Midseason Report Cards: Metropolitan Division

Metropolitan Division
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Welcome to the Midseason Report Card Summary. We will be going over each division and bringing you an analysis of how each team in the NHL has faired at the midway point of their season. Today we go over the highly competitive Metropolitan Division. For the first installment of the report cards on the Metropolitan Division, click here.

NHL Metropolitan Division Summary: Midseason Report Cards

1. Carolina Hurricanes 31-9-2 (64 pts) .762%

Current Report Card          Last Report Card

3.50 GF/G (6th)                          3.9 GF/G (3rd)

2.26 GA/G (1st)                           2.0 GA/G (1st)

25.0 PP% (9th)                            25.6 PP% (8th)

89.0 PK% (1st)                            84.8 PK% (10th)

Overall Grade: A+                      Overall Grade: A+

The Hurricanes jumped out the gate with nine straight wins to start their 2021-22 season. Obviously, they weren’t going to go 82-0 but the hot streak left fans wondering, how good was this team going to be? The answer is really good. Like Stanley Cup-contending good.

The ‘Canes currently sit at the top of the league in multiple categories: a .762 point percentage, 30 ROW, the fewest goals allowed per game, and the fewest shots allowed per game with 28.2.

The Hurricanes did endure a couple of short slumps on both ends of the ice, but this team has fully bought into coach Rod Brind’Amour‘s system. This team is built to win and has shown great character along the way. Look no further than when they beat the Detroit Red Wings while playing two men short. Or their comeback win against the Columbus Blue Jackets when they responded with seven straight goals after finding themselves down 4-0.

Analysis

The Hurricanes by no means have a stranglehold on the Metropolitan Division. It’s a tightly contested division and they will be pressed by the teams behind them to maintain this pace for the rest of the season. Carolina has a well-rounded game and is being anchored by Vezina-level play from their goalie, Frederik Andersen. So at this point, it’s their division to lose.

The ‘Canes enter the second half of the season with the sixth-best odds to win the cup (+1200) after opening the season at +1500. One would expect those odds to be better for the number one team in the league based on points percentage. But with how competitive the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference are, their path to Lord Stanley won’t come easy. Buckle up for an exciting finish to see if the Hurricanes can capture the Eastern Conference crown.

2. New York Rangers 30-13-4 (64 pts) .681%

Current Report Card          Last Report Card

3.02 GF/G (16th)                        2.5 GF/G (25th)

2.57 GA/G (3rd)                          2.8 GA/G (17th)

25.9 PP% (5th)                            20.9 PP% (16th)

82.6 PK% (10th)                         81.4 PK% (18th)

Overall Grade: A-                       Overall Grade: B-

The New York Rangers have turned in a marvellous first half to their season. Now, the underlying numbers would suggest they were getting lucky. They had a positive win/loss record yet fell middle of the pack or worse in almost every statistical category. It was a bit of an anomaly.

But the Rangers are proving that sometimes you have to take analytics with a grain of salt.

Now yes, players like Chris Kreider and Barclay Goodrow are shooting well above their career averages. So it won’t come as a surprise if we see some regression in their offensive game. Kreider is having a career year and is currently on pace for 57 goals. The great Alex Ovechkin has achieved that feat once in his career. So it’s likely Kreider sees a dip in the second half.

No matter what the analytics are saying, the Rangers have established themselves as a playoff team.

And it’s in large part due to this guy, Igor Shesterkin. Shesterkin is an early favourite of the Vezina this year. He leads the league in goals-saved above expected with 24.6 and wins-above-replacement with 4.10. And he’s only registered one Really Bad Start (RBS: Starts with a save-percentage below 85%). So he essentially gives his team a chance to win, every single night. Not much more you can ask from your newly signed starting goaltender.

Analysis

The New York Rangers were a team that was rolling. But an injury to Norris winning defenceman Adam Fox could potentially shake the trajectory of this team, depending on how much time he will miss. Fox is a tremendous mover of the puck and a key component on their first power-play unit. His absence will surely be felt on the offence. Luckily the Rangers have two weeks off and if all goes well, Fox could make his return by then. Fingers crossed for Rangers fans.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins 27-11-8 (62 pts) .674%

Current Report Card          Last Report Card

3.3 GF/G (10th)                          3.3 GF/G (7th)

2.59 GA/G (4th)                          3.0 GA/G (20th)

22.1 PP% (11th)                           11.8 PP% (27th)

87.5 PK% (2nd)                          91.7 PK% (1st)

Overall Grade: A                         Overall Grade: B-

To start the season, the Pittsburgh faithful were given a nostalgic taste of the lean years before Sidney Crosby donned the famed Penguins jersey. Crosby was sidelined to start the year. And with the future first-ballot Hall of Famer and his Russian counterpart, Evgeni Malkin, slated to miss significant time, we knew the Penguins would probably have an ugly start. What surprised us most was how well the Penguins were able to keep their head above water while waiting for their stars.

