It is no secret that the Metropolitan Division has been the deepest, most competitive division in the NHL this season. Take a quick look at the league standings table entering play on Saturday and you see that six of the top-14 teams in the league in points percentage all reside in the Metro (Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, and Carolina Hurricanes). By comparison, only four of the top-14 teams are from the Atlantic, only three are from the Central, and only one is from the Pacific.
When you’re in the top half of the league standings into the second half you have to like your chances of making the playoffs. But given the NHL’s divisional playoff format (top-three teams from each division and two Wild Card teams) it is a given that at least one of those six Metro is going to miss the playoffs this season.
As things stand entering play this weekend the Capitals are in the best position with the league’s best record.
The Penguins (69 points in 51 games) and Islanders (64 in 50 games) are also in a strong spot.
That leaves the Blue Jackets, Hurricanes, and Flyers all very much on the bubble.
The Hurricanes and Flyers entered play on Saturday just barely on the outside of the picture.
All of them have at least 61 points and are on pace for at least 98 this season.
In almost any other season that sort of start is a near-lock to result in a playoff spot. Since the start of the 2010-11 season there have been 87 teams teams had recorded at least 61 points through the first 51 games of the season (all six of the aforementioned Metro teams will be there). Only five of them ended up missing the playoffs (only 5 percent), and it was never more than one in any season.
It has created an environment in the Metropolitan where there is almost no margin for error at the moment as everyone keeps collecting points.
The Flyers gained a point in an overtime loss against the Penguins on Friday and are 5-2-2 in their past nine games, beating some of the NHL’s best during that stretch — and they still have not been able to climb into a playoff spot.
The Islanders and Blue Jackets (one of the league’s hottest teams for the past two months) each collected points on Saturday afternoon in their overtime losses to Vancouver and Buffalo respectively.
There are going to be a lot of X-factors the rest of the way that are going to determine how this shakes out, from a ton of head-to-head matchups between every team involved, to various injury situations. The Flyers need Carter Hart healthy and playing like he did in his rookie season. The Hurricanes are without their best defenseman. The Blue Jackets need to keep getting the type of goaltending they are from Elvis Merzlikins. The Islanders need to reverse their now two-plus month regression.
Right now, all six teams are good enough to be a playoff team and should expect to be there.
Only five of them can get in.