Metropolitan Division Weekly: Injuries, Ovechkin goals & Hurricanes taunts

Injuries abound for the Devils and Penguins, but that’s not the whole story for the Metropolitan Division.

It’s been a wild opening week for the Metropolitan Division, with Ovechkin goals aplenty and a petty piece of marketing from the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here’s what you missed from the Metropolitan Division this week:

Carolina Hurricanes (4-0-0)

The Hurricanes threw out a brilliant piece of marketing and PR after a 4-1 triumph over the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 21. If you haven’t followed the saga, it goes like this; Jesperi Kotkaniemi was scooped up via offer sheet (and iconic $20 signing bonus) from the Canadiens. Then, the Canadiens began their season in a free fall. We all knew that game would be ugly, but the Canes came prepared with a website: Once fans clicked on the link, they were greeted with Sebastian Aho (who was offer-sheeted by the Canadiens in 2019), and Kotkaniemi, along with merch priced at $20 with the promo code “Oui.”

It was gloriously petty, and exactly the kind of fun-loving PR the NHL needs. I love it. Canadiens fans did not.

Aside from the website stunt, the Canes lost their season opener on Oct. 14 (6-3, against the New York Islanders) but won their second game two days later (3-2, versus the Nashville Predators). Frederik Andersen is off to a great start after exiting the Toronto Maple Leafs in free agency, complete with an absurd amount of snow-angel saves.

Andrei Svechnikov (4 goals, 3 assists) and Sebastian Aho (3 goals, 3 assists) are leading the Canes’ as their point leaders, with 7 and 6 points respectively, due in part to their 5-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 23.

Washington Capitals (3-0-2)

This has been quite the week for the Capitals, who, despite being one of the oldest teams in the league, are determined to turn back the clock, starting with Captain Alex Ovechkin chasing Wayne Gretzky’s 894 goals record. The team opened their season with a 5-1 win over the Islanders on Oct. 13. Rookie Hendrix Lapierre snagged his first NHL goal and head coach Peter Laviolette became the winningest US coach in league history with the victory.

On Oct. 16, the Capitals lost 2-1 in overtime to the Tampa Bay Lightning, but went back to their winning formula on Oct. 19 (6-3, versus Colorado) and Oct. 21 (4-1, versus New Jersey). The key to that winning formula? Vitek Vanacek, who has been bringing his A-game to the season’s start. It’s still early, but he’s posted a .946 save percentage (SV%) and 1.30 goals against average (GAA) over three games.

Nicklas Backstrom is out with a left hip injury with no timetable for his return, but even without his right-hand man, Ovechkin is still leading his team in points, tallying 10 points (5 goals, 5 assists) in five games. Right below him, notching 9 points is Evgeny Kuznetsov, who has started off with a hot start this season with 4 goals and 5 assists. Kuznetsov was in and out of the dog house with Capitals’ management last year and had flirted with trade rumors, but as long as he keeps producing, he should be staying in Washington.

The Capitals lost 4-3 in overtime to the Calgary Flames on Oct.23.

New Jersey Devils (3-1-0)

The Devils started the season fast, but early injuries might slow their pace. The team wore jerseys commemorating Jimmy Hayes during warmups for their Oct. 15 season opener, a 4-3 overtime win over the Chicago Blackhawks. Newcomer Dougie Hamilton has made an immediate impact on the blue line, as has Ryan Graves, who has 3 assists in four games.

Rookie Jack Hughes is still the Devils’ point-leader, scoring 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in two games, despite being placed on the injured reserve for a dislocated shoulder after a 4-3 win over the Seattle Kraken on Oct. 19. Right below him, and still healthy and in the line up is Pavel Zacha, also with 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in four games. Hughes isn’t the only debilitating blow; the Devils are testing their goaltending depth early, with both Jonathan Bernier and Mackenzie Blackwood out due to injury. Bernier has an undisclosed lower-body injury, Blackwood has a heel injury, and no timeline has been released for their return.

The Devils’ injuries might be showing — their Oct. 21 game ended in a 4-1 loss to the Capitals, and they narrowly eked 2-1 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 23.

New York Islanders (2-2-1)

I’ll be honest, there’s not much to say about the Islanders. The team isn’t known for their exciting games (playing Barry Trotz’s patented modern-day trap will do that), but they also haven’t dominated their games the way they might have been expected after their repeat playoffs appearances.

The Islanders lost their first two games on Oct. 14 (6-3, Carolina) and Oct. 16 (5-1, Florida), but won their third game on Oct. 19 (4-1, against Chicago). The Islander’s top scorers aren’t producing yet (the season is still early), but the current point leader is Oliver Wahlstrom, with 3 goals in five games. The Islanders won their Oct. 23 game 3-0 over the tanking Arizona Coyotes.

In other Islanders news, Mike Bossy, Hall of Famer, former Islander and hockey analyst on TVA Sports, has been diagnosed with lung cancer, and is taking a necessary break from his role in order to receive treatment. In an open letter on the TVA Sports’ website, Bossy said:

“I can tell you that I intend to fight with the determination and the enthusiasm that you have seen me display on the ice and in my game. That same determination that helped me achieve my dreams and my goals, the one that propelled me to the top of my sport when I was still playing.”

