Metropolitan Division Weekly: Evgeni Malkin returns for Penguins

Malkin it for all it’s worth, he scored twice in his season debut.

Anyone get off work early enough this week to catch any Metro games? I did — including the two that mattered most. A big star made his return after long-time injury, Elvis Merzlikins had a polarizing week and the Philadelphia Flyers struggled to stop their skid.

Also, what did John Tortorella have to say, this time about All-Star Jack Hughes of the New Jersey Devils? All that and then some this week in the Metropolitan Division.

Carolina Hurricanes (35-8-2)

The ‘Canes split the week with games against the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Vancouver Canucks. On Thursday, they produced everything except a goal, getting blanked by the Blue Jackets 6-0. They fared better visiting Vancouver, where they came away with a 4-1 win.

Jordan Martinook returned from injury against the Canucks, after missing 12 games, while defenseman Joey Keane and recently-signed goaltender Jack LaFontaine made season debuts. Andrei Svechnikov netted two assists and goaltender Frederik Andersen bounced back with 30 saves. He was pulled against Columbus after allowing 4 goals on 32 shots.

Andersen and Sebastian Aho were both nominated as All-Stars. Aho currently leads the team with 38 points. Derek Stepan joined the NHL @TheRink podcast recently and had nothing but great things to say about his teammate: “He’s a competitive kid. He wants to win. He’s a great leader.”

As of Saturday, the team has killed 35 consecutive penalties, which is a mark under their 36-streak record. Antti Raanta is still day-to-day with an upper-body injury and Jaccob Slavin is in COVID-19 Protocol.

Columbus Blue Jackets (17-18-1)

The Blue Jackets are feeling the rough and tumble of the NHL work week after losing, winning, and then losing again. The fell 4-2 to the Chicago Blackhawks on Tuesday, shutout Carolina on Thursday, and were on the wrong side of a Saturday night sizzle reel against the Florida Panthers, who beat them 9-2.

The player whose performance has been perhaps the most indicative of how the Jackets have managed is goaltender Elvis Merzlikins, who was back this week from injury. He made all 31 stops against Carolina before being exploited by 4 goals on 15 shots against the Panthers, and was thusly pulled.

Boone Jenner continued a four-game point streak this week with two goals and an assist. Gustav Nyquist put up two separate two-point games. In Thursday’s game, the team recorded the second-fastest three goals in franchise history.

Alexandre Texier returned from COVID-19 Protocol, but Jakub Voracek and Sillinger entered on Thursday and Saturday, respectively.

New Jersey Devils (14-18-5)

All teams are still in the afterglow of 104 postponed contests due to COVID-19, but maybe no team felt it more this week than the Devils. They played in one of three originally scheduled games this week and could not find a point. They were defeated by the New York Islanders on Thursday, 3-2.

Yegor Sharangovich and Nathan Bastian both scored for the Devils. They are both on point streaks: Sharangovich has points in his last five games, and Bastian in his last three. Goaltender Jon Gillies appeared in net for the loss, since Mackenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier were both unavailable — Blackwood, who is in COVID-19 Protocol; and Bernier, who is out for the season with a hip injury.

The goaltending corps have been particularly exhausted due to health and injuries this season, as back-ups Akira Schmid and Nico Daws were also unavailable. This gave way for the Devils to tap Kyle Shapiro as the emergency back-up goaltender, who last played in 2018 for New England College in the NCAA Division III.

Jack Hughes was selected as an All-Star, and has been performing well in light of an eight-year, $64M extension signed in Nov. 2021. He was also recently featured in ESPN’s ‘The Point,’ which highlights the player as a budding star in the game.

John Tortorella again took to live television to voice his opinion on it. He had mostly nice things to say ... um, kind of.

Also injured was A.J. Greer, who left the game against the Islanders. Dougie Hamilton remains out with an injury to the jaw dating back to Jan. 4.

New York Islanders (11-13-6)

The Islanders beat the Devils in their return after an 11-day layoff, to go 4-0-1 on the homestand in the new UBS Arena. They could not do the same against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night and were shutout, 2-0.

Adam Pelech scored his first goal against the Devils and was named to the All-Star Game. Mathew Barzal is on the ballot for ‘Last Man In,’ and had himself a goal that same night. Semyon Varlamov stopped 34 of 35 against the Caps, but the Isles could not convert in the waning minutes with the extra man and Varlamov pulled.

