It's hard to believe that we are past the halfway point of the 2014-15 regular season already, isn't it? Now that the All-Star Weekend is over, I thought it was a great time to take a look at where things stand in the highly competitive Metropolitan Division and take a look at where thehirts stand with 38 games remaining in their regular season. The Metropolitan Division has some of the league's best power plays, highest scoring players, and most significant injuries. Can you think of another team in recent history that has had the kind of bad luck with injuries that the Penguins have had while still remaining competitive? As we take a look at what each team in the Metropolitan has done at roughly the halfway mark of the 2014-15 campaign, it doesn't take a lot of brain power to see that there are already two or three teams that have sandcastle playoff dreams and the tide is coming in.
Let's jump right in and take a look at how each of the Metropolitan Division hockey clubs have fared thus far and why they are succeeding, failing, or are stagnant and looking for solutions to the holes in their lineup and the deficits in their game.
63 points with a record of 31-14-1 in 46 games played.
John Tavares- 21 G, 24 A, 19 PPP
Kyle Okposo- 14 G, 30 A, 16 PPP
Ryan Strome- 8 G, 25 A, 5 PPP
Peppering the Net- John Tavares and the Islanders are behind only the Blackhawks in shots registered per game with 33.1. Throwing everything at the net, in addition to their dominating and maddening forecheck, has lead to the Isles scoring more goals than every team in the NHL except for the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Isles currently score 3.15 goals per game and allow 2.78 goals per game. That is a pretty wide margin, huh? What is even more impressive than that is the fact the Islanders are also second in the league in fewest shots allowed per game with 27.0 per game. The Isles control the puck, have an elite forecheck, and for the first time since almost anyone can remember, they have a reliable goaltender in Jaroslav Halak.
Contributions from... Who?- When you look at the Isles' roster it doesn't exactly feel all that amazing compared to some of the other clubs in the division. However, two big trades at the start of the season brought in Johnny Boychuk from Boston and Nick Leddy from Chicago which drastically improved the Isles' back line. Boychuk, never a big scorer in Boston, has twelve points on the power play and his twenty-two points leads all Islander defensemen (despite missing ten games). Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome are two Islanders' first round picks that have hit the thirty point mark halfway through the season in their sophomore campaigns. The Islanders just lost Kyle Okposo for 6-8 weeks which is a devastating blow to their first line. They are going to need to lean a little bit harder on their depth scoring to make due until the club's top winger returns from his injury.
The Pittsburgh Penguins | PensBurgh
60 points with a record of 26-12-8 in 46 games played.
Evgeni Malkin- 19 G, 32 A, 19 PPP
Sidney Crosby- 15 G, 36 A, 20 PPP
Kris Letang- 9 G, 23 A, 32 16 PPP
Pretty Much Everyone is Hurt- Malkin isn't expected to join the Penguins after the All-Star break, Crosby is day-to-day with a lower body injury that kept him from playing in the All-Star Game, Letang might have a concussion, Olli Maatta is out for the season with a shoulder injury and dealing with the cancerous tumor on his thyroid gland, and Pascal Dupuis is out for the season due to a blood clot in his lung. That devastating list of injuries doesn't include the fact that the Penguins have also had some minor injuries earlier in the season to players like Chris Kunitz and Paul Martin. Somehow the Penguins are still ninth in the league despite going 4-4-3 in the ten games before the All-Star break, but if they don't start to get healthy and get some better luck in regards to injuries, they could find themselves falling behind in the highly competitive Metropolitan division in a hurry.
Adding Perron and Getting Healthy- The Penguins dealt their 2015 first-round pick and Rob Klinkhammer to the Oilers to bring in David Perron, giving them another top six winger with a knack for scoring. Since joining the Pens, Perron has seven points in eight games and has gelled with Sidney Crosby (is there anyone who doesn't play well with Crosby?). Will the addition of Perron and the All-Star break be enough to allow the Penguins a chance to get healthy? Apparently Hornqvist is nearing a return, but the recent injuries to Malkin and Crosby are certainly causing Penguins fans to start looking in the rear-view mirror at the Rangers and Capitals who are coming on strong. There are a lot of worried Penguins fans out there that are also unbelievably frustrated. Can you imagine what this team could do if it could just stay healthy?
The New York Rangers | Blueshirt Banter
58 points with a record of 27-12-4 in 44 games played.
