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PHN Blog: Penguins Free Fall, Why It’s Time to Watch Standings

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Pittsburgh Penguins, Casey DeSmith

With yet another come-from-ahead loss, the Pittsburgh Penguins are 14th in the Eastern Conference. Three times this season, the Penguins have failed to claim two points despite a third period lead. As a result, they are looking upward in the standings at such teams as the Montreal Canadiens, Detroit Red Wings, and, most importantly, the New York Islanders.

There are only three playoff spots guaranteed to Metro Division teams.

Four spots are typical.

And the Metro already has two excellent teams off to solid starts: the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes.

As Sidney Crosby said two weeks ago when the Penguins bolted from the starting gate like an angry thoroughbred by scoring six goals in four of their first five games, points count the same in October as they do in March.

The Penguins’ North American best 16-season playoff streak is months from being in jeopardy, but the start of the 17th journey is getting more competitive, more quickly than expected.

And now it gets interesting.

The New York Islanders are figuring it out. The 2021 Eastern Conference runner-up, which took the Tampa Bay Lightning to seven games before cratering last season, is winning again.

They’re a playoff-worthy team and join the already four-deep Metro mix with the Penguins and Washington Capitals. The Islanders are the fifth team to the party.

It’s unlikely all five teams will make the playoffs.

The New Jersey Devils have been building. Former top overall picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughesleadg a much improved New Jersey team to the top of the Metro Division. New Jersey has a four-point lead over the Penguins with one game in hand.

Your first reaction should be, “but it’s early!”

Yes, teams just crossed the 10-game barrier this week. However, U.S. Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, and 75% of teams in a playoff spot on Thanksgiving indeed make the NHL playoffs.

 

 

Here are a couple more obstacles to worry about. While the Philadelphia Flyers will likely drop, the Washington Capitals will get healthy, and the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers are very good teams.

After the Buffalo Sabres boat raced the Penguins in the third period on Wednesday night, they have to be seen as wild-card contenders, too.

So, three new teams in the mix were not playoff contenders last season. It’s already getting crowded.

Only eight teams make the playoffs. You’re familiar with the New York Islanders. Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov create a top-flight goalie tandem. Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee create a solid 1-2 punch in the middle.

The “kids” in New Jersey are finally maturing, and they have a starting goalie for the first time in a couple of seasons. Vitek Vanecek isn’t elite, but he is significantly better than the trove of journeymen who have stood in the Devils’ net.

Suddenly, the terminally negative commenters have a bit of ammunition.

It remains difficult, if not impossible, to imagine this Pittsburgh Penguins team missing the playoffs, but it is time to start watching the standings.

Metro Division Rivals Round-Up:

**Injuries have decimated the Washington Capitals. Tom Wilson is a month or more away. Nicklas Backstrom may not play again, though he wants to return this season. On Wednesday, the Capitals made several transactions to patch more injuries and ineffectiveness.

Washington recalled forwards Sonny Milano and Garrett Pilon. GM Brian McClellan also called up defenseman Lucas Johansen from the AHL’s Hershey Bears. The Capitals also placed T.J. Oshie, John Carlson, and Beck Malenstyn on the injured reserve, and Connor Brown is on LTIR.

Fans are also getting impatient with the lack of opportunity for young Connor McMichael to crack the lineup, but Sammi Silber explained why the coaches haven’t put him in a featured role.

**The New York Islanders are 6-4-0, with four wins in a row. Colleague Stefen Rosner analyzed the first 10 games, and there are some profound differences with the Penguins.

First, the Islanders’ penalty kill has been effective. The team has killed 31 of 33 power plays.

Second, the Islanders’ top line with Barzal is filling the net. Barzal has 10 assists in 10 games.

Third, the Islanders are holding leads and finishing games.

**John Tortorella is getting high marks for his job with the Philadelphia Flyers. Compliments like “rebuilding the Flyers culture” are being heaped on Torts.

Philadelphia is without defenseman Ryan Ellis and center Sean Couturier. James van Riemsdyk, Bobby Brink, and Cam Atkinson are also out. Yet Philadelphia is a few points ahead of the Penguins and in a playoff spot.

One reason is goalie Carter Hart. The 24-year-old goalie, who bubbled below a .900 save percentage last season, has a .943 stopper rate this season and a 2.10 GAA.

On paper, Philadelphia doesn’t have the horses to make the playoffs, but it wouldn’t be the first time an undermanned Tortorella team pushed the Pittsburgh Penguins to the edge.

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Pittsburgh Hockey Now Editor-in-Chief, formerly 93.7 The Fan, Sportsnet Hockey Tonight, NHL Home Ice. Catch Dan tweeting @theDanKingerski and the official @pghhockeynow account.

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james e reuss
james e reuss
28 days ago

At what point do we start looking at Conner Bedard as more important than the playoffs? All star break?

Not saying I want a loosing team BUT the last thing we need is to sell futures and miss the playoffs.

Mark
Mark
28 days ago
Reply to  james e reuss

March trade deadline.

ric Jefferies
ric Jefferies
28 days ago

Playoffs, really, in case you haven’t noticed this dog won’t hunt !

Dan N
Dan N
28 days ago

Certainly no quick fixes….The players insist they stopped skating in the third period the last 2 nights but watching the games the other teams were that much quicker…Especially last night ….Bufffalo won every race…anyway trades aren’t the answer ..who could they trade ? Maybe Rust or Rakell…no one else brings anything back..They won’t trade Syd or Jake…maybe Jarry ? But DeSmith always seems to play just good enough to lose !! Oh well it was a nice long ride! Here’s hoping things get turned around but watching theses Eastern teams I don’t hold out much hope

Ujn Hunter
28 days ago

Standings look TERRIBLE… but 4 pts separates DEAD LAST in the East and 1st in the Metro… so…

Dan N
Dan N
28 days ago
Reply to  Ujn Hunter

True…but have you looked at November schedule…They really need to go on a 5-6 game streak…I don’t see it but….that Thanksgiving date of teams making the playoffs is pretty spot on…

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[…] The Pittsburgh Penguins are in freefall and have lost six straight games. What’s the […]

Pete
Pete
27 days ago

It remains difficult to imagine this team missing the playoffs?
Hmmmmmmm
Have you been watching?
They are slow slow slow. Getting out-skated every game.
It remains difficult to imagine this team finishing higher than 6th.
They only have 2 lines and no clue how to defend their net!

Alan Smith
27 days ago

Just entertainment folks! Most of the time the Pens are a quality watch!

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