The 2021-22 NHL season is well underway. As we creep past the 10 game mark of the season, we as fans are beginning to build a general impression of how each franchise’s season is shaping up. In this summary series, we take a closer look at each division and evaluate how each team has done in their first month of the season. This is a breakdown of the big questions facing every team as they entered the season and whether they are playing over, under, or right on par with expectations. This article will be the Metropolitan Division summary.
NHL Metropolitan Division Summary: Early Season Report Cards
Carolina Hurricanes 10-1-0 (18pts)
3.9 GF/G (3rd)
2.0 GA/G (1st)
25.6 PP% (8th)
84.8 PK% (10th)
The off-season moves made by the Carolina Hurricanes brought on so many head scratches for its fan base, you’d think they all had lice. Just as quickly as the ‘Canes fanbase were to name their Calder finalist goaltender, Alex Nedeljkovic, the future of their crease, he was dealt away to the Detroit Red Wings. The move made no sense, especially after seeing how little it cost the Red Wings to sign the young goalie.
The Hurricanes continued the demolition of their backend by not resigning Petr Mrazek, Dougie Hamilton, and trading Jake Bean. The biggest question was, would the Nedeljkovic trade and the dismantling of the backend come back to haunt the Hurricanes?
Well, they’ve answered that question with a resounding no. With only one loss in their first 11 games, the Hurricanes are the belle of the ball this year. Everything is clicking for the ‘Canes. And if there were any doubts about bringing in Frederik Andersen as the new starter, those have been put to rest. Anderson sports a 1.73 goals-against-average and a .939 save percentage. Those are gaudy numbers that have many of the “Leafs Faithful” wondering what could have been had they built a better defence around him in Toronto.
The Anthony DeAngelo gamble is paying dividends early as well. The embattled defenceman was given a fresh start in the City of Oaks and has flourished. He continues to bring his brand of toughness to his new team and has excelled as a facilitator with 11 assists on the year thus far.
The only seemingly negative to the year has been the play of offer-sheet newcomer, Jesperi Kotkaniemi. He was given every opportunity to excel with his new team, playing alongside Sebastian Aho, but three points in 11 games is not the return on investment the ‘Canes had hoped after his six million dollar signing.
With 12 of their next 17 games on the road, including a tough road swing in western Canada, the ‘Canes will have an opportunity to prove their might and establish dominance over the NHL and their division.
Metropolitan Division Summary Grade: A+
Washington Capitals 7-2-4 (18pts)
3.5 GF/G (6th)
2.7 GA/G (23rd)
18.6 PP% (20th)
78.8 PK% (20th)
Washington Capitals captain, Alex Ovechkin, continues to out-duel Father Time. The Russian Machine leads the league with 11 goals in 12 games thus far. The Great-8 has been highly motivated to reach the all-time goals record set by Wayne Gretzky, as he’s off to the hottest start, goal-scoring-wise, in his career. At 36 years old and in his 17th NHL campaign, most players would start seeing a drop-off in their game at this stage of their career. But not Ovechkin.
That was the glaring question heading into the 2021-22 season– how long this ageing roster could continue to compete. Even with the departure of Zdeno Chara, the Capitals have the oldest roster in the league. Nicklas Backstrom started the year on the IR and as we mentioned before, Ovechkin was supposed to see age catching up to him.
The Capitals offence, aka Alex Ovechkin, continues to churn out goals and they are getting decent goaltending from Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek. With recent injuries to Nic Dowd, Anthony Mantha, and T.J. Oshie, the Capitals are hurting depth-wise and will now surely be relying on their young goaltender tandem to carry them forward.
It’s not likely Ovechkin continues this torrent scoring pace, so the Caps will need to find secondary scoring if they are to continue pushing for a top-three place in the Metropolitan division. Perhaps the offence gets a boost from rookie Connor McMichael, who is finding his stride after scoring twice in his last three games.
Metropolitan Division Summary Grade: A-
New York Rangers 7-3-3 (17pts)
2.5 GF/G (25th)
2.8 GA/G (17th)
20.9 PP% (16th)
81.4 PK% (18th)
Last season we witnessed a New York Rangers rebuild that was trending in the right direction. They made a late playoff push that fell just short but it was enough to invoke plenty of optimism into its fanbase. New York had built a deep team that had plenty of skill emerging through its top nine groups. The pieces all seemed to be there, it was more so about letting the group grow and develop together. But after getting roughed up by Tom Wilson of the Washington Capitals, there was a certain focus on adding toughness. General manager Chris Drury would say the moves weren’t a direct result of Wilson but a lack of toughness had been a glaring weakness for some time. You be the judge of that.
