Metropolitan Division sorting out spots behind Capitals -

Metropolitan Division sorting out spots behind Capitals -
With the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game over and the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline on Feb. 24 four weeks away, is taking a look at where all 31 teams stand heading into the stretch drive of the regular season. Here is the Metropolitan Division.

Record: 33-11-5, 71 points, first place in Metropolitan

MVP: John Carlson -- The favorite for the Norris Trophy, Carlson leads NHL defensemen with 60 points (13 goals, 47 assists) and is plus-17. He has six game-winning goals and is averaging 1.22 points per game in 24:45 of ice time.

Unsung hero: Ilya Samsonov -- He leads rookie goalies in wins (15) and GAA (2.06) and is second in save percentage (.927). Samsonov has won 10 straight games and outperformed veteran Braden Holtby, who can become an unrestricted free agent after the season.

Biggest need -- The Capitals have been the class of the NHL this season and don t have many, if any flaws. They may add a depth player for another Cup run but don t have any glaring needs.

Second-half prognosis -- Washington has been one of the best and underrated teams again this season and is in prime position to win the Metropolitan and perhaps even the Presidents Trophy. The Capitals, who won the Stanley Cup in 2018, figure to be among the favorites to win it again this season.

Record: 31-14-5, 67 points, second place in Metropolitan

MVP: Tristan Jarry -- The 24-year-old goalie, who had played 29 NHL games before this season, stepped up when starter Matt Murray began struggling. Jarry is 16-8-1 and is among the NHL leaders with a 2.16 GAA, a .929 save percentage and three shutouts, earning a spot in the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game. He s allowed two goals or fewer in 15 of his 25 appearances.

Unsung hero: Bryan Rust -- He s thrived in an elevated top-six forward role with 43 points (21 goals, 22 assists) in 36 games, already an NHL career best. Rust is averaging 19:55 of ice time, up from 17:14 last season, and was a key part of the offense while Sidney Crosby was sidelined for 28 games after core muscle surgery.

Biggest need -- More production from the power play. With all their talent, the Penguins should be better than 17th in the NHL (19.6 percent). Pittsburgh ranked in the top five in each of the previous three seasons.

Second-half prognosis -- The Penguins have been hit hard by injuries and are without several key players, including forwards Jake Guentzel (shoulder) and Nick Bjugstad (core muscle surgery), and defenseman Justin Schultz (lower body). However, they should be able extend the longest active playoff streak in the NHL to 14 seasons.

Record: 29-15-5, 63 points, third place in Metropolitan

MVP: Semyon Varlamov -- Signed as a free agent July 1, Varlamov has provided the Islanders with exactly what they were splitting goalie starts with Thomas Greiss. He is 15-8-4 with a .915 save percentage and two shutouts in 31 games (27 starts).

Unsung hero: Casey Cizikas -- The fourth-line center does it all for the Islanders. Not only does Cizikas have 10 goals, he s second in face-off winning percentage (.541), second in hits (117) and tied with Cal Clutterbuck and Brock Nelson for first in blocked shots among forwards (36). He also leads Islanders forwards in average shorthanded time on ice (2:28).

Biggest need -- It s anyone s guess what the Islanders may do prior to the NHL Trade Deadline, but don t be surprised if they inquire about adding a top-six forward.

Second-half prognosis -- A 17-game point streak (15-0-2) from Oct. 12-Nov. 23 gave the Islanders a leg up early on, but they ve come back to earth. New York is 13-12-4 in its past 29 games and is clinging to third place in the Metropolitan. With a logjam in the division and wild card races, a return to the playoffs is no sure thing.

Record: 27-16-8, 60 points, fourth place in Metropolitan

MVP: Joonas Korpisalo -- After the departure of Sergei Bobrovsky in the offseason, Korpisalo took the starting job in goal and ran with it. He s 17-10-4 with a 2.49 GAA, a .913 save percentage and two shutouts, and was selected as the Blue Jackets representative for the 2020 Honda NHL All-Star Game. However, a knee injury kept him out of the game and will keep him on the sidelines for a few more weeks.

Unsung hero: Elvis Merzlikins -- He started the season 0-4-4 with a 3.41 GAA and .889 save percentage in a backup role but has blossomed since taking the starting job after Korpisalo was injured. Since then, the 25-year-old rookie goalie from Latvia is 9-2-0 with a 1.65 GAA, .951 save percentage and three shutouts in 11 games to help Columbus get back into the playoff race.

