I first wrote about the Metropolitan Division standings back in late October, and since then things have shuffled up a bit. So let’s take a look at what the teams ahead of the Blue Jackets. Yes, everyone is ahead of Columbus at this point (they were 7th last time).
I said then “the Jackets visit New Jersey, and upon their return they host the Flyers twice and visit the Islanders once. Those four games are winnable, and could help separate the Jackets from their peers in the bottom half of the division.” Well, the Flyers games were wins, the Islanders came was an OT loss, and the Devils game was an embarrassment. To the extent that we’ve separated from the peers at the bottom of the division, it’s been to bury ourselves below them.
But enough about the Jackets, let’s look at the rest:
#1 New Jersey Devils (21-5-1, .796 points percentage, 100 goals for, 63 goals against)
Last time: #4 (up 3)
What I said: “The schedule shapes up nicely for the Devils to bank points before the calendar turns to 2023. I don’t trust that goaltending, however.”
Now: The day I published that article, the Devils lost to the Capitals. After that, they ripped off 13 straight wins, including 10 in regulation.
Who’s getting it done: The secret sauce of that run was off-season acquisition Vitek Vanecek. After poor performances in his first two appearances, he earned the decision in nine games of the streak. His record now stands at 12-2-1, with a .916 save percentage and 2.30 GAA. That’ll do it!
#2 Carolina Hurricanes (15-6-6, .667, 80 GF/73 GA)
Last time: #2 (no change)
What I said: “Continue dominating bad teams and at least split with good teams and they will be in good shape to keep doing what they have been doing for the last four seasons.”
Now: In November, they lost to the Lightning, Leafs, Panthers, Avalanche (twice), Wild, Jets, and Bruins. But on the bright side they’re in the midst of a successful six game road trip where they have beaten the Penguins Blues, Kings, and Islanders (and lost to the Ducks in OT...how??)
Who’s getting it done: Andrei Svechnikov, who couldn’t score to save his life in the postseason last spring (ask my fantasy team!), now leads his team in goals with 15 in 27 games. That’s just what they need.
#3 Pittsburgh Penguins (16-8-4, .643, 100 GF/83 GA)
Last time: #1 (down 2)
What I said: “12 of their next 16 games are on the road, including the four game northwest swing starting tonight. This core has been around long enough that they know how to pace themselves for the long season.”
Now: I successfully jinxed them into a seven game losing streak, but then they rebounded with two five-game win streaks in the month since then. Is that pacing themselves?
Who’s getting it done: It’s still Sidney Crosby, leading his team in goals/assists/points. Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin are also point-per-game players. Special shout out to Kris Letang, who suffered a minor stroke and was back in action on Saturday, so he only missed five games.
#4 New York Islanders (17-12-0, .586, 92 GF/80 GA)
Last time: #8 (up 4)
What I said: “I think they’re capable of playing better than they have been, but so far it’s hard to see evidence that they’ve done enough to make up a 16 point gap from the postseason cut-off.”
Now: Well, they did enough. Their 34 points is good enough for the first wild card in the East. I reverse jinxed them, too, as they won nine of their next eleven games. They’ve plateaued a bit but they’re still very much in the thick of it.
Who’s getting it done: I also said “one wonders how much longer Lambert will ride Ilya Sorokin.” He was just 1-3-0 at the time, but his .908 save percentage and 2.84 GAA were much closer to average this season than I gave credit for. Now he is 10-9, but with a .925 save percentage and 2.36 GAA. Semyon Varlamov is 7-3-0/.916/2.67.
#5 New York Rangers (14-10-5, .569, 89 GF/82 GA)
Last time: #5 (no change)
What I said: “Just a .901 SV% for Shesterkin, but a return to form from the Breadman, with Artemi Panarin scoring 12 points in the first six games.”
Now: Panarin is still over a point per game, with only six goals but 28 assists in 29 games.
Who’s not getting it done: Igor Shesterkin has improved to a .917 save percentage and 2.50 GAA. It’s not up to his Vezina levels, but still good enough for a 13-4-4 record. The problem is Jaroslav Halak, who is just 1-6-1/.888/3.04 in his starts. He even lost to Columbus at home. That’s really bad!
#6 Washington Capitals (13-12-4, .517, 82 GF/87 GA)
Last time: #6 (no change)
What I said: “Road opponents in the next month include Dallas, Carolina, Tampa Bay, Florida, and St. Louis. Vegas, Edmonton, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, and Colorado come to DC. The Caps could find themselves still on the outside looking in on American Thanksgiving, and history shows it is difficult to get back into a playoff spot after that.”
Now: The Capitals went 2-5-3 against those good teams. They do sit outside of a playoff spot, but are tied with Detroit just a game back of the Rangers for the final wild card.
Who’s not getting it done: The team doctor? The Caps are still missing key players Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, and veteran role players like Connor Brown, Carl Hagelin, and Dmitry Orlov. Outside of Ovechkin, I question whether they have the firepower to be more competitive ... unless they swing a big trade.
#7 Philadelphia Flyers (9-13-6, .429, 66 GF/91 GA)
Last time: #3 (down 4)
What I said: “The schedule gets significantly more difficult, with the Flyers facing the Panthers, Hurricanes, Rangers, Leafs, Senators, and Blues before Torts’ homecoming in Columbus on November 10.”
Now: Well, of those six games, the Flyers earned points in all but one of them (3-1-2). Then, starting with the Torts homecoming game, the Flyers lost 10 straight games. Torts is back to being snippy with the media and referring to players as toilet seats (get a new metaphor, dude).
Who’s not getting it done: Tony DeAngelo has earned eight of his 14 points on the power play, but nonetheless has ended up in Torts’ doghouse and was a healthy scratch. He’s not the only big money defenseman to suffer this fate, as Rasmus Ristolainen also got to watch from the press box a few times.
It certainly looks like four teams are where they want to be in the playoff race, with the Rangers and Capitals on more shaky footing. How do you see this shaking out over the next 50+ games?