Can the Penguins Hang with the Cool Kids

Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /

The Pittsburgh Penguins are really making it tough on themselves.  Two weeks before the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the Penguins are reeling.  Sinking like a sunset.  Losers in 8 of their last 11 games, the Penguins are winding down the season, and taking the hard road towards the NHL Playoffs.

Over the last few weeks, the Penguins have lost three times to the New York Rangers, twice against the Colorado Avalanche and got spanked by Washington.

Ouch.  That kind of result, does not breed a lot of confidence, dar boys.

So, I ask you, is this a dose of reality or just a Penguin team waiting for the “Real Games” to start.  I hope it is the later, or we will all be booking Tee Times for say, Mid-May.

With 9-games or so remaining for each team, there are still many reasons to play hard and win games.  First, you do not want to enter the Playoffs on a massive losing streak.  This would kill any confidence the Penguins have built up over this season.

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Metropolitan Division Standings as of April 14.2022

Canes 104 pts

NYR 102 pts

Pitts 95 pts

Atlantic Division Standings as of April 14.2022

Fla 110 pts

Tor 100 pts

TB 96 pts

Wild Card #1 Bos 95 pts

Wild Card #2 Wash 92 pts

As you can see there is still much to play for.  Playoff seeding will be critical this season, so momentum heading into the playoffs is key.

The Penguins might want to stay in the second or third place spot in the Metropolitan Division.  A continued Penguin slide into the Wild Card #2 spot, means a First-Round matchup vs the Florida Panthers, who are listed as the second-best team in the NHL, behind Colorado.

If the Canes start to slide and the Rangers overtake them for First Place in the Metropolitan Division, the Penguins would then play the Carolina Hurricanes in Round #1.

Right now, the Penguins would play the Rangers in Round 1.  No matter what happens, the Penguins will have a tough First Round Matchup.  Let’s review these three Cool Kids.

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Carolina Hurricanes

The Canes are for real folks.  They are young, talented and hungry to win right now.  They play a speed, skill and high-pressure game, that forces teams into turnovers.  They thrive on puck possession, (cause ya know, the opposition can’t score if the Canes have the puck all the time.)

Recent History: 2020-21 Covid-19 Season (Did Not Play each other)

Current: 2021-22 (Penguins 1 Win – 2 Loss)

Feb 20.22 Pens Lost 4-3 in Pitts

March 04.22 Pens Lost 3-2ot in Carolina

March13.22 Pens Won 4-2 in Pitts

I know the Penguins played them tough in every game this season.  However, the Canes seem to be just a little bit quicker than the Penguins.  Just a little more hungry than the Penguins.  Over the last three NHL Playoffs, the Canes always seem to run into a roadblock, like the Bruins or Tampa Bay.  I would feel better if the Penguins met them in Round 2.  Just saying.

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New York Rangers

As mentioned, if the playoffs were to begin right now, the Penguins would face the New York Rangers in Round 1.  I know what you are saying, the Pens just lost to three times to NYR, how can this be a good thing.

Recent History: 2020-21 Covid-19 Season (Penguins 6 Wins – 2 Losses)

Current: 2021-22 (Penguins 1 Win – 3 Loss)

Feb 26.22 Pens Won 1-0 in Pitts

March 25.22 Pens Lost 5-1 in NY

March 29.22 Pens Lost 3-2 in Pitts

April 03.22 Pens Lost 3-0 in NY

It appears the New York Ranger re-build is ahead of schedule.  Acquisitions at the NHL Trade Deadline have filled many holes in their lineup.  They want to win now.

Fact #1:  They are still a relatively young and inexperienced playoff team.  We shall soon see how they react to the really bright lights of the NHL Playoffs.

Fact #2:  They may be simply overachieving to date and playing above their heads.  For example, Kreider #20 has 50 goals so far this season.  In his previous 9 years with the Rangers, #20 has never scored more than 28 goals in a single NHL season.  Can this kind of production continue with tighter checking in the Playoffs?

Fact #3:  Goaltender Shesterkin #31 has never played more than 35 games in the NHL.  He has currently played in 49 games so far this season.  #31 has played amazing between the pipes for the Blueshirts, that is for sure.  He has single-handedly back-stopped the Rangers to victory on many a night.  Lately, there have been rumours, he has shown signs of being tired.  Can he continue playing at this over-the-top, extremely high-level, for another 2 and a half months?

I was expecting this year’s annual NYR slump to occur in late March.  So far, no slump.  So far, the Rangers are for real.  I am still expecting the annual Blueshirt slump to occur (can you say in May?)

I like the Penguins chances over a tight checking 7-game series.  Time will tell.

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Florida Panthers

The Panthers went all in to win this year.  Trade Deadline pick ups like Forward Giroux and Defenseman Chiarot, are two examples of grade A additions intended for a long Playoff run.

The Panthers are another group that is young, talented, and hungry, which is, as mentioned earlier, always a scary mix to play against.  They have something to prove and are in it to Win It Now Mode.

Recent History: 2020-21 Covid-19 Season (Did Not Play each other)

Current: 2021-22 (Penguins 1 Win – 2 Loss)

Oct 14.21 Lost 5-4 ot in Fla

Nov 11.21 Won 3-2 so in Pitts

March 08.22 Lost 4-3 in Pitts

The Penguins played them tough in every game this year.  Losing in OT and a Shootout, means this is a will be a close series.  I am wondering how the Panthers will play under the bright lights of the Playoffs.  I’m not sure how battle tested they are.  As we have seen with the Penguins, the regular season sometimes makes you think and feel you are better than you really are.

I think the Penguins can play them tough straight up.  Another 7-game series, where the stars need to score goals and goaltending determines who moves on.

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MoneyPuck, has the Penguins with a… (as of April 14.2022)

61.8% chance of making it out of Round 1

15.7% chance of making the Finals

8.1% chance of Winning the Cup

My View from the Cheap Seats

I think the Penguins have played hockey at such a high level from mid-November 2021 until Mid-March 2022, they are simply a little tired right now, at this stage of the season.

I don’t think the Penguins are trying to tank in the standings, in order to play a certain opponent.  There is simply little incentive to attain First Place in the Division, so why put undue pressure on the team.

The Penguins have been juggling their line-up for most of the year.  Getting everyone back and healthy, previewing different line combinations, preparing for the playoffs, appears to be the proactive path of this Penguin team.

Quote of the Day

“Round and Round it goes, where it stops, Nobody Knows”