The Rangers moved on from Pavel Buchnevich and added Sammy Blais, Ryan Reaves, and Barclay Goodrow. At first glance, this change in focus appears to be the right call. The Rangers are off to a fine start in the tough Metropolitan Division and have given themselves some room to not be perfect as they continue to grow and gel as a team.
But as you dig deeper, this teams’ record is a little misleading. A glaring weakness in their play has been their possession numbers. The team’s overall Corsi is 43.3% and no one on their team is above 50%. They’ve also been bailed out by brilliant goaltending. Their expected-goals-against is 32 but they’ve only conceded 22. That has definitely masked their lacklustre play when at even strength.
The Rangers will benefit from improved play by the entire group. They currently look like a one-line team with Adam Fox, Mika Zibanejad, Chris Kreider, and Artemi Panarin the only players averaging above a 0.5 point-per-game pace. Expect teams like Washington and Philadelphia to leapfrog them by next term’s report cards.
Metropolitan Division Summary Grade: B-
Philadelphia Flyers 6-2-2 (14pts)
3.2 GF/G (10th)
2.4 GA/G (27th)
21.4 PP% (14th)
82.9 PK% (15th)
Since 2012, the Philadelphia Flyers do this really cool thing where they make the playoffs, then miss the next year, then make the playoffs the year after, then miss again the year after that. And they have continued this trend for 10 years. So because they missed the playoffs last year, what can we expect this year? Say it with me now, “make the playoffs!”.
The Flyers look poised to do just that. It’s not like the Flyers were a bad team last year, they just had terrible, terrible goaltending. So the question was, will Carter Hart return to form? Hart had a historically bad campaign last season. The young netminder had a save percentage of .877, which was the lowest among goalies with at least 20 starts. And it wasn’t even close.
This year, the Flyers’ starter has done an excellent job rebounding to form. He has shed more than a goal off his goals-against-average from last year and now dons a more than respectable .924SV%
The Flyers needed to address their depth scoring issues in the offseason and newcomer Cam Atkinson has addressed that need. He has chipped in six goals and eight points so far. Atkinson has been a great complimentary piece to fully round out Philadelphia’s top-six group. And when Kevin Hayes returns to the lineup, the Flyers should see a boost in their five-on-five play, which, isn’t bad, but is the weakest part of their game, as they sit well below the league average in analytics for expected goals for.
The wins should continue and a push for second in the Metropolitan Division is surely in the cards.
Metropolitan Division Summary Grade: B+
New Jersey Devils 7-3-2 (16pts)
2.5 GF/G (25th)
2.9 GA/G (14th)
9.7 PP% (30th)
73.2 PK% (25th)
The New Jersey Devils are a hard one to figure out. On paper, their record looks good. But five of their seven wins have come against teams with a record below .500. They did however put together a convincing win against the Florida Panthers and then followed it up with a shutout win against state rivals, the New York Islanders.
The Devils entered the year wondering if this would be the year Jack Hughes would finally break out, and before a dislocated shoulder sidelined him, it looked that way. The next question was whether the vaccination status of their starting goalie, Mackenzie Blackwood, would hinder the number of starts he could provide.
Blackwood is on the way to being fully vaccinated, so the goaltending carousel can finally end. Getting consistent starts from their number one goalie will bring much-needed stability in the net. Backup Jonathan Bernier has served admirably in his absence, sporting a 2.55 GAA to go along with his 4-1 win/loss record.
Off-season signing Dougie Hamilton has been as advertised, bringing his offensive flair to the Devils blueline.
Since bringing in head coach Lindy Ruff last season, the Devils have seen a significant improvement in their five-on-five play. The Devils have done a much better job at generating high-quality scoring chances at even strength but special teams have been a disaster. The Devils may not be a playoff team yet but they have certainly become an improved team. Getting Hughes back and Blackwood starting more games will surely boost the special teams and help keep things interesting in the tightly contested Metropolitan Division.
