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Metropolitan Division reset

Capitals, Blue Jackets, Penguins, Rangers vying for top three spots

by Brian Compton @BComptonNHL / Deputy Managing Editor looks at how each team shapes up entering the stretch run in the race for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The NHL All-Star break has come and gone, and the 10-week sprint to the Stanley Cup Playoffs begins Tuesday.

Few of the League's 30 teams have pulled far enough away from the pack to be looking ahead to the postseason or dropped far enough below it that they're out of contention. There are 18 teams within nine points of one another; it's likely that no more than six of them will make the playoffs.

Atlantic Division reset

Here's a look at how the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division shape up entering the race for the postseason:

Washington Capitals

33-10-6, 72 points, 1st in division, 1st in Eastern Conference

Remaining games: 33 (16 home, 17 away)

Special teams: power play: 20.7 percent (13th); penalty kill: 85.1 percent (4th)

What's gone right: As usual, Braden Holtby has been sensational (24-8-4, 1.97 goals-against average, .930 save percentage, six shutouts) and is a contender to be a repeat winner of the Vezina Trophy as the League's top goaltender. Captain Alex Ovechkin likely will reach 30 goals for the 11th consecutive season sometime in February, and forward Justin Williams is having another big season with 17 goals and 11 assists. Center Nicklas Backstrom leads the Capitals with 47 points (13 goals, 34 assists) in 49 games.

What's gone wrong: The power play has only recently gotten back on track and still is 13th in the NHL. If it continues to click, the Capitals could be on the right path to winning the Metropolitan Division.

Needs: With questions as to whether the Capitals can get over the hump and go on a deep run in the playoffs, they could probably use another veteran forward who knows what it takes to win a championship before the NHL Trade Deadline on March 1.

Trophy hopefuls: Holtby (Vezina), Barry Trotz (Adams)

Schedule: Washington plays five of its first six games in February at Verizon Center, including four straight. In March, the Capitals have a three-game trip to the West Coast as well as a three-game, four-night swing through Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona.

Outlook: The Capitals probably would have a more comfortable division lead in most other seasons, but the Metropolitan has been off the charts in 2016-17. Perhaps that will suit the Capitals better as they approach the playoffs.

Video: Metropolitan Division review at halfway point


Columbus Blue Jackets 

32-12-4, 68 points, 2nd in division, 2nd in Eastern Conference

Remaining games: 34 (17 home, 17 away)

Special teams: power play: 24.6 percent (1st); penalty kill: 83.2 percent (T8th)

What's gone right: Armed with the top power play in the League and the goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky (28-9-2, 2.10 GAA, .929 save percentage), the Blue Jackets had the second-longest winning streak in NHL history when they reeled off 16 consecutive victories from Nov. 29 to Jan. 3, putting them in prime position to qualify for the playoffs. It would be a tremendous turnaround for Columbus, which won 34 games last season and finished 27th in the League standings.

What's gone wrong: Columbus often relies too much on Bobrovsky, allowing nearly 30 shots per game. Bobrovsky has been up to the task, but the Blue Jackets need to spend less time in their own end in the second half.

Needs: To help cut down on shots against, the Blue Jackets may try to acquire a stay-at-home defenseman for the playoff run. 

Trophy hopefuls: Bobrovsky (Vezina), Zach Werenski (Calder), John Tortorella (Adams)

Schedule: If the Blue Jackets are going to pass the Capitals for first place, the middle of February will be their chance; Columbus has a seven-game homestand from Feb. 9-25.

Outlook: The fans in Columbus still are waiting to see a second-round playoff game, and this season might be their best chance yet.

Video: CBJ@NSH: Bobrovsky slides across to deny Forsberg


Pittsburgh Penguins

30-13-5, 65 points, 3rd in division, 3rd in Eastern Conference

Remaining games: 34 (16 home, 18 away)

Special teams: power play: 22.8 percent (5th); penalty kill: 78.9 percent (24th)

What's gone right: Sidney Crosby continues to be arguably the best player on the planet. He entered the All-Star break leading the NHL with 28 goals in 42 games. Pittsburgh also is getting more than it probably expected from defenseman Justin Schultz, who has an NHL career-high 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) in 48 games.

