As I sit here on January 24th watching Islanders Captain John Tavares and stud goaltender Jaroslav Halak at the NHL’s All Star Weekend, something feels different. I sit here watching the best of the best in the NHL and yes it’s entertaining but as an Islander fan for the first time in a long time I sit here thinking about something much, much bigger that awaits my hockey team this season. For the first time in a long time your New York Islanders have a real, legitimate shot to make something very big happen in the second half and as a fan who embraced the team around 2009, I’ve never see anything like it. So with all of that being said, let’s discuss how the very tight Metropolitan Division shapes up in the final months of the 2014-15 regular season.
To begin, we should take a look at how the standings shape up now and folks, it’s a pretty sight. The Islanders currently sit at the top of the Metro with 63 points which is three more than the second place Pittsburgh Penguins. The Isles and Pens have played 46 games, respectively, so there is no game-in-hand situation here. Behind Pittsburgh sits the New York Rangers with 58 points and only 44 games played followed by the Washington Capitals who have 57 points in 46 games played and currently hold one of two Wild Card spots.
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As anyone can see by just peeking at the standings, the race is tight. Very, very tight. The Islanders and Penguins have both been very consistent throughout the season whereas the Capitals and Rangers have both thrived off of hot stretches in their season. The Rangers are currently in the middle of a stretch that has seen them win 16 of their last 19 games and brought them right near the top of the Metro.The Capitals have gotten points in eight of their last ten games and have been playing some very good hockey of late.
In the unofficial second half of the season the Islanders will face off with the Penguins just one more time(April 10th), the Rangers three more times at Nassau Coliseum (January 27th, February 16th and March 10th) and the Capitals just one more time. If you want to look at a game that has the potential to be the biggest of the season, to me it’s that Islanders Penguins matchup on April 10th, a game that could decide the division. Although those three Islander-Ranger matchups will be quite entertaining.
So now that I have given you the deets, you probably (or maybe could care less about) how I think the Metropolitan Division Race will shape up down the stretch. Well no surprises here but I think it will stay tight and that the Islanders will need to keep winning games at the rate they did over the first half of the season to keep pace and stay in first. Now whether or not they will be able to remains to be seen, but barring any major injuries*knocks on the nearest piece of oak* or a colossal collapse(where’s that wood again?) I don’t see any reason the Isles can’t keep up something relatively close to this torrid pace.
When I look into my crystal ball I see this race boiling down to the Islanders and Rangers battling for the top spot in the division down the stretch run. And I know a lot of you just said “But what about the Penguins?!” but I think the bumps and bruises this team has taken as of late combined with the fact they have slowed down a bit over the past few will cause the Pens to fall just far enough down the ladder and keep them just far enough behind the Rangers and Isles that they won’t push for that top spot. Therefore I have the Pittsburgh Penguins finishing in third and the Washington Capitals grabbing a Wild Card spot. But here’s where the pitchforks may come out. The Rangers will finish in first place in the division with the Isles finishing the season in second place.
I say the Rangers will finish ahead of the Isles for two reasons: goaltending and experience. Although Jaroslav Halak has been fantastic for the Islanders this season, throughout his career he does have one stretch in a season where he slows up a bit, so this could put a bit of a hitch in the Isles giddy up down the stretch. I also think that Chad Johnson’s inability to keep pucks from getting behind him in limited time will hurt them down the stretch. And the experience factor speaks for itself. The Rangers are just more experienced and seasoned than the Isles from the Coach all the way down through.
This sets up Isles v. Pens Part II come April at Nassau Coliseum and I don’t think that anyone is complaining about that. Now the question shifts to you Isles fans, who do you think will win the Metropolitan Division this season?
Enjoy the All Star Game tomorrow, Isles fans, and get ready for what will be an awesome second half of the season. LET’S GO ISLANDERS!!