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Metropolitan Division sorting out spots behind Capitals

Penguins, Islanders, Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, Flyers chasing second place, playoff berths

by David Satriano @davidsatriano / Staff Writer

With the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game over and the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 four weeks away, is taking a look at where all 31 teams stand heading into the stretch drive of the regular season. Here is the Metropolitan Division.


Washington Capitals

Record: 33-11-5, 71 points, first place in Metropolitan

MVP: John Carlson -- The favorite for the Norris Trophy, Carlson leads NHL defensemen with 60 points (13 goals, 47 assists) and is plus-17. He has six game-winning goals and is averaging 1.22 points per game in 24:45 of ice time.

Unsung hero: Ilya Samsonov -- He leads rookie goalies in wins (15) and GAA (2.06) and is second in save percentage (.927). Samsonov has won 10 straight games and outperformed veteran Braden Holtby, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Player to watch: Jakub Vrana -- The forward is on an eight-game point streak (seven goals, two assists) that includes two game-winning goals. Vrana has scored 22 goals, two off his NHL career high set last season. He's a big part of an offense that includes Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.

Biggest need -- The Capitals have been the class of the NHL this season and don't have many, if any flaws. They may add a depth player for another Cup run but don't have any glaring needs.

Second-half prognosis -- Washington has been one of the best and underrated teams again this season and is in prime position to win the Metropolitan and perhaps even the Presidents' Trophy. The Capitals, who won the Stanley Cup in 2018, figure to be among the favorites to win it again this season.

Video: WSH@NYI: Ovi scores to tie Lemieux on all-time list


Pittsburgh Penguins

Record: 31-14-5, 67 points, second place in Metropolitan

MVP: Tristan Jarry -- The 24-year-old goalie, who had played 29 NHL games before this season, stepped up when starter Matt Murray began struggling. Jarry is 16-8-1 and is among the NHL leaders with a 2.16 GAA, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts, earning a spot in the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game. He's allowed two goals or fewer in 15 of his 25 appearances.

Unsung hero: Bryan Rust -- He's thrived in an elevated top-six forward role with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists) in 36 games, already an NHL career best. Rust is averaging 19:55 of ice time, up from 17:14 last season, and was a key part of the offense while Sidney Crosby was sidelined for 28 games after core muscle surgery.

Player to watch: Alex Galchenyuk -- The forward has underperformed with 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) in 41 games after he was acquired in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes for forward Phil Kessel on June 29. He can become an unrestricted free agent July 1 and hasn't done much to help his chances of a big payday.

Biggest need -- More production from the power play. With all their talent, the Penguins should be better than 17th in the NHL (19.6 percent). Pittsburgh ranked in the top five in each of the previous three seasons.

Second-half prognosis -- The Penguins have been hit hard by injuries and are without several key players, including forwards Jake Guentzel (shoulder) and Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), and defenseman Justin Schultz (lower body). However, they should be able extend the longest active playoff streak in the NHL to 14 seasons.

Video: PIT@ARI: Jarry kicks out pad to rob Dvorak


New York Islanders

Record: 29-15-5, 63 points, third place in Metropolitan

MVP: Semyon Varlamov -- Signed as a free agent July 1, Varlamov has provided the Islanders with exactly what they were splitting goalie starts with Thomas Greiss. He is 15-8-4 with a .915 save percentage and two shutouts in 31 games (27 starts).

Unsung hero: Casey Cizikas -- The fourth-line center does it all for the Islanders. Not only does Cizikas have 10 goals, he's second in face-off winning percentage (.541), second in hits (117) and tied with Cal Clutterbuck and Brock Nelson for first in blocked shots among forwards (36). He also leads Islanders forwards in average shorthanded time on ice (2:28).

Player to watch: Jordan Eberle -- He has 24 points (seven goals, 17 assists) in 39 games this season after producing nine points in eight playoff games. The top-six right wing has four goals in his past seven games, and the Islanders need him to produce like the player who had 25 goals and 59 points in 2017-18.

Biggest need -- It's anyone's guess what the Islanders may do prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, but don't be surprised if they inquire about adding a top-six forward.

Second-half prognosis -- A 17-game point streak (15-0-2) from Oct. 12-Nov. 23 gave the Islanders a leg up early on, but they've come back to earth. New York is 13-12-4 in its past 29 games and is clinging to third place in the Metropolitan. With a logjam in the division and wild card races, a return to the playoffs is no sure thing.

Video: BOS@NYI: Varlamov robs Pastrnak with diving stop


Columbus Blue Jackets

Record: 27-16-8, 60 points, fourth place in Metropolitan

MVP: Joonas Korpisalo -- After the departure of Sergei Bobrovsky in the offseason, Korpisalo took the starting job in goal and ran with it. He's 17-10-4 with a 2.49 GAA, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts, and was selected as the Blue Jackets' representative for the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game. However, a knee injury kept him out of the game and will keep him on the sidelines for a few more weeks.

Unsung hero: Elvis Merzlikins -- He started the season 0-4-4 with a 3.41 GAA and .889 save percentage in a backup role but has blossomed since taking the starting job after Korpisalo was injured. Since then, the 25-year-old rookie goalie from Latvia is 9-2-0 with a 1.65 GAA, .951 save percentage and three shutouts in 11 games to help Columbus get back into the playoff race.

Player to watch: Cam Atkinson -- The forward has been sidelined twice this season, including a recent 12-game stretch with an ankle injury. Atkinson, who scored 41 goals last season and has six straight seasons with at least 21, has five points (three goals, two assists) in four games since returning and is a key piece of the offense.

Biggest need -- Better health. Columbus has lost more than 250 man-games to injury, the most in the NHL, and has six players on injured reserve.

