With the spotlight still on the Islanders and why not they still in first place in the division, there is a three team race for two spots. With Columbus, Pittsburgh, and Carolina are all bunched up, it will be a battle as the season winds down. Philadelphia should be in consideration too, but is the point gap just too much at this point. As the deadline approaches, it will be interesting to see what moves all these teams make. Let’s go inside this week’s NHL Metro Division Notebook.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Three Teams for Two Spots
New York Islanders – If the New York Islanders remain in first place or at least make the playoffs, head coach Barry Trotz will lock up the Jack Adams award for coach of the year. It is amazing to see what this team can do under good coaching. To go along with the great coaching, the team is experiencing very good if not exceptional goaltending. The tandem of Thomas Greiss and Robin Lehner are playing very well. Each night the give the Islanders a chance to win games. With eight players with at least 10 goals or more, the Islanders have a well balanced attack offensively. And if the Islanders make the playoffs the first round will be at Nassau Coliseum.
Washington Capitals – Over the past week or two the Capitals are starting to find their championship form again. This has been in large part to Evgeny Kuznetsov returning from injury. With the team being healthy again, the Capitals can have a balanced attack. The week, started off well as the Capitals defeated the Kings in a high scoring affair. Then the Capitals began a six game road trip that started with a loss in Columbus. From there the Capitals flew to California to get a huge and dominating win over San Jose. Hopefully they can carry momentum through out the rest of the road trip. Alex Ovechkin is approaching 40 goals this season. It will be interesting to see how the Capitals use Pheonix Copley, after he signed a new three year deal. He will definitely get a start or two on this road trip.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Now we get to the teams that are battle for one of the final two spots. Even with all the distractions around the Blue Jackets, this team knows they are fighting for something this season. While Artemi Panarin has made it clear he does not want to re-sign in Columbus, he has been nothing but professional in his play. Each and every night he goes out and does his best to help the team win. Speaking of performing well, how about the play of Cam Atkinson. Since the start of the 2013-14, Atkinson has six or more 20 goal seasons. And this season Atkinson has topped the 30 goal mark for the second time in his career. Currently he has 32 goals, just three away from his career high.
Best of the Rest:
Pittsburgh Penguins – Eventually the Pittsburgh Penguins will start to take control of the division once again. Even with all this talent, the Penguins seem to missing something. Going forward every game is crucial for the Penguins as they continue to hold on to the final wild card spot. Interestingly enough even Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford is not satisfied with the team either. It would not be a shock if the Penguins were major players at the trade deadline. Even though team has made a lot of moves already, adding another player would not hurt this club. For those that think Evgeni Malkin does not have it any more, he just proved he still does. This is the time of year where the Penguins will show what true champions are made of.
Carolina Hurricanes – While all eyes have been on the Hurricanes post-game celebrations, the team is battling for a playoff spot. Sitting just one point out of the final playoff spot. the Hurricanes are playing some really good hockey at the moment. Over the past seven games, the Hurricanes have won six of the team. Currently, Carolina is on a three game winning streak. Carolina is having fun and playing with no pressure on them. Granted they still have a lot of work to do, but the Hurricanes are right in the mix. Justin Williams has been a great addition to this team as he brings veteran leadership. Williams has also kept things fun and it was his idea to have these post game celebrations for the fans.
Philadelphia Flyers – On the outside looking in of the group is the Philadelphia Flyers. To their credit, the Flyers are sticking around. After their winning streak came to an end, the Flyers were able to bounce to pick up three victories in four games. Carter Hart continues to prove he is the real deal. Granted he went into this season with nothing to lose. The weird thing is, Hart struggled in the AHL, but after being called up to the NHL, he has turned into the goalie from junior. Speaking of goaltenders, the Flyers made a trade for a goalie over the weekend. The Flyers traded Anthony Stolarz to Edmonton for Cam Talbot. If Talbot gets a start for the Flyers, that will be 8th different starting goalie the Flyers would have this season.
New York Rangers – Even as the Rangers pick up wins here and there, the team heading into the trade deadline is all about rebuilding. And while Mika Zibanejad continues to be one of the bright spots for the Rangers, even he cannot do it alone. As a matter of fact, he has been getting help from Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Mats Zuccarello. The later two are candidates are two players are looking to move come the trade deadline. As both Zuccarello and Hayes continue to play well, their trade stock only increases. While these two players are fan favorites, this is a business after all. With the Rangers still in a rebuild, trading off players that are becoming UFAs is the best strategy.
New Jersey Devils – Typically this is the time of the year, the Devils start to put a winning streak together. And right on cue the Devils have won two games in a row. Prior to these two victories, the Devils looked really bad. As a matter of fact, the Devils put together two embarrassing efforts against St. Louis and Chicago. Another poor seemed likely as the Devils were down 4-1 to Minnesota. Something needed to change. That something was Cory Schneider. Schneider came in as relief for Keith Kinkaid. Through a period and a half Schneider made crucial saves to allow the Devils to comeback and win 5-4 in overtime. Schneider continued that momentum with another victory. Since his return, Schneider looks like the goalie he was prior to all those injuries.