Pittsburgh’s 3-1 loss to the Nashville Predators Friday night was a game that saw the tables turned where Pekka Rinne was tremendous in goal with a 42 save performance at the PPG Paints Arena.
It was a game where the Penguins should still feel good about themselves in how they’re building towards playing with a playoff mindset. They just didn’t get the result they wanted.
The significance of the loss, though, is it makes the division an extreme longshot. Pittsburgh was in a position where they had to come out of these two games vs Nashville and Carolina by taking at least 3 of 4.
Getting the 2-3 seed where the Penguins have fallen the last three postseasons won’t be the worst thing after all as a Pittsburgh – New York Round 1 matchup is matchups galore for Pittsburgh even if Pittsburgh has to start on the road.
Sunday’s game vs Carolina now becomes more important in creating more distance from the Hurricanes in what will be another four point swing.
Important Trends that have evolved for the Penguins at the right time
Sidney Crosby + Matt Murray | The Penguins have two of the three key ingredients (Franchise Center playing at elite level, Franchise Defenseman playing at elite level, Franchise Goaltender playing at elite level) going for them that are vital to winning a Stanley Cup.
You can make the argument Sidney Crosby has been the best player in the game since his return from a minor injury vs Dallas just before Thanksgiving. Crosby’s dominant 200 ft game has never been better that has him playing the most dominant hockey of his career since arguably the 2010-2011 season that was cut short due to a concussion. If Pittsburgh gets the Islanders in round 1, where things are trending, Crosby alone gives Pittsburgh a significant edge from the start when you breakdown the matchups.
Meanwhile, Murray has been the key player in changing the Penguins outlook as the playoffs inch closer. Since the middle of December, Murray has been playing at a top-5 level that has played a major part in the thinking around the league that if your handicapping the Eastern Conference, it’s Tampa Bay, Washington, and then Pittsburgh as Boston is a team that’s still hard to fully buy-into as a legitimate Stanley Cup Contender.
The 3rd Line is finally coming together
Last post-season Pittsburgh’s third and fourth lines were so inept offensively, they made their own funeral when the second line of Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel came up so small in round 2.
This lineup is built and trending the right way where there’s more room for error if Kessel continues having the low impact he’s having 5-on-5 and Malkin never finds his footing when he returns to the lineup. Sidney Crosby is going to show up no matter what when the postseason begins but Pittsburgh should be in a position to survive at a greater rate if the second line has a low impact.
What’s important is Pittsburgh’s building something at the right time with a third line of Simon – Blugstad – Hornqvist.
A fairy tale run like the HBK line in 2016 is unlikely but the Simon-Blugstad-Hornqvist is showing the ability to create offense at a high enough level that is giving Pittsburgh an element the Penguins just didn’t have from their bottom-6 last season.
The line was great vs the Predators, namely Dominik Simon who was a possession monster in the loss.
“I thought that line was really good, and Dominik was a big part of it,” Mike Sullivan of the line and Simon Friday night. Sullivan always takes the chance to sing the praises of Simon and was at it again.
“When he’s at his best, he’s a good playmaker, he’s strong on the puck, and he’s on the puck a lot,” Sullivan said. “When that happens, he helps his linemates. He helps with offensive zone time. He helps with possession time. He can make a play off the rush. He doesn’t just throw puck away.”
Adapting without Kris Letang
The Penguins are moving forward with the assumption that Kris Letang will be fine for the playoffs but what the Penguins have going for them is they’ve developed a style and mentality that they can win without Letang Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"