In fact, the top five teams in the division went 17-1-0 this past week. The fifth-place Washington Capitals have 37 points as of this writing, while the division-leading New York Rangers have 41 points. That’s a differential of four points, I’m told. And when you consider that the New Jersey Devils have 30 points and sit sixth in the division, the logjam at the top is even crazier.
Truth be told, the Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers, Columbus Blue Jackets (!!!), and Capitals are playing dynamite hockey right now.
Compare the Metropolitan Division to the Atlantic, where the Montreal Canadiens are tops with 41 points and the second-place Ottawa Senators have 34 points. The Boston Bruins have a lowly 32 points.
That means five of the top eight teams from the Eastern Conference are from the Metropolitan Division.
To make this more interesting, each of the aforementioned five Metropolitan Division clubs has won at least three straight. The Capitals have won four in a row, mostly recently blowing off the Vancouver Canucks by a final score of 3-0 on Sunday. Despite holding some serious points, Washington’s fifth-place spot means they only just hold the second wild card spot for the post-season.
The Penguins have won five games in a row, but they’re behind the Rangers. And the Flyers are on a nine-game winning streak after an overtime win against Detroit on Sunday, but that’s not enough for the top spot because everything’s going so well in the Metropolitan Division.
It’s all about pacing right now, as the Capitals must know. They won the division and the Presidents’ Trophy last season with 120 points and they’ll have to keep pace or hope someone slides or both if they want to repeat the feat.
“You definitely can’t have an extended losing streak. It’s going to be really hard to get back into the picture,” Washington defenceman Matt Niskanen said. “If you have a bad 10 days when you only get a couple points, it’s going to be tougher to catch all of them. Those teams are really playing well too.”
Ironically, the division-leading Rangers have had the “worst” streak of the group as of late. They’re 6-4-0 over their last 10 games, even though they’ve won the last three, and the play of backup goalie Antti Raanta was enough to turn the ship around. He’s allowed just one goal in the last three games, in case you needed to feel bad about yourself.
So yes, it’s possible the Metropolitan Division could land both wild card spots when the post-season gets ready to rock. And it’s possible that these teams keep steamrolling the league with their incredible play. But it’s also possible that something gives and that one of these clubs takes a dip. If you’re the Tampa Bay Lightning, you’ve got to hope for the latter. And fast.