He still had some pretty neat saves and Barzal a pretty neat goal.

Ross Johnston was suspended on Thursday because of an illegal check to the head on Devils forward A.J. Greer. He has served one game of his three-game suspension. Kyle Palmieri remains out with an injury sustained in December 2021. Fans anticipate Ryan Pulock’s return, which becomes more tangible, as his timetable is now five weeks.

New York Rangers (25-10-4)

The Rangers are waxing ‘best team in the league’ after winning two of three on the road: 3-0 against the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, and 3-2 against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. They also dropped 3-1 against the Los Angeles Kings earlier in the week, but are first place in the division.

Everyone and their Madison Square mothers are scoring for the Rangers, but none more than Chris Kreider, who tallied three goals this week. Braden Schneider, who was picked 19th overall in 2020, scored a goal in his NHL debut against the Sharks (is that just a thing now?) and Igor Shesterkin, in the same game, stood on his head with 37 saves.

The anticipated welcome of a familiar face, Barclay Goodrow was deferred, as the now Ranger was placed in COVID-19 Protocol along with Alexis Lafreniere. But one Shark-turned-Ranger did return in Jonny Brodzinski, who once played 44 games for the San Jose Barracuda and a handful of games for the big club in 2019-20.

There’s also Anthony Greco. He never played for the Sharks, but scrupulously sat on the organization’s payroll in 2019-20. It was his season debut, playing against a former team. It seems to be coming full circle for the Queens, New York native, whose mother told the New York Post that he is playing for his childhood team with the Rangers.

Philadelphia Flyers (13-17-7)

There always seems to be one team on a skid every week, and this time it’s the Flyers. Not that it’s been just this week, as they have lost seven straight dating back to Dec. 30, 2021. In the last few, their misery came at the hands of the Boston Bruins and the Rangers, who combined to give the Flyers back-to-back 3-2 losses.

Cam Atkinson continued a five-game point streak with a goal and an assist on Thursday against the Bruins, but the streak ended on Saturday against the Rangers. Cam York scored his first career goal.

Ivan Provorov is back from injury and Claude Giroux returned from COVID-19 Protocol, but the Flyers are still dealing with multiple health-related issues: Patrick Brown suffered injury this week, added to Derick Brassard, Sean Couturier and Ryan Ellis last week.

Noah Cates, a Flyers prospect, was selected to represent the United States on the men’s Olympic ice hockey team, which will compete in the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. Cates, 22, currently plays for University of Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA.

Pittsburgh Penguins (22-10-5)

The Penguins won two of three against the Pacific Division, but continue their road trip against the Vegas Golden Knights tomorrow night. They beat the Anaheim Ducks, 4-1, to start the week, but were frustrated by the Kings on Thursday, who ousted the Pens, 6-2. They found their momentum again Saturday night against the Sharks, winning 2-1 in overtime.

Goaltender Louis Domingue made his debut for the Pens, stopping 40 shots against the Sharks. All-Star Jake Guentzel continues to fly. Though he did not have a point on Thursday against the Kings, it was the first time he was kept off the scoresheet since Nov. 11, 2021. He got back on track with a goal and an assist against the Sharks.

Evgeni Malkin made his season debut against the Ducks, and reminded us all of the kind of player he is, scoring two goals and adding an assist.

His appearance this season marks the 16th consecutive season that he, Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang have played on the same team, the most ever by three teammates. Malkin had to undergo knee surgery in June 2021 and had missed 34 games on the season.

Zach Aston-Reese, Casey DeSmith and Danton Heinen were added into COVID-19 Protocol. Jason Zucker remains week-to-week with a lower-body injury.

Washington Capitals (21-8-9)

The Caps stopped a four-game skid with a 2-0 victory against the Isles on Saturday. That was after a 7-3 loss to the Bruins to start the week. Nicklas Backstrom returned after illness against the Bruins, and so did T.J. Oshie, but the latter left Saturday’s game after suffering an upper-body injury.

Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin both scored against the Isles. Evgeny Kuznetsov is on a three-game point streak as of Saturday. Vitek Vanecek made his first start since Dec. 19 2021, and recorded his first shutout on the season.

Matt Grzelcyk — not a Washington Capital, but he owned the team as he had a five-point game when the Caps fell to him and the Bruins. You can’t always be on the right side of a great highlight.

Conor Sheary, who had two goals against Boston, joined Carl Hagelin and Dmitry Orlov in COVID-19 Protocol this week.