The Atlantic Division may be the NHL’s “group of death,” but the Metropolitan Division looks like it will be the tightest race as we head toward the business end of the regular season.
The Carolina Hurricanes sit atop the Metro with 50 points, but the Canes have plenty of pressure behind them with the Devils with 46 points and the Penguins and Rangers with 43. And adding more fuel to the fire are the Washington Capitals, who have completely turned their season around with an 12-3-1 stretch to climb into a playoff spot with 42 points. And while the Islanders (40 points) are likely too far adrift to challenge for the division title, they’re still a formidable team that has shown flashes of strong play in addition to some rough patches.
As of Friday, no other division in the NHL has more than four teams at 38 points, the Metropolitan Division has six.
As deep as the division is, the oddsmakers do see a clear favorite. The Hurricanes are odds-on favorites to win the Metro at -150 (60 percent implied probability), while the Devils are the second choice at +350, right ahead of Pittsburgh at +400. After the Penguins there’s a big jump to the Rangers at 11/1 and then a gargantuan leap between the Blueshirts and the Capitals, who currently sit at 30/1. That seems long, though it’s down from 50/1 just a few days ago.
There were plenty of skeptics questioning whether or not the Capitals had enough depth to stay competitive for the first half of the season while they waited for Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom to get healthy. Those doubters looked to be right early on, as the Caps won just seven of their first 20 games and looked to be losing touch with the playoff race.
But around Thanksgiving the Capitals seemed to turn things around, putting together a hot stretch to vault themselves back into relevancy in the Metropolitan Division. And the hot stretch couldn’t have been timed better as it coincided with strong surges from Carolina, Pittsburgh and the Rangers, meaning had the Caps continued to flounder they would basically be out of the playoff race by now.
And it isn’t just the results that are encouraging for Washington. The Caps statistical portfolio has also vastly improved over the holiday season, showing this run has been no fluke.
Over their last 10 games, the Capitals rank seventh in five-on-five goal differential, fourth in expected goals rate and seventh in high-danger scoring rate. That’s not too shabby considering they’re still without two key forwards.
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The Capitals certainly have a long hill to climb to pass the Rangers, Penguins, Devils and Hurricanes to win the division, but there’s still more than half a season remaining and the Caps have key reinforcements coming. Not to mention, it’s hard to imagine that any of these teams will be able to separate themselves from the pack considering the chasing pack is so deep.
Washington is a long shot for a reason, but there’s enough pointing in the right direction to have a punt on the Caps to win the division at 30/1.
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