Biggest need -- Better health. Columbus has lost more than 250 man-games to injury, the most in the NHL, and has six players on injured reserve.

Second-half prognosis -- If the Blue Jackets can improve their scoring and power play, they should stay in contention for a wild card. A top-three spot in the division might be a stretch, but it s not impossible. Columbus is tied with Boston for the second-stingiest defense in the NHL at 2.51 goals-against per game.

Record: 29-18-3, 61 points, fifth place in Metropolitan

MVP: Dougie Hamilton -- He was fourth among NHL defensemen with 40 points and tied for second with 14 goals before being sidelined indefinitely with a broken left fibula sustained Jan. 16. His plus-30 is second in the NHL.

Unsung hero: James Reimer -- Carolina s backup goalie has gone 11-6-1 with a 2.47 GAA, .921 save percentage and three shutouts in 20 games (19 starts). He has exceeded expectations when filling in for Petr Mrazek.

Biggest need -- With Hamilton out for the foreseeable future, the Hurricanes may try to add a defenseman.

Second-half prognosis -- Carolina should remain in the mix for a wild card and could be a top-three team in the division. The return of forward Justin Williams should give the Hurricanes a boost, but it may be difficult for them to return to the Eastern Conference Final.

Record: 27-17-6, 60 points, sixth place in Metropolitan

MVP: Sean Couturier -- The center is tied with forward Travis Konecny for the Flyers lead with 43 points (13 goals, 30 assists) and is second with a plus-15 rating. His .583 face-off winning percentage ranks third among all NHL players (minimum 500 face-offs taken). Couturier leads Flyers forwards in ice time per game (20:02), including more than two minutes each on the power play and penalty kill.

Unsung hero: Ivan Provorov -- He has been incredibly durable, having not missed a game in his four NHL seasons. Provorov is solid in his own zone, leads Flyers defensemen in points with 25 (nine goals, 16 assists), and is eighth in the NHL in ice time per game (24:54).

Biggest need -- Improvement away from home. The Flyers are 17-4-4 at Wells Fargo Center but 10-13-2 on the road.

Second-half prognosis -- First year coach Alain Vigneault has done a nice job with the Flyers and they re likely to remain in the playoff race to the end, though their inconsistences may end up costing them a spot in the postseason.

Record: 23-21-4, 50 points, seventh place in Metropolitan

MVP: Artemi Panarin -- The prized free agent of the offseason signed a seven-year, $81.5 million contract and has lived up it. The left wing is fifth in the NHL in points with 68 (26 goals, 42 assists) and likely will surpass his NHL career highs in goals (31) and points (87). His plus-22 rating shows he s been responsible at both ends of the ice.

Unsung hero: Tony DeAngelo -- With 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) in 48 games, DeAngelo leads Rangers defensemen, a group that includes offense-minded Adam Fox (27 points; six goals, 21 assists) and Jacob Trouba (23 points; seven goals, 16 assists). DeAngelo has eight multipoint games this season.

Biggest need -- The Rangers need to find an answer for their three-goalie rotation (Lundqvist, Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev) -- and the sooner, the better. They ll likely want young talent, not draft picks, in a trade.

Second-half prognosis -- The Rangers are 11 points behind the Hurricanes for the second wild card from the East with a handful of teams they must pass to get there. It s likely New York misses the playoffs for the third straight season.

Record: 17-24-7, 41 points, eighth place in Metropolitan

MVP: Mackenzie Blackwood -- The 23-year-old ranks second among rookie goalies with 14 wins and has made 31 starts for the Devils this season. He has a more-than-respectable 2.96 GAA and .905 save percentage and has been a nice surprise for a team that failed to live up to high expectations after a busy offseason.

Unsung hero: Blake Coleman -- He s three goals from his NHL high of 22, set last season, and has been a spark for the Devils. The forward is plus-2 on a team with a minus-45 goal differential and is tied for the NHL lead with three shorthanded goals.

Biggest need -- A scorer. The trade of forward Taylor Hall to the Arizona Coyotes on Dec. 16 has left a void in the offense. New Jersey has three players (Coleman, forward Kyle Palmieri and center Nico Hischier) who have scored at least 10 goals, and Palmieri is top with 31 points.

Second-half prognosis -- After a season that began with optimism but quickly turned sour, the best-case scenario for New Jersey would be winning the NHL Draft Lottery and getting the No. 1 pick for the third time in four seasons.
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