The Columbus Blue Jackets have their first all-Metro weekend tilt this Friday and Saturday night with back-to-back games at Nationwide Arena as the team plays host to the Washington Capitals and the New York Rangers.
The Blue Jackets have played just four games against divisional opponents thus far (a win over the New York Islanders before dropping games against the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers, then a shootout win against the New Jersey Devils), and it will have been nearly two weeks since last we saw a Metro foe when Friday night rolls around.
To catch fans up on the divisional goings-on, let’s take a quick tour of the division and see who has been playing well this season, and who has some ground to make up.
We’ll start at the top of the standings, and work our way down.
Standings and stats accurate as of Monday, November 11 games
The Hurricanes, after several ambitious moves this offseason, look every bit the Cup contender many expected them to be. Where the Hurricanes are surprising, however, is in net - claimed off of the scrap heap in Toronto where he was cast out for his failures in the postseason, Freddie Andersen has rediscovered his game. Andersen is posting an 8-1-0 record this season with a 1.83 goals against average and a .939 save percentage and one shutout. The Hurricanes rank third in the league in goals for per game and lead the league in goals against per game. With 18 points in their first 10 games, the Hurricanes look every bit a juggernaut early.
New York Rangers
Second in the division standings by points, but just fifth in the standings by points percentage, are the Rangers. The Rangers have the benefit of playing more games than anyone else in the Metro (13, as of this writing) and have a 7-3-3 record on the year. Artemi Panarin is not putting the puck in the net much this season, but with 11 assists in 13 games, is on pace to break the record for most assists by a left wing in a single season in NHL history (currently held by Joe Juneau, who set the record of 70 as a rookie in 1992-93 - hattip to Down Goes Brown for pointing this one out).
They’re good, sure, but that’s not the story. THE story, the only story, is the chase. Ovechkin is now tied for fourth all time in goals scored, having just matched Brett Hull with 741.
The Capitals are 6-2-4 to open the season but seem committed as an organization to getting Ovechkin to the record, which is incredibly cool. Ovechkin is 153 behind and closing, with a new contract in tow that could keep him in Washington long enough to get there.
The Flyers are paced in the scoring column by former Blue Jacket Cam Atkinson, but the story and surprise in Philadelphia is the goaltending. After having a dreadful 2020-21 season, Carter Hart has bounced back with a .926 save percentage and 2.41 goals against average. Even more surprisingly, Martin Jones is 3-0-0 with a 1.67 goals against and .950 save percentage. The Flyers weak spot historically has been their goaltending, but that position has been a pleasant surprise early. If the Flyers can continue to get above average goaltending, they may well crash the playoffs - the talent up front is there to get them through with help.
New York Islanders
The preseason division favorites have stumbled out of the gate - the team is not getting consistent goal scoring from its forwards, ranking just 20th in the league at 2.70 goals for per game this season. The Islanders announced new deals this offseason for Andy Greene, Adam Pelech, Casey Cizikas, Anthony Beauvillier, and Kyle Palmieri and yet are struggling to find consistency - they have yet to string three wins together, and have been beaten by three or more goals three separate times already this season. One would assume Trotz’s team and system finds its footing, but this is far from an ideal start for the Isles.
The big question entering the season was “Would Mackenzie Blackwood get vaccinated and be eligible to play enough games for this team to make some noise?” He (eventually) started the vaccination process, but his .897 GAA and 3.01 GAA in one game played are not a great start. Jonathan Bernier has played five games, Scott Wedgewood played three before being claimed by Arizona, and suddenly New Jersey’s season looks off the rails early. The Devils are still above .500 at 5-3-2, but they are seventh in the division and appear the weakest in net of any team in the Metro - not an enviable spot to be in.
What a time to be alive.
Sure, Sidney Crosby has one game played. Sure, Evgeni Malkin hasn’t played yet. We all certainly expected a three way tie for the team scoring lead between Evan Rodrigues, Kaspari Kapanen, and Danton Heinen. But for a beautiful minute, it rocks seeing the Penguins at the bottom of the division.
The Penguins are 4-3-3, a .550 points percentage (meaning yes, every Metro team is above a .500 points percentage right now - the toughest division, once again, in the league). It remains early in the season, and Crosby just came back. But eventually Father Time will catch up, why not this season?
As the Blue Jackets enter the teeth of divisional play, we will continue taking looks around the division for story lines and noteworthy developments. What have you noticed about our Metro foes?