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With another Thanksgiving in the United States come and gone, most NHL teams have completed about one-third of their 2019-20 season. In the past, it was generally believed that teams who were in a playoff position at this point in the season would remain in playoff position and those that were out would remain out. In Part 1 of a multi-piece look, NoVa Caps’ Diane Doyle takes a look at the current status of teams in the Metropolitan Division (see NoVa Caps’ Metropolitan Division preview HERE).
While the mantra has been widely believed that teams not in a playoff position at this point in the season would be at home come the run for Lord Stanley’s mug, anybody who recalls the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues’ story from last year (in which they were famously in last place in the league standings on New Year’s Day) realizes that a poor start is not necessarily fatal to a team’s prospects at entering the playoffs. Another prime example of such a case were the 2007-08 Washington Capitals, who were in dead last on Thanksgiving Day and made a similar turnaround that season to make the playoffs, and despite not winning the Cup, the turnaround helped establish a winning culture for the team. These two examples, however, do not hide the fact that slow starts aren’t ideal situations. Below are the current situations the teams within the Metropolitan Division find themselves a third through the season.
To the surprise of very few, the Washington Capitals are leading the Metropolitan Division, something they have done since the 2016-17 season. They hold (prior to their game against the Los Angeles Kings on December 4) a record of 20-4-5 and are seven points clear of the New York Islanders, with the Islanders having three games in hand. While the Caps have 20 wins, only 13 of them have come in regulation, four were won in overtime, and three were shootout wins.
While the second-place New York Islanders could come to within one game of the Washington Capitals in the standings if they win all three of their games in hand, they are not as strong as they were during their recent hot streak. The Isles went 17 consecutive games of gaining at least a point, which included a 10-game winning streak and a five-game winning streak. The Islanders are once again getting amazingly great goaltending, with a Save Percentage north of .930. Even with Robin Lehner leaving the team in free agency and being replaced by Semyon Varlamov, the story is very similar to last year. Mitch Korn is a master coach for goaltenders and Barry Trotz could possibly win another Jack Adams Award if the Isles continue their winning ways.
The Philadelphia Flyers, riding a five-game winning streak, are now in third place, only a single point behind the Isles, with two games in hand. With a record of 16-7-5, they are four points ahead of the Carolina Hurricanes in fourth.
The Carolina Hurricanes sit in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 16-11-1 and 33 points, one point ah\\ead of the Penguins with one game in hand. The Hurricanes’ biggest storyline as of late has been the past behavior of former Head Coach Bill Peters, who has been embroiled in controversy recently.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, who already had lost stars Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang for a period of time, are currently missing captain Sidney Crosby, defenseman Justin Schultz, and forward Nick Bjugstad, and just lost defender Brian Dumoulin for two months. The Penguins are currently leading the NHL in man games missed by significant players. M*A*S*H. could easily be set in the Steel City.
Carolina and Pittsburgh are currently holding down the wild card slots in the Eastern Conference, as fifth-place Pittsburgh has more points than the second-place team in the Atlantic Division
The New York Rangers have been in rebuilding mode but are hoping to become a playoff team soon and hoping new acquisitions will help them in that regard. They signed elite forward Artemi Panarin in free agency and drafted Kappo Kaako with the second overall pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. The main story in New York has been the development and handling of their various prospects, some who are doing very well, and others who have been disappointing and/or mishandled. The Blueshirts sit in sixth in the Metropolitan Division with a record of 13-10-3 and 29 points, three behind Pittsburgh and three ahead of Columbus, having played one less game than each.
The Columbus Blue Jackets who lost numerous players to free agency over the summer and have now just lost Zach Werinski to injury. Several of the remaining forwards, including Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Alexander Wennberg, and Nick Foligno, have gotten off to disappointing starts. The Blue Jackets sit in seventh place in the Metropolitan with a record of 11-12-4 and 27 points.
The New Jersey Devils, are in the Metropolitan cellar and have reportedly explored trading star forward Taylor Hall. The 2019-20 season has been a disappointing one for the Devils, who hoped the influx of players such as 2019 first overall pick Jack Hughes, trade acquisition P.K Subban, and Nikita Gusev, would collectively have a more positive effect on the team. The Devils recently fired Head Coach John Hynes, and named Assistant Coach Alain Nasreddine, as his interim replacement. Currently, the Devils sit in the bottom of the Metropolitan and second-to-last in the NHL with a record of 9-14-4 and just 22 points in 27 games played, and a Goal Differential of -32.
By Diane Doyle
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