With each team in the division approaching the 20 games played mark, we decided it was time for a quick update on how the Metropolitan division, arguably the league’s toughest group, is doing this year. We will be sorting the division strictly by points totaled, although this early in the season each team’s winning percentage may be a better indicator of how they’re performing, in the Metro division, the only change we see is Columbus and Philadelphia switching spots.
1. Carolina Hurricanes 13-2-0
It’s no surprise the Canes are already flying high this year. In the pandemic shortened 2020-2021 season, the Hurricanes ended the year at the top of the Central Division, which contained both the eventual Stanley Cup winner Tampa Bay Lightning and powerhouse Florida Panthers. Their GM Don Waddell, made several changes this past offseason to improve their chances to win now. In a move rarely seen in the NHL these days, he successfully lured Jesperi Kotkaniemi away from the Canadiens with an offer sheet and then went on to sign former Ranger Derek Stepan. The Hurricanes also swapped out their untested goaltending for Frederik Andersen and former Ranger Antti Raanta. And to cap off their offseason moves, they replaced Dougie Hamilton with another former Ranger, Tony DeAngelo—further solidifying Carolina as the new Rangers South. These changes have so far yielded successful results while bolstering their center and goaltending depth.
It took ten games for the Hurricanes to finally experience defeat this season, and in their five games since they’ve only lost one other game. In the division, they have the second highest amount of goals and have the least goals against. Led by dynamic forwards Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, defenseman Tony DeAngelo who currently sits seventh overall in the NHL in points by a defenseman, and Frederik Andersen who could be in the beginning of a Vezina caliber season, the Hurricanes are going to be a force to be reckoned with all year, and most likely deep into the playoffs.
2. Washington Capitals 10-2-5
The season is young, but a lot of hockey minds expected the Capitals to begin slowing down. Their core has aged another year and they are one of the oldest teams in the league, but with 58 goals they lead the Metro in goals scored and are fourth overall in the NHL. Ovechkin is in pursuit of the Great One’s goal record and is keeping up with the top of the league, tied for second place with Chris Kreider and others in the NHL. Aside from Ovechkin, the Capitals’ offense has been a group effort, with the majority of their roster registering at least one goal so far this season. The team’s performance is all the more impressive when you realize they’re missing major contributors Nicklas Backstrom who has yet to play a game, and TJ Oshie who has been out since October. With twenty-five points in their first 17 games the Capitals have set themselves up for success. As seen below, HockeyStatMiner explains perfectly why their outlook the rest of the year is most likely a positive one.
Washington joins Florida as the only teams so far to earn >24 points in their opening 17 games. (Hurricanes, Jets, Lightning, Oilers & Rangers are still TBD).— HockeyStatMiner (@HockeyStatMiner) November 18, 2021
Since 2005*: teams that do this have made the playoffs 95% of the time (36/38 occasions).
*excluding shortened seasons
3. New York Rangers 10-4-3
The Rangers were hoping to take a step forward this season, and their current record may falsely indicate they have. However, the jury is still out on the young team as they’ve shown glimpses of positive play, but it has mainly been their goaltending that has allowed them to not only tread water, but succeed in certain stretches this year. If you weren’t convinced Igor Shesterkin is the real deal, you absolutely should be now.
An important concern is their goal differential which is currently at negative one. There is not a long history of success for teams that do not have a positive goal differential, however there are skaters on the team performing admirably. Adam Fox is proving his Norris winning season wasn’t a fluke, and Chris Kreider is in the midst of the hottest start of his career. While the Rangers suffered an unfortunate loss with Blais going down for the season, if the rest of their roster can begin clicking the team may yet maintain this position.
4. Philadelphia Flyers 8-4-3
Only two games and two wins separate the Rangers from the Flyers in the standings currently. There were a lot of concerns surrounding Philly’s goaltending and defense, all one had to do was look at the number of goals they allowed the previous season to understand the base of these worries. This most likely prompted their GM, Chuck Fletcher, to make some offseason moves to shake up his roster. They ended up trading Jakub Voracek for Cam Atkinson, Nolan Patrick for Ryan Ellis, and acquiring Ristolainen from the Sabres. With these changes, the Flyers so far are allowing 2.47 goals per game, almost one full goal less than their average from the previous season.
