The Pittsburgh Penguins have 18 games to go in the 2019-20 regular season. The uphill marathon is in its final miles as the Penguins have a chance to win the Metro Division, or could even miss the playoffs if they don’t figure out a way to put a few more pucks in the net.
According to 100,000 simulations run by MoneyPuck.com, the Penguins have an 81.7% chance to make the playoffs, but those computer simulations can’t tell the Penguins how to break out of a six-game losing streak. Nor can the sims predict if the Penguins will figure things out after that. The Penguins were at 95% before the weekend losses to Anaheim and San Jose.
The Metro Division is suddenly tighter than Greentree Hill on Friday afternoon. The Penguins trail the Washington Capitals by six points for the Metro Division lead but have just a five-point cushion between themselves and the much improved Carolina Hurricanes.
Carolina filled their grocery cart at the trade deadline with forward Vincent Trocheck, and defensemen Sami Vatanen and Brady Skjei.
Complicating matters, the Philadelphia Flyers have learned how to win games in the second half of the season. Philadelphia has surged to second place, three points ahead of the Penguins. Philadelphia won again on Sunday, but in the process helped the Penguins as they beat the New York Rangers, which kept New York six points behind the Penguins.
The New York Islanders and new center J-G Pageau are just two back of the Penguins for third place.
Carolina is a 69% favorite to make the playoffs, while Columbus has fallen to 39%.
Should the Penguins finish in first or second place, they will have home-ice advantage in Round One. The Metro Division winner will play the top Eastern Conference wild-card because no Metro team will catch the Boston Bruins for the top seed.
Obviously, second and third place will meet in Round One. For an inexplicable reason, Penguins vs. Flyers playoff series are more unpredictable than the path of a tornado, and the games resemble a storm, too. From Max Talbot’s “shush” to the 2012 Penguins upset, unpredictable is an understatement.
Should the Penguins slide into fourth place, however, they will have a likely Round One date with the Washington Capitals. That possibility should scare everyone.
Worse, if the Penguins slip to the second wild card, of which they’re only four points ahead, they would draw the Boston Bruins. The Penguins would be a long shot bet against Boston, even in the best of circumstances.
The Pittsburgh Penguins Math
The Penguins have 18 games remaining, which means they have 36 points on the table. The first team outside of the wild-card spots is the Carolina Hurricanes, who also have 18 games remaining. With 75 points, the best the Hurricanes can do is 111 points, if they won all 18 games.
Assuming something more plausible, if Carolina wins 12 of 18, they’ll hit 99 points.
The injury-plagued Columbus Blue Jackets will also play a role in the Penguins projections. Columbus is currently the second wild-card but has played three more games than the Penguins and Carolina. Columbus leads Carolina by three points, but Columbus has only a 30% chance to make the playoffs according to the statistical models.
Should Columbus continue to earn points at the same rate, they’ll finish with 96 points.
The scenarios give the Penguins a 100-point target. Should Columbus win a few more games than expected, or Carolina goes on a hot streak, which they are prone to do, the Penguins will need to hit triple digits to make the playoffs.
To hit the 100-point mark, the Penguins need 20 points in their final 18 games, beginning on Tuesday when they play a non-playoff team, the Ottawa Senators. The Penguins may only need 10 more wins to clinch a playoff spot convincingly, but 10 wins in 18 games will not quell the growing doubts around and inside the Penguins locker room.
The Pittsburgh Penguins need to win games because it isn’t about only making the playoffs. It’s about winning in the playoffs, too. The Penguins haven’t won a playoff game since May 2018. For the record, the Penguins have only a 27.4% shot at advancing to Round Two.