With the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference being so competitive this year, a stumble out the gates could spell disaster for your season. Pittsburgh’s early defensive and powerplay woes were predictable. Obviously missing a two-way player and offensive juggernaut like Crosby will have that effect. So there wasn’t much worry as to how the Penguins would perform once he was back.

Analysis

Pittsburgh saw players like Jake Guentzel, Evan Rodrigues, and veteran Jeff Carter step up in the absence of their stars. Now with both Crosby and Malkin back in the fold, and a resurgence in goaltending from Tristan Jarry, the Penguins look like their old dominant selves. They are poised to make a 16th straight playoff appearance (16 straight if you don’t count the play-in-round loss in the bubble back in 2020).

The top half of the Metropolitan Division is tight. And the Washington Capitals are hot on their heels to push them out of a top-three seed. So the Penguins will be ill-advised to ease off that gas pedal even the slightest bit in this second half.

4. Washington Capitals 25-13-9 (59 pts) .628%

Current Report Card          Last Report Card

3.19 GF/G (11th)                         3.5 GF/G (3rd)

2.72 GA/G (10th)                        2.7 GA/G (9th)

15.3 PP% (28th)                         18.6 PP% (8th)

79.0 PK% (18th)                         78.8 PK% (10th)

Overall Grade: B                        Overall Grade: A-

The Washington Capitals were led by a goal-hungry Alex Ovechkin to start the year. He scored at a goal-per-game pace through the first ten games. And although it was fair to think the 36-year-old Russian phenom would see that pace slow, we see that the old adage “Russian machine doesn’t break” holds to be true. Ovechkin currently sits fifth in league scoring (58pts) and third in goals (29).

The Capitals have done a fine job limiting chances in their own end this season. They currently rank tenth in the league in goals-against, and that’s in large part due to their third-ranked shot-attempts against per game of 28.68. Only the Seattle Kraken and league-leading Carolina Hurricanes have faired better.

Analysis

A cause for concern going into the second half of the season is the Capitals’ surprisingly abysmal powerplay. Once a force to be reckoned with, the Capitals find themselves with the fourth-worst power play in the league. Its 15.3% efficiency is the lowest since Ovechkin’s rookie campaign in the 2005-06 season, where it finished 26th in the league at 14.7%.

The injection of Swedish playmaker, Nicklas Backstrom, back into the lineup should help get things going. He has hit the ground running since his return, having already registered 13 points through his first 14 games.

The Capitals should make a strong push for a spot amongst the top three seeds in the Metropolitan Division. It won’t be unlikely for them to leapfrog the Rangers and bump New York into a wildcard spot by April.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets 20-22-1 (41 pts) .477%

Current Report Card          Last Report Card

3.09 GF/G (14th)                          3.1 GF/G (13th)

3.67 GA/G (31st)                           2.8 GA/G (15th)

14.8 PP% (30th)                            21.4 PP% (14th)

80.0 PK% (16th)                           82.4 PK% (16th)

Overall Grade: C-                         Overall Grade: B-

The Brad Larsen era in Columbus has certainly come with mixed results. Gone away is the John Tortorella, shutdown grind-it-out style of play, and in is a more creative, offensive-minded system. The expectation was that by allowing their young, offensive talents like Patrik Laine, Alexandre Texier, and Cole Sillinger, to play more to their style, the goals will come more often and freely.

And yes, we have seen that play out rather nicely. The Blue Jackets are 14th in the league for goals for with 3.09. This is a huge jump from the previous two seasons under their former coach, where they had season averages of 2.39 (2020-21) and 2.57 (2019-20).

As much as fans and players are enjoying a resurgence in their offence, Columbus is still struggling to figure out that defence. They sit second-last in the NHL in goals-against with 3.76 and dead-last in shots against with 35.42.

Now there are good defensive pieces on this team. Obviously, we know what Zach Werenski can do, but there is promise in youngster Adam Boqvist and former sixth-round pick Vladislav Gavrikov. But at the end of the day, those guys aren’t NHL stalwarts yet, and that defensive group gets pretty lean after Werenski.

Analysis

The Blue Jackets are out of the playoff race. In fact, any team in the East not currently in a playoff spot is done. The dropoff between the top eight teams and the bottom eight is fairly significant. The Metropolitan Division is a top-heavy division.

So as Columbus moves forward, they can certainly take some positives away from the way their offence is playing. But it’s still rebuilding mode for the Blue Jackets. With two first-round picks in this year’s draft, and plenty of young talent in their system already, they’ll hope to make this a quick turnaround.

6. New York Islanders 16-17-6 (38 pts) .487%

Current Report Card          Last Report Card

2.36 GF/G (30th)                         2.7 GF/G (20th)

2.62 GA/G (5th)                           2.4 GA/G (5th)

17.6 PP% (23th)                           16.0 PP% (25th)

82.8 PK% (9th)                            84.6 PK% (11th)

Overall Grade: D+                       Overall Grade: D

The Islanders were predicted by most pundits to take the Metropolitan Division and even challenge for the Stanley Cup. After half a season, we can see how wrong we all were. It was surprising to see those preseason predictions, to be honest. It was evident that the Islanders relied heavily on their defence to win games. They lacked any sort of offensive punch and did nothing significant in the offseason to address these needs.

