With only a couple weeks left in the NHL regular season, the playoff teams in the Metro Division are starting to take shape. The top three teams are falling into to place. It is just a matter of what order the Capitals, Islanders, and Penguins all finish in. Then there is Carolina and Columbus. Both teams are trying to fight off Montreal and Philadelphia for the final two wild card spots. It sure will be an interesting end to the regular season. Time to go inside this week’s NHL Metro Division Notebook.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Playoff Teams Starting to Take Shape
New York Islanders – Considering how bad the Islanders were playing, the Islanders find themselves tied for the lead in the Metro with Washington. If it wasn’t for those two games against Ottawa the week prior, the Islanders might find themselves even lower in the standings. The Islanders are starting to pick up their play once again. Anders Lee and Brock Nelson both have scored over 20 goals. As four other players are within the 20 goal mark on the team. Not bad for a team that had no expectations coming into the season. The Islanders boast the best fourth line in hockey. Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck play so well as a line together. Not only can they play physical, but can score as well. Nothing is given just yet but the Islanders are positioning themselves nicely to finish inside the top three in the division.
Washington Capitals – It was a rough week for the Washington Capitals. The Capitals were not able to build on their lead in the Metro Division. In fact, Washington has allowed the Islanders and Penguins to inch closer to the top spot in the division. Early in the week, Washington fell to their division rival the Pittsburgh Penguins. If the Capitals had won, Washington would have put the Penguins in the rearview mirror. Now, things got a little more interesting. The next loss came at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning. No shame in losing to them. Washington was able to beat Philadelphia, making their life a little hard to make the playoffs. With the Capitals moving on from Devante Smith-Pelley, Brett Connolly stepped into that role. Connolly has become a role player Washington can count on to contribute every game.
Pittsburgh Penguins – The Penguins are looking to get keep pace the Capitals and Islanders. Over the past two weeks, Pittsburgh has won five of six games. The Penguins did lay a stinker against the Blues on Saturday afternoon. Even though the Penguins sit in third in the Metro, a losing skid could have them right back in the mix for the wild card spot. Pittsburgh does not want that. In fact, they want to be as desperate as their opponents down the stretch. Sidney Crosby is playing some best hockey of his career. You have to think Crosby will be a nominee for the Hart Trophy. Crosby and Jake Guentzel are the only two Penguins to score over 30 goals. Matt Murray and Casey DeSmith are playing better for Pittsburgh. Not to mention injured players Kris Letang and Olli Maata are close to returning to the Penguins lineup.
Best of the Rest:
Carolina Hurricanes – It appears the Carolina Hurricanes are for real this season. Having a rallying cry is helping the Hurricanes succeed as well. With Rod Brind’Amour behind the bench, the players go out and play a smash mouth style, like their coach did during his career. If the Hurricanes make the playoffs, Brind’Amour should be a nominee for the Jack Adams Trophy. This is Brind’Amour’s first year as a head coach. however, he has spent many years being an assistant in Carolina. The Hurricanes have built a nice cushion for the first wild card spot in the East. During this time period, the Hurricanes are winning games they are supposed to against the teams lower in the standings. Heading down the stretch, the Hurricanes have one of the tougher strength of schedules in the league.
Columbus Blue Jackets – Another team starting to get their acts together are the Columbus Blue Jackets. Since acquiring Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel at the trade deadline, the Blue Jackets could not get on track. Over the past week or so, Columbus is starting to figure things out. With time running out on their season, Columbus needs to start winning. Columbus was holding onto the final wild card spot over Montreal because of more regulation and overtime wins. Columbus was able to pick up five of eight points during the week to hold a three point lead over Montreal in the standings. Matt Duchene is more comfortable in the offense and is starting to contribute even more. Not to mention Sergei Bobrovsky is playing like the two-time Vezina Trophy winner. He needs to keep playing at this level in order for Columbus to make the playoffs.
Philadelphia Flyers – The Flyers playoff chances took a significant hit with losses to Washington and Toronto. However, the Flyers are not mathematically eliminated just yet, as they remain six points back on the final playoff spot. The Flyers got another comeback win over Pittsburgh. Goaltending which has been an issue all season, has reared its ugly again. With Carter Hart back from injury, the Flyers hope he can turn things around. Brian Elliott’s magic is starting to run out for the Flyers. If the Flyers want any chance of making the playoffs it will be on the back of Carter Hart. The offense for the Flyers is picking up as Philadelphia has four players with at least 20 goals. James van Riemsdyk has 10 goals in the past 11 games. He is picking things up at the right time for the Flyers.
New York Rangers – After getting another win on home ice, the road has not been too kind to the New York Rangers. The Rangers went 0-4 on their four game road trip through Western Canada and Minnesota. The Rangers picked up one point in Edmonton. Nobody expected the Rangers to make the playoffs this season. At this point the Rangers are looking at the young players on their team and figuring out who will be apart of the rebuild next season. Pavel Buchnevich continues his stellar play. He is finally turning into the player the Rangers thought he could be. Vladislav Namestnikov is playing well as late for the Rangers. Newly acquired Brendan Lemieux is fitting right in as he is bringing a more physical game to the Rangers.
New Jersey Devils – Another team looking to next season and the NHL Entry Draft is the New Jersey Devils. The Devils were on a four game road trip also through Western Canada and Colorado. Through these four games the Devils picked up two wins. Not bad for a team that is fielding an AHL roster each game considering all their injuries. Speaking of injuries, there is a chance Taylor Hall could return this season after knee surgery. Considering the Devils are out of it, the best thing would be for Hall and the other injured players to just be held out of the lineup for the rest of the year. Let players like Kenny Agostino and Kevin Rooney continue to show what they got. As a matter of fact Blake Coleman joined Kyle Palmieri as the only other player to score over 20 goals.