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Penguins off to hot start in lackluster Metropolitan Division

| Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, 10:12 p.m.

The newly formed Metropolitan Division is giving cities everywhere a bad name.

Aside from the favored Penguins, who have started the season strong, the Metropolitan Division has produced occasional mediocrity mixed with a steady dose of horrific play.

“I certainly didn't see this coming,” right wing Craig Adams said. “I actually thought that our division was going to be strong.”

The division is a combined 46-55-10, but those numbers are flattering.

Most of those victories have come in games when two Metropolitan Divisional opponents have faced one another.

Against the Western Conference, Metropolitan Division teams are 10-24-6.

Traditional powers are among the teams struggling the most.

The Philadelphia Flyers (4-9-0, 8 points), New Jersey Devils (3-7-4, 10 points) and New York Rangers (6-8-0, 12 points) have been among the NHL's worst teams.

A victory over the Rangers on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden would give the Penguins (11-4-0, 22 points) a 12-point lead against the Rangers.

Maybe it wouldn't qualify as a knockout punch, but the Penguins believe a victory in this game could go a long way toward eliminating the Rangers as a team that could catch them for the division title.

“It's a little early to be watching the standings,” defenseman Matt Niskanen said. “But, we have an opportunity to bury some of these teams beneath us. If we keep winning, it could get some of those teams in the bottom of the standings out of our hair.”

Only the New York Islanders (6-5-3, 14 points) and Washington Capitals (7-7-0, 14 points) are within single-digit point totals of the Penguins, and neither team has started the season strong fashion.

The statistics don't lie, and some of the numbers simply baffle a number of Penguins who expected this division to be better.

Through the season's first month, the Metropolitan Division has amassed 39 victories played in regulation time. The Central and Pacific Divisions have accounted for 49 each, while the other division in the East, the Atlantic Division, has produced 48 regulation wins.

Although the win-loss numbers are a black eye for the Metropolitan Division, the goal-differential numbers speak volumes.

The Metropolitan Division's combined goal differential is minus-46. Take away the Penguins, and that number worsens to a minus-61. Every other division is a minus-5 or better.

“I don't think anybody expected this to be the case with the division,” right wing Pascal Dupuis said. “But I do think teams are going to start playing better at some point.”

The Penguins would like to find themselves firmly in the driver's seat before other teams in the Metropolitan Division find themselves. They're on the verge of making that a reality, and a hot November could essentially put away teams like the Rangers.

“There are teams that haven't gotten off to good starts but are probably better than their records indicate,” Adams said. “The Rangers are probably one of those teams. We all know there are going to be good stretches and bad stretches for us. The more points you have in the bank makes those last couple of months easier.”

Coach Dan Bylsma's Penguins have only lost three times during the past five seasons with captain Sidney Crosby in the lineup against the Rangers. Another win will keep the Rangers — and the rest of the struggling division — that much farther away from catching them.

“I think the Rangers are going to start playing better,” center Brandon Sutter said. “But the more we win now, the better.”

Josh Yohe is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at jyohe@tribweb.com or via Twitter @JoshYohe_Trib.

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