Metropolitan Division

Looking at the 2019-20 New York Islanders

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to take a look at where each NHL team stands at this moment with a series of posts examining their season. Have they met expectations? Exceeded expectations? Who has been the surprise? All of that and more. Today we look at the 2019-20 New York Islanders.

2019-20 New York Islanders

Record: 35-23-10 (80 points in 68 games), positioned sixth in the Metro and ninth in the East. Islanders would rank ahead of Blue Jackets by points percentage (and thus be in the postseason by that metric).
Leading Scorer: Mathew Barzal – 60 points (19 goals and 41 assists)

In-Season Roster Moves

Season Overview

The Islanders may very well have been the coldest (relevant) team in the NHL before the pause.

Most obviously, the Islanders found themselves mired in a seven-game losing streak, the worst “active” slump in the league. While the Isles managed to squeeze four points from that skid (0-3-4), that’s still troubling.

When you zoom out, their struggles stretch back further. The Islanders managed only two wins since Feb. 13 (2-7-4), and just six victories since Jan. 11 (6-11-7). Such struggles opened the door for the Rangers and other usurpers to push the Islanders out of the playoffs entirely.

It was quite the fall for an Islanders team that was flirting with at least a round of home-ice advantage during hotter stretches of 2019-20.

But one also cannot deny that the Islanders deserve credit for that hotter stretch. Barry Trotz’s system combines with strong goaltending from Thomas Greiss and Semyon Varlamov to form a team that’s tough to score against.

While the Islanders were slipping quite a bit, and facing a road-heavy stretch that would have seen them play eight of their would-be next 11 games on the road, they also were in position to return to the postseason. Technically, the Blue Jackets (81 points in 70 games) rank ahead of the Islanders, but only by a point, while the Isles hold two games in hand.

Will the Islanders get to prove they can right the ship? Can they justify spending around the trade deadline on J.G. Pageau and Andy Greene?

We may never find out those answers, yet Trotz cemented once again that his defensive schemes can keep his teams competitive. After all, few teams would be too troubled if you told them they’d have a 35-23-10 record through 68 games.

Highlight of the Season for 2019-20 Islanders

Islanders fans savor opportunities to roast people who’ve predicted that their team would flop. With that in mind, the earlier parts of 2019-20 served up a decadent buffet.

After a brief stumble out of the gate, the Islanders rattled off a 10-game winning streak from Oct. 12 – Nov. 5.

The Islanders avenged the Penguins ending their 10-game winning streak by beating Pittsburgh twice to extend their point streak to a franchise-record 16 games. The Islanders rumbled to an impressive 16-3-1 record, ascending to the top spot in PHT’s Power Rankings for late November.

If you want an individual highlight, credit Pageau with scoring a goal and getting in a fight to celebrate his Islanders debut. Watch the scrap below:

MORE ON THE ISLANDERS:

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Our Line Starts podcast: Handicapping Metro; Avs doomed without MacKinnon?

Kathryn Tappen, Patrick Sharp and Anson Carter debate if the Flyers will win the Metro and discuss if Nathan MacKinnon‘s injury is going to be too much for the Avs to battle through. Anson explains why the Rangers have hope for the playoffs as long as they have Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin. Sharpy and Ace detail how playing in empty buildings due to the coronavirus would impact players. Plus, Pierre McGuire sits down with Victor Hedman.

0:00-5:04 Intros, reactions to all-female broadcast

5:04-11:04 Who will win the Metro Division?

11:04-14:27 Can Avalanche overcome MacKinnon’s injury?

14:27-17:57 Zibanejad, Panarin give Rangers hope for playoffs

17:57-23:40 How coronavirus is affecting the NHL

23:40-43:45 Pierre interviews Lightning’s Victor Hedman

43:45-End Playoff race in Atlantic heating up

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where else you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

Penguins fall behind Flyers as losing streak hits six games

Penguins losing streak reaches six games after Sharks shutout Flyers ahead
Getty Images

Remember when it looked like the Penguins might push the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division title? With the Penguins losing streak now at six games, they risk falling out of the Metro top three entirely.

