PENGUINS LOCKED TO PLAYING ISLANDERS OR RANGERS IN ROUND 1
The Penguins come from behind victory over the Ottawa Senators last night locked them into either a second or third place finish in the Metropolitan Division, meaning they will either face the New York Rangers or New York Islanders in round 1.
With five days (including games tonight) to go in the regular season, here’s where things stand.
Pittsburgh Penguins: 102 points (ROW 43), 2 Games Remaining (@ WAS, @PHI)
New York Rangers: 99 Points, (ROW 42) 2 Games Remaining (vs NYI, vs DET)
New York Islanders: 97 Points (ROW 39), 3 Games Remaining (@ NYR, vs BUF, vs PHI)
The Rangers and Islanders face each other Thursday night meaning both teams cannot pass the Penguins in points and Pittsburgh with a ROW of 43 would win a three-way tiebreaker between the three teams if all three finish the season tied with 102 points.
Pittsburgh First Round Opponent Possibilities: New York Rangers or New York Islanders
New York Rangers First Round Opponent Possibilities: Pittsburgh Penguins or Florida Panthers
New York Islanders First Round Opponent Possibilities: Florida Panthers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals
LOSING A NO. 1 SHUTDOWN DEFENSEMAN MORE SIGNIFICANT THAN LOSING A TOP-LINE CENTER
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been sensational without Evgeni Malkin and a scoring machine. Averaging 2.72 goals per game with Malkin in the lineup this season for 57 games, Pittsburgh is now averaging 3.70 goals per game without Malkin, posting a record of 17-5-1 over 23 games.
At the end of the day, it’s much easier to replace a top-line centerman over a No. 1 shutdown defenseman who logs nearly 30 minutes a game and dominates play with or without the puck.
That’s why Kris Letang is arguably the Penguins most important player the way they are built and Pittsburgh saw first hand last season of what happens when you lose a player like him.
When it comes to the Penguins two potential playoff opponents in Round 1, Pittsburgh is likely to be missing Evgeni Malkin but no Travis Hamonic for the Islanders or no Ryan McDonagh for the Rangers would change a series much more than Malkin being available or not.
The status for Hamonic, who has a knee injury, is believed to be very much up in the air, and McDonagh is said to have a broken hand that will likely keep him out of the lineup for at least the first couple games of the playoffs.
This is where home-ice becomes even more important for the Penguins to gain. Pittsburgh has not only played lights out at home and have another gear in them when playing at home, the opportunity to have Sidney Crosby not going against McDonagh and instead facing the likes of slow-footed defensemen Dan Girardi, Dan Boyle, Marc Staal is a huge win for Pittsburgh.
Having home-ice will also give Mike Sullivan more opportunities early in the series to double shift Crosby (centering 4th line) to get him on the ice against youngsters Brady Skjei Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"