Metro Division Breakdown: A Closer Look At The Contenders
Before the season started, the Penguins, Rangers and Capitals were favorites to take the first three spots in the newly-formatted Metropolitan Division. Roughly 12-14 games remain for each team, and we have four teams pushing hard for two of the first three spots in the Metropolitan Division. The Rangers, Flyers, Blue Jackets and Capitals are all within 3 points of each other entering play on Thursday night.
The Pittsburgh Penguins played so well earlier in the season that they’ve built a considerable advantage over the rest of the Division. The Penguins have had injury problems all year and still manage to compete on a nightly basis. Most notable of their injuries is Kris Letang and Paul Martin, which is a considerable hindrance dealt to their D-corps. Letang is an effective puck-mover and power play quarterback. Paul Martin’s injury is a blow to the depth of the Pens’ defense. Pascal Dupuis, who is arguably the Pens’ best penalty killer and wingman to Sidney Crosby, is out for the remainder of the season. The Penguins still remain a threat because of their up-tempo style, and having two of the best players in the world doesn’t hurt. As long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are on the same ice for the Pens, they can beat anyone.
The Capitals find themselves only two points from a playoff spot, even with having such a roller coaster year. The Caps are currently on an upswing, winning three in a row, most recently taking a game against arguably one of the top three teams in the West, the Anaheim Ducks. The Caps’ defense remains suspect, which has been the reason they have had such an up and down year. They do have a reason to believe they are a playoff contender, their reason? Jaroslav Halak. Halak has played a big roll in the Caps’ three game winning streak and resurgence into the playoff race. Are the Caps for real? Any team that has decent goaltending has a chance to win every night, but the Caps’ defense makes me question their ability to compete with the best, but they did beat the Ducks in Anaheim.
The Philadelphia Flyers are a team that’s season has fluctuated in streaks. The Flyers are currently playing great hockey. They are coming off of a weekend home and home sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins, and an overtime win against the Chicago Blackhawks. The Flyers are for real, and the rest of the East should take notice. I’ve watched their last three games, and they are reminding me of the way the Boston Bruins play. They are hard on the fore-check, they are hard on the puck, they take the body and they transition well through the neutral zone. The Flyers have been getting decent goaltending from everyday net-minder, Steve Mason. Their special teams are a strong point that adds to their validity. The power play is 10th in the league and their penalty killing is 7th in the league. The Flyers are a force that is heating up in the Metropolitan Division, they’ve figured it out under coach Craig Berube.
THE BLUE JACKETS
The Columbus Blue Jackets remind me of the Rangers in 2006, not loads of scoring talent, but they are not easy to play against. The Jackets fore-check hard and are also tough on the puck. They are backed by a Vezina winner in Sergei Bobrovsky who has put them in the mix to make the playoffs. Columbus is middle-of-the-pack in regards to special teams, which they may have to clean up if they want to make it, and have a decent run. Are the Jackets serious? The Jackets do have the kind of goalie, who can get on a roll and steal some games, but the Jackets’ special teams game may keep them from making the playoffs. Nonetheless, they are a difficult team to play against.
The New York Rangers’ season needs no synopsis of how it has gone. Most Ranger fans have watched their team struggle to gain some sort of consistent traction to their campaign. The Rangers were playing well going into the Olympic break, but that consistency monkey is still very much on their back. The Rangers are 4-3 in their last 7 games, which aides in showing their inconsistency. The Rangers still remain very much in the mix in the Metropolitan Division, currently sitting in 3rd place, but the Jackets and Caps are right on their tail. This Ranger team has two top-tier goal-scorers who must play well in order for them to make the playoffs. Rick Nash and Martin St. Louis have to produce in order for the Rangers to make the playoffs, and go as far as they desire. The Rangers remain a mystery as to what they can accomplish, but there is always their backbone Henrik Lundqvist, who can steal any series. The Rangers must find some kind of consistency in their last 12 games, and more importantly, their best players, have to be, their best players. Are the Rangers capable of going far? If their talent starts producing on a nightly basis? Yes, they are. As of now though, the Rangers’ season has been consistently inconsistent.