Metropolitan Division

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.

Metropolitan Division playoff race is going to leave one very good team out

NHL Playoffs
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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.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.