Metropolitan Division Summary Grade: C+
Columbus Blue Jackets 7-3-0 (14pts)
3.1 GF/G (13th)
2.8 GA/G (17th)
21.4 PP% (14th)
82.4 PK% (16th)
A head coaching change for the Columbus Blue Jackets has given the offence of the Ohio team a brand new look. Some may believe moving on from former coach John Tortorella was long overdue but let’s not discredit the winningest coach in Blue Jackets history. Torts had a system he believed in and it worked… to a degree.
But after a blockbuster trade that saw former third overall pick Pierre-Luc Dubois moved for the second overall pick in that same 2016 draft, Patrik Laine, fans were desperate to see a more offence-minded system implemented that would let their stars flourish. The Jackets fan base was granted their wish and after mutually parting ways with Tortorella, longtime assistant coach Brad Larsen was promoted.
Immediately Larsen got his team to buy into a system that allowed his players to wheel-and-deal a little more and the result has been what fans hoped for. The Blue Jackets are averaging 3.1 goals-for per game, the first time they’ve averaged more than 2.5 since 2018 and on pace to be their highest in team history.
Unfortunately, the influx in scoring may slow down for the foreseeable future. Laine is out with an oblique strain and will miss four-six weeks. He was off to a hot start with 10 points in nine games. The Jackets will be hoping to counter that absence with the return of forward Max Domi. Domi could return from Covid-protocols as early as this weekend. Rookie Cole Sillinger has also been a pleasant surprise. The 18-year-old has transitioned seamlessly from juniors to the NHL with four goals and six points in his first 10 games. Perhaps this team has enough secondary scoring, for once, to keep their heads afloat in the tight Metropolitan division.
Metropolitan Division Summary Grade: B-
Pittsburgh Penguins 5-3-4 (14pts)
3.3 GF/G (7th)
3.0 GA/G (12th)
11.8 PP% (27th)
91.7 PK% (1st)
The Pittsburgh Penguins faced a daunting task to start the season. Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were both placed on the IR and expected to miss significant time. The Penguins would open the season with 36-year-old Jeff Carter as their number one centre. The Penguins faced an unfamiliar realization that they may not be in the playoffs come spring. This team, on paper, is a playoff team, but the question was, how long could the Penguins keep their head above water while they waiting for their stars to return.
The answer to that has been… better than expected. Pittsburgh has managed to still find the back of the net at a similar pace to what they’ve been accustomed to with Crosby and Malkin in the lineup. They sit seventh in the league for goals-for and have done a phenomenal job on the penalty kill. Their PK unit ranks first in the NHL.
The Penguins have surprisingly been effective five-on-five with their weakened roster. They sit above league averages in most analytical categories. But as good as their even-strength play has been, the opposite can be said for their disastrous power play. Once the driving piston in their potent offence, the power play is anything but powerful now. Obviously, the return of Malkin and Crosby will go a long way in fixing that. Given their obstacles starting the year, the Penguins have done a good job treading water and don’t have much ground to make up in the standings for when their stars return.
Metropolitan Division Summary Grade: B-
New York Islanders 5-4-2 (12pts)
2.7 GF/G (20th)
2.4 GA/G (27th)
16.0 PP% (25th)
84.6 PK% (11th)
It’s shaping up to be a long season on Long Island. I don’t believe any pundit had the New York Islanders being the worst team in New York. In most mock standings, the Islanders were sitting at the top of the division by the end. Yes, it’s still early. So let’s not write off these predictions yet. But most experts figured the Boatmen would get to the top early and cruise along from there for the course of the year.
The issue for the Islanders is that they aren’t scoring enough. Obviously. If you don’t score more than the other team you lose. We get it. But the Islanders had, over the last few years, perfected the low scoring, grind it out, style of play that resulted in a plethora of hard-fought wins.
Outside of Matthew Barzal, the Islanders don’t have a “superstar” forward. They couldn’t run up scores like Edmonton or Toronto and let their defensive relapses be masked by being a scoring juggernaut. So they played a game that played to their strengths and would win low-scoring affairs. But perhaps the offseason departure of Jordan Eberle, who leads his new team in scoring, has proven to be a bigger loss than some anticipated.
The Islanders are one of only six teams to not have a player averaging a point-per-game with a minimum of nine games played. The Isle’s are still sound defensively and that has allowed them to be a .500 hockey team up to this point. But if they don’t address their need for scoring then this team will be paddling upstream the rest of the season. Might be time to dust off those life-preservers Islander fans. The waters are about to get rough.
Metropolitan Division Summary Grade: D