Predicting Which Metropolitan Division Teams Will Give Capitals Most Problems

Robert WoodCorrespondent ISeptember 3, 2013

Predicting Which Metropolitan Division Teams Will Give Capitals Most Problems

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    NHL divisional realignment has taken the Washington Capitals back to the future. 

    The new Metropolitan Division sounds eerily similar to the old Patrick Division, with a couple additions: Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. 

    So which Metro Division team will prove the most difficult? 

    Here is a prediction of the four Metropolitan Division teams that will give the Capitals the most problems, in ascending order of difficulty. 

     

    Note: All statistics courtesy of NHL.com unless noted otherwise. 

4. Columbus Blue Jackets

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    The Columbus Blue Jackets are not only new to the Capitals division, they are new to the Eastern Conference altogether. 

    The Blue Jackets played the previous 12 seasons of their existence in the Western Conference. Columbus just missed qualifying for the Stanley Cup Playoffs during the 2012-13 season. They finished with 55 points and lost a tiebreaker to the Minnesota Wild.  

    In 2013-14, the Blue Jackets will be a team the Capitals must keep an eye on. Columbus boasts the reigning Vezina Trophy winner in Sergei Bobrovsky.  

    Plus, John Kreiser of NHL.com writes that Columbus should be boosted by the performance of Marian Gaborik, as long as an interesting pattern repeats itself this season. See for yourself: 

    Gaborik is riding one of the most pronounced every-other-season stretches in NHL history. In 2007-08, 2009-10 and 2011-12, he's had at least 41 goals, 76 points and a plus-15 rating while missing no more than six games. But those seasons have alternated with 13-, 22- and 12-goal performances during which he's battled injuries and inconsistency.

    The Caps better hope that both Bobrovsky and Gaborik have off years. Otherwise, Columbus' addition to the Metropolitan Division will only make the Capitals' lives more difficult. 

3. New York Islanders

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    The New York Islanders are a team on the rise. 

    They finished eighth in the Eastern Conference during the 2012-13 season with 55 points, earning their first postseason berth since 2006-07, according to Hockey-Reference.com. The Islanders then put up a good fight against the one seed in the East, eventually losing in six games to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. 

    The Islanders should be even better this season. New York's young nucleus of players is entering their collective primes, and the team as a whole is more experienced after its trip to the playoffs. 

    This does not bode well for the Washington Capitals. The Caps struggled against the upstart Islanders during the 2012-13 season, finishing with a 1-2-0 record. The Capitals were outscored 9-5 in regulation, and their only victory came in a shootout. 

    The Capitals and Islanders will play each other four times during the 2013-14 season. The Caps better solve the Isles quickly, or they may be looking up at New York in the Metro Division standings. 

2. New York Rangers

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    As if the Washington Capitals and New York Rangers did not already have a heated rivalry, now the two familiar foes are back in the same division once again. 

    Fresh off their second consecutive seven-game playoff defeat at the hands of the Broadway Blueshirts, the Caps will now have to face these Rangers four times during the 2013-14 season. 

    Washington will also have to square off against New York in the standings. 

    In the final 2012-13 Eastern Conference standings, the Capitals finished with 57 points while the Rangers finished with 56. 

    The Capitals should expect a different and more challenging Rangers squad under the guidance of new head coach Alain Vigneault, who shed some light on his coaching philosophy at his introductory press conference on June 22, according to Mike Mazzeo of ESPNNewYork.com

    I believe your top skilled players have to be given a little more latitude. They have to understand the game, they have to understand the time in the game where you need to play higher percentage, but they also have to be given that latitude to make something out of nothing. 

    Under Vigneault, the New York Rangers should definitely be a handful during the 2013-14 season. 

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Pittsburgh Penguins are a regular-season juggernaut. If the Washington Capitals are not careful, they will get steamrolled by their bitter rivals once again. 

    The 2012-13 Penguins finished with 72 points atop the Eastern Conference standings, nine points better than the second place Montreal Canadiens and 15 points better than the third place Capitals. 

    Pittsburgh created even more separation on the ice. In three contests against the Pens, the Caps finished with an 0-3-0 record. Washington was outscored 13-6 in those games, and only one of those games was decided by fewer than three goals. 

    The Caps and Pens will play each other four times during the 2013-14 season, including a home-and-home on March 10 and March 11. Playing the Penguins on consecutive nights is an unenviable task, to say the least.  

    Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner told Chuck Gormley of CSNWashington.com on July 19 that he looks forward to the Caps playing in the same division as their arch rival: 

    It’ll be exciting to play teams like Pittsburgh more often. They’re usually pretty intense, fun to watch and fun to play in. It’s a cool realignment and it’ll be fun to get these rivalries going and see what stems from it. 

    Be careful what you wish for: you just might get it.