With only six games left in the regular season, the race to the finish is on. The Metro Division is so tight with the Capitals, Islanders, and Penguins battling for the top spot in the division. While, the Hurricanes are looking to solidify the first wild card spot and maybe even finish in the third hole. On the other hand the Blue Jackets are on the outside looking. Let’s go inside this week’s NHL Metro Division Notebook to see how this race plays out.
NHL Metro Division Notebook: Race to the Finish
Washington Capitals – As the season winds down, the Capitals still remain in first place. Just barely though as Washington holds a one point lead over the Islanders for the top spot. Washington knows what it takes to win now as they head to the playoffs. The weight of the word is off this team, so they should be more relaxed heading into the playoffs. If the Capitals meet the Lightning again in the Eastern Conference Final, what a series that will be. However, the Capitals have work to do. Washington need to win their divisional games if they want home ice in the first two rounds. One player that has come along way this season has been Tom Wilson. Wilson gives energy to this team and will be a difference maker come playoff time. Even though Wilson plays with an edge, physical play is important come playoff time.
New York Islanders – If there is one team that desperately needs to finish first it is the New York Islanders. While they are no easy matchups in the playoffs, playing in front of that crowd at Nassau Coliseum gives the Islanders an extra boost. The Islanders are keeping pace with the Capitals and the division title could very well come down to the final game of the regular season when these two teams clash. After going through that rough patch, the Islanders are getting in gear for the playoffs. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss are a great tandem for the Islanders. Both goalies each have five shutouts on the season. And the Islanders lead the league with 10 shutouts. The Islanders continue to play good defense in front of these two goalies, which will be important come playoff time.
Pittsburgh Penguins – After a disappointing loss to Philadelphia, the Penguins almost blew three games in a row. First, the Penguins lost to Carolina in a shootout. Even though the Penguins picked up a point, they blew another lead. Then against Nashville, Pittsburgh blew another lead, but this time was able to pick up the win in the shootout. Following that game, Pittsburgh won a huge game in Dallas. Each game the Penguins play, they are trying to keep pace with the Capitals and Islanders, while fending off the Hurricanes. The theme all season long has been consistency especially on defense. Blowing leads like the Penguins have will not do them any favors come playoff time. Clearly, the Penguins offense is hurting with Evgeni Malkin out of the lineup. Malkin has resumed skating in Pittsburgh, but there is still no timetable for his return. They will need come playoff time.
Best of the Rest:
Carolina Hurricanes – The Carolina Hurricanes are inching closer to securing a playoff spot. This past week the Hurricanes were able to win three of four games. Currently, Carolina sits with 91 points three points behind the Pittsburgh Penguins for third place in the Metro. With the Hurricanes in must win mode, Carolina is delivering for their fans. Carolina is another team that has a great goaltending tandem. Curtis McElhinney and Petr Mrazek have been great for the Hurricanes this season. Just like the Islanders, this tandem for the Hurricanes have been able to keep their teams in games. Sebastian Aho continues to be great for the Hurricanes. He is getting support from his teammates as well. Especially from captain Justin Williams. Williams is willing this team into the playoffs.
Columbus Blue Jackets – It is must win time for the Columbus Blue Jackets. Time is starting to run out for the Blue Jackets. As it stands right now, the Blue Jackets are four points out of the final wild card spot. Columbus is also seven points behind Carolina. The seven point gap is too much to overcome, but four points isn’t. Is it fair that Columbus had to go through Western Canada now? No, but they have to play the games on the schedule. You thought Columbus figured out after getting points in three straight games. But alas the goal scoring has not been there. Cam Atkinson is in the midst of six game goal-less drought. This team has been able to click since adding all those players at the deadline. Columbus still controls its own destiny, but can they rise to the occasion in the face of adversity?
Philadelphia Flyers – Time might have finally run out on the Flyers “Cinderella” run. With six games left in the season, a seven or even nine point gap will be too much to overcome. Philadelphia has lost three of the past four games pretty much sealing their fate this season. It was a heck of a run for the Flyers considering all that has happened this season. Give credit to Scott Gordon for having belief in players they could turn things around. The future is bright for the Flyers. Especially at the goaltending position. Philadelphia has their goalie of the future with Carter Hart. Since being called up, Hart has been excellent for the Flyers. Expectations will be high for him next season, but he gives the team confidence every night. It will be interesting to see if Scott Gordon sticks around next season.
New York Rangers – Despite a rebuilding season, the Rangers made some history this past week. Rookie goalie Alexandar Georgiev faced the Toronto Maple Leafs twice this season and in both occasions stopped over 40 shots in Rangers victories. That is quite an accomplishment for such a young player in the league. After losing five games in a row, the Rangers took down a good Toronto team. Georgiev continues to play well, which means more starts down the stretch. Not to mention he could be the starter going into next season. As of now he gives the Rangers a better chance to win. Not many bright spots for the Rangers this season, but again it was a rebuilding year.
New Jersey Devils – Injuries continue to be the theme for the New Jersey Devils. At one point, there was as many as 10 starters out of the lineup. New Jersey was fielding an AHL team. One of those starters Taylor Hall has been ruled out for the remainder of the season. Even though Hall has been skating on his on, at this point it would be best for him to sit out the rest of the year. Hall had knee surgery about five weeks ago now, and is still amongst the top point producers for the Devils this season. If he returned and recorded one assist he would lead the team in assists. Crazy to think he would have missed half the season. The Devils did get reinforcements as Nico Hishcier, Sami Vatanen, Miles Wood, Kyle Palmieri, Pavel Zacha, and Mirco Mueller all returned to the lineup.