Bossy holds the Islanders’ franchise records for first in goals (573), second in points (1,126), third in assists (553) and seventh in games played (752).

New York Rangers (4-1-1)

The Rangers lost their first two games of the season (Oct. 13, 5-1 versus Washington, and Oct. 14, 3-2 versus Dallas), but they’ve gone on a three-game win streak to round out the week.

Sammy Blais looks like he hasn’t quite fit in for the Rangers yet, even as the rest of the line up settles in. He took three penalties against the Capitals, was scratched against the Stars but returned to the roster Oct. 16, in time for a 3-1 win over the Canadiens.

Goaltender Igor Shesterkin has begun the season with a .953 SV% and 1.47 GAA over four games, and Mika Zibanejad is leading the team with 6 points (1 goal, 5 assists) over six games. The Rangers’ power play has been a little iffy and their young talent slow to get started, but even then the team has won their last three games; Oct. 18 (2-1 OT, Toronto), Oct. 21 (3-1, Nashville) and Oct. 23 (3-2, Ottawa).

Philadelphia Flyers (2-1-1)

The Flyers haven’t quite answered their goaltending question in their three game start. Carter Hart was in net for their season-opener loss, 5-4 in a shootout to the Vancouver Canucks. Last season, Hart struggled with confidence and consistency (a familiar tune for Martin Jones), and this is a make-or-break year for him to prove that he can be what the Flyers need in net. He’s had great periods and not so great periods in the two games he’s played, and he currently holds a .921 SV% and 2.43 GAA.

In contrast, Martin Jones, who was the San Jose Sharks’ much maligned (unfairly at times) goaltender who is searching for a bounce back year with the Flyers, which he sorely needs and deserves. Hart was in net on Oct. 18 for a 6-1 win over Seattle, but Jones looked sharp two days later in a 6-3 win over the Boston Bruins.

Just like last year, Joel Farabee is off to a hot start for the Flyers, with 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) over four games. Right below him is new addition, Cam Atkinson, who has put up 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist). Among the injured reserve is a slew of young talent; Wade Allison (high ankle sprain, no timeline), Tanner Laczynski (hip injury, will likely miss the season), and Sam Morin (knee surgery, out minimum six to eight weeks). Also on the injured list is Kevin Hayes, who will be out six to eight weeks following abdominal surgery on Sept. 21.

The Flyers continue to trade wins and losses, with a 4-2 win over the Florida Panthers on Saturday.

Pittsburgh Penguins (3-0-2)

The Penguins have exceeded expectations, even with the absence of their superstar talents to injury. They opened their season on Oct. 12 against Tampa, spoiling their banner night with a 6-2 win. They lost 5-4 in overtime to the Florida Panthers next, but despite the loss, Jeff Carter earned his 400th career goal.

Carter soon joined the Penguins’ injury parade, getting added to the COVID Protocol list on Oct. 21. Carter joined Sidney Crosby (wrist surgery, out minimum six weeks), Evgeni Malkin (knee injury, out minimum two months), Bryan Rust (undisclosed lower body injury) and Tristan Jarry (COVID Protocol).

Despite their top line being moonlighted by their fourth, the Pens won 5-2 against the Chicago Blackhawks on Oct. 16. After two days off, they lost 2-1 in a shootout against the Dallas Stars. If you want to feel really confused about how the Penguins’ season is going, Danton Heinen (3 goals, 2 assists) and Drew O’Connor (3 goals, 2 assists) are leading the team in points, over five games.

Devoid of their top line the Pittsburgh Penguins slaughtered the (surprisingly?) struggling Maple Leafs on Oct. 23, squashing Toronto 7-1, because of course they did.

Columbus Blue Jackets (3-2-0)

After an emotional tribute to Matiss Kivlenieks, the Blue Jackets blasted through the Arizona Coyotes for an 8-2 win in their season opener on Oct. 14. The Seattle Kraken put up more of a fight than the tanking ‘Yotes two days later, but the Jackets pulled out a 2-1 overtime win.

If there’s one thing noticeable about the Jackets, it’s that this is a team built on hard work instead of superstar talent. Oliver Bjorkstrand and Patrik Laine are making a bid to be the Jackets’ top-line talent; Bjorkstrand has 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) and Laine has 6 points (2 goals, 4 assists) over five games so far.

Forward Max Domi, who was looking for a bounce-back season with the Jackets will have to wait to hit the ice, after being placed on Injured Reserve for a fractured rib, which will put him out for a minimum of two to four weeks. Domi was injured in the Oct. 19 game, which was the team’s first loss of the season, 4-1 against the Detroit Red Wings.

The Jackets won their next game 3-2 in overtime against the Islanders, due in part to the great start goaltender Elvis Merzlikins has gotten off to. Merzlikins has posted a .947 SV% and 1.63 GAA in three games.

On Saturday, the Jackets dropped 5-1 to the Hurricanes.