MORNING PENS BUZZ
The Penguins over the last 15 games:
Win vs Anaheim Ducks
Loss vs New York Rangers
Win vs Carolina Hurricanes
Loss vs Florida Panthers
Win vs Detroit Red Wings
Loss vs Tampa Bay Lightning
Win vs Buffalo Sabres
Loss vs Boston Bruins
Win vs Winnipeg Jets
Win vs Arizona Coyotes
Loss vs Washington Capitals
Win vs New York Rangers
Loss vs Calgary Flames
Win vs New Jersey Devils
Loss vs New York Islanders
The inability to string wins together has been a hot topic of discussion. To me it’s alarming when projecting the Penguins to win four out of seven games in a first round playoff series against a likely superior team. Over the Penguins last 55 games, they have only put together one winning streak of more than two games, a four game winning streak (Jan 21-Feb 2) with wins vs teams currently outside the playoff picture — Philadelphia, Vancouver, New Jersey and Ottawa. —
In Penguins circles, though, they’re looking at the trend of win-loss-win-loss as being a positive in that they’ve been competitive in almost every game over the last month and have avoided a dreaded three to four game losing streak. “We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve had a few games here that could have gone our way and didn’t and some of those will go our way down the stretch,” Mike Sullivan said this week.
If the Penguins play .500 hockey the rest of the way, they’ll likely still sneak in with 92 points and the thinking from most in the organization seems to be ‘we just need to get in’ and that this same trajectory of being a 7th or 8th seed all season isn’t a bad sign that they can’t go on a deep run in the post-season.
On the flip side, who will be surprised that a first round series plays out like this:
The Penguins are really competitive but go down in six games with five of the six games being one-goal games.
STRENGTH OF SCHEDULE
Of their remaining opponents, the Penguins boast the toughest schedule of all Eastern Conference teams with a combined winning percentage of their opponents being .587. Among teams in a playoff spot, Detroit currently in the top wildcard spot has the second easiest remaining schedule (.536). The Flyers who trail the Penguins by three points, also have a generally tough schedule (.567) the rest of the way.
For the Penguins, the schedule is even tougher than a combined winning percentage total of their opponents will tell you. Eight of the Penguins remaining 16 games are against teams currently outside the playoff mix, but three of those eight games are against the Flyers and one (tonight) against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Both division rivals that often play the Penguins tough and have a way to get the Penguins off their game.
Nine of the Penguins remaining 16 games are against the Flyers (3), Islanders (2), Rangers (2) and Capitals (2).
Tough schedule or not, If the Penguins were to stumble down the stretch and miss the playoffs, it should be an embarrassment for the organization when you factor in every team chasing them (New Jersey, Carolina) were sellers at the deadline or like the Flyers who are retooling with a younger squad that made no attempts to add any players for a playoff run as their focus is on the big picture of being a contender in two to three years.
Pittsburgh’s difficult remaining schedule, though, is the best thing for the Penguins to being properly prepared for the playoffs. You don’t want this squad beating up on the Coyotes, Sabres down the stretch and teams like that, giving them a false sense of security coming into playoffs and then get hit with a dose of reality against the Capitals or Lightning.
You need to go into the playoffs playing the right way and these divisional games down the stretch are going to have to get the Penguins into a playoff mindset immediately and that can be a good thing.
They also need to make sure they win just enough of them to avoid the embarrassment of missing the playoffs.