The Early Struggles of the New Metropolitan Division
New contributor Scott Huntington takes a look at the NHL’s Metropolitan Division in the early days of the new new NHL era.
I remember it like it was last month (because it was), all the radio and blog pundits were heralding the new Metropolitan Division; a bastion of hard-nosed, rivalry-filled, hate-fueled East Coast Hockey chock full of NHL stars and classic franchises… and that team from Ohio.
Remember how we all said “ah, there’s no way the _____ (Flyers/Devils/Rangers) will struggle as much as LAST year…” or more often, “there’s NO way either of those former Southeast teams will measure up to the brutal brand of nastiness that the Old Atlantic hashed out. I was one of the loudest, proclaiming that the Capitals would really have to work to see the playoffs, and the Hurricanes may never see them again. I honestly believed that last season was a fluke for the Flyers, which is very hard for me to admit, as a Penguins fan.
But, here we are, a few short weeks into the season and the Metro stinks as bad as a Metro bus in Philly. 7 games in, and the bottom three teams (Philly, NYR, and NJ) have 2 wins COMBINED. NJ still has yet to win in regulation, and somehow is third from last by scraping a few charity points from OTL’s. Only one team, Pittsburgh, has more than 2 wins. Compare the numbers of the other divisions and the Metro is a joke. By contrast, the NEW Atlantic is scary good. Toronto, Detroit, Tampa and Montreal round out the top 4 with 6, 5, 4 & 4 wins respectively. We’re not even gonna look West, because that just makes this even sadder.
So, what the heck is the problem? Letâ€™s take a Top-Down approach, team-by-team, and figure out some issues. Hang on kids, itâ€™s a quick ride to the bottom….
PITTSBURGH: The Pens are right where everyone expected them to be, and honestly, may be doing better than some predicted. Can they stay healthy this year? Crosbyâ€™s on fire but he wonâ€™t score many goals from the therapy pool. How long will the Fleury magic last, you ask? (till the post-season, har har har…) Good question. Bigger question; who will back him up? Zatkoff gave up 6 against the hapless Panthers, so GM Shero better get on the phone.
CAROLINA: 3 overtime losses makes this team look a little better than they are. Neither Staal brother (especially Jordan) is really pulling their weight yet, but one expects they will soon. The defense here is really the Achilles Heel, and a usually strong Cam Ward is starting to show his years. They have the magic to keep them in close games, but taking 1 point instead of two can only get you so far.
NY ISLANDERS: Honestly expected more out of this crew. Haven’t seen enough of them to point out a major weakness, other than possibly goaltending. In their last OTL, Nabakov looked really slow in the shootout, not making a single save.
COLUMBUS: “You’re off the case, BOBROVSKY!” Bobs isn’t looking like the Vezina winner he was last season, and this offense of ex-Rangers is showing shades of the current Rangers team. They’ve lost some close ones, but I expect them to be playoff bound (assuming anyone but Pittsburgh makes it from the Metro) when the time comes.
WASHINGTON: This team is every blogger’s “I Told You So.” Lots of people predicted they wonâ€™t do well when they are no longer cakewalking over basement dwelling Southeast teams. The problem goes deeper than that. Braden Holtby has not really defined himself as a franchise starter. Sure, there are flashes of greatness, but nothing consistent. Neuvirth isn’t an overly reliable backup, nor is he starting material. None of this is helped by a pathetic defense, which has basically rented out the space in front of the crease for any team who wants it. Ovechkin is on fire, but can he ALWAYS put the team on his shoulders?
NEW JERSEY: So many moves in the offseason, so little positive result. They’ve only scored 11 goals. That ties them for 3rd worst in the league. This is a team that lacks identity. Schneider was a huge pick up, but he isn’t fitting in well yet. Jagr will surely bail before the trade deadline. Who else do they have? You can’t tell me the financial issues, and the Kovalchuck defection hasn’t shaken this team a bit.
NY RANGERS: Speaking of not scoring goals, the blueshirts only have 11, i.e. three more than rookie Tomas Hertl. To compound that, they’ve let up a whopping 25 goals, for a league worst -14 goal differential. How does a team with Lundqvist in net suffer like that? *hint, itâ€™s not the new pads. Many have speculated that Hank has benefitted from enormous goalie gear, and this year it’ll come back to bite him. Seeing as he only lost size in thigh rise, that doesn’t excuse the majority of goals that have NOT gone 5-hole. The Rangers stink. Everything from offensive stars not producing (or being hurt), to defensive breakdowns. Coach Alain Vigneault probably isn’t the guy to light a fire under their butts either.
PHILADELPHIA: It would be a lot shorter of a summary to write what they are doing RIGHT, but alas, here goes. Does anyone reeeeeeeally think that Emery and Mason are a good goal-tending duo? I loudly proclaimed last season that Emery was often out of position, and benefited from a stellar team and a lot of good bounces. How dumb do you feel when you get rid of your back up goalie (Bobrovsky) trade him to another team (Columbus) and he’s so much better than you end up trading again for HIS backup (Mason)? Well, then you know how Ed Snider feels all the time. I wonâ€™t pretend that Paul Holmgren has any real authority in his role as GM, and I’ll say that Snider is killing this team. There is so much turmoil and bad decision making off the ice that it is ruining a possible contender ON the ice. Don’t expect Craig Berube to be any more than an “interim” coach either. A few more losses and he’s out the door too, and probably off to a much better career.
So, does the Metro get better? Maybe. In fact, it has a lot of potential to get worse.
Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and long-time hockey fan. He currently lives in PA and is co-creator and admin of the hockey group Soft Dump.Â Scott will posting his thoughts on the NHL throughout the season but you can find him onÂ Twitter @smhuntingtonÂ