Rick Nash- 28 G, 15 A, 8 PPP
Martin St. Louis- 14 G, 22 A, 13 PPP
Derick Brassard- 12 G, 23 A, 14 PPP
Nash Unleashed- We've all seen it, we've all talked about, and most of us still can't believe it. Rick Nash has been a man possessed this season. What is even more amazing about Nash's dominance is how little of his production has come on the power play, although he has never really been a big producer on the man advantage. Nash has just four power play goals and three shorthanded goals, which means the other twenty-one times he has beat a goalie has come at even strength. That's absolutely amazing. He is very deservedly being talked about as a strong Hart Trophy candidate and I know that he has my vote. Nash has been everything to the New York Rangers through the first half of the 2014-15 season. The current Rangers' top line of Mats Zuccarello, Derick Brassard, and Nash has been something very special and it all comes from Nash making special things happen each and every night.
Scoring and Defending- Through the first half of the 2014-15 season the Rangers allowed just 2.32 goals per game and they scored 3.00 goals per game, which makes them one of just two teams in the NHL, along with the St. Louis Blues, who are top six in the league in both goals scored and goals allowed per game. That is how you win hockey games and go on big runs that shoot you up the standings. A big part of the Rangers' success this season is Henrik Lundqvist returning to form after a humble start to the season and Derek Stepan quietly being better than a point per game player since returning to the lineup. As good as the Blueshirts have been they could be even better. They will be looking for more scoring from players like Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider, and Carl Hagelin in the second half of the season. The depth scoring hasn't always been there for the Rangers, and their power play seems about as streaky as they come, but if the Rangers can find a way to support the top two lines' production at even strength, they will continue to be one of the best teams in the Metropolitan Division.
The Washington Capitals | Japers Rink
57 points with a record of 24-13-9 in 46 games played.
Nicklas Backstrom- 15 G, 32 A, 17 PPP
Alex Ovechkin- 27 G, 16 A, 17 PPP
John Carlson 5 G, 29 A, 7 PPP
Damn, Power Play, You Scary- Backstrom and Ovechkin have been making beautiful music together on the power play for a long time now and this season is no different. The Capitals have a 24.4% chance of scoring when they get the man advantage, which is good for third in the league behind only the Blues and Red Wings (must be a color thing). Twelve of Ovi's twenty-seven goals have come on the man advantage which should come as no surprise because he's always been a beast when given time and space. A lot of things feel different about the Caps, but their greatest strength remains very much the same. Giving them too many power plays is a great way to give them the game.
The House of Trotz- So how has Ovi responded to his new head coach? Apparently, quite well. The Caps appear to be a more balanced team this season and a big part of that is Ovechkin seeming to engage in the two-way game more often. Plenty of talking heads are blathering about how Ovechkin is in the green in regards to his +/- this season, but what matters more is that Ovechkin is still lethal with the puck while trying to embrace playing hard when his team doesn't have it. The Caps are currently eighth in the league in goals scored per game and twelfth in the league in goals allowed per game. Their record puts them at seventh place in the Eastern Conference and in twelfth place in the league. Not having Orlov and Erskine has been rough, but the defense looks good and a lot of that has to do with Barry Trotz.
45 points with a record of 19-22-7 in 48 games played.
Jakub Voracek- 17 G, 39 A, 21 PPP
Claude Giroux- 16 G, 35 A, 24 PPP
Mark Streit- 7 G, 27 A, 19 PPP
Quick! Name the Flyers' Defensemen!- Kimmo Timonen playing this season is a giant question mark for Philly and Michael Del Zotto is now playing for the Flyers, his third NHL team. The Flyers have eight defensemen that have played in 10 or more games this season. A lot of that has to do with a lot of minor injuries happening at the same time that has often left the Flyers scrambling to put together a competitive six blueliners to patch up holes in a group that wasn't very good to begin with. A big plus to the Flyers' blue line is that Mark Streit is tied with Keith Yandle for the most power play points among d-men in the league. The Flyers will mercifully be getting Steve Mason back thanks to the All-Star break, which means they will no longer be dependent on Ray Emery keeping them in games. Philly is tied with the Wild for twenty-third in the league in goals allowed per game, letting in 2.94 goals per contest. Yikes.
Voracek and Giroux- There's just no stopping Jake Voracek this season. The Czech winger leads the league in points by a four point margin and leads all players in assists by three helpers. Lost in the magic of Voracek's first half to the season is Claude Giroux scoring 51 points in 48 games and being an absolute monster on the man advantage. The Flyers ask a lot of their first line and their power play, which is fifth in the league at 23.0%, and the big guns almost always deliver. If the Flyers had some more depth scoring, a better blue line corps, and some consistency they could really be a team to fear. Right now, however, they are a one-dimensional hockey club that has some big concerns about their two way game and where the money is going in their lineup.
43 points with a record of 20-22-3 in 45 games played.
