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.
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.
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.