The Metropolitan Division is one of the best in the NHL. Over the last five years the New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals stand out as the top three. But which team is the best?
Rating the Metropolitan Division of the NHL is a double edged sword, because whichever way you turn, you can be cut to the quick. All eight teams have the ability to not only fight their way into the playoffs, but go deep once they are in.
As of Sunday December 4th, only 13 points separate the eight place New York Islanders (22 points) from the first place New York Rangers (35 points). The rest of the division checks in as follows: Carolina 23 points, New Jersey 28, Philadelphia 29, Washington 29, Columbus 32 and Pittsburgh 33. That is an extremely tight bunch, and the playoff picture changes nightly.
For arguments sake, the three teams that will be spotlighted will be the Washington Capitals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New York Rangers.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are loaded. They are solid throughout their lineup and have not one but two outstanding goal tenders to guard their net. They can fly up and down the ice when the game opens up and they can also slow it down and grind out the one goal victories, when both teams play shutdown defense.
Pittsburgh’s fortunes hinge on the very capable hands of one Sidney Crosby, who is still considered by many, as the number one player in the world. He can do it all, and usually does, game in and game out. Though Crosby missed the first few games of the season, he now has 16 goals and 26 points in 19 games played.
Evgeni Malkin, 25 points and Phil Kessel, 24 points, complete the high scoring trio that fuel the high powered Pittsburgh attack. Fellow forwards Patric Hornqvist, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen all have double figures in points and the explosiveness to take over a game on their own.
Kris Letang, an annual Norris Trophy candidate, quaterbacks the Power Play. He also leads a strong unit of Ian Cole, Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin. These D-men work on the Penalty Kill unit and protect Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray as they guard the nets.
Toasts of DC
The Washington Capitals boast one of the most prolific scorers in NHL history, and Alex Ovechkin does not look like he is slowing down a bit. So far this season, the 31 year old left winger has 12 goals in 23 games. Ovechkin is joined by T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov.
These players can all score, pass and exert their will to take over a game at a moments notice. Their Power Play unit gives players, fans and coaches alike, heartburn and nightmares.
The defense is bolstered by John Carlson and Matt Niskanen. The two are as comfortable on the Power Play as they are on the Penalty Kill. Carlson’s blend of speed, stickhandling and accurate passing makes him a Norris contender each year. Elsewhere, Brooks Orpik’s bone crunching checks are feared throughout the league.
Braden Holtby is coming of a 48 win season and continues to baffle opposing players. The 27 year old is just entering his prime years and will contend for the Vezina Trophy yearly.
Thus, the Capitals are extremely formidable and a Stanley Cup contender year in and year out.
The Longest Running Show on Broadway
With apologies to Cats and The Jersey Boys, the New York Rangers are the longest running hit on the great white way. And this year is no exception, as they sit atop the Metropolitan Division. Using a combination of speed, deadly accurate passing and guile, the Rangers lead the league in scoring.
But unlike Washington and Pittsburgh, New York has only Rick Nash as your 30-40 goal scorer. What the New York Rangers do have however, is much more speed.
The Speed is found in newly acquired Michael Grabner, who may be the fastest in the league when on a breakaway. That speed has been parlayed into 13 goals so far this season. Add Kevin Hayes, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello and you have the fastest team in the NHL.
As opposed to the Capitals and the Penguins, the Rangers are led in scoring by three American born players. Both JT Miller and Kevin Hayes have 19 points and Derek Stepan has 18. The other unique statistic is that all three players are under 30. Stepan is the oldest at 26, Miller is in the middle at 24 and Hayes is the youngest at 23. There will be many great years in the future for all three.
The Bold Prediction
Even though the Washington Capitals are being the Columbus Blue Jackets in the standings right now, the consensus is that the Capitals will finish higher. The last standings displayed on Monday April 10th, 2017 will show these three teams: Washington, Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers as the top teams in the Metropolitan Division.
The NHL season is two marathons. The 82 games to see which 16 teams make the playoffs. And the quest to acquire 16 more wins and lift Lord Stanley’s Cup when the quest is reached. When the first 82 are complete, the Capitals, Penguins and Rangers will be starting that quest.