
The Flyers have had a respectable powerplay this year, but their penalty kill has not been great. The Flyers lead all Metropolitan Division teams in faceoff efficiency. They win 51.4% of their draws, which is 7th best in the NHL.
The Flyers have seen a bounce-back season for forward Jakub Voracek. Voracek leads the Flyers with 39 points. The Flyers have not gotten consistent goaltending from starting goaltender Steve Mason. Mason has 14 wins in 35 appearances, and has recorded a 2.80 goals against average and .903 save percentage.
The Flyers will need stronger goaltending and good special teams down the stretch if they want to remain in the playoff picture.
Analysis: The defending Cup Champions have picked up right where they left off last season. They have been one of the best teams at home in the NHL. They have 18 wins through 22 home games this year.
Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are at the top of the NHL points race. Both players will be skating at the upcoming NHL All Star game festivities.
The Penguins have received decent goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury while Matt Murray has been on the shelf with injury. Fleury has given the Penguins 13 wins in 25 appearances. While Fleury’s future is still up in the air, he has been an excellent teammate and a true professional while Murray has taken the starting job.
Analysis: The Capitals have finally hit their stride in the new season. After a slow start, the Capitals find themselves right in the mix for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
While the Capitals powerplay has struggled this year, the penalty kill has been a strength. The Capitals penalty kill is ranked 3rd best in the NHL.
The Capitals are one of the stingiest teams in the NHL when it comes to giving up shots. The Caps give up just under 28 shots per game, which is in the NHL’s top 5. Through strong defense and great goaltending, the Capitals are poised to make a strong playoff run.
Braden Holtby has been the Capitals best player this year. In 32 appearances, Holtby has recorded 19 wins, and has a 1.90 goals against average and .931 save percentage. He has also posted 5 shutouts. Holtby could be in the running for another Vezina Trophy, and if the Capitals make a long postseason run, it will be because of his spectacular goaltending.
By: George Foussekis