The unfortunate part for the team is their lack of offense. It has not allowed them to take advantage of the great goaltending Carter Hart has been delivering. Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier have put up consistent points, but the team will need more from other players if they’re expected to make a serious push for playoff contention. With Hayes and Ellis returning, the Flyers could get a much-needed offensive boost.
Kevin Hayes scores his first goal of the season and points up to the sky for his late brother Jimmy pic.twitter.com/ETydJflrhW— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) November 17, 2021
5. Columbus Blue Jackets 9-5-0
A lot of hockey pundits had written off the Blue Jackets before the season even started, but Columbus has a chip on its shoulder and they’re playing competitive hockey. Don’t be fooled by their near loss to the bottom dweller Coyotes earlier this week, or their placement within the division. They’ve played the second least amount of games in the Metro, but have scored more goals than the two teams sitting directly in front of them.
New Head Coach Brad Larsen has Columbus scoring by committee. The team is led by Oliver Bjorkstrand who is having a break out season, and Jakub Voracek who leads the team with thirteen assists. Earlier in the month Patrik Laine was injured and is projected to be out for 4-6 weeks, but once he returns to the roster, the team may have the ability and fire power to challenge for a playoff spot as long as their goaltending remains consistent.
6. New Jersey Devils 7-5-3
The New Jersey Devils are the youngest team in the NHL, a fact that has been apparent throughout the season so far. The ups and downs they’ve experienced, from absolutely dominating the Florida Panthers (the current top team in the NHL) to then losing three games in a row has their fanbase suffering from motion sickness. While the Devils have been without their top center Jack Hughes since the second game of the season, other young players have stepped up in his stead.
Dawson Mercer, former 2020 first round pick, who you may remember for his stellar assist against the Rangers this past Sunday, has been a pleasant surprise for the team, posting five goals and six assists in his rookie season so far.
While a lot of it may not be ready for the NHL, the Devils have organizational and prospect depth. This combined with the veteran presence of Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar, and the eventual return of Jack Hughes may have their play improving in the near future.
7. Pittsburgh Penguins 6-6-4
Although aging superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were out in the beginning of the season, the Penguins had a great start to the year. Unfortunately the team was one of the first to experience a COVID-19 outbreak, which ended up sidelining eight players, including Crosby as well as their Head Coach Mike Sullivan.
While Malkin is still out, the team is mostly back to full health but with a long road ahead of them, especially in a year where major parts of their roster can be expected to participate in the Olympics. This all being said, it’s always foolish to discount Crosby and Malkin. While the torch has certainly been passed to the new generation, they are still elite, experienced players who can always find a way, even if this season has been a frustrating one as seen below.
Crosby taking out some frustration in his return to the lineup. Pens down 5-1 to Caps pic.twitter.com/zHD40mg7OW— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) November 15, 2021
8. New York Islanders 6-6-4
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the season, the New York Islanders currently sit in last place in the Metropolitan division. They haven’t had many positives this year, as the team’s top players are struggling to produce and their goaltending has not made up for it. Bad news turned worse earlier this week when Ryan Pulock, currently their best performing defenseman, went down with an injury for 4-6 weeks. Fate continued to target the Islanders as Anders Lee, Josh Bailey, and Ross Johnston were placed in the COVID-19 Protocol.
The good news for any Islanders fan reading this is that there is honestly a pretty valid excuse for the team’s poor start. With their new arena in Long Island being finished, the team embarked on a thirteen-game road trip to start the season, and have yet to play a game at home. Ethan Sears from the New York Post interviewed Barry Trotz after the final game in that span “It’s turned into a little bit of a long nightmare the last while here…We’ll open that arena, hopefully it’ll give us some new energy, a new focus. Be honest, it hasn’t been easy. We’ve got to play better.” If the Islanders can find their rhythm they won’t have any issue marching their way up the Metro standings.
Stats via NHL.com