Second-half prognosis -- If the Blue Jackets can improve their scoring and power play, they should stay in contention for a wild card. A top-three spot in the division might be a stretch, but it's not impossible. Columbus is tied with Boston for the second-stingiest defense in the NHL at 2.51 goals-against per game.

Video: NJD@CBJ: Merzlikins fuels Blue Jackets' shutout win


Carolina Hurricanes

Record: 29-18-3, 61 points, fifth place in Metropolitan

MVP: Dougie Hamilton -- He was fourth among NHL defensemen with 40 points and tied for second with 14 goals before being sidelined indefinitely with a broken left fibula sustained Jan. 16. His plus-30 is second in the NHL.

Unsung hero: James Reimer -- Carolina's backup goalie has gone 11-6-1 with a 2.47 GAA, .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 20 games (19 starts). He has exceeded expectations when filling in for Petr Mrazek.

Player to watch: Andrei Svechnikov -- The 19-year-old forward has two lacrosse-style goals already this season, and it's only a matter of time before he scores another. Svechnikov has 45 points (19 goals, 26 assists) in 50 games in his second NHL season and has already surpassed the 37 points (20 goals, 17 assists) he had in 82 games as a rookie.

Biggest need -- With Hamilton out for the foreseeable future, the Hurricanes may try to add a defenseman.

Second-half prognosis -- Carolina should remain in the mix for a wild card and could be a top-three team in the division. The return of forward Justin Williams should give the Hurricanes a boost, but it may be difficult for them to return to the Eastern Conference Final.

Video: WPG@CAR: Williams nets first goal in return to 'Canes


Philadelphia Flyers

Record: 27-17-6, 60 points, sixth place in Metropolitan

MVP: Sean Couturier -- The center is tied with forward Travis Konecny for the Flyers lead with 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) and is second with a plus-15 rating. His .583 face-off winning percentage ranks third among all NHL players (minimum 500 face-offs taken). Couturier leads Flyers forwards in ice time per game (20:02), including more than two minutes each on the power play and penalty kill.

Unsung hero: Ivan Provorov -- He has been incredibly durable, having not missed a game in his four NHL seasons. Provorov is solid in his own zone, leads Flyers defensemen in points with 25 (nine goals, 16 assists), and is eighth in the NHL in ice time per game (24:54).

Player to watch: Claude Giroux -- Philadelphia's captain had 85 points last season but has 35 (13 goals, 22 assists) in 50 games, a 57-point pace. The forward does rank first in the NHL in face-off winning percentage (.597) among players to take at least 500 draws but will need to generate more offense if the Flyers are to challenge for a playoff spot.

Biggest need -- Improvement away from home. The Flyers are 17-4-4 at Wells Fargo Center but 10-13-2 on the road.

Second-half prognosis -- First year coach Alain Vigneault has done a nice job with the Flyers and they're likely to remain in the playoff race to the end, though their inconsistences may end up costing them a spot in the postseason.

Video: WSH@PHI: Konecny buries wrist shot at the doorstep


New York Rangers

Record: 23-21-4, 50 points, seventh place in Metropolitan

MVP: Artemi Panarin -- The prized free agent of the offseason signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract and has lived up it. The left wing is fifth in the NHL in points with 68 (26 goals, 42 assists) and likely will surpass his NHL career highs in goals (31) and points (87). His plus-22 rating shows he's been responsible at both ends of the ice.

Unsung hero: Tony DeAngelo -- With 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) in 48 games, DeAngelo leads Rangers defensemen, a group that includes offense-minded Adam Fox (27 points; six goals, 21 assists) and Jacob Trouba (23 points; seven goals, 16 assists). DeAngelo has eight multipoint games this season.

Player to watch: Igor Shesterkin -- The 24-year-old rookie goalie is 2-1-0 in three starts and likely will see increased playing time in the second half. Shesterkin is the heir apparent to Henrik Lundqvist and should get plenty of opportunities to showcase his abilities.

Biggest need -- The Rangers need to find an answer for their three-goalie rotation (Lundqvist, Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev) -- and the sooner, the better. They'll likely want young talent, not draft picks, in a trade.

Second-half prognosis -- The Rangers are 11 points behind the Hurricanes for the second wild card from the East with a handful of teams they must pass to get there. It's likely New York misses the playoffs for the third straight season.

Video: NYI@NYR: Panarin posts five points in Rangers victory


New Jersey Devils

Record: 17-24-7, 41 points, eighth place in Metropolitan

MVP: Mackenzie Blackwood -- The 23-year-old ranks second among rookie goalies with 14 wins and has made 31 starts for the Devils this season. He has a more-than-respectable 2.96 GAA and .905 save percentage and has been a nice surprise for a team that failed to live up to high expectations after a busy offseason.

Unsung hero: Blake Coleman -- He's three goals from his NHL high of 22, set last season, and has been a spark for the Devils. The forward is plus-2 on a team with a minus-45 goal differential and is tied for the NHL lead with three shorthanded goals.

Player to watch: P.K. Subban -- Acquired in a trade with the Nashville Predators on June 22, the defenseman has 11 points (six goals, five assists) and is minus-15 in 48 games. Subban is on pace for the lowest offensive numbers since becoming an NHL regular in 2010-11, but has three goals in his past nine games.

Biggest need -- A scorer. The trade of forward Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 16 has left a void in the offense. New Jersey has three players (Coleman, forward Kyle Palmieri and center Nico Hischier) who have scored at least 10 goals, and Palmieri is top with 31 points.

Second-half prognosis -- After a season that began with optimism but quickly turned sour, the best-case scenario for New Jersey would be winning the NHL Draft Lottery and getting the No. 1 pick for the third time in four seasons.

Video: NJD@CBJ: Blackwood extends and makes fantastic grab

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