This article is part of our The Daily Puck series.
The Stanley Cup is headed back to the Metropolitan Division, and it might be time to relegate the rest of the league and hand them their participation medals now.
Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Columbus and Washington have combined to win 29 consecutive games, and the Rangers are the second-highest scoring team in the league. In fact, the four highest-scoring clubs are all from the Metropolitan Division (Penguins, Rangers, Blue Jackets and Flyers), and it's conceivable that the Capitals catch fire and move into the top five.
Of course, it's only mid-December, and the Rangers, Flyers and Blue Jackets each have multiple question marks. But the success of the division and quality of the teams is currently unrivalled throughout the league.
Washington hasn't hit stride offensively yet, either. The Capitals have allowed just 2.11 goals per game and are a strong contender to begin climbing the standings. It'll be tough to catch the defending champions, though. Pittsburgh has won all seven of their December games and scored 39 goals during the process.
With the Metro Magic out of the way here's a look at Thursday's eight-game slate …
This is a monster Central Division showdown that features two teams with different makeups. The Wild boast a deep roster filled with dependable two-way players that have allowed a league-low 1.96 goals per game. Nashville, on the other hand, brings a high-octane offense averaging 3.0 goals per game. The Predators have also been even better since the calendar flipped to November with a 54.55 Corsi For percentage and 3.16 goals per 60 minutes. Will Dubnyk and the stout Minnesota defense prevail? Or will Nashville's deep offensive attack grab the win on home ice? This is the marquee matchup of the night and a measuring-stick game for both clubs.
Rangers (PP: 4, PK: 4) at Stars (PP: 15, PK: 28), 8:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Henrik Lundqvist (12-8-1, 2.55, .912), Antti Niemi (6-3-3, 3.12, .906)
Key Injuries:Ales Hemsky (hip), Julius Honka (arm), Mattias Janmark (knee), Patrick Sharp (concussion),Pavel Buchnevich (back), Ryan McDonagh (illness), Mika Zibanejad (leg)
Since joining Dallas, Jason Spezza has combined with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn for the 21.06 scoring chances per 60 minutes, which rank fifth among all trios with at least 750 minutes of shared ice during the span. The Stars have scored 11 goals over their past two home games (against Nashville and Anaheim), and they own the offensive firepower to break open games against anyone. Daily gamers will also want to note that Benn has 51 goals and 110 points through 96 games at the American Airlines Center over the past three years. New York enters as the second-highest scoring team in the league and in the midst of a goalie controversy. Antti Raanta has allowed just three goals over his past four starts with a .966 save percentage, and Lundqvist owns an underwhelming .912 mark for the year.
Ducks (PP: 3, PK: 22) at Bruins (PP: 28, PK: 3), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:John Gibson (10-8-4, 2.64, .908), Anton Khudobin (1-4-0, 3.02, .888)
Key Injuries:Simon Despres (head), Clayton Stoner (lower body), Matt Beleskey (knee), John-Michael Liles (concussion), Kevan Miller (lower body),
Boston enters on the wrong end of back-to-back games after losing in overtime to Pittsburgh on Wednesday and is playing its third outing in four nights. The Ducks are in a favorable spot and should have a nice night against Khudobin. After combining for 3.32 goals per 60 minutes at five-on-five over the prior four years, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have a 2.08 mark this season. There is positive regression ahead for the one-two punch, especially considering their respective 7.8 and 5.7 shooting percentages this year.
Blackhawks (PP: 19, PK: 30) at Islanders (PP: 29, PK: 17), 7:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Scott Darling (7-2-2, 2.02, .933), Jaroslav Halak (5-8-5, 3.13, .907)
Key Injuries:Corey Crawford (illness), Mikhail Grabovski (concussion)
Over their past nine games (eight without Jonathan Toews), the Blackhawks scored just 17 goals. This might be a slump-busting matchup with the Islanders allowing the second-most high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes (12.53) in the league and 10 goals through their past two games, though. Continuing to see regular time with John Tavares, Brock Nelson has five points – two goals – through his past seven games.
Coyotes (PP: 25, PK: 20) at Maple Leafs (PP: 13, PK: 8), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Mike Smith (6-4-4, 2.65, .929), Frederik Andersen (11-7-5, 2.74, .916)
Key Injuries:Max Domi (hand), Connor Murphy (upper body), Brad Richardson (leg), Martin Marincin (undisclosed)
The Coyotes and Maple Leafs rank second (32.41) and fourth (29.3) in scoring chances allowed per 60 minutes, respectively. This might not be a high-scoring game, though. Smith owns a .939 save percentage and a 2.39 GAA over his past 10 outings, and Andersen boasts respective .937 and 1.89 marks over his past 10 starts.
Kings (PP: 20, PK: 18) at Red Wings (PP: 26, PK: 7), 7:30 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Peter Budaj (13-7-2, 2.27, .907), Jimmy Howard (5-6-1, 1.86, .937)
Key Injuries:Justin Abdelkader (knee), Tyler Bertuzzi (ankle), Jonathan Ericsson (back), Darren Helm (upper body), Alexey Marchenko (shoulder), Brendan Smith (knee), Brayden McNabb (collarbone), Jonathan Quick (groin)
Los Angeles is 4-8-1 on the road this year while averaging just 2.31 goals per game. The Kings own the second-worst team save percentage (.896) in the league, and a quick look at their roster exposes a top-heavy club with extremely limited depth. While Detroit certainly has a number of younger pieces capable of taking over the reins, the Red Wings aren't far behind the Kings in terms of needing a facelift.
Devils (PP: 22, PK: 11) at Blues (PP: 8, PK: 2), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Cory Schneider (9-8-4, 2.83, .907), Jake Allen (14-6-3, 2.52, .906)
Key Injuries:Robert Bortuzzo (lower body), Carl Gunnarsson (lower body)
St. Louis is 12-1-3 on home ice this season, and Allen sports an incredible 39-15-4 career record at the Scottrade Center with a .922 save percentage and a 1.98 GAA. The Devils enter with three consecutive losses and a 4-9-4 road record, so this sets up nicely for the Blues. Robby Fabbri remains a solid grab in the majority of seasonal leagues with four goals, eight points and 17 shots through his past eight games.
Panthers (PP: 30, PK: 5) at Jets (PP: 24, PK: 26), 8:00 p.m.
Expected Goalies:Roberto Luongo (10-9-2, 2.39, .918), Connor Hellebuyck (10-10-1, 2.74, .907)
Key Injuries:Jonathan Huberdeau (achilles), Alex Petrovic (ankle), Joel Armia (undisclosed), Shawn Matthias (lower body), Tyler Myers (lower body), Nicolas Petan (lower body)
Florida is 2-4-3 dating back to Gerard Gallant's last game behind the bench, and the Panthers are playing the middle contest of a three-game road trip over four nights. Winnipeg has also struggled of late with four consecutive losses. However, Hellebuyck has been much better at the MTS Centre with a 7-4-1 record, a .922 save percentage and a 2.36 GAA. Unfortunately for the Cats, this sets up as a bounce-back spot for the Jets.
Kevin Fiala, W, NAS - Chasing shot volume is a solid fantasy strategy, and Fiala's 10.76 shots per 60 minutes at five-on-five rank 13th among all skaters with at least 200 minutes played this season. Additionally, his 1.93 points per 60 minutes is also a solid mark. Now that Fiala is receiving more of an offensive role alongside Mike Ribeiro and Filip Forsberg, the 20-year-old winger is a potential grab in deeper leagues.