Sunday, October 9, 2016

2016 NHL Preview: Metropolitan Division

             We move on to the Metropolitan Division, home of the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Can the Pens become the first repeat champions since the Red Wings of the late-90's? Can the Capitals and Alex Ovechkin finally get over the conference quarterfinal hump and make it to the Stanley Cup? What other teams will emerge from this cutthroat division? Here's the breakdown.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins: The defending champs look to pick up where they left off. Pittsburgh is well-rounded enough to repeat as Stanley Cup Champs. They still have plenty of scoring options to go around; the Pens were third in the NHL last season in goals per game with 2.94.
  2. Washington Capitals: During the regular season, the Caps looked like a complete team. They had goaltending (Braden Holtby had a 2.20 GAA, good for fifth in the NHL). They had a top-notch goal scorer (Alex Ovechkin topped the NHL in goals with 50). Then, the conference quarterfinals happened. Again. The Caps were ousted in the second round by the Penguins 4-2. If Washington wants to make it to the Stanley Cup, they'll need Ovechkin and crew to start coming up with some big goals in the playoffs. 
  3. Philadelphia Flyers: Last season's biggest surprise looks to capitalize on their fortunes. Thanks to the arrival of upbeat defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, the Flyers managed to make the playoffs and give the Capitals a slight scare in the first round. If they want to continue their success, goaltending will be a big thing for Philadelphia to address.
  4. New York Rangers: Is the Rangers' window of contention closing? Henrik Lundqvist (age 34) and Rick Nash (age 32) aren't getting younger, so a transitional period is near for New York. They're in an interesting situation where they have plenty of older players, but plenty of younger players. Players like Ryan McDonagh and Mats Zuccarello will dictate how the Rangers do in future years.
  5. New Jersey Devils: The Devils added young left wing Taylor Hall to their team in hopes that Hall can improve their deadbeat scoring (Last in the NHL in goals per game with 2.2). New Jersey actually had a fairly solid power play (ninth in the NHL with a 19.9% PP) and penalty kill (eighth in the NHL with a 83% PK). They also have a pretty good goaltender in Cory Schneider (2.15 GAA, .924 save %). New Jersey's biggest problem will be depth, for they are a top-heavy team.
  6. New York Islanders: Losing Frans Nielsen will hurt this team, but the Isles did pick up Andrew Ladd (25 goals, 21 assists) to accompany John Taveres on the offensive front. A great penalty kill was what helped this team (fourth in the NHL at 84.5%), but will the losses hurt this team even further?
  7. Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus was a bit of a let-down last year, wallowing out of a playoff spot and into near-cellar dweller territory. A big part of it was the amount of penalties the Jackets took. Columbus took 317 minor penalties last year, fourth-most in the NHL. If Columbus is to be taken seriously, they need to stay out of the sin bin.
  8. Carolina Hurricanes: Relocation rumors. A near-empty arena on a nightly basis. Ownership in turmoil. A lackluster team. It's going to be a long season for 'Canes fans. There might be hope with the young players and Teuvo Teravainen. But yeah, it's gonna probably be a long season.

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