Their slump hit what sure felt like a new low on Saturday as the Sharks shut them out 5-0. Martin Jones frustrated the flustered Penguins with a 30-save shutout. San Jose received contributions from the expected (Evander Kane, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton) and the not-so-much (25-year-old Joel Kellman scoring his third NHL goal).

Penguins lose ground as streak reaches six games

Consider a few factors in the Penguins’ six-game skid:

  • The Flyers have been almost as hot as the Penguins have been cold. Philadelphia seeks its sixth consecutive win when the Flyers face the Rangers on NBC on Sunday afternoon (watch live).
  • To make matters worse, the Penguins dropped all six games in regulation.

Look at how precarious the situation is becoming:

Metro 1: Capitals – 84 points in 64 games played (39-19-6)
Metro 2: Flyers – 81 points in 64 GP (37-20-7)
Metro 3: Penguins – 80 points in 64 GP (37-21-6)

East WC 1: Islanders – 78 points in 64 GP (35-21-8)

As you can see, the Penguins would begin the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs on the road if they began right now. The Islanders are nipping at their heels for that third spot, too.

  • Don’t totally discount the potential importance of home-ice advantage. The Penguins are 22-6-4 at home and just 15-15-2 on the road, while the Flyers see an almost identical gap (23-5-4 at home; 14-15-3 away).
  • The Penguins played five of their last six games on the road, including their last four. Losing to the Capitals is one thing, but failing to get a single standings point against California’s three NHL teams is shaky in 2020. Things could get pretty dicey if the Penguins can’t beat the Senators in Pittsburgh on Tuesday.

Wake-up call didn’t happen yet

The Athletic’s Josh Yohe reports (sub required) that the Penguins viewed Saturday’s game as a chance to “stop the bleeding.” (Insert some “Sharks smelling blood” one-liners right here.)

“We’re digging ourselves a hole right now,” Patric Hornqvist said after Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Ducks. “So let’s figure out what we’re made of.”

Well, Saturday’s shutout to the Sharks was made of … ugh.

It’s probably not a coincidence that Sidney Crosby is suffering through a brief lull.

From Feb. 8-18, Crosby generated an impressive five-game point streak, managing three goals and eight assists for 11 points. He’s only managed a single goal and suffered through a -8 rating during this six-game skid.

Perhaps some of these struggles stem from the Penguins trying to get acclimated to quite a few new names after making their typical run of aggressive trade deadline moves. As much as anything else, it’s also indicative of the ups and downs of a marathon 82-game season. You don’t see Martin Jones pitch a 30-save shutout every week, after all.

How worried should the Penguins be about their six-game losing streak, and where do you think they’ll finish in the standings?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

NHL on NBCSN: Penguins face Maple Leafs, eye Metro title race with Capitals

Penguins vs. Maple Leafs, battle with Capitals for Metro
Getty Images

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Tuesday’s matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Toronto Maple Leafs. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

You don’t need to strain to hype up a game between the Penguins and Maple Leafs in 2020.

If anything, you may need to fight the urge to drool at the sheer wattage of star power on the ice. Beyond Sidney Crosby vs. Auston Matthews, you also have Evgeni Malkin, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and other ultra-talented players to watch.

Delightfully – for viewers, at least – the two teams both face serious stakes. Big picture, the Penguins’ biggest fight is with the Capitals for the Metro crown, while the Maple Leafs and Panthers seem primed to battle for a playoff spot.

PHT will break down both races on Tuesday. This post focuses on the Metro battle between Pittsburgh and Washington. Click here for a look at Toronto vs. Florida.

(Don’t be surprised if you see Capitals fans openly rooting for Toronto on Tuesday, in other words.)

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 6 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

Do schedules give either Penguins or Capitals an edge in Metro race?