What's gone wrong: Injuries have limited Kris Letang, Pittsburgh's best defenseman, to 30 games. The penalty kill has struggled immensely and needs to improve before the playoffs roll around.

Needs: The Penguins could use another defensive-minded forward for the stretch run, someone who could also provide the penalty kill with a shot in the arm.

Trophy hopefuls: Crosby (Hart)

Schedule: The Penguins have a four-game road trip through Western Canada in the middle of March that could play a major role in determining their chances of having home-ice advantage in the opening round of the playoffs.

Outlook: As long as Crosby remains healthy, the Penguins have a decent chance to repeat as Stanley Cup champions.

Video: PIT@BOS: Kessel buries PPG on Crosby's terrific feed


New York Rangers

31-17-1, 63 points, 4th in division, 5th in Eastern Conference

Remaining games: 33 (16 home, 17 away)

Special teams: power play: 20.7 percent (12th); penalty kill: 82.2 percent (13th)

What's gone right: Coach Alain Vigneault was able to roll four lines for much of the first half of the season and received contributions essentially across the board. Michael Grabner has been a pleasant surprise with 21 goals to lead New York; he is one of seven Rangers forwards who already has reached double digits in that category.

What's gone wrong: Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist was inconsistent over the first half, to the point where Antti Raanta actually made four consecutive starts in December. Lundqvist has been better of late, but can the Rangers defense hold up?

Needs: If defensemen Dan Girardi and Kevin Klein continue to struggle, general manager Jeff Gorton likely will do everything he can to get help for his blue line before the trade deadline.

Trophy hopefuls: None

Schedule: The Rangers have a four-game homestand in February against Western Conference opponents, a prime opportunity to make a push to get back into the top three in the Metropolitan Division. They have a West Coast trip at the end of the March against the three California teams.

Outlook: New York is all but a lock to qualify for the playoffs for a seventh consecutive season. How far it can go once it gets there ultimately will be determined by the play of Lundqvist, who turns 35 in March.

Video: NYR@TOR: Grabner motors in for SHG on breakaway


Philadelphia Flyers

25-19-6, 56 points, 5th in division, 7th in Eastern Conference

Remaining games: 32 (16 home, 16 away)

Special teams: power play: 21.5 percent (9th); penalty kill: 81.0 percent (17th)

What's gone right: Philadelphia won 10 consecutive games from Nov. 27-Dec. 14, the biggest reason why it entered the All-Star break in possession of the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. Forward Jakub Voracek is enjoying a bounce-back season with 44 points (14 goals, 30 assists) in 50 games, and forward Wayne Simmonds leads the Flyers with 21 goals. Rookies Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov look like they're going to be solid NHL players for years to come.

What's gone wrong: Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere hasn't exactly built on what he achieved as a rookie last season, when he burst onto the scene with 17 goals in 64 games and helped the Flyers make a surprise trip to the playoffs. This season, Gostisbehere has four goals and a minus-17 rating in 47 games. Philadelphia will need more from him down the stretch.

Needs: The Flyers could use another responsible defenseman before the trade deadline, especially if Gostisbehere doesn't respond in the second half.

Trophy hopefuls: None

Schedule: The Flyers have a three-game Western Canada trip in mid-February and a tough four-game trip near the end of March that stops in Winnipeg, Minnesota, Columbus and Pittsburgh.

Outlook: Philadelphia has some weapons up front, but without more from Gostisbehere, it will be difficult to make a return trip to the postseason.