And those offensive struggles continue this year. Yes, their defence is still money, but you can’t win a game 0-0. Star forward, Mathew Barzal had a slow start to his campaign but heated up offensively in the last month. After recording just eight points in his first 17 games, he has paced just over a point-per-game with 20 in his last 19 games.

But Barzal isn’t getting much help. This team desperately needs a new identity with its offence. There is a bright spot however with their two first-round picks out of the 2018 draft. Defenceman Noah Dobson has developed nicely and is getting to learn the pro-game alongside one of the best to ever do it, Zdeno Chara. Dobson is averaging over 21 minutes a night in ice time and is quarterbacking the first power-play unit. Forward Oliver Wahlstrom is also getting some PP1 time but at this point in a lost season, it would be nice to see Wahlstrom get the bump in minutes up on the top line, playing wing to Matt Barzal.

Analysis

It seems pretty cut and dry with what this roster needs to be competitive. With the only forwards, Cal Clutterbuck and Zach Parise, coming off the books next year, the Islanders are locked in with the group they have upfront. And that group ain’t it. We should expect the Islanders to be active at the trade deadline to move on from some other longer contracts. They have plenty of alluring pieces to sell to teams looking for those “playoff” type players. It’s disappointing here but with a quick, proactive approach, the Islanders could wheel and deal with this trade deadline and offseason and completely turn the identity of this team around.

7. Philadelphia Flyers 15-22-8 (38 pts) .422%

Current Report Card          Last Report Card

2.51 GF/G (27th)                          3.2 GF/G (10th)

3.29 GA/G (23rd)                        2.4 GA/G (5th)

15.0 PP% (29th)                           21.4 PP% (14th)

77.6 PK% (20th)                           82.9 PK% (14th)

Overall Grade: D                         Overall Grade: B+

To say the Philadelphia Flyers season has been a disappointment would be the understatement of the year. The Flyers have 26 losses in their last 35 games, which included a 13 game losing streak. The only draw for fans to go to a Flyers game at this point is to see their hilariously menacing mascot, Gritty.

The issue for the Flyers is that they’ve been plagued by injuries to key players for most of the year. Ryan Ellis, Sean Couturier, Kevin Hayes, Joel Farabee, Derick Brassard have all missed varying amounts of time.

With such a depleted roster, it really is hard to fully gauge where the Flyers could be going wrong. If there is anything going wrong at all. We haven’t got to see what this healthy lineup is capable of.

One issue facing the team last year was their defence. And Philly addressed those issues in their busy offseason. They bolstered their blueline with Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen but unfortunately, Ellis has been sidelined for all but four games.

“One player shouldn’t be enough to sink our team, but Ryan Ellis is an elite puck mover, he’s elite in transition, he would allow us to put everybody in the right chair,” Fletcher said back in the midst of their 13-game losing streak.

Analysis

With the Flyers season lost at this point, there will be no rush to bring players like Ellis and Couturier back to the lineup. Coach Mike Yeo and general manager Chuck Fletcher are looking ahead to next season now.

8. New Jersey Devils 15-25-5 (35 pts) .389%

Current Report Card          Last Report Card

2.78 GF/G (21st)                          2.5 GF/G (25th)

3.53 GA/G (29th)                        2.9 GA/G (18th)

16.3 PP% (25th)                           9.7 PP% (30th)

82.0 PK% (12th)                          73.2 PK% (25th)

Overall Grade: D                         Overall Grade: C+

It’s another basement dwelling year for the New Jersey Devils. Now, there was some cautious optimism around the club to begin the year. The big offseason signing of Dougie Hamilton put a new face of the defence for the Devils for years to come. There was also the expectation that Jack Hughes would have a breakout year. And he has delivered. Increasing his point-per-game average from his career average of 0.44 to 0.96.

But injuries to their roster have exposed the underlying depth issues of this organization. A healthy Devils roster could surely compete with teams most nights. They’ve had convincing wins over teams like the Florida Panthers (7-4) and Hurricanes (7-4), and have also bested the Edmonton Oilers (6-5 OT), Capitals (4-3 OT), Tampa Bay Lightning (5-3) and Penguins (4-2). So the ability to compete against some of the top teams is there. But those performances are far and few between.

New Jersey wasn’t anticipating a playoff run this year, or at least their realistic expectations shouldn’t have been that. But another year at the bottom of the league shouldn’t be what we are witnessing.

Analysis

Another year of development for its players will be beneficial, but at what point does this team make the jump from Rebuilder to Contender? The fan base is growing impatient. They’ve had one playoff appearance in the last nine years and haven’t won a playoff series in a decade.

Unfortunately for the players and fans, the playoff drought will continue. General Manager Tom Fitzgerald needs to do some heavy-lifting for his roster before next season if the Devils look to compete in the Metropolitan Division.

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