Around the All-Star break the Penguins had reached a stage in the season where every game matters and Mike Sullivan has done a good job of entrenching that mindset into his group.

The Penguins have taken care of business the last two games in beating teams they should in impressive fashion. It’s another trait that separates a team finishing seventh or eighth in the conference instead of ninth or tenth when it’s all said and done.

Pittsburgh beat a battered Winnipeg team Saturday afternoon that had just lost Bryan Little for the season and traded their captain Andrew Ladd.

They beat an Arizona team tonight 6-0 that has hit a wall in their season where they went from competing for a playoff spot to now realizing it’s all over which leads to those types of teams folding when hit with adversity in games.

Tonight was no different for them.

The Penguins jumped on the Coyotes early and when the Coyotes had their push down 2-0 and couldn’t capitalize on Marc Andre Fleury, that was it for them and it was lights out as the Penguins smelled blood. Phoenix folded.

Led by Patric Hornqvist, Pittsburgh’s top line dominated the front of the net and created a net-front presence at will. They might not have an easier night all season in imposing their will in the high danger areas and net-front area.

Hornqvist was the star of the night with his 1st career hat trick and four point game, while the Penguins’ top line combined for nine points with Crosby adding three assists and Kunitz having a goal and assist. Kunitz was very effective on the forecheck and now has 18 points in 18 games, a stretch that is nearly a quarter of the season.

Back to the Penguins beating teams they should — Since January 1, the Penguins are 10-0-1 against teams currently not in a playoff spot. Against teams currently in a playoff spot, the Penguins are 4-6-3 during that span, picking up just 11 out of a possible 26 points.

10 of their remaining 21 games are vs teams outside of a playoff spot right now. Unlikely they have another 9-0-1, 10-0-0 type stretch in them but go 6-3-1 against that group and 4-6-1 vs playoff teams for example, that probably secures a wildcard spot at 94 points.

This is a year where 92-93 points likely gets you in.

Big picture the Penguins now with Evgeni Malkin back in the lineup, need to prove they can match up with the big boys in the division, starting this week vs Washington and New York.

But, when it comes to looking just at the playoff picture, beat the teams you should and the Penguins should not have to come down to the last day of the season again to earn a playoff spot.

On the rest of the field trying to catch them:

For a team that can’t score goals, New Jersey traded their leading scorer in Lee Stempniak and Mike Cammalleri is likely done for the season. The Devils would have to go 11-5-3 just to get to 92 points. Not happening unless Corey Schneider goes on a crazy run and they win a ton of 2-1 games.

Carolina after trading Staal, Versteeg, and Liles, are no longer a team to take serious for a wildcard spot.

Ottawa with Kyle Turris done for the season, don’t have another late season run in them like last year.

The team to watch is Philadelphia.

The Flyers even with Jakub Voracek out for a couple weeks, are the only team that’s emerging as a threat to move into the top-8 and there’s some intrigue with that group as they continue to get the goaltending. Philadelphia is 9-4-3 over their last 16 games that has propelled them into the mix.

With 20 games left, playing around .500 (10-7-3) gets the Flyers to 92 points. However, these next couple weeks will tell the story whether the Flyers are a playoff contender or pretender.

From March 5-24, Philadelphia plays a 10-game stretch vs Columbus, Tampa Bay (2), Florida, Detroit, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New York Islanders, Columbus, Colorado.

Those are seven of eight teams currently in a playoff spot, and the Blue Jackets are playing at nearly a 90 point pace (projected over 82 games) under John Tortorella as head coach. Brutal schedule there for Philadelphia. They have Edmonton next on Thursday, type of game they have to get two points out of like they did tonight vs Calgary.