Metropolitan Division Weekly: Penguins win 10, still in 4th

Plus Ovechkin goes cold while Hughes heats up.

Long time, no talk folks. The last time we checked in on the Metropolitan Division, it was the first week of December. One month and one COVID break later and we’re back in action.

While we can’t cover the entire month, we can take a look at what’s happened since the Christmas break.

Carolina Hurricanes (24-7-2)

The Hurricanes continue to show why they’re tops in the NHL, but a showdown with a fellow top contender, the Florida Panthers, proved to be too much for the ‘Canes. A 4-3 overtime loss on Saturday proved that Carolina has more work to do if they want to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in June.

Leading up to the showdown, the Hurricanes beat another top contender, the Calgary Flames on Thursday. Brady Skjei netted a goal and two assists in the 6-3 win.

Carolina’s Jan. 3 game against the Toronto Maple Leafs was postponed. Prior to that, the Hurricanes reeled off two wins, a Dec. 30, 4-0 shutout of the Montreal Canadiens, and a 7-4 comeback victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on New Year’s Day. In the latter victory, Carolina put seven unanswered goals, with Steven Lorentz and Skjei leading the way with two goals apiece.

Keep an eye on Carolina’s goaltender Antti Raanta, he’s currently day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Columbus Blue Jackets (16-16-1)

To Columbus, where the Blue Jackets returned from the Christmas break with a 4-3 shootout win over the Nashville Predators on Dec. 30. The great end to 2021 didn’t carry over to 2022 when the Columbus squandered that 4-0 lead we just mentioned to the Hurricanes on Saturday.

Things got worse on Tuesday, when the Blue Jackets surrendered another seven goals, this time in a 7-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Columbus wrapped up the week with a home and home series against the New Jersey Devils. They lost the first one 3-1 on Thursday, but managed to snap the three-game skid on Saturday with a 4-3 win. Oliver Bjorkstrand tallied two goals in that game.

A couple of injuries of note for Columbus: top defenseman Zach Werenski is out on COVID Protocol and goaltender Elvis Merzlikins is dealing with a lower-body injury.

New Jersey Devils (14-16-5)

Jack Hughes is back and he’s playing like a man on a mission.

Coming out of the holiday break, the Devils beat the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Dec. 29. Hughes scored a goal and two assists in that game. He headed to the new year by powering the Devils to a 6-5 overtime win over the Edmonton Oilers. Hughes scored two goals, including the game winner and tacked on an assist for good measure.

The Devils continued the good vibes with a 4-3 overtime win against the Washington Capitals on Sunday. This time it was Nico Hischier with the game winner and Hughes with the helper.

A 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday was followed with that aforementioned 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets on Thursday. The Devils finished the week with a 4-3 loss to the Blue Jackets.

Hughes is starting to show why the Devils signed him to that big deal a few months ago.

It’s easy to forget the kid is just 20.

Meanwhile, Andreas Johnsson is on COVID Protocol and top defenseman Dougie Hamilton is out for the foreseeable future. Hamilton is set to have jaw surgery after taking a puck to the face on Jan. 2.

New York Islanders (10-12-6)

Let’s first take a minute to wish Islanders Head Coach Barry Trotz the best. He missed several days with the team after his mom passed. Condolences to him and his family.

On the ice, the Islanders are one of the teams hardest hit by COVID and its ripple effect throughout the league. The team returned from the break to find that its Dec. 27 game against Buffalo and the Dec. 29 game against the Detroit Red Wings were both postponed.

The Islanders returned to action on Dec. 30 with a 4-1 win over Buffalo and then claimed a 3-2 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 1. Noah Dobson scored the game winner.

However, the Islanders are on another pause as of Tuesday. Games against the Seattle Kraken, Vancouver Canucks, Oilers and Calgary Flames have all been postponed. The Islanders have played just 28 games this season and the NHL is trying to make some of them up, but there are a lot still to be played.

New York Rangers (23-9-4)

The Rangers continue to put together a contender-like season, but they’re not Cup favorites just yet. Coming out of the holiday break, the Rangers lost 4-3 to the Panthers on Dec. 29. The team didn’t fare much better two days later against the Lightning, losing 4-3 in a shootout.

A return to play in 2022 saw the Rangers flip the tables on Tampa. On Sunday, Mika Zibanejad scored a hat trick and Igor Shesterkin stopped 38 pucks for the 4-0 shutout win. The next day, the Rangers beat Edmonton 4-1, this time with Alexander Georgiev making 34 saves.

A visit to Vegas on Wednesday ended with a 5-1 loss, but Chris Kreider continued his All-Star worthy season and scored his 21st goal of the year. The Rangers wrapped up the week with a 4-1 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

The team will have to rely on goaltender Georgiev for a while. Shesterkin entered COVID Protocol on Friday. Meanwhile, Artemi Panarin is also on COVID Protocol as of Jan. 3.

Philadelphia Flyers (13-15-6)

The Flyers aren’t healthy and their season appears to be slipping away. As of this writing, there are 14 members of the Flyers on injured reserve. Sean Couturier is one of the latest adds; he’s week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Players already on the list include Ivan Provorov, Claude Giroux and Derick Brassard.

Philly has not won since its Dec. 29 overtime win against the Kraken. Following the win that kicked off the team’s road trip, the Flyers reeled off three losses. A 3-2 overtime loss to San Jose on Dec. 30, a 6-3 loss to the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 1, and a 4-1 loss to the Ducks on Jan. 4.

Home cooking didn’t help. The Flyers returned to the Wells Fargo Center only to lose to cross-state rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-2 on Thursday.  The losing streak stretched to five games on Saturday when the Flyers lost to the Sharks 3-2 in overtime.

Pittsburgh Penguins (20-9-5)

The Metro Division is a funny thing. The Penguins won 10 in a row prior to Saturday night’s 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars and still, the team is ranked fourth in the division. Food for thought.

The top scorer for the Penguins isn’t named Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin — it’s a kid named Evan Rodrigues. Rodrigues scored a hat trick on Sunday in an 8-5 win over the Sharks, but then so did Bryan Rust.

Rust and Rodrigues were at it again in Pittsburgh’s 5-3 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday. Rust scored two goals in the win, Rodrigues had one. It was a similar result on Thursday, when Rust notched two goals and Rodrigues netted one in the team’s 6-2 win over Philly.

Jeff Carter is day-to-day and the return of Malkin from injury is still unknown.

The Penguins made a small trade. The team sent fourth-round pick in the 2014 draft, Sam Lafferty, to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Alexander Nylander. Nylander was drafted at eighth overall in the 2016 draft by the Buffalo Sabres.

Washington Capitals (20-7-9)

The Capitals haven’t won in 2022 and Alex Ovechkin is having trouble finding the back of the net.

After a Dec. 29, 5-3 win over the Predators and a Dec. 31, 3-1 win over Detroit, the Capitals lost three in a row. The last time Ovechkin scored was when he netted two goals against the Red Wings.

The Capitals lost 4-3 in overtime to the Devils on Sunday. The team’s schedule game against the Canadiens on Tuesday was postponed. On Friday, the Caps lost 5-1 to St. Louis, then followed it up with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.

Despite going cold, Ovechkin has 24 goals this season. The team is without T.J. Oshie and Nicklas Backstrom, both of whom are on the injured list with “illness.”