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Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Metro Shaking Up The Playoff Picture by @ToonsBrian

Remember back to the beginning of the season. By the end of October, the hockey world looked at the Metropolitan Division as a laughing stock. The Southleast Division reborn.

Rightfully so.

By the end of October, only the Pittsburgh Penguins averaged more than an Overtime Loss, finishing the opening month with a 9-4-0 record. The Flyers, by contrast, were the bottom-feeders of the division - much to the delight of Pens' fans - garnering only 6 points in their first 11 games.

NYR's 1st 9 games: 112 hour drive, no potty breaks

There were many reasons for this flat start for the oddly-named division. The Flyers couldn't find their offense. The New York Rangers couldn't find a home game as renovations to Madison Square Garden forced them into a season-opening 9-game road swing, forcing the team to travel some 13,000 miles (airport-to-airport) before setting foot in their own barn. Ilya Kovalchuk bailed on the Devils before the season schedule was even released.

Unlucky bounces. Sluggish starts. Injuries. Many factors went into the slow start to the 2013-14 campaign.

The NHL has long seasons and the slow and steady, more often than not, do win the race. Seemingly, the Division has turned it around. Turning it around is one thing. This division has reached the point of having the highest win percentage of any division, not only since October, but for the season as a whole, at 61.5%.

And the improvement has been division-wide. The Metro is the only division that does not have a single team that degraded since November 1st, in terms of their winning percentage. And those hated Flyers have lead the way. League-wide, only Buffalo has improved more in that respect.

Philly: Most Improved

If the Flyers wouldn't have sucked so bad in the beginning of the season, they wouldn't have the most improvement either. And Claude Giroux? That guy didn't score in like 30 games.

While the national hockey media hasn't mentioned the Metro's turnaround, it certainly will have an impact on the Eastern Conference playoff picture.

Currently, two Atlantic Division teams, the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings, sit in the Eastern Conference Wild Card spots, with 59 and 56 points, respectively. However, four of the five teams trailing the Wings by 2 points or less for that final playoff spot belong the Metro, including a surging Carolina and a New Jersey team motivated by the possibility of this being Martin Brodeur's final season.

Dat damned Central
And if you're in the Atlantic Division, this race is too close as the Metropolitan has had an excellent record so far in head-to-head competition. Of the "bubble teams," the Flyers have the most difficult remaining schedule (found HERE), followed by the Capitals, Canadiens and the Blue Jackets, one of the hottest teams in the NHL over the past 80 regular season games. More troubling for the Atlantic Division teams is the fact that the Metropolitan teams have made a pretty convincing habit of defeating them in the regular season thus far.

Of course, instinct for pundits has been to question the strength of the division as based purely on the Penguins. While the Penguins continue to be one of the top teams, removing them from the equation only changes the division's win percentage against other divisions by a measly 1.6%. Remove Boston from the Atlantic as well and you see nearly identical divisions.

Then the argument moves to the strength of the top teams in the divisions. Or goal scoring. Or power play percentages. Or injuries.

Yet, whatever direction the discussion takes, it always come back to winning games. Earning team points. And that is what the Metropolitan Division has been doing since October.

So, as the season winds down, "buckle up" for some exciting hockey and a potentially intense Trade Deadline. This is particularly true for the "worst division in the NHL."

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