Penguins Capitals Metro race Feb 18

As you can see, the Capitals lead the Metro by one point, but the Penguins hold two games in hand. Leafing through projections gives you another glimpse of how fascinating that race could be. The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn gives the Penguins a 64-percent chance to finish first (sub required), while Money Puck puts the Capitals at … 64.6 percent.

Rummaging through the numbers, here are a few observations:

  • If you place weight in home/away records, then you’d think Washington needs home-ice far less than Pittsburgh does. The Capitals are 21-8-1 on the road (vs. 16-9-4 at home). The Penguins, meanwhile are 21-5-4 at home and 15-10-2 on the road.
  • Pittsburgh has more games remaining, but the Capitals actually have one more home game remaining (12) than Pittsburgh does (11). The Penguins play 14 of their final 25 games on the road.
  • Capitals’ challenging stretch: Washington plays five of six on the road from Feb. 27 – March 9.
  • Two noteworthy Penguins runs: Penguins face a four-game road trip Feb. 23-29. They also play four of five on road from March 10-18.

[Catch Alex Ovechkin’s next chance at 700 goals on NBCSN on Thursday]

Three more head-to-head matchups between Pens and Caps

The Penguins and Capitals faced off once so far this season, with Pittsburgh winning in Washington 4-3 on Feb. 2.

That lack of early-season games sets the stage for potentially high-stakes matches, as they face off three more times this season.

Feb. 23 in Washington: Both the Capitals (in New Jersey) and Penguins (home vs. Sabres) will be closing up back-to-back sets. That game is currently scheduled to air on NBC this weekend. Interesting that it comes the day before the 2020 NHL Trade deadline, huh?

March 7 in Pittsburgh: Neither team faces games on March 6, so they should both be as fresh as you can this deep in a season.

March 22 in Pittsburgh: Once again, neither team would be closing off back-to-back sets. This could be a big one on NBC.

Kenny Albert and Pierre McGuire will call the action at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh, Pa.

An hour-long special on Connor McDavid, titled Connor McDavid: Whatever It Takes will premiere following the game at 10:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The feature provides an inside look at McDavid’s comeback from a knee injury in last season’s final game. Click here for a trailer.

The Miracle on Ice – 40th Anniversary, featuring Al Michaels, who called the momentous matchup in 1980, and Mike Tirico, will premiere on Wednesday night at 11:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. 40 years to the month, this 30-minute special will feature Tirico’s wide-ranging conversation with Michaels about the buildup to the game, his iconic call, as well as the legacy of the moment that became bigger than sports and still resonates today.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Penguins roll through Red Wings, gain ground in Metro race

On paper, this seemed like it would be an easy win. Hockey is one of the more unpredictable sports, though, so credit the Penguins with taking care of business against the Red Wings. The Penguins won 5-1 to kick off “Hockey Day in America” on Sunday, improving their odds of taking the Metro crown.

Detroit got off to a 1-0 lead, but it ended up being short-lived. The Penguins tied it up 1-1 when Sam Lafferty (or was it Patric Hornqvist?) scored less than three minutes after Valtteri Filppula made it 1-0.

Hornqvist played a big role in the Penguins growing a 2-1 lead to a 5-1 rout during the second period. From there, it was automatic for Pittsburgh.

It turns out Hornqvist didn’t quite get a hat trick as it originally appeared, but he still had a big game. Sidney Crosby scored one goal and one assist, while Matt Murray stopped 26 out of 27 shots.

The Penguins set the stage for a potentially interesting race for the Metro Division title. They’ve been gaining quite a bit on the Washington Capitals:

  1. Capitals: 79 points in 58 games played (37-16-5)
  2. Penguins: 78 points in 57 GP (36-15-6)

NBC and NBCSN Hockey Day in America schedule

Bruins at Rangers – NBC – 3 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Mike Tirico will call the matchup at Madison Square Garden alongside Pierre McGuire and Mike Milbury.

Blues at Predators – NBCSN –  6 p.m. ET (Watch live) – Chris Cuthbert will call the action from Bridgestone Arena alongside Darren Pang.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.