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All hail the Metropolitan, the new best division in the NHL

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The New York Rangers are 20-9-1 and tied with the Montreal Canadiens for the most points in the NHL.

And yet, the Blueshirts can’t get too comfortable, because lurking below them in the Metropolitan Division are…

— The defending Stanley Cup champs from Pittsburgh.
— The Philadelphia Flyers, who’ve won nine in a row.
— The Columbus Blue Jackets, who’ve gone 11-2-3 in their last 16.
— And the defending Presidents’ Trophy winners, the Washington Capitals.

Indeed, the Metropolitan is the new best division in hockey, assuming the mantle from the Central, which only has two teams, Chicago and Minnesota, with a positive goal differential so far this season. The Blues are still a good team, but the Predators and Stars have been disappointing.

The top five teams in the Metropolitan have a combined goal differential of — get this — plus-99.

Pity the New York Islanders, who’ve gone 6-1-1 in their last eight and still sit 10 points back of the fifth-place Capitals.

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The Caps, meanwhile, have won four in a row, and they’re also having trouble making up ground. They’re currently in the second wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference. Though on the bright side, they’re seven points clear of the fourth-place team in the Atlantic, so a playoff spot isn’t really in serious jeopardy yet.

“You just realize how good the Eastern Conference is this year,” said Capitals coach Barry trotz, per the Washington Post. “I think two years ago, we didn’t have as much balance in the Eastern Conference. There was six or eight teams that you knew they were going to be in, and there was just going to be a fight for the rest. Now, all those teams have drafted well, their young players have developed. Free-agent signings were probably a little more prominent in the East than the West last year, and maybe the last two years.”

The way the standings look right now, the Metropolitan will have five playoff teams, leaving just three spots for the Atlantic.

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The Habs have a comfortable cushion for now, but that won’t be easy to maintain without Alex Galchenyuk for next month and a bit.

The Senators are definitely vulnerable, with one of the lowest score-adjusted Corsis in the league.

The Bruins really need to make the playoffs after missing them two straight years.

The Lightning were considered strong Stanley Cup contenders, but they’ve really been scuffling along lately.

The Panthers will be very interesting to watch after the firing of coach Gerard Gallant.

And the Red Wings, of course, have a lengthy playoff streak on the line — one that looks more and more likely to end in their final season at the Joe.

As for the Maple Leafs and Sabres, well, they’re probably going to draft well again. They could maybe make a run at third place in their division, but failing a dramatic turn of events, a wild-card spot is almost out of the question.

Fight video: Flyers’ Manning vs. Penguins’ Gaunce

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Breaking: the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers don’t like each other.

The stakes might be higher for the Penguins than the Flyers – aside from those who still believe Philly has a shot at a playoff run – their rivalry rarely subsides.

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that Sunday featured at least one fight, with Cameron Gaunce squaring off against Brandon Manning in a pretty spirited bout.

Manning isn’t shy about fighting, by the way; this was his seventh bout of the season, according to Hockey Fights.

Higher on the radar for the Penguins is the situation for Conor Sheary, who has been absent from the ice since about midway through the first period. PHT will keep an eye out for updates on what could be yet another injury for the health-challenged Pens.

Dreading the work week? Watch this dog get ‘ice time’ with puck

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Life is difficult, complex and confusing. Good thing we have dog videos.

Forgive this video being one night late, but for those of us who watch cute animal clips, time is a furry circle. Or something like that.

Anyway, this golden retriever got a little “ice time” before the Washington Capitals’ game against the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday in what would end up being a 4-1 win for the Caps. It’s an excellent video featuring a top-notch, hilarious pooch.

Alternate joke: Now that is some puck retrieval.

Patrik Laine’s out sick for Jets on Sunday

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Patrik Laine and Auston Matthews are locked with identical goals (34), assists (27) and points (61) on Sunday, which is remarkable since Laine has played in 67 games versus 75 for Matthews. He won’t get a chance to beef up his numbers on Sunday, either.

It looks like the high-scoring rookie is missing the Winnipeg Jets’ contest against the Vancouver Canucks because of an illness, according to TSN’s Sara Orlesky.

The Jets are almost assured to miss the playoffs, so seeing Laine lose a chance to bolster his Calder argument adds a little extra sadness to the night.

NHL schedules hearing for Micheal Haley’s sucker-punch on Calle Jarnkrok

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The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced a Monday hearing for San Jose Sharks tough guy Micheal Haley for his “roughing/sucker punch” on Calle Jarnkrok of the Nashville Predators.

The league didn’t specify if Haley will face a telephone or in-person hearing on Monday afternoon. They did, interestingly, use the phrase “sucker punch” in that official announcement.

Haley received a match penalty during the game. Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer was highly upset about the hit that inspired Haley’s actions.

“When you run someone from behind in a game like that, you probably deserve to get a punch in the mouth,” DeBoer told reporters.

In other bad news for the Sharks, CSN Bay Area’s Kevin Kurz reports that Logan Couture‘s situation isn’t looking promising after he was hurt on Sunday.