The NHL season is rolling along full steam ahead; teams have now played past the season’s quarter mark. Some teams had played just as expected when the puck dropped for the new season. However, other teams have been surprising by either overachieving or underachieving through the league’s first quarter. Today we look at the performance and storylines of the teams in the NHL Metropolitan division.
NHL First Quarter Analysis: Metropolitan Division Part Two
New York Rangers
5th Place with 29 Points 12-10-5
After a run to Eastern Conference Finals last spring, the New York Rangers play through the first quarter hasn’t lived up to their high expectations coming into the season. The Rangers went 5-3-2 in October and followed that up by going 6-6-2 in November. Considered as potential favourites to lead the Metropolitan division this season, New York finds themselves 12 points back of the division-leading New Jersey Devils. The Carolina Hurricanes are in the second spot, and the Rangers trail them by only three points.
Regression in Net
Igor Shesterkin was a Hart Trophy nominee last season; however, he has struggled at times this season. During last season, when he won the Vezina, Shesterkin had 44.9 Goals Saved Above Average, while this season, he is currently sitting at 5.1 through 20 games. While his save percentage is not horrible at .913% this season, it is still a career low for Shesterkin. The good news is that we are only a quarter way through the NHL season and the Hart nominee has plenty of time to find his game. The bad news is the Rangers’ backup, Jaroslav Halak has been far worse in the games he’s started. Halak has a 1-6-1 record with a 3.04 GAA and an.888 SV%. That type of play from their backup means Shesterkin may need to start over his career-high of 53 this season.
If the Rangers wish to contend for the NHL Metropolitan Division title, they’re going to need a bit more out of their special teams. New York’s powerplay is ranked 17th, and their penalty is ranked 14th. Not horrible, although improvement in both areas would go a long way to securing wins. Expect the Rangers to make a hard push as the season carries along, closing the gap on the Devils.
4th Place with 32 Points 14-8-4
After some lengthy contract negotiations with longtime franchise cornerstones Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, the Pittsburgh Penguins brought both players back to likely finish their careers with the team. The Penguins have been a streaky team through the first quarter, and they are streaking in the right direction now. Through their last ten games, Pittsburgh has an 8-1-1 record putting them only two points back of the second-place Hurricanes.
Penguins Show Inconsistencies to Start Season
Pittsburgh went 4-0-1 to start the season and then followed that up by going on a seven-game losing streak. In mid-November, the Penguins went on a five-game winning streak making up ground for the points they lost during the skid. Without the seven-game losing streak, the Penguins would be much closer to the division-leading Devils. The fact that despite the losing streak, they are only two points behind second-place speaks volumes about how good this club can be.
High Flying Offence, Average Defence
While Sidney Crosby may not have his name at the top of the NHL scoring leaderboards, he has been extremely productive this season. Crosby had 15 goals and 20 assists for 35 points in 26 games. Jake Guentzel has 12 goals and 14 assists for 26 points. Pittsburgh relies upon their offence far more than their defence, as they score 3.54 goals per game and allow 3.04 goals against.
The Penguins can’t be underestimated and are perennial contenders when it comes to hoisting the cup. Although they are now a few years removed from winning their last Stanley Cup, Pittsburgh remains a threat out of the Metropolitan Division. Kris Letang, who recently suffered a stroke and very, fortunately, has no remaining side effects from the incident, has already begun practicing. Look for the Penguins to rally around their teammate as trying times bring out the best characteristics in each other. Best wishes go out to Letang and his family as he continues to make his comeback from the health scare.
7th Place with 23 Points 9-13-5
While the Philadelphia Flyers got off to a surprisingly strong start going 5-2-1 in October, a large part of that was due to the outstanding play of goalie Carter Hart. Unfortunately for the Flyers, the team’s start was not sustainable with their underlying numbers. Philly has plummeted down the Metropolitan standings and are now putting themselves into the Connor Bedard sweepstakes extravaganza.
Flyers Missing Their Number One Center
The Philadelphia Flyers season had a dagger thrown into it before the first puck drop. Sean Couturier, an elite two-way center for the Flyers, played only 29 games last due to a back injury requiring surgery. Couturier re-aggravated the injury during strength and conditioning drills prior to Flyers training camp. At first, the Flyers announced Couturier wouldn’t require surgery and was listed as week-to-week however, on October 29, it was announced that Couturier underwent Back Revision surgery and is expected out 3-4 months.
Lack of Offence, Subpar Defence
Overall the Flyers’ lineup is lacking offence from the first line down to the fourth. Kevin Hayes has started the season nicely, he has put up 28 points through 27 games played. Second in the scoring department is Travis Konecny, who has ten goals, and 13 assists for 23 points. After Konecny, there is quite a dropoff as Joel Farabee ranks third on the team with 15 points in 27 games. Philadelphia averages a league-worst 2.41 goals per game and allows 3.26. That kind of math doesn’t add up to putting wins in the win column. On top of that, the Flyers have the 23rd-ranked penalty kill, yet they take 12.4 penalty minutes per game.
The outlook for the Flyers’ season is a pretty simple one, not very good. Like a select few other teams around the NHL, Philadelphia’s best outcome would be to win the draft lottery, inciting an exciting new time for the franchise as the next generational talent Connor Bedard waits to see where he lands.
6th Place with 28 Points 12-12-4
Perhaps seen as a surprise, after locking up a Stanley Cup Champion goalie, Darcy Kuemper, the Washington Capitals have fumbled through the first quarter of the season. The Capitals are playing just 500. hockey which will not get you into the playoffs in the Metropolitan Division. Washington hasn’t been able to string together more the two victories at a time, which doesn’t bode well for a franchise with Stanley Cup ambitions.
Capitals Offence Troubling
When it comes to goal scoring, the Capitals roster features the greatest of this era, Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin leads the Capitals with 15 goals and 27 points in 28 games. No other Washington skater was able to hit double digits in goals scored through the first quarter. Nicklas Backstrom is sidelined, which doesn’t help Washington’s 22nd-ranked powerplay. However, following hip surgery Backstrom has begun taking part in on-ice work, preparing to make a return to the lineup.
Similar to the Penguins, Ovechkin and the Capitals are tough to count out as they have had so many successful seasons in recent past Washington is by no means out of the playoff race as they trail the Hurricanes by just six points. If anything, the Capitals could be seen as a sleeper team as the season winds down.
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