INSIDE THE METROPOLITAN DIVISION
The Metropolitan Division looks deep enough this season where it could be a division that sends five teams to the post-season.
The division sent four teams to the playoffs last year in Pittsburgh, New York Rangers, Philadelphia and Columbus.
The New Jersey Devils and New York Islanders off to 3-0 starts, are both much improved teams where scouts I’ve heard from in the last week feel they’re not only serious playoff contenders this season but contenders to battle for the division title.
The Islanders boast maybe the most balanced team upfront in the Eastern Conference. It all starts with John Tavares and they have a great mix of speed and skill where they can be getting out played but have the offensive punch to still come out with a 6-3 win like Sunday night vs the Rangers. The Islanders are playing at such a fast pace they can match up against any team in the Eastern Conference offensively.
2010 First round pick Brock Nelson is off to a great start with 4 goals and 3 assists in three games.
The additions of Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk to go with goaltender Jaroslav Halak, were the three big pieces by Garth Snow to put this team back into position of contending for a playoff spot after a disappointing 2013-2014 season. Boychuk with a greater offensive role now than in Boston, is second among defenseman in points with 2 goals and 4 assists in three games. His presence will also be strongly felt inside the dressing room.
A key for the Islanders will still be tightening things up defensively and that will be a telling story whether they emerge into a serious contender in the East. The jury is still out there.
When it comes to the New Jersey Devils, they have the look of a team that could take a big step this season. This is a team that just finished outside the playoffs last season with 88 points. Two key reasons why:
They lost 13 shootout games and their loyalty to Martin Brodeur.
Cory Schneider is a premier goaltender in this league and he made just 43 starts last season. If that number is around 60, New Jersey makes the post-season.
The Devils are a team that lacks a franchise player, notably a No. 1 center that others in the division boast, but you can’t underestimate the signing of Mike Cammalleri who has 4 goals and 1 assist through three games.
The Devils have a player in Cammalleri now who can win a game for them with one shot. They haven’t had that since they lost Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk. New Jersey has good balance through out their top-4 lines. What’s lacking is a legitimate shutdown defenseman. A great fit for them would be to take a run at Paul Martin but Pittsburgh if they decide to move him, prefer to move him out west.
RANGERS, FLYERS OFF TO SLOW STARTS AGAIN
The New York Rangers (1-3-0, 2 pts) and Philadelphia Flyers (0-2-2, 2 pts) are both off to slow starts again this season. The Flyers are winless through four games, while the Rangers have given up 19 goals through their first four games.
Of the two, the more long-term concern is with the Flyers.
The Rangers remain a team that’s built for the playoffs. They have two of the three key ingredients to win in the post-season, an elite franchise goaltender in Henrik Lundqvist and a legitimate No. 1 shutdown defenseman in Ryan McDonagh.
Right now without Derek Stepan, they are thin down the middle and it’s showing. However, some key positives upfront include Rick Nash off to a sensational start with 6 goals and some young forwards emerging, including Anthony Duclair.
VIEWS ON THE PENGUINS
One scout on the Penguins. “They look unbelievable.”…..”I thought I was watching the Blackhawks,” the scout said of how the Penguins are possessing the puck 5 v 5 and playing as a group.
How the Penguins are playing as a group has been a great sign and a credit to the coaching staff.
Others are taking a wait and see approach.
With a new coaching staff and personnel changes, one former NHL player I spoke with feels the Penguins are playing with an adrenaline rush right now that will wear off soon and noted no one is playing the Penguins hard at this point from the standpoint of making a point of trying to frustrate the Penguins star players and the Penguins had the luxury of taking advantage of poor goaltending early into both games from Anaheim and Toronto.
The Penguins last season started the year 7-1-0, Sidney Crosby had 17 points in his first eight games and the Penguins made key systematic changes like implementing a left wing lock.
Those taking a cautious approach is very understandable and while I’m not sold on this team defensively long-term, they are playing the right way offensively.
WHAT TO MAKE OF THE CAPITALS
The Washington Capitals (1-0-2, 4 pts) have points in their first three games and this is a team where it’s going to be a few months before we can figure them out. What will be the identity of the Capitals under Barry Trotz? That remains to be seen.
A bright spot has been Alexander Ovechkin with 4 goals and 19 year old Andre Burakovsky.
Matt Niskanen is pointless through the first three games but leads the Capitals in ice time, averaging 24:44 per game.
The downfall of this group projects to be the goaltending again with Braden Holtby.