Among the surprises in the NHL during the 2016-17 season is the Metropolitan Division, which has turned into a powerhouse. As of this writing, there are four teams with winning streaks of five games or longer, with the New York Rangers recently losing their three-game win streak on December 13. The division is tight, to say the least.
A Contrasting Duel for First Place
Currently, the Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins are sharing the first place spot on top of the Metro with 41 points apiece. Each team is finding that their recent win streak is canceling the other out. Remarkable goaltending is still the rage in New York these days, though recently it isn’t Henrik Lundqvist who’s stealing the show.
Backup goalie, Antti Raanta has been dominant in his last five games, allowing a mere five goals in that span. This has allowed the Rangers to rest starter Henrik Lundqvist in preparation for the eight games they play in 17 days to close out December, something they’ll need ample preparation for in order to remain atop the Metro.
The Penguins, on the other hand, have swung their game in the opposite direction. In their last eight games, the Penguins have scored a combined 42 goals. That’s averaging a little over five goals per game. Captain Sidney Crosby has recorded at least one point in each of those eight games (including the incredible, out-of-mid-air goal in the video below), a span that has seen him add 13 points to his already impressive total of 32 points.
As you might expect, Crosby hasn’t been the only Penguin with a recent offensive surge. Teammates Evgeni Malkin (nine points in the last five games) and Bryan Rust (six points in the last five games, including a hat trick against Ottawa on December 5) have been key contributors during their latest win streak.
First place, it seems, at least for now, will be the spoils for those who can withstand a gauntlet or for those who can successfully unload during one.
Presidential Defense in the Capital
A season ago, the Washington Capitals won their second Presidents’ Trophy (most points by a team during the NHL regular season.) Now, they’re enjoying a modest five-game winning streak, currently the smallest win streak among teams with two or more consecutive wins in the Metropolitan Division. Unlike both the Rangers and Penguins, their streak isn’t about tilting their game toward one side of the rink. In their last five games, they’ve played opponents closely, their largest margin of victory being three goals in two of those games.
Star goaltender Braden Holtby recorded a shutout against Vancouver on December 11, but the Capitals also required overtime to defeat the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins in games earlier this month. The Capitals have scored six power play goals during their streak which is unsurprising, as their power play tends to go as the Capitals go.
This year, it seems that the Metro isn’t entirely about the same old teams doing the same old things. Two teams from the basement of the 2015-16 Metropolitan Division have found a new level of success during the early parts of this season.
The Philadelphia Flyers are in the midst of not only the longest win streak currently in the Metro but in the NHL. They’ve won their last nine games, with impressive victories over the Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings.
They’ve allowed 16 goals during their streak, including shutting out the Red Wings in Detroit during their last game. Veteran goaltender Steve Mason has started seven of the nine games, providing steady-if-not-impressive netminding; though rookie goaltender Anthony Stolarz picked up the shutout in Detroit. Center Brayden Schenn has raised his play and helped secure victory over the Stars with a hat trick, done entirely on the power play (which went 3-for-6 that night.) He’s also enjoying a two-game goal scoring streak of his own.
Impressive as Philadelphia’s recent record may be, the Columbus Blue Jackets aren’t trailing by much. They currently own the second-longest win streak in the NHL at seven games, feasting on the NHL’s lesser teams during their run. Having beaten only two teams with winning records during this streak (Tampa Bay at 14-13-2 and Edmonton at 15-12-5) the overall combined record of their recent competition stands at 74-79-22.
With Columbus winning the games a solid team would be expected to win, have they now turned a corner? Can they now be perceived as a legitimate threat in the tightly contested Metropolitan Division? James O’Brien of NBCSports seems impressed. With forwards Cam Atkinson (11 points in the past 10 games) leading the way and Sam Gagner (nine points in the last 10 games) finally playing up to his potential, there’s a lot to like about the Columbus’ current position in the Metro.
With nearly every team in the division in the playoff race, the next half of the season is going to be exciting. Teams will look to edge one another out through entertaining performances, trades, and call-ups. Hockey, at least on the east coast, isn’t lacking for entertainment value right now.
And, obviously, that’s as good for the NHL as it is for each of the teams involved.