Obviously, making the playoffs is the first and most important goal. Is winning the Metro Division important? Are the Penguins paying much attention to the standings other than worrying about making the playoffs?
The answer appears to be–no, not really.
Pittsburgh Hockey Now took a wildly unofficial and small sample straw poll Friday morning to get a sense of the Penguins attention level to their place in the standings, or more accurately, their level of care about their place in the standings.
If this were The Family Feud, the top three answers on the board would be
- We’re just worried about getting ready for the playoffs
- We just want points
- Sure, you check the standings but we’re worried about getting ready for the playoffs.
You don’t have to be a detective to note the common theme in the answers, which were generally credible. My BS meter didn’t go off–of course, they would like to win the Metro but their focus is on themselves. The body language and tone of voice didn’t betray anything different.
“I think we’re just trying to just build towards the playoffs. We’d like to be as high as we can and get as many advantages as we can,” Bryan Rust said.
Take it for what it’s worth, but I casually chatted with one of the forwards about hockey. He watched the Islanders-Winnipeg game, Thursday night. Does that mean he is gearing up for an Islanders match in the Round One? I picked his brain about the Islanders but it didn’t hit me until a few minutes later WHY he may have been watching that game. Sometimes I’m not the brightest bulb.
“We’re just trying to grab as many points as we can. We want to win out and climb as high as we can,” Jack Johnson told PHN.
But you’ll notice the lack of specific goals or interest in the standings.
“You want to take care of your own games first, but you’re definitely keeping an eye on them, seeing what’s happening around the league,” Garrett Wilson said. “It seems like every team is winning so we have to keep doing what we’re doing here now.”
Wilson played over eight minutes Friday night against Nashville and had three shots on goal, including a rebound chance following his own shot which Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne somehow managed to deflect inches wide of the net.
The Penguins let one slip away against Nashville Friday night, which was the Penguins game in hand on both the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals. The loss meant the Penguins settled into third place, five points behind Washington for the division lead and two points back of New York.
The loss means the Penguins realistic chance at the division is gone and if the standings were to hold, the Penguins would have a Round One match as the road team against New York.
They have a four-point lead over Carolina, which is the top wild-card team. A wild-card seeding would mean drawing either Washington or Tampa Bay in Round One. We didn’t bother asking that question because cliches would have been in full force. Players would never publicly admit not wanting to play a team.
But a series against Washington will be a Thunderdome of Stanley Cup champions. Only one team leaves, probably battered and weakened. Neither team wants that in Round One.
And so for now, the team is focused on points, like the two they just couldn’t grab against Nashville and two they very much need against Carolina on Sunday…to avoid that Round One deathmatch.