Inside Pittsburgh Sports


What happened to all those meaningless NHL regular season games?

Hasn’t that been one of the big criticisms of the NHL, especially from the hockey haters who still think it’s a bunch of guys with no teeth fighting all the time?

The Penguins play one of those meaningless games in Ft. Lauderdale against the Florida Panthers, who just happen to be leading the Atlantic Division with 70 points.

The Penguins are in fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, 21 points behind the Washington Capitals, but they also go into the game in ninth place overall, which is one place away from being one of those too many teams that make the playoffs.

That’s been the other major criticism, mostly from people who don’t like and/or don’t get hockey.

Sixteen teams making the playoffs doesn’t make regular season games meaningless. It does just the opposite. The two points available to the Penguins in Ft. Lauderdale could be the difference in making the playoffs.

I don’t know when the “home stretch” officially starts but the games being played now are every bit as important as the ones they’ll play when it does.

The Penguins are 28-19-7, which adds up to 63 points, one point behind the Islanders for eighth place, buy they’re also only two points out of third place in the Metropolitan, behind New Jersey and the Devils have played three more games.

But here’s another way of looking at the Penguins and most of the other teams fighting for the seven spots behind Washington: They’re two games over five hundred.

That 28-19-7 record means the Penguins have won 28 games and lost 26. Those seven overtime points that show up in the standings are for games that they LOST.

The Devils are one game above .500 at 29-21-7.

The Carolina Hurricanes, who lost to the Penguins in a shootout Friday night, are still playoff contenders even though they’re six games under .500 at 25-21-10.

The Detroit Red Wings are in second place, only three points behind the Panthers, but they’re only one game over .500 at 29-18-9.

Is there a mediocrity epidemic in the NHL with so many teams hovering around .500?

Not really.

Finishing in a tie after 60 minutes of NHL hockey is an accomplishment. For a long time a tie was a tie and the one point just meant a tie and there was no loser.

But, with so many teams in contention for those eight playoff spots, getting that one extra point in overtime or a shootout is huge.

So, don’t let anybody tell you NHL regular season games are meaningless and don’t underestimate the importance of that 3 on 3 or shootout point.

One point in Ft. Lauderdale the day after Valentine’s Day could be the difference in whether the Penguins make the playoffs.



-So, what should Jim Rutherford do at the trading deadline? Should he make a blockbuster trade? Rob Rossi of the Trib said on last night’s Final Word on WPXI that Rutherford is looking to add another top six forward.

At what price? Who’s out there and what would he have to do to get him?

Maybe the Penguins could get Phil Kessel to help them down the stretch and in the playoffs.

I don’t mean the guy who came here in the trade with Toronto over the summer and has 16 goals. I mean the guy who was going to score somewhere between 35 and 50 goals playing with Sidney Crosby.

The guy wearing Kessel’s jersey now is on pace to score 23 goals this season.

The real Phil Kessel could do his general manager and his teammates a big favor by deciding to show up for the last three or four months of the season.

There isn’t a player out there with the potential to help the Penguins more than Kessel could by starting to put pucks in the net as expected.

Kessel’s effort has come into question a lot over his career but I don’t think anybody could accuse him of not trying hard enough in Pittsburgh.

Sidney Crosby showed everybody how fast a world class player can turn his game around and carry his team.

Kessel is one of the best goal scorers in the world. If he, Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can stay healthy and play at the top of their games, the Penguins are good enough to make a long playoff run.

Assuming, of course they win enough of these meaningless games to get into the playoffs.



—Las Vegas has the over/under for Pirates wins at 87. I’d have to bet the under right now.

Remember, the difference between the 98 wins last season and 86 this season would be one less win every two weeks.

Maybe the Pirates will make up for the home runs they lost with Pedro Alvarez and Neil Walker [hide] and maybe Ryan Vogelsong will be the next Edinson Volquez, I just wouldn’t bet on it.

Pirates fans should take some consolation in the knowledge that, as pitchers and catchers get ready to report, this team is a lot more likely to have continued success than the team whose three year run ended with that single by Francisco Cabrera.[/hide]