Video: PHI@NYI: Gostisbehere finds Giroux for OT winner


New York Islanders

21-17-9, 51 points, 6th in division, 11th in Eastern Conference

Remaining games: 35 (13 home, 22 away)

Special teams: power play: 14.6 percent (26th); penalty kill: 80.1 percent (21st)

What's gone right: Not much during the first three months of the season, to the point where coach Jack Capuano was fired on Jan. 17. But the Islanders have responded since, going 4-0-1 in their first five games under Doug Weight.

What's gone wrong: Forward Andrew Ladd hasn't come close to the expectations that came with the seven-year, $38.5 million contract he signed last summer, though he did score two goals in the Islanders' finale before the break, a 3-1 win against the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. The World Cup of Hockey 2016 prevented Ladd from having much time to develop chemistry with captain John Tavares, and the two haven't skated on the same line since October.

Needs: The Islanders really miss center Frans Nielsen, now with the Detroit Red Wings; they could use a second-line center capable of contributing at each end of the ice.

Trophy hopefuls: None

Schedule: If the Islanders are going to make the playoffs, they're going to have to be much better on the road than they were in the first half of the season (6-9-4). Seventeen of New York's final 24 games will be played away from Barclays Center, and the Islanders have a nine-game road trip from Feb. 21 to March 11.

Outlook: New York has a tough road ahead, but at least it has given its fans hope with its play during the past two weeks. The Islanders will need Tavares to lead the way and for Thomas Greiss to continue to prove that he is in fact a No. 1 goalie in the NHL.

Video: DAL@NYI: Tavares buries his second while shorthanded


Carolina Hurricanes

21-20-7, 49 points, 7th in division, 13th in Eastern Conference

Remaining games: 34 (19 home, 15 away)

Special teams: power play: 16.3 percent (23rd); penalty kill: 88.1 percent (1st)

What's gone right: Carolina entered the break with the best penalty kill in the NHL led by forward Viktor Stalberg, who has two shorthanded goals. Forward Jeff Skinner has managed to stay healthy and leads the Hurricanes with 35 points (17 goals, 18 assists) in 47 games.

What's gone wrong: Goaltending has been somewhat of an issue. Cam Ward has started 41 games but has a .906 save percentage.

Needs: The Hurricanes could use another scoring wing to take pressure off the likes of Skinner and rookie Sebastian Aho, who has 26 points (12 goals, 14 assists) in 48 games.

Trophy hopefuls: None

Schedule: Carolina has a five-game homestand from Feb. 17-26 and a four-game homestand from March 27-April 1. The Hurricanes have four games remaining outside the Eastern Time Zone.

Outlook: The schedule plays in the Hurricanes' favor with 19 home games remaining, but they will need better goaltending and more scoring if they want to make the playoffs.

Video: BUF@CAR: Skinner snaps it by Nilsson to tie the game


New Jersey Devils

20-21-9, 49 points, 8th in division, 16th in Eastern Conference

Remaining games: 32 (19 home, 13 away)

Special teams: power play: 14.3 percent (28th); penalty kill: 81.3 percent (16th)

What's gone right: Forward Taylor Hall has been solid in his first season in New Jersey with 31 points (11 goals, 20 assists) in 40 games. Goaltender Keith Kinkaid (.920 save percentage in 16 games) is battling No. 1 Cory Schneider for more playing time.

What's gone wrong: Special teams haven't been great, Schneider hasn't been nearly as good as he has in years past (2.71 GAA in 37 games), and defenseman Damon Severson has a minus-23 rating.

Needs: The Devils have to clean up things in their own end. Schneider must fight off Kinkaid and assure everyone in New Jersey he's still the guy.

Trophy hopefuls: None

Schedule: New Jersey has a five-game homestand from Feb. 6-18. Three of their five games in April will be played at Prudential Center.

Outlook: It's hard to envision the Devils leapfrogging so many teams to find their way into the playoffs, but Schneider is capable of returning to form, and there are plenty of home games left to try to make up ground.

Video: NJD@VAN: Hall snaps OT winner past Markstrom

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