With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season over 3/4 completed, the team finds itself in a position to shake up the standings and dictate their own playoff picture.
64 games into the 2015-16 Penguins’ season, the team finds itself far from their projected position. The team shouldn’t be clinging to the second wild card spot. They shouldn’t be struggling to score goals. And they shouldn’t be losing to bottom-dwelling teams.
Between coaching changes and trades, it has been a season of uncertainty for the Penguins. However, one thing is certain, the Penguins are in a position to make major moves by seasons’ end. Here’s why.
The Penguins have a schedule that puts them in great control of their eventual playoff standing. Nine of the team’s final 18 games are against teams who are currently not in the playoffs. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will win, but they will be playing inferior talent.
Additionally, 14 of the next 18 games are against Metropolitan Division opponents. This can be both a blessing and a curse. The Penguins can solidify a playoff spot and even rise out of the wild-card position, or they could find themselves on the outside looking in.
The remaining schedule is only favorable if the Penguins can string wins together. However, it does give them a chance to make serious inroads if they are successful.
It would be much better if the Penguins could face the Islanders, Panthers, Lightning, or Rangers in the first round rather than the Capitals.
Health (For Now)
The Penguins, as usual, have had their fair share of injuries this season. However, for the time being, it doesn’t appear to affect their end-of-season and playoff pushes.
In addition to those returning from injuries, the Penguins’ trades have also helped their depth. The additions of Carl Hagelin, Trevor Daley, and Justin Schultz help the Pens’ talent and also offset the losses of Kevin Porter and Ben Lovejoy.
Unfortunately for the Pens, this is one area they don’t have control over. So far, however, the Pens are far better off then they were last year and previous seasons when they are making a playoff run.
This may seem strange considering the Penguins’ position in the standings but they are still one of the most talented teams in the league. Many of the teams the Penguins play are simply less skilled. If they don’t out-play them, they should be able to out-talent them.
The team is not only talented, it is experienced. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Marc-Andre Fleury have all seen the good and bad of Penguins playoffs. Learning from their playoff failures could lead to potential success this season.
This knowledge can help the Penguins against younger teams, such as the New York Islanders and teams that lack playoff experience, like the Florida Panthers.
The Penguins have been a team of ups and downs. They have gone on streaks, they have fired coaches, and they find themselves in positions most fans wouldn’t expect.
All of that being said, the Penguins are in control for these last 18 games. The combination of weaker teams and division opponents means they can make real noise in the playoff picture.
That control is a double-edged sword, however. They could rocket themselves up to second place in the Metro and have home ice in the first round. They could also fall flat on their faces and miss the playoffs all together.
In a season that has been streaky and unpredictable, the Penguins have a chance to put all of the questions to rest, one way or another. Let’s hope it’s for the better.