This sounds more like chasing a train one is trying to catch. However, the Metro Division could be one of those races that goes down to the last couple days of the regular season. Here are the current point totals in the division.
Metropolitan Division Standings
1) Washington Capitals – 100 pts – 42 ROW
2) New York Islanders – 97 pts – 41 ROW
3) Pittsburgh Penguins – 95 pts – 40 ROW
These are the three teams that will decide the decision ultimately. So, what is ROW? ROW is simply regulation and overtime wins. It is used as a tiebreaker in determining seeding and in this case, maybe a division winner. The Stanley Cup futures can offer a bit of a window into what may happen with the Metropolitan.
Washington has the best future odds at +1600, with Pittsburgh at +1700, and the New York Islanders at +2300. Now, it is time to dig a bit more into the teams themselves.
They are the team in the driver’s seat. Washington has four games left with contests against Tampa Bay and Florida on the road. The Capitals close the season with home clashes against Montreal and yes, the New York Islanders. Could that last game on April 6th decide the division? It is indeed possible. The expectation is that Washington would lose to Tampa then beat Florida.
Montreal would be a team that came in with absolute urgency and desperation This would be the pivot game in a sense. There are a few games between now and then. Washington’s big win in Carolina kept their cushion at three points even if Pittsburgh wins with their game in hand on Friday night. Defensively, the Capitals are likely the worst of the three teams. Braden Holtby has turned in two gems at the best possible time, but he has basically been right around league average goaltending wise for long stretches.
Their penalty kill has dropped to around 79% as well. Facing Tampa Bay and Florida (two of the best power plays in the league) will not help. However, Washington has the scoring to play with anyone and there are no significant injuries offensively.
New York Islanders
So, what does one think about the Islanders? They had a bit of a downturn and then suddenly flipped the script in Winnipeg to win a stunner 5-4 in regulation. No one expected that result when New York was down by two goals. Those two points kept them in the race for the division. Like the Capitals, New York has four games left. There is a two game homestand in what expects to be winnable games against Buffalo and then the Toronto Maple Leafs. After that lies a road trip with tilts against Florida and finally, Washington.
There are no more back-to-back scenarios involved. New York’s games normally feature an average of 5.09 total goals per game. They fall 14 goals below the league average on the power play but feature a penalty kill that is four goals above the average. The biggest advantage the Islanders do have is their goaltending which has been mostly incredible all season. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss producing top-five level numbers all season will be the most vital in these last few games.
The team that has been there before has found a way to crawl back into the conversation. Also, they likely have the easiest schedule of the three teams. Pittsburgh plays four of their five remaining contests at home. Their one road game is part of a home and home in Detroit. There are no back to backs either. This sets up reasonably well for Pittsburgh. They are the hottest team of the three at 9-2-2 in their last 13 games.
Most of this has been without the services of Evgeni Malkin and at times, Kris Letang. Matt Murray, who was horrendous the first two months of the season is playing at a Vezina quality level when it matters. He has yielded just nine goals in his last five starts (3-0-2 record). Carolina and Nashville are tough games, but both are at home. Pittsburgh possesses a decent chance of running the table. 105 points would be a number that could take the Metro. Now, the question is does that happen?
Who wins the division?
Again, the Capitals are the team which has a margin of error where New York and Pittsburgh do not. Most of the time, Washington would be the odds-on favorite here. The problem is one never quite knows.
So, the projected winner of the Metropolitan Division will be the Washington Capitals. It will not be a dull race, however.
By Chris Wassel