Through 30 games of the 2017-18 NHL season, the Carolina Hurricanes have two problems.
The first is that they have not been good enough. The team’s 31 points in 30 games is on pace for 85 points which is two short of its 2016-17 total and destined to be about 10 points short of a playoff berth regardless of how the competition shapes up.
The second problem is that the competition in the Metropolitan Division has played well through 30ish games. Worth noting is that the Hurricanes would still be below the playoff cut line and chasing the same teams in the Metro if they were instead in that Atlantic Division, but the vantage point sitting in fourth place would feel much better than their current eighth.
With enough games to evaluate teams based on actual game action, today’s Daily Cup of Joe reassesses the Metropolitan foes.
(Standings based on games above .500 to adjust for games played
Columbus Blue Jackets
First place — 19-11-1
The Blue Jackets picked up right where they left off during the regular season in 2016-17. Columbus has been near the top of the division most of the season and seems destined to finish the season there.
Vulnerabilities: The Blue Jackets are deep at both forward and defense and do not rely on a small number of players to drive play. The only big vulnerability I see is if Sergei Bobrovsky was injured and missed a significant number of games.
Short of a Bobrovsky injury, I do not see the Blue Jackets as a team that the Hurricanes likely to chase/catch.
New Jersey Devils
Second place — 17-9-4
As the season wears on and the Devils continue to hang near the top of the division, it appears increasingly likely that the Devils are in the playoff chase for the long haul. With a steady veteran netminder in Cory Schneider and reinforcements in the form of Sami Vatanen added on defense, the playoffs do not seem impossible.
Vulnerabilities: I still hope and partially believe that this young team is currently playing over its head and likely to hit a rough patch that brings it back to Earth. Once the team falters a little bit which will inevitably happen over the course of a long season, can the team rebound? Or is then destined for a big drop?
Though the Devils have not shown signs of withering, I do think the young squad is one that the Hurricanes are chasing for a playoff spot.
Third place — 19-12-1
The Capitals lost a number of key players to salary cap challenges during the offseason and then started the 2017-18 slowly. The combination had many thinking that the team’s run of being in the top third or better in the NHL could be coming to a close. But the team has since righted the ship and risen up the standings posting a strong 8-2 mark in their past 10 games.
Vulnerabilities: While I do think the 2017-18 Capitals are a step below the 2016-17 version of the team, I just do not see them falling enough to be a factor at the playoff cut line. The team is still solid in net and with enough top-end scoring talent to fill out a good power play and score enough to win.
I think the Capitals are more likely to move up than down, and I do not see the Capitals as a team that the Hurricanes are chasing for a playoff spot.
New York Islanders
Fourth place 17-11-3
The Islanders started strong and are still within a few points of the top of the division. The team has been an offensive juggernaut at times ranking second in the entire league in goal scoring and a recent run of good goaltending by Jaroslav Halak has also helped. Somewhat like the Devils the burning question is whether they are truly better than preseason expectations or if instead they are just due to fall.
Vulnerabilities: I question whether the Islanders shootout style win formula has legs into the second half of the teams as teams improve and things tighten up. Further, I do not believe in Halak or Greiss such that if the scoring subsides at the same time that the goaltending is ‘iffy’ the potential for a swoon is there.
I do think that the Islanders are a team that the Hurricanes are chasing for a playoff spot.
New York Rangers
Fifth place — 16-12-3
The Rangers started the 2017-18 season in atrocious fashion and seemed to be on a path for a quick exit from teh 2017-18 playoff chase. But the Rangers have since righted the ship and climbed the standings. They currently sit in fifth place and in the final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Worth noting is that the Rangers have leaned heavily on a favorable home-heavy schedule to rise having played 20 games at Madison Square Garden and only 11 on the road. The Rangers meager 4-7 record on the road suggests that a fall could be on the way as their home/away split balances out.
Vulnerabilities: I continue to think that the Rangers are trending up not down with a now 35-year old Henrik Lundqvist. I think the road could be treacherous and that the team is trending downward.
I do think the Rangers are vulnerable and a team that the Hurricanes can catch if they can find a 95-point pace.
Sixth place — 16-13-3
After winning the Stanley Cup in June and facing some personnel losses, the Penguins have yet to really get going in 2017-18. The team has struggled at times defensively, and finally in a #1 slot all by himself with Marc-Andre Fleury gone Matt Murray has not been great thus far. The team is in the same boat as Washington trying to figure things out and continue with their winning ways despite losing key players this summer.
Vulnerabilities: The potential liability could be the lack of good enough second tier talent/production. Just like with the Capitals, I do think the Penguins could dip in 2017-18, but also like the Capitals I just think even the low end of the range for the Penguins is still a playoff team at or above 95 points.
Despite the fact that the Penguins are within reach right now, I think ultimately the Penguins put things together and push up near 100 points and into the playoffs such that I do not think Penguins are a team that the Hurricanes are chasing. (I hope I am wrong.)
Seventh place — 12-11-7
The Flyers, like the Hurricanes, have had their share of ups and downs during the 2017-18 season and have mostly just treaded water. Also like the Hurricanes, the Flyers have been fine on the road but have failed to capitalize when they play at home. The Flyers lost 10 straight (but did collect five OTL points during that stretch) but have won four straight recently. With the Hurricanes needing to beat three teams in the Metropolitan Division to make the playoffs, the Flyers need to be one of them.
Vulnerabilities: Inconsistency seems to be a problem thus far for the Flyers. As the Hurricanes know too well, it is difficult to put together much of a run when the level of play oscillates some much from game to game.
I do think the Hurricanes need to beat out the Flyers and also that they will do exactly that if they can push up to 95ish points.
Netting it out
For me its like this…
So far I am standing by my assertion that though the Penguins and Capitals could fall a bit, neither will be a factor at the playoff cut line.
I also think the Blue Jackets with a healthy Bobrovsky is likely to stay near the top of the division and not come into play for the Hurricanes.
If those assertions prove to be correct, that leaves the Hurricanes battling the Islanders, Devils, Rangers and Flyers for two playoff spots.
The Hurricanes really need to hope that one of the Islanders and/or Devils is not for real and falters pretty soon. Further, the Hurricanes need to hope that the Rangers do not find whatever magic it is that somehow vaults them up near the top of the division standings every year.
What say you Hurricanes nation?
1) Which teams to you think are most vulnerable likely to fall to the playoff cut line? Has your answer changed since the start of the season?
2) Which if either of the Penguins are Capitals could be in jeopardy of slipping all the way out of the playoffs?
3) What other thoughts do you have on the Metropolitan Division competition through 30ish games?