Ryan Johansen- 17 G, 26 A, 20 PPP
Nick Foligno- 18 G, 24 A, 22 PPP
Scott Hartnell- 10 G, 18 A, 9 PPP
Black and Blue Jackets- Columbus just lost Sergei Bobrovsky, a goalie with a Vezina Trophy on his mantelpiece, for 4-6 weeks. This is almost certainly the beginning of the end for a Columbus team that has already had to contend with devastating injuries all over the lineup for most of the season. On top of that, there is also some serious talk about Nathan Horton's career being in jeopardy (he hasn't skated in a single game this season). The Blue Jackets were the league's favorite "feel good" story from the 2013-14 season, but right now their playoff hopes look absolutely desperate. The Jackets allow the fourth most goals per game in the league (Bobrovsky has been in and out of the lineup this season) which even their elite power play can't make up for.
Power Play Kids- So, what about that power play? Columbus has the fourth best power play in the NHL thanks largely in part to Johansen and Foligno who have a combined 42 points on the man advantage this season. In case you didn't already know, this Johansen kid is the real deal. If not for their power play, it is hard to imagine where the Jackets would be in regards to their team offense. They need to be better at even strength in all facets of the game and need to find a way to stay healthy and find a way to win for the next month or so without Bob in the cage.
42 points with a record of 17-22-8 in 47 games played.
Adam Henrique- 10 G, 16 A, 10 PPP
Jaromir Jagr- 9 G, 16 A, 7 PPP
Mike Cammalleri- 15 G, 6 A, 7 PPP
Poorly Built- When you look at the Devils' roster what do you see? I see a lot of low potential role players, a few interesting younger guys that aren't producing, and far, far too many old players that are asked to play too big of a role for the team. In the first season in the Post-Brodeur Era, the Devils are basement dwellers in the Metropolitan Division. It's hard to find a silver lining to the first half of the 2014-15 season for New Jersey... although their power play is ninth in the league, so there's that. It is a strange thing to see a Devils team that has so many holes in the lineup and has been managed so disastrously for the past few seasons. They are nowhere near being a playoff team and given their team age, it would be wise for them to start taking this thing apart if there is a buyer's market as the trade deadline approaches.
Banged Up- Former Ranger Ryan Clowe's career might be over thanks to yet another concussion, the Devils will be without Stephen Gionta until early-to-mid February, and Bryce Salvador hasn't played in a game since November 10th due to a back injury. In fact, only Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene have played in all forty-seven regular season games for the Devils this season. Key players like Cammalleri, Travis Zajac, and Patrik Elias have all missed eight or more games. The Devils are a team that simply don't have the depth to adapt and recover from injuries like these. In summary, the New Jersey Devils are a flaming stagecoach headed straight towards the old firework and gunpowder factory.
37 points with a record of 16-25-5 in 46 games played.
Eric Staal- 15 G, 13 A, 11 PPP
Justin Faulk- 8 G, 18 A, 9 PPP
Jeff Skinner- 10 G, 9 A, 2 PPP | Elias Lindholm- 9 G, 10 A, 7 PPP | Riley Nash- 7G, 12 A, 4 PPP
Storm's not a-Comin'- The Devils are in dire straits, but the Carolina Hurricanes are an absolute mess. Jordan Staal has only just returned from a serious injury and man, did they miss him. In fact, the Hurricanes miss everyone who knows anything about creating offense and scoring goals. Carolina is currently ahead of only the Buffalo Sabres in goals per game with 2.06 (that ain't good). In case you guys were wondering, you won't be winning many games if you can't score goals. Jeff Skinner has had a very bad season thus far and Alexander Semin has been an utter nightmare that will likely haunt this team for a very long time. Carolina needs to find a way to score goals and get their big name players to produce on the power play or at least play like they deserve their contracts and to stay in the lineup.
Cam Ward Reborn?- Cam Ward, with very little help from his team, has helped the Hurricanes achieve the eleventh best GA/G in the league which is better than a few noteworthy teams including the Kings, Ducks, and Capitals. Now, let's not get crazy here, Ward's stats are hardly Herculean, but considering the team around him and what he has looked like the past few seasons, it is nice to see him give his team some solid play... even if his team has been wasting the efforts of Ward and Anton Khudobin. Honestly, Ward has been okay, but I really wanted to try and say something nice about the Hurricanes because they genuinely make me sad.
Well, there you have it ladies and hooligans, this is where the Metropolitan Division stands at roughly the halfway point of the season. Each inter-divisional game means just a little bit more from here on in, and losses to teams like the Hurricanes and Devils are more or less unforgivable at this point. Will we see the Islanders hold firmly to their spot on top of the division? Can the Penguins get healthy before the Rangers and/or the Capitals catch them? Can Voracek, Nash, Ovi, and Giroux keep it up? What will the next big move in the division be now that the Penguins have pulled the trigger on grabbing Perron?
Thanks for Reading! Please stay safe with the storm guys. Stay warm, stay dry, and let's go Rangers!