Metro Mediocrity: Analyzing the Post-Season Race
When the newly created Metropolitan Division was announced as part of the NHL’s re-alignment, fans and analysts alike had high hopes for the teams involved. Among them, perennial Eastern powerhouse Pittsburgh, the Rangers, a team that just two years ago reached the Eastern Conference Finals, and the Devils, who reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.
What we’ve seen to this point, however, can be considered nothing better than mediocrity from most.
Taking Pittsburgh out of the equation, the Metro division, though tightly contested, has been home to many under performing clubs, much to the dismay of their dedicated fan bases.
The Flyers are a fine testament to the undistinguished level of play we’ve come to expect from the Metro division. Their 77 points, good for 2nd overall in the division, wouldn’t crack the top three of ANY remaining divisions in the entire NHL.
That’s not to say the final few weeks of the season won’t provide excitement as it pertains to the playoff race, and here, we’ll take a look at the teams most central to the competition.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Caution Rangers fans; this one may hurt a little.
Columbus has enjoyed a good deal of success post-Olympic break, going 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. Their 76 points have them 3rd overall in the Metro Division, and if the playoffs started today they’d have a first round matchup with Philadelphia.
They’ve accomplished this on the heels of their offense, which has proven to be a driving force behind their success.
Columbus’ 190 goals for on the season puts them top three in the Metro, trailing only Washington and Pittsburgh. Their team shooting percentage of 9.81% leads all Metro teams not named Pittsburgh, and two former Rangers have been able to claim at least partial credit to the success.
Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky, shipped out of New York in the 2012 trade for Rick Nash, have been key cogs to the success of the Blue Jackets this season. Anisimov’s 19 goals are good for 2nd on the team and Dubinsky’s 41 points put him 2nd in total scoring, but hindsight is always 20-20, right?
Philadelphia is an interesting case, and if there were a category for “trending upward but possibly regressing to the mean”, they’d be in it. I’ll explain why momentarily, but for now let’s take them at face value.
Philly is 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. They’ve strongly rebounded from a very sluggish start to the 2013-2014 season and look to be in prime position to make the post-season should they continue their high level of play.
When it’s all said and done, the Flyers should have at least six players tallying 20 goals or more for the season, an impressive feat no doubt. They’ve been carried by strong play from Claude Giroux, who’s 69 points have him tied for 3rd in total scoring in the NHL.
Philadelphia, like Columbus, has two games in hand on their competition (Washington and New York). The Flyers also sport winning records vs. Washington and New York (3-2 and 2-1 respectively).
The real story with Philadelphia is whether or not they’ll be able to rely on Steve Mason the rest of the way and into the post-season. Their recent record is impressive no doubt about it, but it can hardly be credited to Mason, who has given up four goals in three of their last six games. Consider also that during the 10 game stretch, Philadelphia scored three or more goals 8 out of 10 times.
Their defense has hardly been rock solid this year, even with the addition of Andrew MacDonald at the trade deadline. Mason has faced more shots than any other goalie in the Metro division, with the exception of Marc-Andre Fleury and Henrik Lundqvist. It’s hard to imagine that all of this won’t eventually catch up to the Flyers, but for the time being they find themselves in good position to make the post-season.
New York Rangers
It’s easy to point the finger of blame in the Rangers organization this year.
There’s a new coach, new players, a new system and a goalie that, for all of his accolades and talent, hasn’t seemed quite right the entire year.
Since the beginning of February, the Rangers are 6-6-1, a microcosm of a maddening season of inconsistencies that cannot be blamed on just one phase of the game.
Sure, their 76 points have them (barely) in the 8th and final Wild Card position, but that accomplishment would reward them with a first round rematch against Boston, arguably the best team in the NHL right now and a team that undoubtably has the Rangers number.
The Rangers need to stop the bleeding and stop it fast, but they’ll need help from their struggling scorers to do it.
In seven games since being traded, Martin St.Louis has managed zero goals and only two points. Rick Nash, who often catches the ire of the fan base when the team is not performing, has just four goals since January 23rd. This is simply unacceptable if you still view Nash as an elite goal scorer in the NHL, but who can fault you if you don’t?
The Rangers team shooting percentage is an abysmal 7.62%, 27th overall in the NHL. To put it in perspective, the only potential playoff team with a worse number than the Rangers is Los Angeles. Despite a relatively easy schedule the rest of the way, if the Rangers want to avoid a colossal 2014 failure, they’ll need to start scoring.
Last, and potentially least, we have the Washington Capitals.
Washington (5-4-1 L10) has arguably the toughest schedule remaining amongst the contending Metro teams, including a three-game West Coast death trip with games against Anaheim, Los Angeles and San Jose.
Dustin Penner, who was brought to Washington as a big body to throw in front of goaltenders, hasn’t scored since being traded. He has just one point in the seven games since becoming a Capital, but is hardly the only issue with this Washington team.
Jaroslav Halak, another trade deadline acquisition, has been nothing more than mediocre at best, sporting a dreadful 2.42 GAA in the five games he’s started for Washington. In fact, Washington as a team gives up almost three goals per game on average (2.9 GAA for the season), 23rd overall in the NHL. As far as potential playoff teams go, only Toronto has a worse number.
Mike Green and Alexander Ovechkin are a combined -45 on the year, absolutely unbelievable when you consider Ovechkin leads the NHL in goals with 45. In fact, Ovechkin himself has a -31 rating on the year, 2nd worst amongst all players.
Unlike the previously mentioned teams, Washington would effectively be OUT if the post-season were to start today.
THE FINAL WORD
Based on strength of schedule alone and how well they’ve played lately, coupled with the fact that they’ve got two games in hand on both Washington and the NYR, it’s safe to assume Columbus will make the post-season.
That leaves three teams fighting for two remaining spots, one of which would almost certainly be the 8th and final wild card. I’ll give one of those to Philadelphia based on the fact that they’ve got two games in hand on WSH and NYR.
I still think the Rangers steal the final wild card spot, solely because I know Henrik Lundqvist is a far better goaltender than anyone the Capitals want to trot out on the ice, but they’ll need to find an offensive rhythm that’s been missing since the Olympic break if they want any opportunity at causing some commotion in the post-season.